Manual Backfeed in the Blogosphere

Forcing webmentions for conversations on websites that don’t support Webmention

Within the IndieWeb community there is a process called backfeed which is the process of syndicating interactions on your syndicated (POSSE) copies back (AKA reverse syndicating) to your original posts. As it’s commonly practiced, often with the ever helpful Brid.gy service, it is almost exclusively done with social media silos like Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Github, and Mastodon. This is what allows replies to my content that I’ve syndicated to Twitter, for example, to come back and live here on my website.

Why not practice this with other personal websites? This may become increasingly important in an ever growing and revitalizing blogosphere as people increasingly eschew corporate social sites and their dark patterns of tracking, manipulative algorithmic feeds, and surveillance capitalism. It’s also useful for sites whose owners may not have the inclination, time, effort, energy or expertise to support the requisite technology.

I’ve done the following general reply pattern using what one might call manual backfeed quite a few times now (and I’m sure a few others likely have too), but I don’t think I’ve seen it documented anywhere as a common IndieWeb practice. As a point of fact, my method outlined below is really only half-manual because I’m cleverly leveraging incoming webmentions to reduce some of the work.

Manually syndicating my replies

Sometimes when using my own website to reply to another that doesn’t support the W3C’s Webmention spec, I’ll manually syndicate (a fancy way of saying cut-and-paste) my response to the website I’m responding to. In these cases I’ll either put the URL of my response into the body of my reply, or in sites like WordPress that ask for my website URL, I’ll use that field instead. Either way, my response appears on their site with my reply URL in it (sometimes I may have to wait for my comment to be moderated if the receiving site does that).

Here’s the important part: Because my URL appears on the receiving site (sometimes wrapped as a link on either my name or the date/time stamp depending on the site’s user interface choices), I can now use it to force future replies on that site back to my original via webmention! My site will look for a URL pointing back to it to verify an incoming webmention on my site.

Replies from a site that doesn’t support sending Webmentions

Once my comment appears on the receiving site, and anyone responds to it, I can take the URL (with fragment) for those responses, and manually input them into my original post’s URL reply box. This will allow me to manually force a webmention to my post that will show up at minimum as a vanilla mention on my website. 

The manual webmention box and button that appear on all my posts.

(Note, if your site doesn’t have a native box like this for forcing manual webmentions, you might try external tools like Aaron Parecki’s Telegraph or Kevin Mark’s Mention.Tech, which are almost as easy. For those who are more technical, cURL is an option as well.)

Depending on the microformats mark up of the external site, the mention may or may not have an appropriate portion for the response and/or an avatar/name. I can then massage those on my own site (one of the many benefits of ownership!) so that the appropriate data shows, and I can change the response type from a “mention” to a “reply” (or other sub-types as appropriate). Et voilà, with minimal effort, I’ve got a native looking reply back on my site from a site that does not support Webmention! This is one of the beautiful things of even the smallest building-blocks within the independent web or as a refrain some may wish to sing–“small pieces, loosely joined”!

This method works incredibly well with WordPress websites in particular. In almost all cases the comments on them will have permalink URLs (with fragments) to target the individual pieces, often they’ve got reasonable microformats for specifying the correct h-card details, and, best of all, they have functionality that will send me an email notification when others reply to my portion of the conversation, so I’m actually reminded to force the webmentions manually.

An Illustrative Example

As an example, I posted on my website that I’d read an article on Matt Maldre’s site along with a short comment. Since Matt (currently) doesn’t support either incoming or outgoing webmentions, I manually cut-and-pasted my reply to the comment section on his post. I did the same thing again later with an additional comment on my site to his (after all, why start a new separate conversation thread when I can send webmentions from my comments section and keep the context?).

Matt later approved my comments and posted his replies on his own website. Because his site is built on WordPresss, I got email notifications about his replies, and I was able to use the following URLs with the appropriate fragments of his comments in my manual webmention box:

https://www.spudart.org/blog/xeroxing-your-face/#comment-43843
https://www.spudart.org/blog/xeroxing-your-face/#comment-43844

After a quick “massage” to change them from “mentions” into “replies” and add his gravatar, they now live on my site where I expect them and in just the way I’d expect them to look if he had Webmention support on his website.

