Today I finally ran into a particular IndieWeb problem I knew would eventually come. Uploading so much of my content that I’d eventually need to bump up the storage capacity of the server for my online presence. The 12GB cap I ran into does bring into much sharper focus the amount of content I post online.
While Facebook and Twitter may be proverbially endless buckets, even with small inconveniences, I still prefer doing it my way.
Also check out my On This Day page and my Subscribe page, which includes my daily email syndication of my website activity.
There’s a lot going on here and a lot to unpack for such a short episode. This presents an outline at best of what I’m sure was 10 or more hours of work. One day soon, I hope, we’ll have some better automated tools for exporting data from Facebook and doing something actually useful with it.
This first half of the episode was originally recorded in March, abruptly ended, and then was not completed until April due to scheduling.
It’s been reported that Cambridge Analytica has improperly taken and used data from Facebook users in an improper manner, an event which has called into question the way that Facebook handles data. David Shanske and I discuss some of the implications from an IndieWeb perspective and where you might go if you decide to leave Facebook.
The originating articles that kicked off the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica issue:
You’ve made the decision to leave Facebook? Your next question is likely to be: to move where? Along with the links above, we’ve compiled a short list of IndieWeb-related places that might make solid options.
Micro.blog for $5/month (or bring your own web site for free)
I’m not sure why it didn’t exist before, but given the events of the past month I’m utterly shocked that neither WordPress, Automattic, nor the community have built an importer to allow people to easily put their Facebook data export into a WordPress website.
Wish Twitter would distinguish between "favorite" and "save for later." People could infer some pretty misleading things...
Intent on Twitter is often so muddled, this is the last thing some might worry about. (Yet it’s still a tremendous tool.) Pocket has browser extensions, and I know the one for Chrome has settings one can toggle an icon to appear on Twitter to allow bookmarking things to read for later directly within your Pocket account, which is generally a reasonable experience.
I think the much stronger and better solution for one’s personal commonplace book is to simply add these intents to one’s own website and either favorite, bookmark, mark as read, repost, reply to, annotate, highlight, or just about “anything else” them there and syndicate the appropriate response to Twitter separately. (Examples: bookmarks and reads.) This makes it much more difficult to muddle the intent. It’ll also give you a much more highly searchable set of data that you can own on your own website.
Why wait around for Twitter or another social service to build the tools you want/need when it’s relatively easy to cobble them together for yourself on a variety of opensource platforms? While you’re at it, remove some of the other limitations like 280 characters as well…
In the midst of a truly awful week for Facebook, during which it was revealed that users’ personal data was harvested by a company working for the Trump campaign, users are threatening to delete their accountsen masse.
The #DeleteFacebook movement is fueled by users’ anger that their data was used for purposes they didn’t agree to, as well as dismay over the fact that this kind of data was collected in the first place. But while permanently deleting your Facebook account might feel like a clean break, the company’s many tentacles extend across the internet, far beyond facebook.com.
Just by the bulk of URLs, this gives a more serious view of just how ingrained Facebook is in tracking your online life.
There’s so much great material out there to read and not nearly enough time. The question becomes: “How to best organize it all, so you can read even more?”
I just came across a tweet from Michael Nielsen about the topic, which is far deeper than even a few tweets could do justice to, so I thought I’d sketch out a few basic ideas about how I’ve been approaching it over the last decade or so. Ideally I’d like to circle back around to this and better document more of the individual aspects or maybe even make a short video, but for now this will hopefully suffice to add to the conversation Michael has started.
Lots of good insights in the responses. One thing stands out: this is a real pain point for many, & I don’t think anyone feels like they’ve nailed it (or how they organize information in general). It’d be great to have more ideas added to the thread! https://t.co/6KfhO5aVU3
How do people organize their reading? Perennially frustrated by this. I want one system that lets me trivially add books, papers, webpages, etc, re-organize very easily, search & filter. What works for you?
