Threaded Replies and Comments with Webmentions in WordPress

Introduction to what one would consider basic web communication

A few days ago I had written a post on my website and a colleague had written a reply on his own website. Because we were both using the W3C Webmention specification on our websites, my site received the notification of his response and displayed it in the comments section of my website. (This in and of itself is really magic enough–cross website @mentions!)

To reply back to him I previously would have written a separate second post on my site in turn to reply to his, thereby fragmenting the conversation across multiple posts and making it harder to follow the conversation. (This is somewhat similar to what Medium.com does with their commenting system as each reply/comment is its own standalone page.)

Instead, I’ve now been able to configure my website to allow me to write a reply directly to a response within my comments section admin UI (or even in the comments section of the original page itself), publish it, and have the comment be sent to his reply and display it there. Two copies for the price of one!

From the comments list in my Admin UI, I can write a reply and it not only lives on my site but it can now be sent as a comment to the site that made the original comment! As an example, here’s my first one and the resultant copy on the site I was replying to.

This means that now, WordPress-based websites (at least self-hosted versions running the WordPress.org code) can easily and simply allow multiple parties to write posts on their own sites and participate in multi-sided conversations back and forth while all parties maintain copies of all sides of the conversation on their own websites in a way that maintains all of the context. As a result, if one site should be shut down or disappear, the remaining websites will still have a fully archived copy of the entire conversation thread. (Let’s hear it for the resilience of the web!)

What is happening?

This functionality is seemingly so simple that one is left wondering:

  • “Why wasn’t this baked into WordPress (and the rest of the web) from the start?”
  • “Why wasn’t this built after the rise of Twitter, Facebook, or other websites which do this as a basic function?”
  • “How can I get it tout suite?!” (aka gimme, gimme, gimme, and right now!!!)

While seeming simple, the technical hurdles aren’t necessarily because there had previously never been a universal protocol for the web to allow it. (The Webmentions spec now makes it possible.) Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and others enable it because they’ve got a highly closed and highly customized environment that makes it a simpler problem to solve. In fact, even old-school web-based bulletin boards allowed this!

But even within social media one will immediately notice that you can’t use your Facebook account to reply to a Twitter account. And why not?! (While the web would be far better if one website or page could talk to another, these sites don’t for the simple economic reason that they want you using only their site and not others, and not enabling this functionality keeps you locked into what they’re selling.)

I’ll detail the basic set up below, but thought that it would be highly illustrative to have a diagram of what’s physically happening in case the description above seems a bit confusing to picture properly. I’ll depict two websites, each in their own column and color-coded so that content from site A is one color while content from site B is another color.

A diagram of where comments live when sent via webmention.
Each site composes and owns its own content and sends the replies to the other site.

It really seems nearly incomprehensible to me how this hasn’t been built into the core functionality of the web from the beginning of at least the blogosphere. Yet here we are, and somehow I’m demonstrating how to do this from one WordPress site to another via the open web in 2017. To me this is the entire difference between a true Internet and just using someone else’s intranet.

Implementation

Prerequisites

While this general functionality is doable on any website, I’ll stick to enabling it specifically on WordPress, a content management system that is powering roughly 30% of all websites on the internet. You’ll naturally need your own self-hosted WordPress-based website with a few custom plugins and a modern semantic-based theme. (Those interested in setting it up on other platforms are more than welcome to explore the resources of the IndieWeb wiki and their chat which has a wealth of resources.)

Plugins

As a minimum set you’ll want to have the following list of plugins enabled and configured:

Other instructions and help for setting these up and configuring them can be found on the IndieWeb wiki, though not all of the steps there are necessarily required for this functionality.

Themes

Ideally this all should function regardless of the theme you have chosen, but WordPress only provides the most basic support for microformats version 1 and doesn’t support the more modern version 2 out of the box. As a result, the display of comments from site to site may be a bit wonky depending on how supportive your particular theme is of the microformats standards. As you can see I’m using a relatively standard version of the TwentySixteen theme without a lot of customization and getting some reasonable results. If you have a choice, I’d recommend one of the following specific themes which have solid semantic markup:

Plugin

The final plugin that enables sending comments from one comment section to another is the WordPress Webmention for Comments plugin. As it is still somewhat experimental and is not available in the WordPress repository, you’ll need to download it from GitHub and activate it. That’s it! There aren’t any settings or anything else to configure.

Use

With the plugin installed, you should now be able to send comments and replies to replies directly within your comments admin UI (or directly within your comments section in individual pages, though this can not require additional clicks to get there, but you also don’t have the benefit of the admin editor either).

There is one current caveat however. For the plugin to actually send the webmention properly, it will need to have a URL in your reply that includes the microformats u-in-reply-to class. Currently you’ll need to do this manually until the plugin can properly parse and target the fragmentions for the comments properly. I hope the functionality can be added to the plugin to make the experience seamless in the future.

