Re: Making Gemini Easy

In reply to:

tomasino's vision

The point is that the user will have something that feels seamless. It feels easy and natural. And, quite importantly, the web had nothing to do with it.

I like this notion very much. If you want to trust a hosting service with your content, it should be doable using just Gemini. The most straightforward implementation to me seems adding Gemini-based account creation and management interfaces to the smol.pubs and Flounders of Geminispace. Astrobotany and Station, for example, seem to manage here quite well. There are solutions for uploading content as well.

When it comes to the client, its most crucial responsibility is making client certificate management easy and intuitive. Lagrange could use improvements here for sure. But integrating hosted capsule management directly into the client seems a bridge too far. Too many eggs would be going into the same basket.

As I recall, they were (are?) attempting to do the very thing that tomasino is proposing, and as a bonus, exploring extensions to Gemini at least for long-form uploads.

Risks of hosting

If you knock down all the barriers to entry, it will also invite the full gamut of nastiness out there, like spammers and those who have been "de-platformed" on the mainstream internet. Hosting other people's content is a risky proposition nowadays, with hate speech, political strife, rampant foreign propaganda, laws like GDPR, cryptocoin scams, etc. At a minimum you'd need a crystal clear Code of Conduct and commitment to enforce it — something that costs time and peace of mind. I wouldn't want to put myself in a position where I'd become a target of accusations of censorship or other more direct threats. It quickly becomes something that one is not willing to do for free.

I don't know to what extent this is a problem with the existing Gemini hosting solutions. I would imagine not so much since the number of people and capsules remain small.

Attracting and excluding people


A writing platform that cuts out all the cruft and tracking and ads? And all I need to do is download this app and join? Oh, it's free! Hell's yes! Thanks for making it so easy!

Simplicity and privacy are key aspects of Gemini that surely attract non-technical people, too, but things can be pretty darn simple on Facebook or some blogging platform on the web. You can have your blog hosted for free, block annoying ads and trackers with browser plugins, have all your friends with you, and have an unlimited audience for your writings. Fame and fortune are always just around the corner. Of course, you'll drown in a torrent of spam and the noise of a million other people shouting to be noticed, obscured by biased search engines and profit-seeking algorithms.

It is much easier to be heard in less-crowded places. Quiet rooms, if you will.

The doors to these rooms don't have to be actively hostile toward newcomers. We shouldn't make the price of admission knowing how to manage a capsule via SSH, for example; in that I agree with tomasino. That kind of attitude leads to tech elitism, where the priviledged few hold all the power thanks to their mastery of the art. I dare say that is antithetical to what Gemini is supposed to be.

Giving people agency


How do you pick a server? In this use case you are a non-technical user, so you're not looking for server software to install, but instead a host where you can put your content.

Ah, but is that really so? The assumption that people must rely on third parties for hosting warrants examination. Is Gemini simple enough so that even non-technical users could self-host their capsules?

I think the idea that we need to shield the users from how technology works is a terrible, terrible mistake. It disempowers the users, and concentrates power in the hands of a technological elite, and that divide is only going to grow.

I generally agree with this sentiment, although it should be emphasized that there are many ways to try to educate people about the core fundamentals. Telling people to read documentation and figure it out is not going to work. Ideally, one wouldn't even realize they are being guided. Successfully teaching technical concepts like how the internet actually works is exceedingly difficult, especially if a person doesn't understand why it's good for them to know these things.

Knocking down purely technical barriers is the right mindset. However, we should not intentionally endorse centralization, and we should not aim to give client developers power over and ownership of the server-side as well.

Thinking of Gemini as a blogosphere simplifies things too much in my opinion, but for a non-technical person, that may be its only apparent value. I think Gemini can be much more than that, just like the web is more than blogs and social networks. But the crux of it has to be agency: the entire point of making something as technically simple as Gemini is to enable individuals to understand and control the entire thing, from choosing (or making) a client, to writing content and self-hosting a capsule. We should not willingly subjugate ourselves to others simply because there is an initial lack of knowledge or skill.

The modern web and its corporate masters are very much succeeding in wresting away people's agency on the internet: you do not own your content (produced or purchased), nor can you control how you are being monetized, or manipulated with ads. So this is my vision: with Gemini there is no need to rely on centralized servers or clients written by teams of hundreds of engineers — anyone should be able to host and be _accountable_ for their content, and access others' capsules without middle men.

In practice, though?

