Toaster-friendly alternative web protocol Gemini attracts criticism for becoming exclusive clique

While creators were stripping away annoying styling, users started to make Geminispace a bunker, says engineer


Project Gemini is a new internet protocol designed to be simpler and lighter to make it easier for people to design, run, and use their own websites.

Described by network engineer Stéphane Bortzmeyer at FOSDEM 2021 as a new ultra-simple protocol that is modern but "looks retro," it was designed to help the user opt out of "pervasive user tracking [and]... distractions from the actual content."

Some of those with a penchant for irritating spelling call it the "smol web." It's light enough for vintage computers, and easy to create both clients and pages. It's not designed to replace the web, but as an adjunct to it. It also makes it much easier to host your own site. As the project points out, it's "heavier than gopher... lighter than the web, [and] will not replace either."

Sounds all good so far… but the protocol is beginning to attract controversy as it takes off. The most recent statistics put "Geminispace" (all resources "published on the internet via the Gemini protocol") at 1,997 capsules, up from 1,200 in September.

A post this week gained a lot of traction on Hackernews forums, when a software engineer calling themselves "マリウス" – that's "Marius" to gaijin – called it "solutionism at its worst". They argued in a blogpost that Gemini is an answer to a problem that doesn't exist and encourages a bunker effect, excluding people who use ordinary web browsers, perhaps due to accessibility issues.

Developer Andre Garzia responded that Gemini was "a little gem", arguing that it's fun, lightweight, and simple enough to hold in your head, and it's not a threat to anything.

The "Cheapskates Guide to the Internet", meanwhile, welcomed it, characterising Gemini as a sign that the "old internet" is "quietly coming back." While the site's author encouraged users to take a look at it as a tool to bypass the usual Big Tech suspects, they also endorsed, for the same purpose, the controversial Tor network, ZeroNet – which apparently uses Bitcoin signatures as site IDs and Bittorrent to transfer content, enough to make this writer flee in horror – and finally, hypothetical deities help us, web3. This author has already opined on the extreme uselessness of that.

Is it worth getting involved?

There's nothing wrong with Gemini. It does what it says on the tin. The web is just one protocol that runs on the internet, alongside a legion of chat protocols, email, SSH, file transfers, and many more. There is perhaps more to worry about from China's proposed New Internet Protocol, but that's a different issue.

The internet is already decentralised: that's what it was designed for. There are already decentralised social network systems, such as ActivityPub and Mastodon, and Diaspora (despite its early troubles), as well as the new Bonfire.

What Gemini brings is simplicity. You need minimal technical skills to set up your own Gemini "capsule". That's a very good thing; a lot of the modern web is just too damned hard for non-specialists. It all started to go wrong in the 1990s, as Zach Holman's seven-year-old rant so amusingly describes.

There are many minimalist programming competitions out there, from the Obfuscated C Contest via the Java 4K Game contest to many retro-computing demo contests.

There are some entire websites that fit inside a single HTML file. Some are practical tools, such as Tiddlywiki.

There are also some proposals for simplifying content, such as Jeff Huang's This Page is Designed to Last. There are working, usable, graphical web browsers that don't support JavaScript, such as Dillo and Netsurf. If you just want to stay with your current browser, you can install NoScript. It's worth trying because it's surprising how fast even the modern web can be. It can even be fun.

The older, simpler Gopher protocol hasn't gone away either. Install OverbiteFF and explore. Quux.org is a good place to start.

Maybe it's time for a new contest to design the most minimalist websites possible. Sites written in nothing but HTML; no Javascript, no CSS, just flat, non-interactive web pages, but which still look good and work well. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lenovo halves its ThinkPad workstation range
    Two becomes one as ThinkPad P16 stands alone and HX replaces mobile Xeon

    Lenovo has halved its range of portable workstations.

    The Chinese PC giant this week announced the ThinkPad P16. The loved-by-some ThinkPad P15 and P17 are to be retired, The Register has confirmed.

    The P16 machine runs Intel 12th Gen HX CPUs, but only up to the i7 models – so maxes out at 14 cores and 4.8GHz clock speed. The laptop is certified to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and can ship with that, Ubuntu, and Windows 11 or 10. The latter is pre-installed as a downgrade right under Windows 11.

    Continue reading
  • US won’t prosecute ‘good faith’ security researchers under CFAA
    Well, that clears things up? Maybe not.

    The US Justice Department has directed prosecutors not to charge "good-faith security researchers" with violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) if their reasons for hacking are ethical — things like bug hunting, responsible vulnerability disclosure, or above-board penetration testing.

    Good-faith, according to the policy [PDF], means using a computer "solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability."

    Additionally, this activity must be "carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services."

    Continue reading
  • Intel plans immersion lab to chill its power-hungry chips
    AI chips are sucking down 600W+ and the solution could be to drown them.

    Intel this week unveiled a $700 million sustainability initiative to try innovative liquid and immersion cooling technologies to the datacenter.

    The project will see Intel construct a 200,000-square-foot "mega lab" approximately 20 miles west of Portland at its Hillsboro campus, where the chipmaker will qualify, test, and demo its expansive — and power hungry — datacenter portfolio using a variety of cooling tech.

    Alongside the lab, the x86 giant unveiled an open reference design for immersion cooling systems for its chips that is being developed by Intel Taiwan. The chip giant is hoping to bring other Taiwanese manufacturers into the fold and it'll then be rolled out globally.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022