So what does this u-in-reply-to part actually look like? Here’s an example of the one I used to send my reply:

<a class="u-in-reply-to" href="https://islandinthenet.com/manually-adding-microfomats-markup/">Khürt</a>

The class tells the receiving site that the webmention is a reply and to display it as such and the URL is necessary for your webmention plugin to know where to send the notification. You’d simply need to change the URL and the word (or words) that appear between the anchor tags.

If you want to have a hidden link and still send a webmention you could potentially add your link to a zero width space as well. This would look like the following:

<a class="u-in-reply-to" href="http://www.example.com">&​#8203;​</a>

Based on my experiments, using a <link> via HTML will work, but it will send it as a plain webmention to the site and it won’t show up natively as a reply.

Sadly, a plain text reply doesn’t work (yet), but hopefully some simple changes could be made to force it to using the common fragmentions pattern that WordPress uses for replies.

Interestingly this capability has been around for a while, it just hasn’t been well documented or described. I hope now that those with WordPress sites that already support Webmentions will have a better idea what this plugin is doing and how works.

Future

Eventually one might expect that all the bugs in the system get worked out and the sub-plugin for sending comment Webmentions will be rolled up into the main Webmentions plugin, which incidentally handles fragmentions already.

Caveats

In addition to the notes above, I will say that this is still technically experimental code not running on many websites, so its functionality may not be exact or perfect in actual use, though in experimenting with it I have found it to be very stable. I would recommend checking that the replies actually post to the receiving site, which incidentally must be able to accept webmentions. If the receiving website doesn’t have webmention support, one will need to manually cut and paste the content there (and likely check the receive notification of replies via email, so you can stay apprised of future replies).

You can check the receiving site’s webmention support in most browsers by right clicking and viewing the pages source. Within the source one should see code in the <head> section of the page which indicates there is a webmention endpoint. Here is an example of the code typically injected into WordPress websites that you’d be looking for:

<link rel="webmention" href="http://example.com/wp-json/webmention/1.0/endpoint" />
<link rel="http://webmention.org/" href="http://example.com/wp-json/webmention/1.0/endpoint" />

Also keep in mind that some users moderate their comments, so that even though your mention was sent, they may need to approve it prior to it displaying on the page.

If you do notice problems or issues or have quirks, please file the issue with as full a description of what you did and what resulted as you can so that it can be troubleshot and made to work not only for you, but hopefully work better for everyone else.

Give it a try

So you’ve implemented everything above? Go ahead and write a reply on your own WordPress website and send me a webmention! I’ll do my best to reply directly to you so you can send another reply to make sure you’ve got things working properly.

Once you’re set, go forward and continue helping to make the web a better place.

Special Thanks

I wanted to take a moment to give special thanks to Aaron Parecki, Matthias Pfefferle, and David Shanske who have done most of the Herculean work to get this and related functionality working. And thanks also to all who make up the IndieWeb community that are pushing the boundaries of what the web is and what it can accomplish. And finally, thanks to Khürt Williams who became the unwitting guinea pig for my first attempt at this. Thank you all!

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Alpha Release of Linkback Module for Drupal 8 with Webmention Support [8.x-1.0-alpha1]

Alpha Release of Linkback Module for Drupal 8 with Webmention Support [8.x-1.0-alpha1] by Dan FeidtDan Feidt (Drupal.org)
We are proud to bring you the first alpha release of Linkback, an interesting suite of modules which can help integrate your website with the wider internet. Linkback provides the backend functionality to save both outgoing and incoming pings and webmentions involving remote sites.

Drupal 8, now (along with platforms like WithKnown, Perch, WordPress, Craft, Kirby, ProcessWire, Elgg, and Django) has Webmention support. Congratulations to Dan Feidt (aka HongPong) and everyone involved!

This means that more websites can communicate directly with each other on the open and decentralized web. (Wouldn’t you like to “@mention” someone from your own website to theirs?) It’s a rapidly growing reality on the internet.​​​​​

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Reply to Aggregating the Decentralized Social Web by Jason Green

Aggregating the Decentralized Social Web by Jason Green (þoht-hord)
There are actually three problems to solve, reading, which is relatively easy, posting, which is harder, and social graph management, which is quite complex.

Some brief thoughts:

There are actually three problems to solve, reading, which is relatively easy, posting, which is harder, and social graph management, which is quite complex.

I might submit that posting is possibly the easiest of the three and that the reader problem is the most difficult. This is based on the tremendous number of platforms and CMSs on which one can post, but the dearth of feed readers in existence.

Managing your social graph

Something akin to a following list could help this. Or a modified version of OPML subscription lists could work. They just need to be opened up a tad. Some are working on the idea of an open microsub spec which could be transformative as well: https://indieweb.org/Microsub-spec


How do we decentralize the web without so decentralizing our own social presence that it becomes unmanageable?

You’ve already got a huge headstart in doing this with your own website. Why bother to have thousands of accounts (trust me when I say this) when you could have one? Then, as you suggest, password protected RSS (or other) feeds out to others could allow you to control which audiences get to see which content on your own site.