Keep in mind that this is an evolving system which I still haven’t completely perfected (and may never), but to a great extent it works relatively well and I still easily have the ability to modify and improve it.
The first piece of the overarching puzzle is to have a general structure for finding, collecting, triaging, and then processing all of the data. I’ve essentially built a simple funnel system for collecting all the basic data in the quickest manner possible. With the basics down, I can later skim through various portions to pick out the things I think are the most valuable and move them along to the next step. Ultimately I end up reading the best pieces on which I make copious notes and highlights. I’m still slowly trying to perfect the system for best keeping all this additional data as well.
Since I’ve seen so many apps and websites come and go over the years and lost lots of data to them, I far prefer to use my own personal website for doing a lot of the basic collection, particularly for online material. Toward this end, I use a variety of web services, RSS feeds, and bookmarklets to quickly accumulate the important pieces into my personal website which I use like a modern day commonplace book.
In general, I’ve been using the Inoreader feed reader to track a large variety of RSS feeds from various clearinghouse sources (including things like ProQuest custom searches) down to individual researcher’s blogs as a means of quickly pulling in large amounts of research material. It’s one of the more flexible readers out there with a huge number of useful features including the ability to subscribe to OPML files, which many readers don’t support.
As a simple example arXiv.org has an RSS feed for the topic of “information theory” at http://arxiv.org/rss/math.IT which I subscribe to. I can quickly browse through the feed and based on titles and/or abstracts, I can quickly “star” the items I find most interesting within the reader. I have a custom recipe set up for the IFTTT.com service that pulls in all these starred articles and creates new posts for them on my WordPress blog. To these posts I can add a variety of metadata including top level categories and lower level tags in addition to other additional metadata I’m interested in.
I also have similar incoming funnel entry points via many other web services as well. So on platforms like Twitter, I also have similar workflows that allow me to use services like IFTTT.com or Zapier to push the URLs easily to my website. I can quickly “like” a tweet and a background process will suck that tweet and any URLs within it into my system for future processing. This type of workflow extends to a variety of sites where I might consume potential material I want to read and process. (Think academic social services like Mendeley, Academia.com, Diigo, or even less academic ones like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) Many of these services often have storage ability and also have simple browser bookmarklets that allow me to add material to them. So with a quick click, it’s saved to the service and then automatically ported into my website almost without friction.
My WordPress-based site uses the Post Kinds Plugin which takes incoming website URLs and does a very solid job of parsing those pages to extract much of the primary metadata I’d like to have without requiring a lot of work. For well structured web pages, it’ll pull in the page title, authors, date published, date updated, synopsis of the page, categories and tags, and other bits of data automatically. All these fields are also editable and searchable. Further, the plugin allows me to configure simple browser bookmarklets so that with a simple click on a web page, I can pull its URL and associated metadata into my website almost instantaneously. I can then add a note or two about what made me interested in the piece and save it for later.
Note here, that I’m usually more interested in saving material for later as quickly as I possibly can. In this part of the process, I’m rarely ever interested in reading anything immediately. I’m most interested in finding it, collecting it for later, and moving on to the next thing. This is also highly useful for things I find during my busy day that I can’t immediately find time for at the moment.
At regular intervals during the week I’ll sit down for an hour or two to triage all the papers and material I’ve been sucking into my website. This typically involves reading through lots of abstracts in a bit more detail to better figure out what I want to read now and what I’d like to read at a later date. I can delete out the irrelevant material if I choose, or I can add follow up dates to custom fields for later reminders.
Slowly but surely I’m funneling down a tremendous amount of potential material into a smaller, more manageable amount that I’m truly interested in reading on a more in-depth basis.
Calibre with GoodReads sync
Even for things I’ve winnowed down, there is still a relatively large amount of material, much of it I’ll want to save and personally archive. For a lot of this function I rely on the free multi-platform desktop application Calibre. It’s essentially an iTunes-like interface, but it’s built specifically for e-books and other documents.
