Some notes about the semantic change of “interlink” and “backlink”

I’m reasonably certain that he’s raised the question or issue about the definition of “interlink” or “backlink” before, but it’s come up again today with some discussion and notes which I wanted to capture permanently here with few modifications for myself:

doubleloop[m] APP 12:30 PM
I have some notes I’ve taken on interlinking wikis here –

tantek 12:39 PM
doubleloop[m], what’s the difference between “just” a link and an “interlink” from a user perspective?
genuine question (feel free to also answer if you have an idea @chrisaldrich) because Wikipedia seems to consider “interlink” as a common noun to be a synonym for “hyperlink”

Chris Aldrich 20:45 PM
I think that the definition for interlinking is expanding based on actual use cases. Historically Tim Berners Lee tried to create hyperlinks as bi-directional and then scrapped the idea as not easily implementable. As a result we’ve all come to expect that links are uni-directional.

In the digital gardens, wiki spaces and now, even with Webmention, there’s an expectation (I would suggest) by a growing number of people that some links in practice will be bi-directional.

If Neil puts a link to something within his own wiki/digital garden, he’s expecting that to be picked up in a space like the Agora and it will interlink his content with that of others.

Many who are practicing POSSE/PESOS are programatically (or manually) placing backlinks between their content and the copies that live on silos creating a round trip set of links that typically hasn’t been seen on the web historically.

Because we’ve mostly grown up with a grammar of single directional links and no expectation of visible reverse links (except perhaps in the spammy framing of SEO linkfarms), the word “interlink” has taken on the connotation seen in Wikipedia. I think that definition is starting to change.

Among a class of users in the note taking/personal knowledge management space (Roam Research, Obsidian, Logseq, TiddlyWiki, et al) most users are expecting tools to automatically interlink (in my definition with the sense of an expected bi-directional link) pages. Further, they’re expecting that if you change the word(s) that appear within a [[wikilink]] that it will globally change all instances of that word/phrase that are so linked within one’s system.

In many of those systems you can also do a manual /redirect the way we do on the IndieWeb wiki, but they expect the system to actively rename their bi-directional links without any additional manual work.

tantek 1:08 PM
ok, the bidirectionality as expectation is interesting

Chris Aldrich 1:08 PM
By analogy, many in the general public have a general sense of what /syndication is within social media, but you (Tantek) and others in the IndieWeb space have created words/phrases/acronyms that specify a “target” and “source” to indicate in which direction the syndication is being done and between sites of differing ownership (POSSE, PESOS, PASTA, PESETAS, POOSNOW,… not to mention a linear philosophical value proposition of which are more valuable to the end user). There is a group of people who are re-claiming a definition of the words “interlink” and perhaps “backlink” to a more logical position based on new capabilities in technology. Perhaps it may be better if they created neologisms for these, but linguistically that isn’t the path being taken as there are words that would seem to have an expandable meaning for what they want. I’d classify it as a semantic change/shift/drift in the words meanings:

I suspect that if Roam Research, or any of the other apps that have this bi-directionality built in, were to remove it as a feature, they’d loose all of their userbase.

tantek 1:11 PM
yes, such a semantic shift in the meaning of “interlink” seems reasonable, and a useful distinction from the now ubiquitously expected unidirectionality of “hyperlink”

Chris Aldrich 1:12 PM
I’m expecting that sometime within the next year or so that major corporate apps like Evernote and OneNote will make this bi-directional linking a default as well.

tantek 1:12 PM
in sci-fi metaphor terms, one-way vs two-way wormholes (per other uses of “hyper”)

Chris Aldrich 1:14 PM
I can only imagine what a dramatically different version of the web we’d be living in if the idea of Webmention had existed in the early 90s. Particularly as there’s the ability to notify the other end in changes/updates/deletions of a page. Would the word “linkrot” exist in that world?

Joe Crawford 1:22 PM
Or in a world with Xanaduian transclusions, for that matter.

Chris Aldrich 1:25 PM
Related to this and going into the world of the history of information is the suggestion by Markus Krajewski in “Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548-1929” that early card catalog and index card systems are really an early paper/manual form of a Turing Machine:

One might imagine the extended analogy libraries:books:index cards :: Internet:websites:links with different modes and speeds of transmission.