It looks as if Withknown has made some progress in this area with syndication plugins.

WordPress has lots of ways to syndicate content too. Ideally if everyone had their own website as a central hub, the idea of syndication would ultimately die out altogether. At best syndication is really just a stopgap until that point.


Subscribing to my personal timeline(s) with my favorite RSS reader would bring everything together,

I’ve written some thoughts about how feed readers could continue to evolve for the open web here: http://boffosocko.com/2017/06/09/how-feed-readers-can-grow-market-share-and-take-over-social-media/


listed items chronologically independent of source

Having a variety of ways to chop and dice up content are really required. We need more means of filtering content, not less. I know many who have given up on chronological feed reading. While it can be nice, there are many other useful means as well.

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Virtual Homebrew Website Club Meetup on December 13, 2017

Join some like-minded people in building and updating your personal website.

This is a Virtual HWC for IndieWebbers who either can’t make a regular meeting or don’t yet have critical mass to host one in their area. Everyone is welcome to participate remotely!

Virtual Homebrew Website Club Meetup on December 13, 2017
Time:  to
Location: Online via Google Hangouts (link is posted and live)

Details

Join a community with like-minded interests. Invite friends that want a personal site.

  • Work on your IndieWeb Resolutions for 2018
  • Finish that blog post you’ve been working on
  • Demos of recent IndieWeb breakthroughs
  • Share what you’ve gotten working
  • Ask the experts questions

A link to virtual meetup on Google Hangouts will be posted on the day of the event. Check back before the meeting to get the link: https://hangouts.google.com/call/0JCH5b875C2UNseSnfkxAAEE

Optional quiet writing hour: 19:30–20:30 ET (16:30-17:30 PT)
Meetup: 20:30–21:30 ET (17:30-18:30 PT)

The IndieWeb is a growing people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’.

Skill levels: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

Keep in mind that there is often a European virtual meetup if those times work better for your schedule.

Any questions? Need help? Ask in chat: http://indiewebcamp.com/irc/today#bottom

RSVP

Add your RSVP in the comments below; by adding your indie RSVP via webmention to this post; or by RSVPing yes to one of the syndicated posts below
Indieweb.org event: https://indieweb.org/events/2017-12-13-homebrew-website-club#Virtual_Americas
Facebook.com: https://www.facebook.com/events/169650146961455/
Meetup.com: https://www.meetup.com/IndieWeb-Homebrew-Website-Club-Los-Angeles/events/245539015/

If your site doesn’t support sending webmentions yet, you should be able to create a post on your website with the following HTML:

<div class="h-entry">
RSVP <span class="p-rsvp">yes</span>
to <a href="http://boffosocko.com/2017/11/30/virtual-homebrew-website-club-meetup-on-december-13-2017/" class="u-in-reply-to">Virtual Homebrew Website Club Meetup on December 13, 2017</a>
</div>

Then put the permalink URL for your post into the webmentions box in the comments section. My site should be able to parse your URL and display the response. (Naturally, you can also change your response to “no” or “maybe” depending on your ability to attend.)

(I think this may be my first indie event that I’ve posted to my WordPress site.)

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The Presentation of Self on a Decentralised Web by Dr. Amy Guy

The Presentation of Self on a Decentralised Web by Dr. Amy Guy (rhiaro.github.io)
Many people express themselves online through social media, blogs, personal websites, and the like. Using these technologies affects our day-to-day lives, and sense of self. These technologies also change and develop in response to how people use them. Many of the tools we use come with constraints, and people often find ways to work around these constraints to suit their needs. This thesis explores the different ways in which people express their identities using contemporary Web technologies. We conduct several studies, and show that there are many interdependent factors at play when it comes to online self-presentation, and that it is rare that all of these are considered when studying or designing social systems. We present a conceptual framework which will enable cohesive further research in this area, as well as guidance for future system designs. In the second part, we discuss how these technologies are changing. We make contributions to an emerging alternative means of engaging with social media and similar technologies, and examine the implications of these new technologies on self-presentation.

Congratulations Dr. Guy! I can’t wait to read your thesis…

There may possibly be some other much older IndieWeb related doctoral theses out there, but I suspect this may be the first in the new era…

If nothing else, you’ve got to love a thesis that’s got it’s own custom short link-style domain: dr.amy.gy ​​​​

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👓 Going Indie. Step 2: Reclaiming Content | Matthias Ott

Going Indie. Step 2: Reclaiming Content by Matthias Ott (Matthias Ott | User Experience Designer)
We have lost control over our content. To change this, we need to reconsider the way we create and consume content online. We need to create a new set of tools that enable an independent, open web for everyone.

A nice narrative for the IndieWeb movement by Matthias.

Some of my favorite quotes from the piece:

Having your own website surely is a wonderful thing, but to be relevant, useful, and satisfactory, it needs to be connected to other sites and services. Because ultimately, human interactions are what fuels social life online and most of your friends will still be on social networks, for now.

