Friday, 2021-06-11

Why Gemini is not my favorite internet protocol

TL;DR: the Gemini protocol removes too much functionality for it to interesting to me.

What is Gemini?

Gemini is a simple web publishing protocol. It can be seen as a descendant, successor of Gopher. Gemini primarily emphasizes developer simplicity, and secondarily user privacy.

This comes with significant trade-offs for the author, however. Compared to standard vanilla HTML4, there are no inline links, no provision for media other than text on a page, and the styling of the content is left to the client.

My background in web publishing - I’ve been fascinated by publishing since I was a kid and I’ve been involved in printing zines and in student newspapers etc through the years. The idea that I can publish what I want, when I want, at whatever lengths I want, for effectively free, is still mind-blowing to me, almost 30 years since I copied some HTML code and made it mine.

Here’s where Gemini falls down for me.

First, there’s no official client. The fact that it’s so easy to implement a client means there’s a Cambrian explosion going on, and the filtering die-back has not yet occurred. This might change in the medium future.

Second, the styling limitations are crippling. I can probably survive without having images etc. on the same page, but the lack of inline links (each link has to be on its own line) leads to stilted, quasi-academic jargony text like this:

Check out my cool blog[1]! It’s full of cats!

[1] https://gerikson.com/blog

I’m not going to abandon three decades of hypertext authoring habits to make a developer’s life slightly easier.

Third, Gemini puts the cart before the horse when it comes to privacy. The solution to widespread tracking and user surveillance isn’t a bespoke hairshirt protocol that no-one is going to use. The solution is widespread legislation that makes using people’s personal data for targeted advertising illegal or very expensive. (This is not limited to Gemini. A great many influential Internet people are convinced politics is utterly broken, so “technical solutions” are all that’s left).

Gemini, to me, is part of the nostalgia for a past that never really was — the halcyon days of the Internet, before the Eternal September. But time is the great filter. What has survived from that era is not the spam, the pointless Usenet arguments, the shitposting, but finely polished nuggets. If you weren’t there, it might have seemed a paradise, but I was, and it wasn’t. It was today’s internet, but text-only and with proportionally even more white dudes.

Update

This entry was submitted to Lobste.rs and spawned an interesting discussion. Among others, this piece was posted (comments), and this post was also mentioned.

I suggest those interested in Gemini and what it means to people to read the linked items and discussions.

I’d also like to clarify that I wrote this rant basically to have a single place to point Gemini proselytizers to. I need to emphasize that if you personally use Gemini, or find Gemini useful or fun, more power to you! I am not suggesting you stop or that your efforts are in vain.

Sadly, there are some Gemini enthusiasts who are the equivalent of people handing out flyers for some obscure club, and who get shirty when you try to politely explain that you’re not interested in attending. Those people are annoying, and they give Gemini a bad name.