I’ll mention that, all of this could be done in a very manual cut-and-paste manner–even for two sites, neither of which have webmention support.  But having support for incoming webmentions on one’s site cuts back significantly on that manual pain.

For those who’d like to give it a spin, I’ll also mention that I’ve similarly used the incredibly old refbacks concept in the past as a means of notification from other websites (this can take a while) and then forced manual webmentions to get better data out of them than the refback method allows.

Replied to a tweet by Mathew IngramMathew Ingram (Twitter)
Discovery can definitely be a bear. Interestingly I came to your tweet through a handful of related blogposts via a feedreader from a random OPML file, so apologies for the late reply.

I keep an old school blogroll, but it got so big I made it an entire page. It’s split out by a few broad categories, but there are OPML linked files by category at the bottom to let you follow it all or pick your poisons. Hopefully you’ll find some fun and interesting gems hiding in there.

You might find some interesting feeds by clicking around within Dave Winer’s http://feedbase.io/ which will uncover some interesting active feeds. Best yet, it has lots of OPML files everywhere so you can quickly follow a lot.

Matthias Ott’s post Into the Personal-Website-Verse was at the top of Hacker News earlier this week. Both his post and the HN post have lists of people with websites that could be interesting and useful to follow for voices on the web.

You also might take a look at some of the details and resources on the discovery, blogroll, and even webring pages within the IndieWeb wiki. Not to be missed is Kicks Condor’s hrefhunt. Andy Bell also had a project to highlight personalsit.es.

In a somewhat related question, but from the other perspective (especially for journalism), I’m curious if you have any thoughts on: How to follow the complete output of journalists and other writers?

 

 

Read Giving up tweeting for one week by Matt MaldreMatt Maldre (Spudart)
I’m thinking about giving up tweeting for one week, and instead write out all my thoughts and reactions on my blog. So far this year, I’ve been having a lot of fun blogging more. In the past decade when I have an idea, I would head to Twitter and blurt it out. Now, writing out …
It’s not a complete silo quit, but it’s a start. Matt’s got some great ideas here about why it’s important and useful to write on your own website. I do think there are some building blocks he could add to his site to improve on some of the downsides or replace bits he thinks he’s missing out on though.

Since he doesn’t support Webmentions yet, I’m manually syndicating my reply to his website in support of his efforts.

Replied to a post by Helen Hou-SandíHelen Hou-Sandí (helen.blog)
Remember when we used to read each other’s individual blogs? I miss that.
I not only remember it, but I’ve been actively reliving it by posting everything to my own WordPress site, relying on the power of Webmention for cross-site communication, and reading content with Micropub powered Microsub readers. A quickly growing number of diverse people are doing this too.

If you’re interested, please do come join us and ask how!

👓 Open Invitation for Domain Camp 2019 | Domains of Our Own

Read Open Invitation for Domain Camp 2019 (Domains of Our Own)

It takes a bit more work to learn all of the tools and what is available when you can install many kinds of web sites and web-based apps and manage access to them. But as owner of your own domain, you get to fully control your footprint on the web.

If this has a ring of interest to you, this summer we revive last year’s summer Domain Camp, a set of activities and support areas to help you learn what you can do inside the big cpanel of possibilities (that’s your domain dashboard).

Each week we will include an intro video, a set of activities to do inside your domain, open office hours, and community spaces to ask and answer questions.

We are setting up camp again to start the week of June 11, 2019. Are you interested? If so, please sign up and let us know (or see form at bottom).

Sick and tired of corporate social media silos owning your online identity and content? Domain Camp is back again this year to help people learn in small, easy chunks how to take back their online lives. There’s lots of online help and interaction to get you on your way.

If participants would like to use it, I’d welcome them to the wealth of additional resources on the IndieWeb wiki as well as an open and friendly online chat where one can find lots of help and advice as you work to make your domain your own.

👓 Back from the dead | bastianallgeier.com

Read Back from the dead (bastianallgeier.com)
I killed my personal site in May 2018. It was the GDPR month of horror. Dozens of old clients approached me to help them get their privacy policies online. I was knee-deep into getting our own privacy policy for Kirby ready with our lawyer and everything just felt like shit. Instead of caring for my...
Hooray for resurrecting your blogs!

