This is a followup to this
Since last time I took a
dump long hard critical look
at Gemini, I’ve decided to set up a server: gemini://gerikson.com. This article is reproduced there.
This has forced me to actually write
gemtext, and boy
do I not like it.
How does gemtext suck? Let me count the ways:
The Gemini protocol works line by line, so if you, like me, have
been writing prose for time out of mind and have relied on your editor
to justify paragraphs so the line isn’t just one long one… a client
will probably mangle these, depending on the width it is using to
display paragraphs. You get unbelievably ugly ragged borders.
But, the documentation says,
This means that, e.g. “dot point” lists or poems with deliberately
short lines will be displayed correctly without the author having to
do any extra work or the client having to be any smarter in order to
recognise and handle that kind of content corectly. (sic!)
So, in order for simpler handling of “dot point” lists or poems, every
author of gemtext will have to either live with long lines, or, more
likely, introduce a software component
before publishing to convert normally justified text paragraphs to
There’s another effect that I’ve noticed - boneheaded treatment of
“text units” such as ISO dates and URIs. Most clients will happily
treat a hyphen as an invitation to make a line break, regardless if
this mangles dates or stuff like long command line options.
No inline links
I’ve already ranted about this, but now I’ve read some more Gemini
content, and I still believe this is the greatest loss of
Gemini. Hypertext is its own thing. Being able to be creative, or
strict, or whimsical, or coherent with how you place your links or how
you add the link text is a great expansion of human expression
Gemini throws this away. It shows in most prose written in
gemtext. The links are awkwardly placed, and the “placeholder” markers
(such as numbers or brackets) to connect the text to the link below
has not gelled to a standard.
No text markup (italics or bold)
Centuries of typographical refinement and tradition, thrown away for
no good reason.
Note that this extents to newer conventions like
these are only supported as blocks, not inline.
What I don’t actively despise
The limit to 3 header levels and lack of numbered lists are personally
ok for me.
Gemini culture prioritizes developers to a fault - but only up to a point
Just today I found a
about something called “favicon.txt” - essentially a single emoji that
the console client I use
use as a site identifier in its tabs.
In any normal project, this would have been seen as a cool feature,
but in Gemini it is seen as a harbinger of the adtech apocalypse. The
protocol is fixed in stone - for the stated reason that it should be
easy for a normally talented developer to code a client over a
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this ambition, but it must be
realized that it turns the usual developer/user dynamic on its
head. Normally, the user’s requirements are interpreted by the
developer, who makes concessions based on the user’s explicit and
implicit actions. For example, the ubiquitous hashtag was something
that emerged organically among Twitter’s users, and which the service
incorporated as a new feature.
This makes economic sense as an expression of comparative
advantage. Generally, users are prepared to “pay” to not have to
code something themselves. The developer can be seen a domain expert,
prepared to spend time and resources to craft a product that appeals
to the most users.
But Gemini states, as part of its explicit goals, that the protocol
should be easy to develop for. This shifts the burden from the few
(developers) to the many (users). To accommodate the ease of
developers, users’ expression must be hobbled.
But it also means that developer’s natural curiosity has to be
limited, lest they stray from the one true path of being able to
easily develop a new client, should they wish to.
In short, Gemini is aligned towards a new developer, not invested in
the ecosystem, to come in and develop software - but once they try to
transition to a seasoned developer, or a user, the ecosystem denies
them room to grow, to identify the pain points that have been
overlooked by the original designers, or to take the project in a new
As I’ve stated before, I’m sympathetic to the goals of Gemini, but the
means are entirely inadequate to reach those goals. It’s an exercise
in technical asceticism, dressed up in idealism.
Update Wednesday, 2021-09-29
This piece was submitted to lobste.rs and Hacker News and
I think generated some interesting discussions. I urge the reader to
peruse these to see where I am utterly incorrect above.
 this payment need not be monetary, as in the case of deep breath
Free/Libre and Open Source Software.