Working openly on the web: a manifesto

Three years ago, Jon Udell wrote Seven ways to think like the web. It’s a popular post amongst people who straddle the worlds of education and technology – but hasn’t got the reputation it deserves outside of those circles. That could be because, although a well-structured post, Jon includes some language that’s not used in everyday discourse. It’s perhaps also because he applies it to a specific project he was working on at the time.

I’d like to take Jon’s seven points, originally created with a group of people at a conference in 2010, condense them, and try and make them as simple to understand as possible.

1. Have a corner of the web you control #

Services change their privacy settings, close down, and are taken over by megacorps. Having a corner of the web you control means being able to better control your digital identity.

Also, nobody cares as much about your data as you do. The data you control is as timely and accurate as you have the time to make it.

2. Work openly by default #

Just as by using a microphone offline we can address a larger group of people than we would be able to with our unamplified voice, so we can address audiences of different scopes in our digital communications. An email reaches a much smaller number of people than a blog post.

Unless it contains sensitive information, publish your work to a public URL that can be referenced by others. This allows ideas to build upon one another in a ‘slow hunch’ fashion. Likewise, with documents and other digital artefacts, publish and then share rather than deal with version control issues by sending the document itself.

In addition, use standard protocols and formats when creating digital artefacts. This helps prevent vendor lock-in and supports the most open kinds of collaboration.

3. Ensure your data is readable by both humans and machines #

The web is made up of machines, but also humans using those machines. It’s a hybrid, a chimera. Publishing digital artefacts in forms both humans and machines understand allows for ‘network effects’. An example of this in a message sent to a social network being re-shared thousands of times.

Use unique, memorable, well-structured URLs and tags. This enables data and digital artefacts to be managed and curated efficiently. An example of this would be promoting an ‘official’ hashtag at a conference or event.

Progress comes through discovery, serendipity and joining ideas together. Adding metadata in the form of machine-readable data helps with others find and build on your work.

If you’ve read both Jon’s post and this one, have I missed anything significant? What would you add/remove?

Comments? Questions? I’m @dajbelshaw or you can email me at


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