BY MATHEW INGRAM
Does the world really need a new blogging platform? Haven’t we already moved beyond that, thanks to platforms like Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus? Perhaps — but not everyone believes that’s a good thing. Some early bloggers have moved back to personal publishing in recent weeks, and now advocates of the so-called “indie web” are launching open-source blogging software called Known, which is designed to give everyone a fully open publishing platform.
Known provides what looks like a regular blog, but with a variety of open-source standards and plugins that allows users to cross-post or distribute their status updates, photos, videos and other content to networks like Twitter, Facebook and Flickr with a single click. They can also pull comments or responses from those networks back into their blog, using an open standard called WebMentions.
The platform, which consists of both open-source blog software that users can install themselves and a hosted version — similar to WordPress (see disclosure) — launched as a public beta on Thursday morning. Ben Werdmuller and his Known co-founder Erin Jo Richey met at an IndieWeb Camp and talked about their mutual interest in open-web standards, and how they could help people maintain their ownhome on the web instead of signing over their content and data to proprietary platforms like Facebook. Said Werdmuller:
We want to give you the ability to see your entire community and interact with them on your site, to have an open social stream — using a number of open IndieWeb technologies — that makes it as easy as it is to interact with Twitter or Facebook.
Giving users control of their data
Although blog software such as WordPress also allows anyone to control their own home on the web — and can give them similar cross-posting features through the use of plugins — Werdmuller said that it and other older tools are still difficult for many novices to use, and while they have had features bolted on to an aging code base, Known (which is funded in part by Matter Ventures in San Francisco) was designed from the ground up to be fast and to cross-publish to social networks.
While the idea of an “open web” strikes many people as a good thing, Werdmuller said Known isn’t counting on sheer passion to sell people on the software. Other open-web efforts — including OpenSocial, which Google helped develop as an alternative to the Facebook Platform, as well as OpenID and others — have failed in part because they didn’t solve a crucial need.
In contrast, Werdmuller says Known has gotten interest from educational groups and universities — many of whom are now partners in developing the software — because they see it as beneficial for their students to have a home of their own online where they can post their coursework as well as interact with other students. So just as Known integrates with Twitter and Facebook, it also integrates with educational platforms like Moodle.
Breaking the reliance on proprietary networks
In fact, Known can integrate with any service that has a public API — all it takes is for someone to write a plugin and upload it to Github, the open-source repository where Known makes its software available. To illustrate just how open it is, the toolbar on a demo of the software includes an icon called “chicken,” ready for someone to write a plugin that applies to fowl.
One of Known’s advisors is Kevin Marks, a longtime open-web advocate who has worked for Apple and Google. Along with Mozilla Web standards lead Tantek Çelik, Marks has been a core member of the IndieWeb movement since it began, and has even developed his own software standard called Fragmentions, which allows web-browser software to link to specific parts of the text on a website, instead of just the top of an article or blog post.
In addition to the IndieWeb group, there are others who are actively trying to break down the reliance on proprietary platforms — including blogging pioneer Dave Winer, who has developed his own publishing software for posting to a blog and cross-posting to Twitter and Facebook, known as Radio3. Winer’s software will even update a Facebook post automatically when the original blog post is edited, a feature that Winer worked on with Facebook after the giant social network contacted him.
Whether publishing tools like Known or Winer’s software can gain any traction with web users remains to be seen, but if nothing else they provide an alternative to the dominance of corporate-controlled networks like Facebook and Twitter, and that’s a good thing for the open web.
Disclosure: WordPress is funded by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom. Om Malik, founder of Gigaom, is also a venture partner at True.