Within it I maintain a small handful of libraries. One for personal e-books, one for research related textbooks/e-books, and another for journal articles. It has a very solid interface and is extremely flexible in terms of configuration and customization. You can create a large number of custom libraries and create your own searchable and sort-able fields with a huge variety of metadata. It often does a reasonable job of importing e-books, .pdf files, and other digital media and parsing out their meta data which prevents one from needing to do some of that work manually. With some well maintained metadata, one can very quickly search and sort a huge amount of documents as well as quickly prioritize them for action. Additionally, the system does a pretty solid job of converting files from one format to another, so that things like converting an .epub file into a .mobi format for Kindle are automatic.
Calibre stores the physical documents either in local computer storage, or even better, in the cloud using any of a variety of services including Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. so that one can keep one’s documents in the cloud and view them from a variety of locations (home, work, travel, tablet, etc.)
I’ve been a very heavy user of GoodReads.com for years to bookmark and organize my physical and e-book library and anti-libraries. Calibre has an exceptional plugin for GoodReads that syncs data across the two. This (and a few other plugins) are exceptionally good at pulling in missing metadata to minimize the amount that must be done via hand, which can be tedious.
Within Calibre I can manage my physical books, e-books, journal articles, and a huge variety of other document related forms and formats. I can also use it to further triage and order the things I intend to read and order them to the nth degree. My current Calibre libraries have over 10,000 documents in them including over 2,500 textbooks as well as records of most of my 1,000+ physical books. Calibre can also be used to add document data that one would like to ultimately acquire the actual documents, but currently don’t have access to.
BibTeX and reference management
In addition to everything else Calibre also has some well customized pieces for dovetailing all its metadata as a reference management system. It’ll allow one to export data in a variety of formats for document publishing and reference management including BibTex formats amongst many others.
Reading, Annotations, Highlights
Once I’ve winnowed down the material I’m interested in it’s time to start actually reading. I’ll often use Calibre to directly send my documents to my Kindle or other e-reading device, but one can also read them on one’s desktop with a variety of readers, or even from within Calibre itself. With a click or two, I can automatically email documents to my Kindle and Calibre will also auto-format them appropriately before doing so.
Typically I’ll send them to my Kindle which allows me a variety of easy methods for adding highlights and marginalia. Sometimes I’ll read .pdf files via desktop and use Adobe to add highlights and marginalia as well. When I’m done with a .pdf file, I’ll just resave it (with all the additions) back into my Calibre library.
Exporting highlights/marginalia to my website
For Kindle related documents, once I’m finished, I’ll use direct text file export or tools like clippings.io to export my highlights and marginalia for a particular text into simple HTML and import it into my website system along with all my other data. I’ve briefly written about some of this before, though I ought to better document it. All of this then becomes very easily searchable and sort-able for future potential use as well.
Here’s an example of some public notes, highlights, and other marginalia I’ve posted in the past.
Eventually, over time, I’ve built up a huge amount of research related data in my personal online commonplace book that is highly searchable and sortable! I also have the option to make these posts and pages public, private, or even password protected. I can create accounts on my site for collaborators to use and view private material that isn’t publicly available. I can also share posts via social media and use standards like webmention and tools like brid.gy so that comments and interactions with these pieces on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and others is imported back to the relevant portions of my site as comments. (I’m doing it with this post, so feel free to try it out yourself by commenting on one of the syndicated copies.)
Now when I’m ready to begin writing something about what I’ve read, I’ve got all the relevant pieces, notes, and metadata in one centralized location on my website. Synthesis becomes much easier. I can even have open drafts of things as I’m reading and begin laying things out there directly if I choose. Because it’s all stored online, it’s imminently available from almost anywhere I can connect to the web. As an example, I used a few portions of this workflow to actually write this post.
Naturally, not all of this is static and it continues to improve and evolve over time. In particular, I’m doing continued work on my personal website so that I’m able to own as much of the workflow and data there. Ideally I’d love to have all of the Calibre related piece on my website as well.