…what the IndieWeb movement is about: Creating tools that enable a decentralized, people-focused alternative to the corporate web, putting you back in control, and building an active community around this idea of independence.

Tim Kadlec reminded us of the underlying promise of the web:

The web is for everyone.

Wilson Miner put it in his 2011 Build conference talk:
“The things that we choose to surround ourselves will shape what we become. We’re actually in the process of building an environment, where we’ll spend most of our time, for the rest of our lives.”

 

This also reminds me that I ought to swing by room 3420 in Boelter Hall on my way to math class this week. I forget that I’m always taking classes just a few floors away from the room that housed the birth of the internet.

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👓 Towards a more democratic Web | Tara Vancil

Towards a more democratic Web by Tara Vancil (Tara Vancil)
Many people who have suffered harassment on Twitter (largely women), are understandably fed up with Twitter’s practices, and have staged a boycott of Twitter today October 13, 2017. Presumably the goal is to highlight the flaws in Twitter’s moderation policies, and to push the company to make meaningful changes in their policies, but I’d like to argue that we shouldn’t expect Twitter’s policies to change.

I think I believe Tara when she says about Twitter:

It’s not going to get better.

I think there are a lot of people, including myself, who also think like she does here:

I want online media to work much more like a democracy, where users are empowered to decide what their experience is like.

The difference for her is that she’s actively building something to attempt to make things better not only for herself, but for others. This is tremendously laudable.

I’d heard of her project Beaker and Mastodon before, but hadn’t heard anything before about Patchwork, which sounds rather interesting.

h/t Richard Eriksson for highlighting this article on Reading.am though I would have come across it tomorrow morning likely in my own feed reader.

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📺 The Decentralized Social Web by Keith J. Grant

The Decentralized Social Web by Keith J. Grant (Recall Act)
We tend to have a love/hate relationship with social networks. The ability to interact with friends, colleagues, and even celebrities is wonderful, but the lack of control over privacy or content algorithms is troubling. A better way lies ahead, where you aren't tied to large social networks and where you can own your own data. Recorded at Atlanta Connect.Tech 2017 on 9/21/2017

A few weeks back Keith gave a great non-platform specific overview to some of the moving pieces of the IndieWeb at Connect.Tech 2017 in Atlanta. I wish I could have been there in person, but glad that it was archived on video for posterity.

Somehow I managed to get a mention in his talk as did our friend Jeremy Cherfas.

The slides for his talk are archived, naturally, on his own website.
​​​

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👓 Decentralized Web Pt 3: Join the IndieWeb | Michael McCallister: Notes from the Metaverse

Decentralized Web Pt 3: Join the IndieWeb by Michael McCallister (Notes from the Metaverse)
In recent months, I’ve been learning a lot about the “IndieWeb,” an idea spread by folks who understand that the Web offers a unique platform where ordinary people without the financial clout of the 20th century publishing industry could still potentially reach millions with their ideas.

But to be honest, I’m not sure I can tell you why — and how — to join up any better than Chris Aldrich did in this piece on AltPlatform. So just go over there now.

I know Michael has been working at the IndieWeb bit for a while, so this is some nice praise.

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🔖 Back to the Future: The Decentralized Web, a report by Digital Currency Initiative & Center for Civic Media

Back to the Future: The Decentralized Web, A report by the Digital Currency Initiative and the Center for Civic Media (Digital Currency Initiative / MIT Media Lab)
The Web is a key space for civic debate and the current battleground for protecting freedom of expression. However, since its development, the Web has steadily evolved into an ecosystem of large, corporate-controlled mega-platforms which intermediate speech online. In many ways this has been a positive development; these platforms improved usability and enabled billions of people to publish and discover content without having to become experts on the Web’s intricate protocols. But in other ways this development is alarming. Just a few large platforms drive most traffic to online news sources in the U.S., and thus have enormous influence over what sources of information the public consumes on a daily basis. The existence of these consolidated points of control is troubling for many reasons. A small number of stakeholders end up having outsized influence over the content the public can create and consume. This leads to problems ranging from censorship at the behest of national governments to more subtle, perhaps even unintentional, bias in the curation of content users see based on opaque, unaudited curation algorithms. The platforms that host our networked public sphere and inform us about the world are unelected, unaccountable, and often impossible to audit or oversee. At the same time, there is growing excitement around the area of decentralized systems, which have grown in prominence over the past decade thanks to the popularity of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a payment system that has no central points of control, and uses a novel peer-to-peer network protocol to agree on a distributed ledger of transactions, the blockchain. Bitcoin paints a picture of a world where untrusted networks of computers can coordinate to provide important infrastructure, like verifiable identity and distributed storage. Advocates of these decentralized systems propose related technology as the way forward to “re-decentralize” the Web, by shifting publishing and discovery out of the hands of a few corporations, and back into the hands of users. These types of code-based, structural interventions are appealing because in theory, they are less corruptible and resistant to corporate or political regulation. Surprisingly, low-level, decentralized systems don’t necessarily translate into decreased market consolidation around user-facing mega-platforms. In this report, we explore two important ways structurally decentralized systems could help address the risks of mega-platform consolidation: First, these systems can help users directly publish and discover content directly, without intermediaries, and thus without censorship. All of the systems we evaluate advertise censorship-resistance as a major benefit. Second, these systems could indirectly enable greater competition and user choice, by lowering the barrier to entry for new platforms. As it stands, it is difficult for users to switch between platforms (they must recreate all their data when moving to a new service) and most mega-platforms do not interoperate, so switching means leaving behind your social network. Some systems we evaluate directly address the issues of data portability and interoperability in an effort to support greater competition.