Lets Fix This

Jeffrey Zeldman does an excellent job of indicating why and what is wrong with the internet and social media and points to IndieWeb.org as a way forward.

If you’re personally using WordPress as a possible solution to those problems, I’m happy to help point to some quicker ways for people to rapidly implement them without struggling as much as many others have along the way.

(If WordPress isn’t your thing, the wiki has a plethora of other pathways depending on your CMS or programming language of choice–just search. It is abundantly clear that no single CMS is going to dig us out of the hole.)

I’ve written about and documented how I’ve gotten a lot of IndieWeb related technologies running on my own website. In many cases, these solutions are simple plugin downloads and activations, though it helps to have an idea of what they all do and how they may help.

I was particularly impressed with Brent Simmons’ post yesterday explaining how he was using his particular talents to further the cause. Though some may feel overwhelmed at the apparent size and scope of the problem, many diverse hands chipping away at small pieces can help to make a major dent in the problem.

Jen Simmons has indicated a useful paradigm structured around making resolutions with simple concrete steps and deadlines.

I have no doubt that even if you’re not a developer or programmer that you can help. If you’re not sure, ask me or others how.

I hope you’ll join us. Let’s roll up our sleeves and #​LetsFixThis.

👓 How to Fix Social Media by Injecting A Chunk of the Blogosphere | Kottke

Read How to Fix Social Media by Injecting A Chunk of the Blogosphere (kottke.org)
Not all hour-long podcasts are worthwhile, but I found this one by The Atlantic’s Matt Thompson and Alexis Madrigal to be pretty compelling. The subject: how to fix social media, or rather, how to create a variation on social media that allows you to properly pose the question as to whether or not it can be fixed. For both Matt and Alexis, social media (and in particular, Twitter) is not especially usable or desirable in the form in which it presents itself. Both Matt and Alexis have shaped and truncated their Twitter experience. In Alexis’s case, this means going read-only, not posting tweets any more, and just using Twitter as an algorithmic feed reader by way of Nuzzel, catching the links his friends are discussing, and in some cases, the tweets they’re posting about those links. Matt is doing something slightly different: calling on his friends not to like to retweet his ordinary Twitter posts, but to reply to his tweets in an attempt to start a conversation.

🎧 Radio Atlantic: How to Fix Social Media | The Atlantic

Listened to Radio Atlantic: How to Fix Social Media by Matt Thompson, Alexis Madrigal from The Atlantic

Social-media platforms once promised to connect the world. Today’s digital communities, though, often feel like forces for disunity. Anger and discord in 2018 seemed only amplified by the social-media institutions that now dictate our conversations. Executive Editor Matt Thompson sits down with the staff writer Alexis Madrigal to find out how we got to this state, and whether we can do anything to change it.

Discussion topics include: why our online problems are really offline ones, what these platforms have lost in pursuit of scale, and how Matt’s and Alexis’s experiments with solutions have fared.

Last year, Alexis removed retweets from his Twitter account (and was pessimistic about new changes bringing back the old Twitter). Matt just began an experiment turning his Twitter account into a place for conversation rather than performance by reclaiming “the ratio.” The effort reminds Alexis of another noble attempt at making your own rules online. Has it Made the Internet Great Again? Listen to find out.

Voices

Definitely a fascinating episode; potentially worth a second listen.

Of primary interest here, Matt Thompson discusses his concept of “Breaking the Ratio” (🎧 00:23:16-00:27:28a take on the idea of being ratioed on Twitter.

His concept immediately brings to mind a few broad ideas:

Micro.blog is, to some extent, a Twitter clone–loathe as I am to use the phrase as it is so much more than that–which acts in almost exactly the way that Matt and likely Alexis wish Twitter would. Manton Reece specifically designed Micro.blog to not have the idea of retweets or likes, which forces people to have more direct conversations and discussions. Instead of liking or retweeting a post, one must reply directly. Even if one just sends a heart or thumbs up emoji, it has to be an explicit reply. Generally replies are not so sparse however, and the interactions are much more like Matt describes in his personal community.

(I’ll be clear that micro.blog does have a “favorite” functionality, but it is private to the user and doesn’t send any notifications to the post on which it is given. As a result, the favorite functionality on micro.blog is really more semantically akin to a private bookmark, it just has a different name.)

