Hello, HTTP!

About an year ago, on a rainy November day, I started toying with the idea of running an ezine on Gemini. That was Smog, and it was pretty successful as far as a 2021 e-zine distributed over Gemini can be. Yet here I am, saying hello over HTTP. What gives?

This is probably worth a whole other post but let me start with the important bit -- I kindda liked Gemini and I'm obviously going to keep an eye on it. I still hang out at the Midnight Pub, and I don't plan to stop, and I will eventually crank out that small article that I promised Jone I'd send for smolZINE.

There's a whole other reason for this, mostly rooted in two things: my passion for retrocomputing, and my unfaltering belief that, way back in 1998, we were on a good road as far as the WWW goes, and while we definitely should've taken that left turn at Albuquerque, it makes sense to continue down that road.

First, retrocomputing. For me, old computers aren't something you collect and turn on once a year at trade shows. Computers are supposed to be kept alive. You write new software for them. You use them to talk to people. They're not for gathering dust.

Gemini's story for old computers is very short: it requires TLS so there's that. This is a point that generated all sorts of controversy among Gemini users and I think, lest I invite flame wars, that I ought to start by saying that's a cool idea. Gemini is a 21st century protocol for 21st century machines. The fact that it's mostly text makes it look like it would be a good candidate for retrocomputing, but it's just not something it was meant to do. That's cool.

Thing is, I had to jump through various hoops to get at my Gemini capsule from my old computers, and I don't want to do that.

Now, the HTTPS situation is just as bad when it comes to old computers, but the HTTP solution is generally not, at least not on computers that aren't so old that even getting them to talk TCP/IP is quite the feat. I realise drawing a line at, say, Amiga 500s feels a little hypocritical to MITS Altair fans but drawing it a little further back than Gemini can is still a win in my book, and I'll take it.

Over time, I've experimented with a few HTTP - Gemini and Gopher - Gemini gateways. They sort of work but, besides the additional hoop-jumping, you mostly get a weird-looking website or gopherhole out of those. Plus, exposing a Gemini capsule over HTTP kind of defeats the purpose of running one in the first place -- at that point you have a website. You might as well make a good one.

As for the second part: I really think that the way we did the WWW back in the late 90s was actually a good way to go about it. While I don't think platforms like Facebook or Twitter can be regulated (or reformed from within) so as not to be the dangerous, cancerous social poison they are now, I also don't think they're synonymous to the WWW. The web is still decentralized and self-hostable and you can still hang out with nice people. You're certainly one click away from social poison but pressing the Back button isn't really that much of an ordeal.

Don't get me wrong: I don't want to go back to the way things were. Making websites in the same spirit, and expanding upon the ideals of exploration, curiosity, sharing information and making friends all over the world, is what I'm after. That kind of stuff is progress in my book. Making the same websites, with the same technology, no RSS, no modems, no high-resolution graphics, is not.

So over the past few weeks, while thinking about what to do with my Gemini capsule (it's currently hosted at SDF -- which hosts this website, too, for that matter -- but I was considering moving it), I decided I'd do something else entirely: archive the important parts, and move all this to the web, only done right. This is not an indictment of Gemini on my part: I like it, and I'll keep using it. Just not for my own little Internet corner.

Hello, world!

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