Earlier this week I even had conversations about creating new post types on my website related to things that I want to read to potentially better display and document them explicitly. When I can I try to document some of these pieces either here on my own website or on various places on the IndieWeb wiki. In fact, the IndieWeb for Education page might be a good place to start browsing for those interested.
One of the added benefits of having a lot of this data on my own website is that it not only serves as my research/data platform, but it also has the traditional ability to serve as a publishing and distribution platform!
Currently, I’m doing most of my research related work in private or draft form on the back end of my website, so it’s not always publicly available, though I often think I should make more of it public for the value of the aggregation nature it has as well as the benefit it might provide to improving scientific communication. Just think, if you were interested in some of the obscure topics I am and you could have a pre-curated RSS feed of all the things I’ve filtered through piped into your own system… now multiply this across hundreds of thousands of other scientists? Michael Nielsen posts some useful things to his Twitter feed and his website, but what I wouldn’t give to see far more of who and what he’s following, bookmarking, and actually reading? While many might find these minutiae tedious, I guarantee that people in his associated fields would find some serious value in it.
I’ve tried hundreds of other apps and tools over the years, but more often than not, they only cover a small fraction of the necessary moving pieces within a much larger moving apparatus that a working researcher and writer requires. This often means that one is often using dozens of specialized tools upon which there’s a huge duplication of data efforts. It also presumes these tools will be around for more than a few years and allow easy import/export of one’s hard fought for data and time invested in using them.
If you’re aware of something interesting in this space that might be useful, I’m happy to take a look at it. Even if I might not use the service itself, perhaps it’s got a piece of functionality that I can recreate into my own site and workflow somehow?
If you’d like help in building and fleshing out a system similar to the one I’ve outlined above, I’m happy to help do that too.
This week, using the magic of open web standards, I was able to write an issue post on my own website, automatically syndicate a copy of it to GitHub, and later automatically receive a reply to the copy on GitHub back to my original post as a comment there. This gives my personal website a means of doing two way communication with GitHub.
This functionality is another in a long line of content types my website is able to support so that I’m able to own my own content, yet still be able to interact with people on other websites and social media services. Given the number of social sites I’ve seen disappear over the years (often taking my content with them), this functionality gives me a tremendously larger amount of control and ownership over my web presence and identity while still allowing me to easily communicate with others.
In this post I wanted to briefly sketch what I’ve done to enable this functionality, so others who are so inclined can follow along to do the same thing.
Setting up WordPress to syndicate to GitHub
I’ll presume as a first step that one has both a GitHub account and a self-hosted WordPress website, though the details will also broadly apply to just about any content management system out there that supports the web standards mentioned.
Register your GitHub account and your website with Bridgy
Ryan Barrett runs a fantastic free open sourced service called Bridgy. To use it you’ll need the microformat rel=“me” links on both your GitHub account and your website’s homepage that point at each other. GitHub will do most of the work on its side for you simply by adding the URL of your website to the URL field for your GitHub account at https://github.com/settings/profile. Next on your website’s homepage, you’ll want to add a corresponding rel=“me” link from your website to your GitHub account.
In my case, I have a simple widget on my homepage with roughly the following link: <a href="https://github.com/username">GitHub</a>
in which I’ve replaced ‘username’ with my own GitHub username. There are a variety of other ways to add a rel=“me” link to your webpage, some of which are documented on the IndieWeb wiki.
Now you can go to Brid.gy and under “Connect your accounts” click on the GitHub button. This will prompt you to sign into GitHub via oAuth if you’re not already logged into the site. If you are already signed in, Brid.gy will check that the rel=“me” links on both your site and your GitHub account reciprocally point at each other and allow you to begin using the service to pull replies to your posts on GitHub back to your website.
To allow Brid.gy to publish to GitHub on your behalf (via webmention, which we’ll set up shortly), click on the “Publish” button.