The second thing, albeit tangential to the idea of breaking the ratio, is Ben Werdmüller‘s idea of people taking back agency and using their own voices to communicate.

While the retweet is a quick and useful shorthand, it decimates the personal voices and agency of the people who use it. He’s suggested that they might be better off restating the retweet in their own voice before sending it on, if they’re going to pass the information along. I wonder if he’s ultimately ended up somewhere interesting with his original thesis and research I know he has been doing.[1][2]

If one thinks about it for a moment the old blogosphere was completely about breaking the ratio as most writers wanted to communicate back and forth with others in a more direct and real manner. The fact that the blogosphere didn’t have likes, favorites, or retweets was a feature not an issue. The closest one usually got to a retweet was a blockquote of text which was usually highlighted, featured, and then either argued with or expounded upon.

I’ll note that I most typically use Twitter in a read-only mode almost exactly like Alexis indicates (🎧 00:29:56) that he uses it: plugged into Nuzzel to surface some of the best articles and ideas along with the ability to see the public commentary from the Tweets of the people I’m following and care about. To me this method filters out a lot of the crap and noise and tends to surface a lot more interesting content for me. I’ve created several dozen Twitter lists of various people and plugged them into Nuzzel, so invariably almost everything I come across while using it is useful and interesting to me.

Finally, I’d invite both Matt and Alexis, as fans of the old-school blogosphere, to take a look at what is happening within the IndieWeb community and the newer functionalities that have been built into it to extend what the old blogosphere is now capable of doing. My experience in having gone into it “whole hog” over the past several years has given me a lot of the experiences that Matt describes and which Alexis wishes he had (without all the additional work). I’m happy to chat with either of them or others who are looking for alternate solutions for community and conversation without a lot of the problems that come along as part and parcel with social media services.

👓 Why You Should Start A Blog In 2019 | Tedium

Read Why You Should Start A Blog In 2019 by Ernie SmithErnie Smith (Tedium)
The independent blog has been in decline for years. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s why you should start a blog in 2019—and host it yourself.
A great argument here for the IndieWeb, and his second in probably as many weeks. Even better, it sounds like he doesn’t yet know some of the cool new things that blogs are capable of doing now that they couldn’t do in 2006.

Reply to Bill Ferriter on Something Weird is Happening on Twitter Right Now.

Replied to Something Weird is Happening on Twitter Right Now. by Bill FerriterBill Ferriter (THE TEMPERED RADICAL)

Check it out in the stream of comments that follow this Dean Shareski tweet:

Do you see what it is?

A REAL CONVERSATION!  With some intellectual give and take.  With people expanding on one another’s thoughts.  With people offering differing viewpoints.  With a few lighthearted jokes added to the mix to make everyone smile while wrestling with an important idea.

I definitely can get behind the idea of throwing fewer “edufuzzies”, because while they’re cute, entertaining, and can lighten the mood, it’s the conversation that matters more. The tougher part is that attempting to have a substantive conversation on Twitter can be difficult because of the character limitations as well as the painful UI involved of properly threading a conversation. I also suspect that taking the conversation somewhere other than Twitter will up the level of the conversation by an order of magnitude.

I far prefer Aaron’s idea of using our own websites to communicate back and forth:

Even better Bill is if we had such conversations from the comfort of our own backyard using bridgy and webmenbtions, rather than someone else’s playground?

So I’ll post my reply to you on my own website and manually copy it across to yours and (begrudgingly) syndicate a copy into Twitter, so everyone can play along. I’m hoping that the ability to automate these sorts of conversations from site to site will improve them all around in the coming year.

Quoted a tweet by Meg on TwitterMeg on Twitter (Twitter)
Seems like every time I turn around more and more people are going back to old school methods.
#IndieWeb #netpositiveblog Happy #newwwyear

👓 We Should Replace Facebook With Personal Websites | Motherboard

Read We Should Replace Facebook With Personal Websites (Motherboard)
Personal websites and email can replace most of what people like about Facebook—namely the urge to post about their lives online.
There’s a lot of talk about leaving Facebook again in the last day or two, but very little on where to go other than a few people talking about Twitter or other toxic social media that will just end up starting the same cycle of pain and frustration again. This is at least a start, but it could lean more towards a full IndieWeb approach.