Check out txt.fyi, a toy ‘publishing platform’ I made. I put that phrase in quotes because it’s designed to be as lightweight as possible: you type in text and hit publish, and your work is live on the internet.
While I worked on it a couple of weeks ago (many thanks go to Ken Snider, @zemnmez, Ben Overmyer, Johannes Kröger and y’all) usage exploded, with front-page items on Hacker News and The Verge. It got 10,000 postings in a day (most of them ‘testing 123’ or ‘asdfadfgasaf’) and my inbox got hit with everything from thank-yous from activists to bug reports to offers from entrepreneurs to buy it: all fantastic for the ego. It even impressed the proprietors of Brutalist Websites, my favorite art movement!
Whatever nerve txt.fyi strikes, it’s a raw one: I also got some of the most savage and contemptuous hate mail over it I’ve ever enjoyed. And, of course, ‘I coulda built that in a weekend!’
@mathowie someone told me they could built ▻https://t.co/prKOQJiKjr in a weekend and I had the pleasure of saying I built it in an hour
— Rob Beschizza (@Beschizza) March 3, 2017
Better, it turns out there’s a largely unsung group of web developers who’ve each independently created much the same thing. Check out all of these minimal publishing hosts, each much like txt.fyi but each with its own distinctive flavor:
txti.es is plain and perfect. Unlike txt.fyi it allows post editing for the duration of your browser session. Barry T. Smith made it with Adam Newbold to provide ‘fast web pages for everybody,’ especially those with poor internet and low-end devices. (Newbold also made motherfuckingwebsite.com, itself among the many inspirations for txt.fyi; see also Drew McConville’s bettermotherfuckingwebsite for an idea of what a line of CSS can do for you.)
Said So is ‘a simple, anonymous, non-indexed, non-searchable microblogging platform,’ but with share links, and stylish typography. Writes author Apostolos Pantsiopoulos: “Anonymity was the first thing that interested me. Then after I watched the documentary ‘helvetica’ I was inspired to create a minimal posting service that removes all the unnecessary clutter and deliver the message as emphasized as possible, using a font that has this ‘authority’ effect on people.”
Bold.io is a focused-writing platform on the web, with an eye toward fiction. Beautiful, well-crafted web design and functionality creates a native app-like experience. It has user accounts and the HTML is relatively heavy. There’s cool weirdness like ambient sounds (cafe, storm, bonfire, forest, Hogwarts, Castle Black) and a ‘Hemingway assistant’ that nags you when you use adverbs or the passive voice.
Publish.li, by Andrew Chilton, is a nice balance between just-publish-it simplicity and optional features. There are secret Page IDs to allow later editing without logging in or issuing cookies. There are trackers and scripts, but not too many. And it’s open source!
Telegra.ph is a lightweight focused-writing site, but feels more ‘web-like’ than app-like—a good thing, if you catch my meaning. It allows image uploads and you can edit posts. It’s basically perfect: it’s probably what you want if you find txt.fyi too limited but don’t want to sign up for anything.
Write.as Another in the focus-writer vein. You can create accounts and it makes it very easy to do so. It’s not quite so simple as Bold.io or Telegra.ph, but makes it very easy to push your deathless words on to social networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
Typed has rich text controls and images and an adorable 1990s look and feel. Author xojoc writes that the main feature is the lack of features: ‘I wanted an online tool with which it was dead simple to share thoughts and ideas.’ Like txt.fyi it accepts Markdown. You can set an edit password for each post. An idea list is built in!
Talk To Aliens In Real Time, inspired by the Arecibo message, places your anonymous postings within the fictional context of being sent into deep space to communicate with beings from other worlds.
Binary Task is a minimal ‘associative matrix’ with user accounts and comment threads on your otherwise pleasingly rudimentary postings.
Oh by is a ‘unversal shortener’ that turns ‘a long message into a short, recognizable code.’ Like txt.fyi, it puts your posting at a URL defined by an easily written-down code, but it also displays a security hash and has some useful options geared toward semi-private sharing or use as a memory aid.
At Ephemeral P2P Hosting, your postings will self-destruct along quantum principles: your ‘page will live as long as someone, somewhere is viewing it. Once the last person closes their browser, the page will be gone.’ (more info)
Greg Taff’s Rich Text Editor is a bit of an odd-man-out here as it isn’t a publishing platform at all, but rather a perfect implementation of rich text editing on the web. It makes me want to implement ‘richtext.fyi’ next!
The OG example for all these shenanigans might be Lowbrow.com, which disappeared at some point in the Web 2.0 era.
I feel a sense of kinship with the people who made these; most of these sites are way more useful than txt.fyi, even if none of them have !hacker mode. (Some of them include trackers and such too.)
The trick here is simple: offer the one feature you do want and impose none of the features you don’t. Instead, these sites feel like secrets hidden in plain sight—and they let you make more of them.
That said, usage of txt.fyi has already trailed off somewhat. It offers a form of techno-hiraeth, a nostalgic sense of place carefully coded to alleviate present-day anguish but fundamentally unable to meet its true needs. If lots of people are to love indie-web participation, rather than simply be pleased it apparently still exists, more features are needed.
Txt.fyi, though, should stay the publishing ‘toy’ that it is. Instead, I’ve been working on something fancier. It’ll be similarly uncompromising about being free of trackers and social network hooks and other third-party gunk, but will have identities and more fun stuff. And an exciting 16-color palette. (If you want to reward me handsomely for this or txt.fyi, you can donate to this patreon I just set up.)
This could have easily become a rambling manifesto, or a kind of web dogme indie credibility-policing bullet list, but that stuff’s pointless. The point is simple: love and trust the indie web and don’t let it die.