The web needs a better business model — and we believe the technology is finally here to do it.
Social media and kids, Google fiber fail, 5G dreams, and more. Surprise: young people use social more than the oldsters. Some of them even use Vero. Samsung Galaxy S9 takes top marks for display and camera. Google Fiber didn't go quite as planned. Feds in your iPhone? It's more likely than you think. Amazon buys Ring, can now see and hear everything. US vs Microsoft II: The Revenge of the Irish. GitHub gets gotten by the biggest DDoS EVER.
There’s a great conversation in this episode about open platforms and why they’re important. The basic conversation starts around 12m19s, but really gets going at 16 minutes in and continues through to about 26:30. It includes some great examples of text messaging, social media companies, reservation systems and how they work either for the good or the bad based on how open or closed they are. It becomes a textbook set of cases for why the IndieWeb movement is important.
For those interested in just this short 10 minute section you can listen below on this bookmarked version of the audio:
Another interesting sub-segment is at 17:13 where Dwight Silverman comments that he knows many people who’ve removed social apps from their cell phones, including Leo Laporte. I’ve done this nearly a year ago and recently Dries Buytaert mentioned he’s done it as well. There’s also a recent article by Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times that he’s done something similar with solid results. For a list of people who’ve gone further, check out this list of silo-quits.
I consider myself a member of the open web community and very friendly with the goals of the IndieWeb community. I too wish for a world where web giants have less power and where the user is in control of more of their data. Yet, I now work for a large (the largest?) publishing platform. It is not often easy to reconcile, but one thing that I can tell you for a fact is that your data is, on average, safer on large hosting provider than it is on your small indie site.
While he mentions personal sites disappearing, it’s typically something that the site owner can often at least make a conscious choice to do and they can also mothball the data for later use. With a silo death, they really have no choice and often can’t get any data at all.
This just goes to point out that we need better solutions for both openness and longevity. How much of what I write on line will survive the next 500+ years? More or less than what Copernicus or Newton wrote? (Of course, who will care is an entirely different question…)
I hope that perhaps Medium opens up in the future to do some of the functionality that he mentions.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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:
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.
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">​</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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
If your site doesn’t support sending webmentions yet, you should be able to create a post on your website with the following HTML:
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>
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.)
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.
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…
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.