Download .pdf

h/t Ethan Zuckerman
Related to http://boffosocko.com/2017/08/19/mastodon-is-big-in-japan-the-reason-why-is-uncomfortable-by-ethan-zuckerman/

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👓 Mastodon is big in Japan. The reason why is… uncomfortable by Ethan Zuckerman

Mastodon is big in Japan. The reason why is… uncomfortable by Ethan Zuckerman (My heart’s in Accra)
Most distributed publishing tools are simply too complex for most users to adopt. Mastodon may have overcome that problem, borrowing design ideas from a successful commercial product. But the example of lolicon may challenge our theories in two directions. One, if you’re unable to share content on the sites you’re used to using – Twitter, in this case – you may be more willing to adopt a new tool, even if its interface is initially unfamiliar. Second, an additional barrier to adoption for decentralized publishing may be that its first large userbase is a population that cannot use centralized social networks. Any stigma associated with this community may make it harder for users with other interests to adopt these new tools.

Like many others, I can see many more and stronger reasons for a decentralized web than not. This article takes a look at a little bit of the downside of the model. (Though to be honest, I think the downside for this is even bigger in the siloed model.) Naturally the long term effects are far more complex than described here, but this is also very interesting during a week when there’s a continuing resurgence of neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and other white supremacists in America as well as a growing list of major companies that aren’t allowing them a safe harbor.

The US Government subpoena to DreamHost this week for visitors of an anti-Trump website and backbone internet companies like CloudFlare kicking off “The Daily Stormer” are particularly intriguing in the larger ecosystem as well.

I think there’s a lot here that’s both interesting to the IndieWeb community and from which we can all learn.

As I’m thinking about it, I wonder a bit what happens to the role of “community manager” in a larger decentralized and independent web? I hope it’s tummelers like Tantek Çelik, Kevin Marks, Jeremy Keith, Martijn van der Ven and others who continue to blaze the trail.

Mastodon is big in Japan

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👓 Pivot time: searching for an Open Web blogging model | AltPlatform

Pivot time: searching for an Open Web blogging model by Richard MacManus (AltPlatform)
We launched this blog less than three months ago to explore the latest in Open Web technologies. Things like the IndieWeb movement, blockchain apps, API platforms, Open AI, and more. AltPlatform has always been an experiment, as I made clear in our introductory post. However, from a publishing point of view the experiment hasn’t worked out as we had hoped. To put it plainly, the page views haven’t eventuated – at least in a sustained way. So it’s time to try something new. We’re going to pivot into something a bit different…soon.

I’m a bit saddened by this, but it’s always fun to try out new things. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

I love ricmac’s conceptualization of blogging and hope it comes back the way he–and I–envision it.

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👓 Pirate Bay founder: We’ve lost the internet, it’s all about damage control now | The Next Web

Pirate Bay founder: We’ve lost the internet, it’s all about damage control now by Mar Masson Maack (The Next Web)
At its inception, the internet was a beautifully idealistic and equal place. But the world sucks and we’ve continuously made it more and more centralized, taking power away from users and handing it over to big companies. And the worst thing is that we can’t fix it — we can only make it slightly less awful. That was pretty much the core of Pirate Bay’s co-founder, Peter Sunde‘s talk at tech festival Brain Bar Budapest. TNW sat down with the pessimistic activist and controversial figure to discuss how screwed we actually are when it comes to decentralizing the internet.
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An Introduction to the IndieWeb

There's a better way to own and control your online identity

Why IndieWeb?

Whether you’re starting a blog, building your personal brand, posting a resume, promoting a hobby, writing a personal journal, creating an online commonplace book, sharing photos or content with friends, family, or colleagues, writing reviews, sharing recipes, podcasting, or any one of the thousand other things people do online it all starts with having a presence and an identity online.

The seemingly difficult task these days is deciding where that should be. There’s Twitter for sharing short updates and bookmarks to articles; Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr, and YouTube for photos and videos; Facebook for communicating with family and friends; LinkedIn for work and career related posts; Swarm for sharing your location; and literally thousands of others for nearly every micro-slice of content one could think of.

Can you possibly be on them all? Should you? Would you want to be? Could you keep up with it? Which one really and truly represents the real you? Could any of them?

