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why use gemini?

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why use gemini?

preface

Already motivated to use Gemini, but don’t know where to start? Check out the quickstart guide instead! It’ll show you how to get a Gemini client installed and start browsing.

geminiquickst.art through the web

geminiquickst.art through Gemini itself

This document is trying to present a variety of answers to the titular question. It obviously draws from my personal experience, but I’m trying to capture a variety of arguments that I’ve seen from other people in the past, as they have different needs and wants from me and it’d be helpful to approach it from a variety of angles.

One thing I am going to be avoiding is talking about the privacy of Gemini. A lot of the literature about Gemini seems to focus on the privacy aspect, and yet very few people will use something solely because it's private. If Gemini had no benefits other than being private it would have very few users indeed.

Also this is nytpu’s “crash course reintroduction to persuasive writing” so I’m sorry if it’s not actually very persuasive. I just rely on the quotes, that’s how I got through my AP Lang synthesis essay!

Finally, I have to give thanks to all the people who gave such wonderful responses to my rather vague request asking “why do you use Gemini.”

what even is gemini?

It’s an interesting question. If you care for a technical answer, the FAQ provides one:

Gemini is a new application-level internet protocol for the distribution of arbitrary files, with some special consideration for serving a lightweight hypertext format which facilitates linking between files.

— Gemini FAQ §1.1

That’s helpful for someone looking at what the protocol itself is, but it doesn’t quite capture what Gemini as a whole is. Gemini is really a community, and different people in the community have different but compelling reasons to use it.

reasons people use gemini

These are the most common reasons people use Gemini, collected both from direct quotes, my own thoughts, and stuff I’ve seen in the past. A few people I’ve asked IRL that dislike the contemporary internet and social media but were unable to articulate their feelings have empathised with this list.

content-focused

For me, one of the greatest aspect of #gemini is that it is made to focus on content.
No monetization around ads and tracking create a space where people can focus on what they want to read and/or write about, in a non-intrusive and non-distracting access to content…

— bacardi55 <@bacardi55@framapiaf.org>

It's been a breath of fresh air coming from the web of today. I get to control the presentation of the content, and there is nothing that gets in my way of reading the content. It's just content. It's what I wanted.

— twosecslater <@twosecslater@social.snopyta.org>

I publish on #Gemini because I want to provide my users alternatives ways to access my blog:
- they have a security and privacy guarantee (TLS is enforced)
- they can use old hardware or phone
- they can choose the way it will look for them
And as an admin:
- running an HTTPS server is getting more and more complicated due to complex headers
- Allowing readers to automatically use a dark theme on their web browser was not easy
- I wrote my own gemini server that fits my security needs

— Solène <@solene@bsd.network>

it just works. No cookies/tracking/ads or broken web standards. It's simply your content presented in the way you want it to be. Also it's very fast since it's text-only, especially useful if your internet connection is trash. Also all the people around there are nice and friendly and there are great spots to get your own capsule started for free. This shouldn't just co-exist with the web, it should be default for everyone.

— Leonie <@koyu@koyu.space>

No having to deal with ads, the addictiveness of social media, no dealing with massive tech companies. You just get directly to the content, no pop-ups, distractions, nothing!

If you ever used something like Pocket, Wallabag, or the “reader mode” in your browser, then you’ll see that Gemini is like that by default. No need for complicated tools that try (and often fail) to strip out the extraneous bars, ads, autoplay videos; Gemini is free from all that by design.

Also, the fact that Gemini is all content makes it very easy for people using screen readers to browse. No need to dodge irrelevant elements and deal with stuff made by web devs who don’t bother with that silly accessibility crap, it’s all just text that can be read nicely (well, with preformatted blocks collapsed).

customizable—by the user, not the site owner

This is pretty related to the previous point, so all the quotes for the previous point also apply here.

Gemini pages are just raw text with no styling to them at all (other than semantic elements like quotes, headers, bullets), they leave all the styling up to the user. Want all your pages to look exactly the same, with a flat black background and white text? Definitely! Want each page to have unique colors and styling? Absolutely! Unlike websites where you’re stuck using whatever design they decided on and if they don’t have a way to configure it then you’re SOL, Gemini gives the user control over their experience. Users who want to use a terminal browser are free to do so (without being “second-class citizens” like TUI browsers are on the web). Want a full GUI browser that works just like a web browser? Well you can have that too, or really anything else you want.

much “lighter” than the web

if I don't like my browser I can implement a new one :)
Also I don't have to use so many bloated specs

— matipa <@furtivo@weirder.earth>

The above quotes by Solène and Leonie also apply here.

