The social web really started as an easy, consistent way for someone without technical skills to build a homepage about themselves.

As blogging took over, the social web became an easy way to read and write in one place with a consistent experience.

I think we over consider the social/follow/respond/boost elements of these products. What these services and their client applications got right was where we read is where we write. Maybe NetNewsWire had it right when it’s early iterations had blogging features, versus later splitting MarsEdit into its own application.

What Google Reader 1 had right was commenting and stars, adding a conversation and sharing layer to the web. It lacked the blogging tools for a more complete “write” layer, but it added an element of discovery/serendipity and a chance that what you write will be seen.

That’s why reading and writing in the same interface is so powerful— there’s a sense that everyone else participating in reading and writing on the web might interact with what you have to say. Google Reader created a global comment section, filtered to the people you chose. Twitter functioned much the same way.

All of this could live via protocols and without centralization, whether through Webmentions + RSS + Micropub/MetaWeblog or ActivityPub. But easy reading and writing in one place, with a strong product vision, and just the right amount of serendipity is the magic formula.

The power of RSS (and feeds in general) is you can build a reading product on top of the whole web, and anything you write is also available to the rest of the web. The power of domains is owning your identity (or identities, real or pseudonymous). The power of webmentions and ActivityPub Notifications is visibility, with your response and links communicating with the original content that someone has read it and responded.

Maybe the one missing piece from the existing set of web protocols is discovery. Domain as identity side steps discovery, and I think this is where services have excelled. They create a single, standardized index for finding people who share your interests (or who you already know). I wonder if standard About or Now pages with appropriate metadata could make indexing and discovery more consistent.

  1. You knew I’d bring this up, right? ↩︎