And what about your friends, family, and potential audience for all of these things? Some will be on Twitter while others only use Facebook. Grandma is worried about privacy and is only on Instagram to see photos of the grandchildren. Mom is on Facebook because she thinks that’s what the internet is, and wants to like everything her children post. Teenagers don’t want to be on any platforms their parents have heard of. It’s obvious that everyone has their own preferences and favorites.

In short, the web and using it for easy communication has become fraught with fragmentation and walls that often make communicating online far more difficult than it should be. Wouldn’t it be better if you had a single website that represented you online and through which you could easily communicate with everyone?

By analogy consider the telephone system which, just like the internet, consists of wires and hardware to access the network. Every user on the network has their own phone and phone number. What would it be like if AT&T users could only speak to other AT&T users and needed another separate phone, account, and phone number to speak to friends and family on Verizon and yet another to talk to friends on Sprint? To a great extent, this is what the internet has evolved to become with monopolistic, for-profit, corporate services like Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the rest.

Is there a better and more robust solution than these multitudes of social media sites which all come with their own onerous terms of service, limitations on your creativity, reach, ownership, and control of your online identity?

A growing number of people on the web are sure there is and they’re working together in an open yet coordinated way to improve the democratized nature of the decentralized internet. This movement is known as the IndieWeb.

Purpose of IndieWeb

The purpose of the IndieWeb movement is to help put you in control of your web presence, allow you a more true sense of ownership of your content, and to allow you to be better connected to your friends, family, colleagues, and communities. By first owning your own domain name and having your own personal website, the IndieWeb aims to help facilitate the following:

You are in Control

You can post anything you want, in any format you want, with no one monitoring you. In addition, you share simple readable links such as http://www.example.com/ideas. These links are permanent and will always work.

Control and Freedom

You should be able to exercise your freedom of speech and publish anything you want whenever you want. You should be able to set your own rules and own limits. You should be able to post content as long or short as you like with no pre-imposed limits or types whether it be text, photos, audio, or video. You should be able to have control over comments and protection against potential harassment, bullying, and online trolls.

Identity & Identity loss

Almost every social media site has a multi-page statement of their terms of service written in complicated legalese. More often that not, these terms are to protect them and not you. As a result people have found their accounts frozen, they’ve been shut out with no notice or warning, their identities have been reassigned, or their content simply disappears with liitle or even no notice. Often there is either no method of recourse, or it is difficult to communicate with these corporations and may take weeks or worse to recover one’s account and data, if at all.

Without care, one can become branded with the identity of the social media network of which they’re a part. If trolls overrun your social service then suddenly by association, you’ve become one too.

User Interface/User EXperience

You should have the ability to control how your site looks and works. Do you want a piece of functionality that one of your social network sites doesn’t have? Add it the way you want it. Create better navigation, better interactivity, better design to reflect your own identity instead of a corporation’s cookie-cutter idea of your identity. Since your data is yours you can add new and interesting pieces of functionality using that data instead of waiting on a social site to think about it and implement it for you. Chances are that unless millions will find it valuable or a company doesn’t think it will scale, most won’t build it, so don’t hold your breath.

Your content is yours

When you post something on the web, it should belong to you, not a corporation. Too many companies have gone out of business and lost all of their users’ data. By joining the IndieWeb, your content stays yours and in your control.

Greater reliability and protection against content loss

Social media is only about 11 years old, and one thing is certainly true: sites will go out of business, they will get acquired, they can and will disappear. When this happens, your data can disappear overnight without the ability to back it up or export it. A new corporation can take over and change the terms of service and do things with your data that you never intended. Content can accidentally or even willfully disappear without notice to you. In addition to the data, you can also lose contact with family, friends, and community members that also disappear without the service that connected you to them.

You can have greater control of site downtimes, server outages, maintenance, scalability issues, and database failures of silos attempting to solve massive scaling/engineering problems.

A better sense of ownership

Many in the IndieWeb community have found that they post more interesting and thoughtful pieces of content when they’re doing it on their own site rather than the “throw away” content they used to post to sites like Twitter. They feel a greater sense of responsibility and ownership in what they’re posting about and this can have a profound effect on the future of the internet and its level of civility.

Author centric

When you own your own website, other web sites see that it’s you personally sending traffic to their sites instead of a generic social site. You have the ability to edit content at any time or delete it if you like.

You also have:

  • greater choice of public vs. private posts and control of who your audience is;
  • the ability to fix URL links when they break or disappear;
  • no outside advertising on your site without your explicit permission;
  • no one monetizing you;
  • no censorship of your content;
  • no terms of service which can often co-op your work without notice for advertising or other use;
  • ownership and control of affiliate links to monetize your work if you choose.

 You are better connected

Your articles and status messages can go to all services, not just one, allowing you to engage with everyone regardless of their choice of platform. Even replies and likes on other services can come back to your site so they’re all in one place.