Install the Webmention Plugin
The underlying technology that allows the Bridgy service to both publish on one’s behalf as well as for the replies from GitHub to come back to one’s site is an open web standard known as Webmention. WordPress can quickly and easily support this standard with the simple Webmention plugin that can be downloaded and activated on one’s site without any additional configuration.
For replies coming back from GitHub to one’s site it’s also recommended that one also install and activate the Semantic Linkbacks Plugin which also doesn’t require any configuration. This plugin provides better integration and UI features in the comments section of one’s website.
Install Post Kinds Plugin
The Post Kinds Plugin is somewhat similar to WordPress’s Post Formats core functionality, it just goes the extra mile to support a broader array of post types with the appropriate meta data and semantic markup for interacting with Bridgy, other web parsers, and readers.
Download the plugin, activate it, and in the plugin’s settings page enable the “Issue” kind. For more details on using it, I’ve written about this plugin in relative detail in the past.
Install Bridgy Publish Plugin
One can just as easily install the Bridgy Publish Plugin for WordPress and activate it. This will add a meta box to one’s publishing dashboard that, after a quick configuration of which social media silos one wishes to support, will allow one to click a quick checkbox to automatically syndicate their posts.
Install the Syndication Links Plugin
The Syndication Links plugin is also a quick install and activate process. You can modify the settings to allow a variety of ways to display your syndication links (or not) on your website if you wish.
This plugin will provide the Bridgy Publish Plugin a place to indicate the permalink of where your syndicated content lives on GitHub. The Bridgy service will use this permalink to match up the original content on your website and the copy on GitHub so that when there are replies, it will know which post to send those replies to as comments which will then live on your own website.
You should now be ready to write your first issue on your website, cross post it to GitHub (a process known in IndieWeb parlance as POSSE), and receive any replies to your GitHub issue as comments back to your own website.
Create a new post.
In the “Kinds” meta box, choose the “Issue” option.
Type in a title for the issue in the “Title” field.
In the “Response Properties” meta box, put the permalink URL of the Github repopository for which you’re creating an issue. The plugin should automatically process the URL and import the repository name and details.
In the primary editor, type up any details for the issue as you would on GitHub in their comment box. You can include a relatively wide variety of custom symbols and raw html including
and with code samples which will cross-post and render properly.
In the GitHub meta box, select the GitHub option. You can optionally select other boxes if you’re also syndicating your content to other services as well. See the documentation for Bridgy and the plugin for how to do this.
Optionally set any additional metadata for your post (tags, categories, etc.) as necessary.
Publish your post.
On publication, your issue should be automatically filed to the issue queue of the appropriate GitHub repo and include a link back to your original (if selected). Your post should receive the syndicated permalink of the issue on GitHub and be displayed (depending on your settings) at the bottom of your post.
When Bridgy detects future interactions with the copy of your post on GitHub, it will copy them and send them to your original post as a webmention so that they can be displayed as comments there.
If you frequently create issues on GitHub like this you might want a slightly faster way of posting. Toward that end, I’ve previously sketched out how to create browser bookmarklets that will allow you one click post creation from a particular GitHub repo to speed things along. Be sure to change the base URL of your website and include the correct bookmarklet type of “issue” in the code.
The Post Kinds plugin will also conveniently provide you with an archive of all your past Issue posts at the URL http://example.com/kind/issue/, where you can replace example.com with your own website. Adding feed/ to the end of that URL provides an RSS feed link as well. Post Kinds will also let you choose the “Reply” option instead of “Issue” to create and own your own replies to GitHub issues while still syndicating them in a similar manner and receive replies back.
Given the general set up of the variety of IndieWeb-based tools, there are a multitude of other ways one can also accomplish this workflow (both on WordPress as well as with an infinity of other CMSes). The outline I’ve provided here is one of the quickest methods for beginners that will allow a relatively high level of automation and almost no manual work.