Reads, Listens, Watches, and Editable Webmention Types and Avatars in the IndieWeb WordPress Suite

I’ve been meaning to write regular updates to highlight some of the useful changes in the functionality of the IndieWeb suite of WordPress plugins, but never gotten around to it. There’s been a few really interesting ones lately, so I thought I’d start. Observant watchers who read through either the code or even the scant change logs before they update their code may catch some of these features, but sometimes interesting tidbits can slip by the most vigilant. Here are some interesting recent ones:

Display of Reads, Listens, and Watches in comments sections

David Shanske’s excellent Post Kinds Plugin allows one to post what they’re reading, listening to, or watching in simple IndieWeb fashion. (Examples of these on my site: read posts, listen posts, watch posts.) These posts types automatically include the appropriate microformats classes so the user doesn’t need to bother doing them manually. For a long time when replying to another’s site, bookmarking it, or even mentioning it when also using the Webmentions plugin would send the site a Webmention that would generally cause it to show up as a native comment, bookmark or mention. With an update late last year, from within the Discussion settings in WordPress, one could set toggles so that many of these webmentions could be displayed as facepiles. Other broadly unsupported post types would typically default to a simple mention.

Recently David Shanske and I started a podcast, and he thought it would be useful if his site could accept listen posts and show them visually within his comments section just like these replies, bookmarks, and mentions. Thus over the past month he’s added code to the Semantic Linkbacks Plugin to add the functionality for these types of posts to properly render showing facepiles for listens, reads, and watches.

This is what webmentions of listen posts  look like on his site in his comments section:

User Interface example of how listen posts on David Shanske’s podcast appear on his site

What’s happening

Listen (or scrobble) posts can send webmentions (or notifications) to the original content potentially with the experimental listen-of microformat. In the case of scrobbles of podcasts, these webmentions could be displayed as “Listens” which would provide the canonical copy of the podcast some indicator of its popularity and actual audience. It is tremendously difficult to obtain data on the actual number of listens within most of the podcast community and typically a fraction of the number of downloads must be used as an indicator of the actual reach. Being able to display listens could potentially be a boon to the podcasting market, particularly with respect to advertising as this type of open social web functionality spreads.

Similarly read posts with the read-of microformat and watches with watch-of will be accepted and show up within the comments section. Like the previous types, they can be set to display as facepiles within the user interface.

From the Discussion options settings page (typically at: /wp-admin/options-discussion.php#semantic_linkbacks) one can choose the mention types one wants to have appear as facepiles within their comments section.

Knowing that this read functionality would be available, this week I helped set up their site to be able to accept and display reads of their articles. Here’s an example from their site:

The display of a read post on

I haven’t yet seen one for watches in the wild yet, but maybe you’ll be either the first  to send or receive one?

The microformats on these posts is generally considered to be experimental, but with the ~500+ users of this suite of tools as well as others who are already using them on other sites, they’ve now taken a dramatic step into the open internet and more widespread use and potential official adoption.

Editable Webmention Types and Avatars

Webmention Types

Just yesterday, I spent a few minutes in the IndieWeb chat helping someone to laboriously delve into their mySQL databaset and find a particular snippet of data so they could manually change a received webmention from being a simple mention to being a reply so that it would display as a native comment on their website. I’ve often done this to take what sometimes seem like simple mentions and change them to replies to reveal the richer content they often contain for the broader conversation. Sadly the process is boring, laborious, and fraught with potential ways to mess things up.

As of this weekend, this process is no longer necessary. One can now go to the admin interface for their comments and webmentions (found at the path /wp-admin/edit-comments.php), click on edit for the particular comment they’re changing and then scroll down to reveal a droplist interface to be able to manually change the webmention type.

Samantic Linkbacks Data metabox within the comment editing interface on WordPress. One can use the dropbox to change the webmention type as well as manually update the commenter’s avatar.

As another example of a use for this functionality, perhaps you’ve received a listen mention on one of your podcast episodes that has a lot of useful notes or commentary germane to your episode? Instead of hiding it as a simple listen, why not change the type to reply to allow a richer conversation around your content? After all, with a reasonable reply it will be implicit that the commenter actually listened to the episode, right?


Because there is currently no functionality in WordPress for saving or caching the avatars of commenters via webmention, when users change their profile images on siloed services like Facebook, Twitter, et al. the link to their old avatars quits working and they were displaying blank spaces. This is an unfortunate form of linkrot, but one that can become more visually apparent over time.

Likes and Reposts concatenated on my site now after converting them into facepiles. They still give the social “proof” and indicate the interaction, but don’t interfere in the conversation now–especially when there are hundreds of them.

As one can see in the image for the commenting edit box above, the field for the Avatar is now editable. This means one can update out-of-date or blank avatars. One now also has the ability to moderate/edit or easily remove/switch avatars if users are sending inappropriate photos for one’s site’s audience.​​​​​​​​​