Since your content isn’t hidden behind the robots.txt of a silo service, you have much better search engine rankings and are more likely to be found, read, or have people interact with your content. If you choose, you can still syndicate your content to one or more social silos while still owning your content in the case that something happens to those silos. This allows you to continue to reach your friends, family, colleagues, and community who may have different ideas about where they prefer to interact online. Comments to and interactions with your content can come back to your original post to create a comprehensive conversation rather than have your conversation disjointed and spread over dozens of sites throughout the web.

How to be a part of the IndieWeb

Now that you’ve got a bit of an idea about what the IndieWeb movement is attempting to help people accomplish, how can you become a part of it and enjoy the benefits for yourself?

Own and use your own domain name

Fifteen or more years ago having your own domain wasn’t as easy or as inexpensive as it is now. There are hundreds and hundreds of domain registrars around the world that can register almost any domain name you can come up with for as little as 99 cents a year with the average closer to the $10-20 range depending on the name and the top level domain (.com, .org, .net, and .edu are examples of top level domains.)

For an extra $0-10 a month you can quickly purchase domain hosting so that when someone visits your fancy URL, it actually connects to a page on the internet. Whether that page is a single page of simple HTML with a line of text and a photo; a plug and play site like Wix or SquareSpace; a full blown professional open source content management system like WordPress or Drupal; a web site you build by hand using your own code; or it points to your Facebook or Twitter account page, you’ve just made a huge step toward better cementing your identity on the internet.

Once you own your own domain name, everything you post to the web will have a permalink URL which you can control. If you wish to change platforms or service providers you can relatively easily move all of your content and the permalinks along with it–much the same way you can move your cell phone number from one provider to another. People who visit your URLs will always be able to find you and your content.

Twitter account profile asking for your name, bio, location, and your personal domain name/URL online.

If nothing else, owning your own domain name will give you something useful to put into the ubiquitous field labeled “your website” that exists on literally every social media website out there. (Even they are subtly telling you that you should have your own domain name.)

Added bonus: even most inexpensive domain registrars and hosting services will give you free email for your domain so you can create a custom branded personal email address like susan@yourname.com. Even if you rely on G-mail or some other third party service for your email, it’s pretty easy to connect your own personal email address to your pre-existing account. It’ll make you look a lot more professional and will be far easier for your friends, family, and business colleagues to remember.

So you own your domain now?! Congratulations, you are officially a full-fledged member of the IndieWeb!

Own your data

Wait, it can’t be that simple can it? It is! But now that you’ve got your own website, it’s time to start using it to own your online identity and own your own content.

Next you may want to choose a content management system (CMS) in which to store and present your data. The IndieWeb has lists of projects which range from common services as simple as Tumblr and WordPress.com (both managed services with free hosting) to help in building your own site from the ground up in your programming language of choice. Which project you choose depends on your needs, desires for the future, and your abilities. There is something available for people of nearly every level of ability. Most domain registrars and internet host providers provide one or more means to quickly get up and running–just ask their customer service departments or see what they’ve got available online.

Most of these CMS solutions will give people a far bigger range of flexibility in terms of what they can write, record, and broadcast online. You don’t need to be limited to 140 characters if you choose not to be. Want to post more multi-media-based content with text, video, audio, and photos all at once? The online world can be your oyster and your social media platform no longer limits what is possible.

Further Steps

Ideally, what a lot of the IndieWeb developer community is rapidly building and iterating upon is an open and broadly distributeable way to make it easier for the everyday person to more easily own and operate all the functionality offered by the hundreds of social media websites without a lot of heavy and difficult-to-maintain overhead. A decade ago allowing Facebook to do everything for you may have been a simple “way out”, but now there are far more robust, diverse, and flexible solutions that aren’t as onerous. There are also newer open and easily supportable web protocols that make publishing and sharing your content far easier than before.

The first big piece most people enjoy implementing is writing their own content on their own site and syndicating it out to other services on the internet if they choose. Continuing to participate in your old siloed networks can help you stay connected to your pre-existing social networks, so you’re not leaving all your friends and family behind. Next, having all your replies/comments, likes, and other interactions come back from social silos to your own site as comments along with notifications is incredibly valuable. (These two processes are commonly known as Post On your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere (POSSE) and backfeed, and they can typically be done most easily with a free service like Brid.gy.)

Being able to write replies to articles or status updates on your own website and either @mentioning others as a means of notifying them is also very useful. The IndieWeb calls this universal implementation of @mentions that work across website boundaries Webmention and it’s built on an open and straightforward standard so that it can work with any website on the internet. (Remember the telephone analogy above? Now, thanks to Webmentions, everyone can be communicating on the same network.) As an example, imagine for a moment if you could @mention someone on Facebook from Twitter or vice-versa?! What if you could post a reply to a tweet on Twitter with your Facebook account?Using the Webmention spec, independent websites can easily do this now, though it may be quite a while before for-profit corporations support this simple protocol that is now a W3C recommendation.