One doesn’t necessarily need to use the Post Kinds Plugin, but could manually insert all the requisite HTML into their post editor to accomplish the post side of things via webmention. (One also has the option to manually syndicate the content to GitHub by cutting and pasting it as well.) If doing things manually this way is desired, then one will need to also manually provide a link to the syndicated post on GitHub into their original so that Bridgy can match up the copy and the original to send the replies via webmention.
If you’ve followed many of these broad steps, you’ve given already given yourself an incredibly strong IndieWeb-based WordPress installation. With a minimal amount of small modifications you can also use it to dovetail your website with other social services like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Google+ and many others. Why not take a quick look around on the IndieWeb wiki to see what other magic you can perform with your website!
I’ve documented many of my experiments, including this one, in a collection of posts for reference.
If you have questions or problems, feel free to comment below or via webmention using your own website. You can also find a broad array of help with these plugins, services, and many other pieces of IndieWeb technology in their online chat rooms.
Today I was reminded while thinking about Disqus that I had an Intense Debate account from April 23, 2009. Apparently it’s still functioning all these years later–possibly as a result of their purchase by Automattic in 2008. Not that there was much there, but I took a few minutes and exported out all my data and now own it here on my site.
One of the interesting parts was that it featured a comment about Twitter pulling the rug out from underneath developers–an event that foreshadowed even more of the same in the coming years as well as a conversation about the gamification of follower accounts, something which has gotten us into a sad state of affairs today nearly a decade later. Apparently while they tried to cap follower accounts, their early efforts just didn’t go far enough to help the civility of the platform.
For a quite a while I’ve been thinking about writing a book about the IndieWeb to provide a broader overview of what it is philosophically, how it works, how its community functions, and most specifically how the average person can more easily become a part of it.
Back in January Timo Reitnauer wrote Let’s Make 2017 The Year of the Indie Web. I agree wholehearted with the sentiment of his title and have been personally wanting to do something specific to make it a reality. With the changes I’ve seen in the internet over the past 22 years, and changes specifically in the last year, we certainly need it now more than ever.
As a result, I’m making my 2018 IndieWeb resolution early. For the month of November, as part of NaNoWriMo, I’m going to endeavor to lovingly craft together a string of about 2,000 words a day on the topic of the IndieWeb to create a book geared toward helping non-developers (ie. Generation 2 and Generation 3 people) more easily own their online identities and content.
Over the past year, surely I’ve read, written about, or interacted with the IndieWeb community concretely in one way or another on at least 70 days. This sprint of 30 days should round out a 100 days project. To be honest, I haven’t necessarily posted about each of these interactions on my own site nor are they necessarily visible changes to my site, so it may not follow the exact requirements of the 100 Days of IndieWeb, but it follows the spirit of the creator idea with the hopes that the publicly visible result is ever more people adopting the principles of the movement for themselves.
I’ll focus the book primarily on how the average person can utilize the wealth of off-the-shelf tools of the WordPress content management system and its community–naturally with mentions of other easy-to-use platforms like Known and Micro.blog sprinkled throughout–to own their own domain, own their content, and better and more freely communicate with others online.
If you haven’t heard about the movement before, I’ll direct you to my article An Introduction to the IndieWeb, portions of which will surely inform the introduction of the book.
If you’ve recently joined the IndieWeb, I’d certainly love to hear your thoughts and stories about how you came to it, why you joined, and what the most troublesome parts have been so I can help direct people through them more easily–at least until there are a plurality of one-click solutions to let everyone IndieWeb-ify themselves online.
As a publisher who realizes the value of starting a PR campaign to support the resultant book, I’m also curious to hear thoughts about potentially launching a crowdfunding campaign to support the modest costs of the book, with profits (if any) going toward supporting the IndieWeb community.
I’m happy to entertain any other thoughts or considerations people have, so feel free to reply in the comments below, or better yet, reply on your own site and send me a webmention.
There's a better way to own and control your online identity
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 little 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 willdisappear. 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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 updates, pictures, 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.
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.
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.