Exploring the Small Web

A week ago I was mindless wandering the web when I stumbled on Midnight Pub. At first, it looks like a pretty old-looking basic web page in which strangers leave digital diary pages. In reality, it is the surfacing tip of the iceberg of one of the many nostalgic places populating the so called Small Web. I was instantly intrigued and, after a small time, I was finally caught by that weird old-school nostalgia.

But let’s start from the beginning.

What is the Small Web

The Small Web is nothing new. Or to say it better: it is something old that became new again.

Everything started in mid-1991, an era in which HTTP was not the dominating protocol of the Internet yet. At that time, there was another competitor around: Gopher. Gopher allowed for the simple distribution of files on the internet, and the “web pages” were mostly simple plain text files. Then HTTP came, and it was much more powerful and soon Gopher died out.

Or not?

For a long time, a very niche community kept using the Gopher protocol as a limited alternative to the World Wide Web. A place that was constrained to be smaller and, as such, different from the increasingly commercialized and chaotic Web we all know. A smaller place, a more intimate place: the Small Web.

The Gemini Protocol

In 2019, 28 years after Gopher birthday, another protocol called Gemini rapidly spread. It is directly inspired by Gopher strive for minimalism, but it is more modern (for instance, it supports TSL encryption).

The main “pages” served by a Gemini website are a pseudo-markdown file written in a format called Gemtext that has an half-page specification. No embedded images, no CSS, and — God’s forbid — no JavaScript.

Because Gemini is an alternative to HTTP, to navigate in the Gemini space, you need a Gemini browser. My favorite one is Lagrange.

But I will not make this longer by dumping all the technical info that you can find anywhere else. If you want to know more about Gemini in general, you can start from here.

Why I like it

The important part is: why I like it? Because there is something really liberating in the Gemini’s minimalist constraints. At first, the main attraction is its nostalgic resemblance to a long gone Web. A Web in which every one of use maintained our own private independent and free little space. Long before giant companies bought all the space, and we all become clients, renters of a piece of freedom they allow us.

However, I am attracted by it also because, in a place where there is limited appearance customization, everything that really matter is the content.

Sure: I could make this website really, really minimal. I can remove Bootstrap, all CSS and just ride the plain text enthusiam. But on the Big Web there are expectations. On the Gemini Space, on the other hand, there are NO expectations at all. Ther is only text.

So, in short, I wanted to tell you that I made a little space there (in the Gemini slang, a website is called Capsule). It is just a collection of pieces of text, a small blog of scattered thoughts (in Gemini slang, Gemlog), and I do not know what else. You can find it by going here (using a Gemini browser, of course): gemini://gemini.davideaversa.it/.

It is lacking a lot of “production value”. And that’s why I like it.

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