Why I Have a Website
While studying representation theory I recently came across a book by Alexander Kirillov titled "Introduction to Lie groups and Lie algebras". It’s a good read. The section on the proof of complete reducibility of semisimple algebras and Lie algebra cohomology is particularly interesting. You might be asking yourself, however, why am I talking about a book on Lie algebras.
We’ll get to that in second, but first I would like to ask another question: who is Alexander Kirillov? That’s a question I asked myself, and I found the answer in a link to his personal home page included in cover of his book. Complete with a list of bookmarks reminiscent of the late 1990s and a beautiful memorial of some of Kirillov’s friends, this webpage is what ultimately pushed me to write this article.
The page on the poems by Igor Slobodkin in particular moved me profoundly, even though I don’t understand a word of russian. The mere though of spontaineously finding the poems someone wrote (in russian) in 1995 already blows my mind, and I couldn’t think of a more sensitive honor to Igor than exposing his poems to the world. All around, Kirillov’s page is a reminder of times when the web was a anarchic mess of standalone pages, full of strange and interesting stories: the era of the personal web page.
I would like to argue that there is more to this felling than pure nostalgia. To me, Kirillov’s page serves as an example of the fundamental contribution of the web to our society: the democratization of media. The web gave the average guy a platform to share his though and ideas, as well as the stuff he made. The web gave Kirillov a platform to share his book, it gave Igor a platform to share his poems. The web gave countless of researchers a place to share their research freely, places like arxv.org. The web gave artists a place to share their art, it gave critics a place to share their words.
Of course, Kirillov and Igor did not need the web to share their work. People did publish books and poetry before the web exists after all. Indeed, Kirillov ended up publishing a print version of his book. Likewise, people did publish scientific paper and media before the web existed. What changed is that the web made the distribution of content accessible to individuals: authors no longer require publishers, researchers no longer require journals, artists no longer require galleries, and so on.
The web we know today, however, bares almost no resemblance to this vision. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of interesting content laying around in the web today, but what has fundamentally changed is that we no longer own the medium we use to share our work. Now a days, most of our interactions on web are confined to the servers of a handful of companies: Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc.
Instead of creating a personal blog, authors opt to share their work on platforms such as Medium or Blogger. Instead of creating a personal gallery, artists choose platforms such as Instagram or Flicker. This platforms freed us from the burden of managing a webserver, but they also took a lot of the control we had. What I mean by that is that by confining ourselves to this platforms we enhently limit the type of content we share.
The constant abuse endured by YouTube creators at the hands of companies seeking to weapanize the Content ID system agains critics serves as a cautinary tail in this department: many creators are forced to edit their content or remove sections of their videos to avoid losing the ad-revenue provided by YouTube.
What’s perhaps more important, however, is that this companies control what content is allowed to be distributed in their platform. Many say that this is wrightly so, and that there is content that shouldn’t be allowed to be distributed in the internet. That may well be, but I don’t think that a handful of companies in Silicon Valley should be the ones calling the shots.
I argue that we need to regain control over the content we share online, and the only path to independence from proprietary platforms is self-hosting — i.e. having your own website. This is the reason why this website exists, and I sincerely hope this botched explanation motivates you to create your very own website. If this is the case, there are a number of resources that can help you setup things. You can start by taking a look at landchad.net.
I would like to conclude this article by referring to the eloquent words of Maciej Ceglowski,
I think there are two futures possible for the web. The first one I envision is the "Minecraft" future, where the web is kind of blocky, it’s never going to be very pretty, but the purpose of it is to make stuff. […] A playful and fundamentally contributory web, where you’re expected to pitch in and do something neat with it. […] Versus this idea of the web as "Call of Duty": the web as being beautifully produced, […] something you can never get your head around because there’s too many distinct layers. […] Something that somehow looks the same, even though it’s really beautiful, but every one of this games is dark brown and resembles the others.