Summary: At long last, after about three weeks worth of work, David Shanske (along with help from Aaron Parecki) has added the ability for the IndieAuth plugin for WordPress to provide an IndieAuth endpoint for self-hosted versions of WordPress, but it also has the ability to provision and revoke tokens.
This week, David Shanske and I discuss IndieAuth and the WordPress plugin’s new functionality as well as some related micropub work David has been doing. To some extent, I alternate between acting innocent and serving as devil’s advocate as we try to tease out some of the subtleties of what IndieAuth is and what it means to the average user. As usual, David does an excellent job of navigating what can be some complicated territory.
After years of letting algorithms make up our minds for us, the time is right to go back to basics.
This article, which I’ve seen shared almost too widely on the internet since it came out, could almost have been written any time in the past decade really. They did do a somewhat better job of getting quotes from some of the big feed readers’ leaders to help to differentiate their philosophical differences, but there wasn’t much else here. Admittedly they did have a short snippet about Dave Winer’s new feedbase product, which I suspect, in combination with the recent spate of articles about Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, motivated the article. (By the way, I love OPML as much as anyone could, but feedbase doesn’t even accept the OPML feeds out of my core WordPress install though most feed readers do, which makes me wonder how successful feedbase might be in the long run without better legacy spec support.)
So what was missing from Wired’s coverage? More details on what has changed in the space in the past several years. There’s been a big movement afoot in the IndieWeb community which has been espousing a simpler and more DRY (don’t repeat yourself) version of feeds using simple semantic microformats markup like h-feed. There’s also been the emergence of JSON feed in the past year which many of the major feed readers already support.
On the front of people leaving Facebook (and their black box algorithmic monster that determines what you read rather than you making an implicit choice), they might have mentioned people who are looking for readers through which they can also use their own domains and websites where they own and maintain their own data for interaction. I’ve written about this in more depth last year: Feed reader revolution.
One of the more bleeding edge developments which I think is going to drastically change the landscape in the coming years for developers, feed readers, and the internet consumption space is the evolving Microsub spec which is being spearheaded by a group of projects known as the Aperture microsub server and the Together and Indigenous clients which already use it. Microsub is going to abstract away many of the technical hurdles that make it far more difficult to build a full-fledged feed reader. I have a feeling it’s going to level a lot of the playing field to allow a Cambrian explosion of readers and social related software to better leverage more easily reading content on the web without relying on third party black box services which people have been learning they cannot fully trust anymore. Aaron Parecki has done an excellent job of laying out some parts of it in Building an IndieWeb Reader as well as in recent episodes of his Percolator microcast. This lower hurdle is going to result in fewer people needing to rely solely on the biggest feed readers like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for both consuming content and posting their own content. The easier it becomes for people to use other readers to consume content from almost anywhere on the web, the less a monopoly the social networks will have on our lives.
Now they’ve announced they’re shutting down. It seems to me that from a UI perspective, they only put in a bare minimal amount of effort to build out their reader and ceased iterating it on the day it it opened.
This is the second reader shut down recently, but I’m more excited about the idea of Microsub and what it may mean to the future of feed readers.
If you’re familiar with much of my IndieWeb work, you probably know I’m drawn to building translators, proxies, and bridges to connect different protocols and services that do similar things.
There’s been a lot of activity recently around Microsub, a standard API for feed reader clients to talk to feed reader servers. Many existing readers have APIs, so I’ve been thinking about a bridge that would translate those APIs to Microsub, so that reader clients like Together and Indigenous could use traditional reader services like Feedly and NewsBlur as their backend.
This article brings such warmth to my heart. It’s even beyond what I had originally envisioned in Feed Reader Revolution.
I’m salivating what this portends for the web and my ability to read it better in the future!
Just as I was getting sick last week, Colin Walker wrote “There has to be a better way to subscribe to sites.” He’s definitely hit the nail right on the head. The process is currently painful and disorganized, it’s also working on technology that’s almost two decades old and difficult for newcomers at best.
I’ve always posited that one of the reasons that social media silos have been so successful is that they’ve built some fantastic readers. Sure their UI is cleaner and just dead simple, but to a great extent 95% of their product is an evolved feed reader while the other 5% is a simple posting interface that makes it easy to interact. To compare, most CMSes are almost completely about posting interface, and spend very little time, if any, worrying about providing a reading experience.
The IndieWeb has been making some serious strides on making cross-site interactions easier with the Webmention and Micropub protocols, but the holy grail is still out there: allowing people to have an integrated feed reader built into their website (or alternately a standalone feed reader that’s tightly integrated with their site via Micropub or other means).
For those watching the space with as much interest as I have, there are a couple of interesting tools in the space and a few on the immediate horizon that are sure to make the process a whole lot easier and create a new renaissance in the open web.
SubToMe: a Universal Subscribe Button
First, for a relatively simple one-size-fits-all subscribe button, I recommend people take a look at SubToMe which touts itself as a “Universal Follow button” because it “makes it easy for people to follow web sites,because browsers don’t do it.” The button is fairly straightforward and has an awful lot of flexibility built in. In the simplest sense it has some solid feed detection so it finds available feeds on a web page and then provides a handful of recommended major readers to the user. With two clicks, one can pretty quickly and almost immediately subscribe to almost any feed in their reader of choice.
For publishers, one can quickly install a simple button on their site. They can further provide a list of specific feeds they want to advertise, and they can even recommend a particular feed reader if they choose.
For consumers, the service provides a simple browser bookmarklet so that if a site doesn’t have a button, they can click a subscribe button in their browser. Then click on a provider. Done. One can also choose a preferred provider to shorten the process.
Since last June there’s been a quietly growing new web spec called Microsub that will assuredly shake up the subscription and reader spaces. In short it provides a standardized way for clients to consume and interact with feeds collected by a server.
While it gets pretty deep pretty quickly, the spec is meant to help decouple some of the heavy architecture of building a feed reader. In some way it’s analogous to the separation of content and display that HTML and CSS allows, but applied to the mechanics of feed readers and how readers display their content.
There are already a few interesting projects by the names of Together and Indigenous that are taking advantage of the architecture
I can’t wait to see how it all dovetails together to make a more integrated reading and posting interface as well as the potential it has for individual CMSs to potentially leverage the idea to include integrated interfaces into their products. I can’t wait for the day when my own personal website is compatible with Microsub, so that I can use any Microsub client to read my timeline and follow people.
I’m also sure that decoupling the idea of displaying posts from actually fetching remote feeds will make it easier to build a reader clients in general. I hope this has a Cambrian explosion-type of effect on the state of the art of feed readers.