The primary appeal of Gemini for a lot of people is that Gemini is a lot less “bloated” than the web is, and that it’s explicitly designed to stay that way. The web used to be simple too, but it was designed to be extensible and where there’s extensibility it will be extended until it turned into what it is today.

There are numerous implications of Gemini’s simplicity, some of which appeal to some people and others appeal to others, and yet all stem from the simplicity. For developers, the simplicity of Gemini means that it is exceptionally simple to write new software for it (Gemini had a design target of a dev being able to write a browser in a weekend). This is in contrast to the web, where writing a server or browser from scratch, even with a paid team working full-time, would be literally impossible.

Now, this sounds like it wouldn’t affect anyone who isn’t interested in writing Gemini software, but it actually affects all Gemini users. The fact that new software is easy to like means that any user has a whole range of software to choose from, each suited to a specific use-case.

Another implication of Gemini’s simplicity is that it can be used on almost any device (to a certain point, but most consumer devices in the past 20 years could handle it at least). A 5 year old phone that can’t run anything recent? It’ll definitely run a Gemini client! A PocketCHIPᵃ? Runs it handily. Devices that would never be able to handle modern websites—or can’t even run a web browser at all—can browse Gemini easily.

[a]

it’s a refreshing change from the web

<CommunistWolf> nytpu: I've had a gemini-shaped hole in my online experience for years. when I found it, I adopted it immediately and wholeheartedly. it does exactly what I want from the web, and leaves behind everything I don't want. hard to distil it down though
<nomn> give it a try (the distillation)! i'd be interested to hear it as well
<CommunistWolf> I think before gemini I was starting to withdraw from the web and go to little desktop applications for the services I wanted to keep. now I have an alternative which I prefer
<CommunistWolf> I guess it was a relief to be diverted from the path I was taking

— #gemini on the tilde.chat irc network

There are Gemini→web proxies, why should you download an entire new Gemini client just to browse it? Well, a big part of the “Gemini experience” is the fact that it is different and unique from the web. When you go on Gemini you know you’re going to get a unique and different experience from the normal web experience. You know when you’re on Gemini that you’re going to be staying on Gemini until you close your client. I dunno, this is a very vague and nebulous point, but it is a very important one to me personally. Something about the culture and community of Gemini is very different from the modern web, more genuine somehow. It’s really something unique that you have to discover yourself.

you can find and interact with interesting real people

I have started to blog years ago on platform built with XMPP/Jabber support. Now I’m writing on my #Gemini capsule. Then, and today the reason is the same. It’s interesting idea which involving interesting peoples. You don't have to search for them, just select a random #Gemlog.

— Szczeżuja <@szczezuja@mastodon.online>

The above quote by Leonie also applies here. At this point I’m reconsidering how I organized this…

Wow this point ties into the previous point yet again! But yeah, the community of Gemini is a community of real people, and since you don’t have a big company with interests in keeping you walled into their platform at all times, you meet and interact with people from Gemini all over the place. I have people who’s capsules I read that I just stumbled across on IRC, XMPP, or the Fediverse, and we just started chatting. Turns out they read my capsule too, and even though we just “met” we already feel a connection. It’s just a wonderful feeling to read all this stuff from actual people.

it’s just cool!

<benk> I have to think about why I even use it
<benk> Other than thinking it was so cool when I first tried it
<orbifx> I use it because benk doesn't post on his http anymore ><

— geminauts@chat.kwiecien.us xmpp chat

The concept of a brand new internet protocol is really just cool! No one reading this can possibly pretend that they’ve never done something for no other reason than “it sounds cool.” If you’re interested in this sort of thing then just thinking it’s interesting is a perfectly valid reason to use it. I too think that it’s really cool to be using a brand-new protocol that’s different from the web.

rebuttals to gemini criticisms

no images

People that say “Gemini doesn’t have images” strike me as people that don’t understand how the internet works, but I’ll humor them and explain it here.

No internet protocol today has images native in it’s format (discounting base64-encoded stuff shoved into the page), not HTML, not discord, not ActivityPub. They all have a link to an image elsewhere, and can then interpret that image how they want, usually displaying it inline. However, there is no reason that the image /has/ to be displayed inline. Ever used tuir/rtv or rainbowstream? Those don’t display images inline, and yet I’ve never heard anyone say that those TUI clients “don’t support images.” It’s a deliberately misleading argument, because there’s nothing about HTML that inherently supports “inline images” any more than gemtext does (no, <img> tags do not /have/ to be inlined any more than they have to be in Gemini, it just that they /recommend/ <img>s to be inlined).