What can we actually do to avoid involving third parties you must trust and rely on for technical support, and services you'd perhaps have to pay for because in the end nothing is free (as in beer, or time)?

To me the right path forward is to make it effortless to run a server, preferably at a place you physically own/control. We could look at, say, media servers like Plex as a model: it's basically just an app you run on a computer at home. (Let's disregard the associated web service.) Say you don't have an always-on computer? Get a Raspberry Pi with an MMC containing a preinstalled server and plug it in like any appliance. Don't have a domain name? Let's build a public directory of capsules so no-domain servers can automatically announce their IP addresses, operating like a dynamic DNS service (or a Bittorrent tracker...), or just have the preinstalled server handle dyndns for you. No fixed internet connection? This one's tricker, because now you will be relying on other people's hardware and internet access. Maybe share a host with a group of friends, or someone in the local community runs a public host. The incentives become less well-aligned. But as long as you can trust and/or personally know the admins, it can be a viable solution.

Is any of that simple enough for a non-technical person? I don't know; I've spent my life elbow-deep in computers. If someone understands how to install a client and select "File > New Capsule" from a menu, maybe they could also understand that hosting a capsule means running a "capsule app" on a computer in your home or somewhere else, so others may access their writings.

The client/server model may simply be an unmovable barrier with its built-in complexities and power dynamics. A truly simple blogging platform might work better if it's peer-to-peer, like Solderpunk's Git-based content distribution idea where you don't need always-on internet access or domain names.

Growth and endurance

So-called "professionals" want you to think amateur implies "inferior" - that is how they get to charge you money. Amateurs do it for love, not money. I am proud to be an amateur in the Gemini community.

Well put.

If someone can't be bothered to spend a couple of hours figuring out what Gemini is and why they want to be here, there is always Facebook.

Perhaps because Facebook and the other engagement-driven social networks already have lured all non-technical people into their maws, anyone willing to look elsewhere has a baseline level of motivation to learn a different approach to things? I choose to be optimistic.

If you let everyone in, will that not lead to another Eternal September, the community getting overrun by people who don't share the same values or world view, and an eventual corporate takeover?

Maybe there are lessons to be learned from the world of podcasts. That's another simple grassroots technology that started from humble origins, and I think it has many parallels to Gemini. You only need to know how to use a microphone on your computer or phone to record a podcast. Podcasts are basically radio programs, and spoken word is quite similar to the simple structure of gemtext. The cost of production can be very low.

Podcasts have found a thriving niche because the audio-only medium remains viable in the modern world, and the producers and listeners are genuinely interested in what is being talked about. Over the years, podcast audiences have grown and as is the case with any large audience, financial interests come into play because attention is a valuable commodity, much craved by advertisers. There are now professional podcasters who gain an income from delivering advertisements to their audience. (Fortunately, the patron model of directly supporting authors has also gained traction as many people can't stand listening to ads.) Companies like Spotify are actively trying to build their own podcast ecosystems because they see this as a new source of revenue.

Were Gemini to gain similar popularity, there is no reason why the same story wouldn't play out again. Capsules (like podcasts, YouTube channels, etc.) with interesting content gain a large audience, and a larger audience puts pressure on the author(s) to commit even more time for new content. The audience attracts ad sellers and/or necessitates a subscription model, and the author(s) need the money to support their time investment. In the end, the best case scenario is a healthy symbiosis, where authors, advertisers, and the audience each benefit in their own way. It can work as long as each party retains some power in the equation.

Now, it is an entirely different question whether Gemini has this broad an appeal... Perhaps due to its inherent nature, Gemini will stay small enough not to trigger this cycle. But even if it does, I think the world of podcasts shows a hopeful sign: the large players haven't killed off the smaller shows. The size of the total audience has certainly grown, but it is not uniform: the niche topics remain and amateur passions burn bright, while the masses enjoy their true crime shows and pay subscription fees for what is essentially professional radio programming, just shifted onto the on-demand internet.

Growth will inventably lead to splintering. It's already happening, with multiple aggregators and capsules like Station gaining traction. Each one will cater to its own subset of users, and a set of shared interests will eventually rise to dominate each sub-community. Those who understand and value Gemini for what it is will find their like-minded compatriots.


I didn't intend to write this long a post but I guess these topics have been pressing on my mind. Oh well, it was a nice way to spend a rainy Friday. 😄

📅 2021-11-05

🏷 Gemini

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