IndieWeb Summit 2016
Developers, designers, and writers gather in Portland for the sixth annual flagship IndieWebCamp
I spent this past weekend at the 6th annual IndieWebCamp in Portland, newly christened the “IndieWeb Summit” (to differentiate from other camps throughout the year in the US and Europe). IndieWebCamp is a community of developers, designers, and bloggers working to help people publish on their own websites and just generally have more control over their data. A great thing about the community is everyone tries to (and is encouraged to) be pragmatic, positive, kind, and open-minded; there is very explicitly no one right way to do things. This is not the “all venture-funded corporate services are surveillance spyware selling your data to the highest bidder” crowd.
We were incredibly fortunate to have an amazing photographer documenting all three days. Having a bunch of beautiful photos to pull from makes writing about it is so much fun. Also: it was really hot. So hot I considered ignoring this advice. Climate change is being unkind to the Pacific Northwest.
On Friday we met with some other organizers for a half day of brainstorming about how to build the community and improve events in the future. This was a new thing, and was honestly maybe my favorite part of the weekend. We spent some time talking about how to be more welcoming to a larger group of people, which took on two primary aspects: how we can improve our embarrassing lack of diversity (demographic, geographic, and areas of expertise), and how we can redesign the website and chat rooms to be more inviting to people who are understandably turned off by IRC or a wall of text on a wiki.
The event itself is modeled on a BarCamp, with one day of small group discussions, proposed and organized in the morning, and then a hack day where everyone tries to implement, write, or design some small thing for their website, with demos at the end. There were sessions on webhosting, accessibility, static sites, syndicating to 3rd party services, WordPress, Camlistore, microformats/structured data, building for the long web, and lots of others. Discussions run about 45 minutes and always go too quickly.
One of the attendees was a man named William Mason, who is totally blind, and I think he probably gave us thousands of dollars worth of free accessibility consulting (it turns out our tooling — Slack, IRC, and Mediawiki — are all particularly bad for vision-impaired users). Knowing that we were mostly working on projects for ourselves or a small handful of people, in our spare time, he encouraged us to give some thought to how making our software more accessible for vision impaired users might help us make better software in general. I learned that screenreader software and movable braille displays are exorbitantly expensive (being a captive market and all), but Apple builds screenreading into their products by default, so they are overwhelmingly popular in the blind community. Also he and his partner brought everyone cupcakes 😍 🍰
Another personal highlight, bonafide tech hero Scott Hanselman came by around lunch time on the first day, and his kids demoed their hand-coded website My Hamster Blog (he and his brother will be thrilled if you visit and increment the site counter).
The demos were really impressive; they ran the gamut from debugging installations, writing blog posts, conducting surveys, to putting together the building blocks of an indieweb search engine. Ben posted photos of the demos on his website, including a particularly unflattering one of me.
For my hack I added a super basic service worker to my feed reader. By giving it a little bit of caching and offline support and a simple manifest.json file, Chrome rewards you by loading the page more like a real first-class app. I was pretty pleased with the result of a couple hours’ work, and I’m really enthusiastic about this Progressive Web Apps thing (especially for hobby projects like this where there’s no way you could write and maintain Android and iPhone apps) — which is apparently wholly separate and kind of the opposite of Instant Apps.
One more takeaway: lots of us left feeling encouraged and excited to write more long form stories/journals/articles, even if it’s not great prose.
Sometimes I leave these events overwhelmed by how much (software and social) work there is still to do; but this time I definitely left Portland energized and excited. And full of frozen yogurt.