The main reason Gemini doesn’t have images inlined is because the first clients were written for the terminal because it’s easier to write software for and because terminal-based stuff actually preferable for a lot of the early adopters. However, there’s no reason that you can’t inline images, see Lagrange:

A screenshot of Lagrange on my “Cheetah A Day” page showing a picture of a cute cheetah mom and kitten, but more importantly it’s inline with the page.

Now, maybe when people say that there’s no images they really mean “no displayed-by-default images.” Well, that’s in there for both privacy (no tracking pixels) and for slow/metered internet connections that don’t want to download your 50 megabyte image. Not being able to force images to be displayed is part of the “presentation is controlled by the reader, not the author” ethos of Gemini. If the reader decides they want to view the image inline, they can. If they want to view it in their preferred image viewer they can too, you the author can’t force them to do anything.

no inline markup

The biggest shortcoming that everyone realizes is that Gemini doesn’t have inline markup for things like /italics/, *bold*, footnotesᵃ, etc. I’m of the opinion that the simplicity of parsing gained by not having to scan the entire text content of gemtext is worth it though (see “much ‘lighter’ than the web”). And the vast majority of writing doesn’t need those elements—try using more vivid diction rather than overusing emphasis—and the places where you need it can be easily done using the emphasis techniques that have been used since before the internet was even created (demoed earlier in this paragraph).

If you really do need to control the presentation of your content, then you can serve up any mime type you want. Serving markdown is perfectly fine, and for more finer-grained presentational control you can serve PDFs or even HTML if you so chose. And, gemtext is not always a good choice. While it’s great for most forms of writing, for something like a book or technical writing with formulae it’d leave something to be desired. That’s why Gemini wasn’t locked down to just gemtext, you can serve whatever you want.

why not just use a subset of http and html?

See the Gemini FAQ, §2.5:

Many people are confused as to why it's worth creating a new protocol to address perceived problems with optional, non-essential features of the web. Just because websites *can* track users and run CPU-hogging Javsacript and pull in useless multi-megabyte header images or even larger autoplaying videos, doesn't mean they *have* to. Why not just build non-evil websites using the existing technology?

Of course, this is possible. "The Gemini experience" is roughly equivalent to HTTP where the only request header is "Host" and the only response header is "Content-type" and HTML where the only tags are <p>, <pre>, <a>, <h1> through <h3>, <ul> and <li> and <blockquote> - and the https://gemini.circumlunar.space website offers pretty much this experience. We know it can be done.

The problem is that deciding upon a strictly limited subset of HTTP and HTML, slapping a label on it and calling it a day would do almost nothing to create a clearly demarcated space where people can go to consume *only* that kind of content in *only* that kind of way. It's impossible to know in advance whether what's on the other side of a https:// URL will be within the subset or outside it. It's very tedious to verify that a website claiming to use only the subset actually does, as many of the features we want to avoid are invisible (but not harmless!) to the user. It's difficult or even impossible to deactivate support for all the unwanted features in mainstream browsers, so if somebody breaks the rules you'll pay the consequences. Writing a dumbed down web browser which gracefully ignores all the unwanted features is much harder than writing a Gemini client from scratch. Even if you did it, you'd have a very difficult time discovering the minuscule fraction of websites it could render.

Alternative, simple-by-design protocols like Gopher and Gemini create alternative, simple-by-design spaces with obvious boundaries and hard restrictions. You know for sure when you enter Geminispace, and you can know for sure and in advance when following a certain link will cause you leave it. While you're there, you know for sure and in advance that everybody else there is playing by the same rules. You can relax and get on with your browsing, and follow links to sites you've never heard of before, which just popped up yesterday, and be confident that they won't try to track you or serve you garbage because they *can't*. You can do all this with a client you wrote yourself, so you *know* you can trust it. It's a very different, much more liberating and much more empowering experience than trying to carve out a tiny, invisible sub-sub-sub-sub-space of the web.

conclusions

If you’re convinced, I’m going to mention the amazing Gemini quickstart by Jason McBrayer again. It’ll walk you through getting a Gemini client installed, even if you’re not very technical with computers.

geminiquickst.art through the web

geminiquickst.art through Gemini itself

I’m also going to plug a few ways to find new content on Gemini, because that’s the best part!

Of course I’m going to plug my own feed aggregator with a whole bunch of gemlogs

medusae.space is a catalog of a whole bunch of capsules across a number of topics. Check the “Latest entries” page regularly to keep up-to-date on new capsules!

The venerated CAPCOM aggregator

The tried and true Spacewalk aggregator

The geminispace.info search engine, particularly useful if you want to search for something specific.

-- Copyright © 2021 nytpu - CC BY-SA 4.0

Published on April 25, 2021

Edited on May 1, 2021 — Fixing a few nagging typos and added “why not just use a subset of http and html?”

contact: alex [at] nytpu.com

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