With some of the basic building blocks out of the way, people tend to spread out a bit in the types of functionalities they’re looking for.  It may range from posting status updatespictures, or video to hosting your own podcast or  or having different user interfaces to post to your own site–Micropub is great for this–to being able to put events on your site and allowing people to RSVP to them easily. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could post an event on your own website and people could use Facebook to RSVP to it? My site allows this possibility. Yours could too.

Everyone’s desires and needs will be different. Work on what you find most interesting and useful first (the IndieWeb calls these itches). Make a list of what you use most often on your old social media silos or wish they had and work on that first. Check out the IndieWeb wiki to see how others have implemented it–there’s no need to reinvent the wheel in darkness. Hop into the IndieWeb chat (there are multiple ways of doing this and interacting) and ask questions. Document what you’ve done in the wiki to make it easier for those who come after you.

Personally, I’ve always just thought about what functions do I use most on social sites and then ask myself how I might be able to do that on my own site. There’s little out there that hasn’t been explored by the bigger community, so searching the wiki for those types of functionality and seeing how others managed it usually makes it far easier. Chatting with folks in the community while I’m working always helps to sharpen my thinking and make me aware of ideas and methods I may have never considered much less come up with on my own.

If you never RSVP for things online or host events, then obviously don’t start there. Do you post photos regularly? Maybe you “like” everything you see online. In my case, I was a heavy user of Goodreads, so I spent parts of the last year working on more easily bookmarking things I’d like to read, posting reading status updates, and keeping notes on what I read, as well as highlights, marginalia, and book reviews after I’d finished reading.

Guiding Philosophy

The IndieWeb effort is different in several ways from previous efforts and communities. In particular it values principles over project-centrism. Other efforts have assumed a monoculture of one project as the ultimate solution for everyone. IndieWeb prefers developing a plurality of projects–why not have the same diversity on the web as we do in real life?

The community prefers chat in combination with a wiki to communicate and document its process. Some may prefer email distribution lists, but why? Who likes to read and respond to long email threads where information is typically locked away from the group, ignored, and simply unread? Instead, we utilize a chat (which has multiple methods of access–plurality, remember?) to host searchable conversations after which the best portions are documented on the wiki to be easily searchable and discoverable to all.

In the early days of social media, many talked, emailed and chatted about what they’d like to see. Sadly not much was done about expanding on these ideas, particularly by companies that all had their own profit-driven motives. As a result, the IndieWeb movement values showing before telling. They prioritize development by encouraging people to scratch their own itches, creating what they want to have and use on their own sites, and then iterating on those pieces to improve and refine them. If you won’t use a feature on your own site, why bother to have it?

IndieWeb puts design first and foremost. Protocols & formats come second. They’d prefer to focus on good user experience and user interaction. Users selfdogfood prototypes on their own sites to create minimum necessary formats & protocols.

Perhaps most importantly, the IndieWeb is people-focused instead of project-focused. The community is rich and diverse and has regular in-person meetups as well as camps across the world where everyone is welcome. The IndieWeb community is inclusive and has a code-of-conduct.

Join the IndieWeb Community

Where do I go from here? You said community in there. Where can I find it? How can I interact, get help, or even contribute back?

Regardless of your level of expertise, there are a huge number of resources, events, and even people available to you in a variety of formats. Whether you choose to meet with friends in person at IndieWebCamps or at regularly scheduled Homebrew Website Club meetups or interact online at a nearly continuous worldwide chat (using either web chat, Slack, Matrix, or IRC) there are many means of getting help and interacting to suit your schedule and needs to help build the personal website you’ve always wanted.

Building the indie web is a continuous process. While attending an IndieWebCamp can be an incredibly inspiring and encouraging event, we need to carry on doing so for more than just a few days a year when we can meet up in real life. We can not only support one another; we can share the best way to do things online. As we discover new ways of doing things, we can document them and share them easily with each other and the growing community.

If you’ve made it this far, I invite you to join us, and get started building the internet you’ve always wanted by building your home on the web first.


Editor’s Note:
As of December 2017, the AltPlatform.org site which originally published this article has shut down. I’ve smartly kept a private archived copy of the original of this post here on my personal site and manually syndicated a copy of it to AltPlatform for just such a possibility. (Hooray for PASTA (Publish Anywhere, Save to (Private) Archive)!) As a result of the shutdown, I’m making the original public here.

If you wish, you can also read a copy of the original as it appeared on AltPlatform on the Internet Archive.

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Introducing AltPlatform & our manifesto for the Open Web | AltPlatform

Introducing AltPlatform & our manifesto for the Open Web by Richard MacManus (AltPlatform.org)
Welcome everyone to AltPlatform, a non-profit tech blog devoted to Open Web technologies. What do we mean by “Open Web”? Firstly, we want to experiment with open source (like this WordPress.org blog) and open standards (like RSS). We’re also using the word open to signify a wider, boundary-less view of the Web. In other words, we want to look for opportunities beyond the Walled Gardens – proprietary platforms like Facebook and Twitter where you don’t own your own data, you have little control over your news feeds, and you have to live by certain rules.

This looks like a must-read blog for Indieweb proponents.​​

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