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Last updated: January 4, 2021

I need your help.

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m a coder. One of the quirks of being a coder is that whenever I see a problem, I want to grab my laptop and start writing software.

The older I get, the more I realize the hardest challenges with technology are not about devices, networks, and software. The hardest challenges are about the social contracts and expectations we have around using technology.

The World Wide Web set out to become a decentralized publishing platform, which it largely is. However, it has been superseded by centrally-controlled, corporate-owned social media platforms. Social media now drives the Internet and heavily influences how we use it. Official and unofficial rules of social media determine what we can post, how we can communicate, and even how we define our relationships. Even worse, “viral” content shared in an unclear, global context has amplified misinformation and disinformation. Meanwhile, algorithms track our behavior and sell our personal data.

We deserve much better. We deserve a high-trust, non-corporate, algorithm-free, person-centric local web where the context in which we are communicating is known.

This is where your help comes in

If I try to do this on my own, not only will I get lost wandering through technical details, I will get burnt out. But I am convinced that with your help, we can build the Local Web.

I need your help with determining what the Local Web will look like and how we will expect it to behave. To accomplish this, I’m asking you to engage in a discussion with other people who are also interested in seeing the Local Web become reality. You do not need to be a coder to join this effort. While some people in the group may be writing code at some point, we will be focusing more on a discussion around “what could be” rather than “what can we code today.”

To focus on “what could be,” we will have discussions around topics like (but not limited to) these:

  • Experiences we’ve had (positive and negative) using social media
  • What we know we could do if we didn’t always have to go through Facebook, Google, and Twitter
  • How we can ensure people, not algorithm-driven profiteering, will always be first

What this might ultimately look like

There are many ways we could proceed with building a local web. One way would be to store data on our local computers, then share that data directly with each other rather than going through a server.

Landline phones and answering machines from the 90’s are a good analogy. You could call someone up and talk to them in real time or leave a message on their answering machine. While your voice message did go over the centralized phone lines, it would ultimately be stored on the answering machine itself. These messages were not stored in perpetuity to be data mined later, they were almost always deleted as soon as they were heard. You could also use the greeting to convey information (e.g., “we can’t come to this phone right now, but you can try calling our other line to see if we pick up there.”)

Our computers and devices could play a similar role. We would store our data locally then only share it with people we know and trust. This would cut social media platforms out of the picture entirely.

How you can get involved

You can be as involved in the project as you would like. For the moment, the focus is on having a discussion about what the Local Web should look like and how it should behave.

I have a Slack group ready for us to host this discussion. Slack is a flexible chat service. Among other benefits, Slack makes it possible to have discussions like these without them getting lost in email. There are Slack apps available for both your mobile device and your desktop with customizable nofitications.

Beyond this Slack group, I currently have a workshop proposal for MozFest 2021, which will occur in March. Decisions on proposed sessions will be made soon and there is the possibility that mine will not be selected. Regardless of whether the session is selected, I would like to prepare for this workshop to be run multiple times. With your help, I’ll be able to ask better questions and run better workshops.

If this at all interests you, please send me a message. If you are not necessarily interested but know of someone who would be, please pass this post along to them!

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Joe LeBlanc


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Joe in Austin

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