👓 Microsub and the new reader evolution | skippy.net

Read Microsub and the new reader evolution by Scott MerrillScott Merrill (skippy.net)
I was an avid Google Reader user.  When it shut down, I started hosting my own RSS reader: first tt-rss, and later miniflux. I very much liked being able to subscribe to sites and read them at my leisure. I also appreciated not having my reading habits tracked or quantified. I had maybe two dozen f...

What I was really after was the confluence of RSS feeds and Twitter and the ability to post to my own site.

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IndieWeb Summit 2018 Recap

Last week was the 8th annual IndieWeb Summit held in Portland, Oregon. While IndieWeb Camps and Summits have traditionally been held on weekends during people’s free time, this one held in the middle of the week was a roaring success. With well over 50 people in attendance, this was almost certainly the largest attendance I’ve seen to date. I suspect since people who flew in for the event had really committed, the attendance on the second day was much higher than usual as well. It was great to see so many people hacking on their personal websites and tools to make their personal online experiences richer.

The year of the Indie Reader

Last year I wrote the post Feed Reader Revolution in response to an increasingly growing need I’ve seen in the social space for a new sort of functionality in feed readers. While there have been a few interesting attempts like Woodwind which have shown a proof-of-concept, not much work had been done until some initial work by Aaron Parecki and a session at last year’s IndieWeb Summit entitled Putting it all Together.

Over the past year I’ve been closely watching Aaron Parecki; Grant Richmond and Jonathan LaCour; Eddie Hinkle; and Kristof De Jaeger’s collective progress on the microsub specification as well as their respective projects Aperture/Monocle; Together; Indigenous/Indigenous for iOS; and Indigenous for Android. As a result in early May I was overjoyed to suggest a keynote session on readers and was stupefied this week as many of them have officially launched and are open to general registration as relatively solid beta web services.

I spent a few minutes in a session at the end of Tuesday and managed to log into Aperture and create an account (#16, though I suspect I may be one of the first to use it besides the initial group of five developers). I also managed to quickly and easily add a microsub endpoint to my website as well. Sadly I’ve got some tweaks to make to my own installation to properly log into any of the reader app front ends. Based on several of the demos I’ve seen over the past months, the functionality involved is not only impressive, but it’s a properly large step ahead of some of the basic user interface provided by the now-shuttered Woodwind.xyz service (though the code is still available for self-hosting.)

Several people have committed to make attempts at creating a microsub server including Jack Jamieson who has announced an attempt at creating one for WordPress after having recently built the Yarns reader for WordPress from scratch this past year. I suspect within the coming year we’ll see one or two additional servers as well as some additional reading front ends. In fact, Ryan Barrett spent the day on Wednesday hacking away at leveraging the News Blur API and leveraging it to make News Blur a front end for Aperture’s server functionality. I’m hoping others may do the same for other popular readers like Feedly or Inoreader to expand on the plurality of offerings. Increased competition for new reader offerings can only improve the entire space.

Even more reading related support

Just before the Summit, gRegor Morrill unveiled the beta version of his micropub client Indiebookclub.biz which allows one to log in with their own website and use it to post reading updates to their own website. For those who don’t yet support micropub, the service saves the data for eventual export. His work on it continued through the summit to continue to improve an already impressive product. It’s the fist micropub client of its kind amidst a growing field of websites (including WordPress and WithKnown which both have plugins) that offer reading post support. Micro.blog has recently updated its code to allow users of the platform the ability to post reads with indiebookclub.biz as well. As a result of this spurt of reading related support there’s now a draft proposal to add read-of and read-status support as new Microformats. Perhaps reads will be included in future updates of the post-type-discovery algorithm as well?

Given the growth of reading post support and a new micropub read client, I suspect it won’t take long before some of the new microsub-related readers begin supporting read post micropub functionality as well.

IndieAuth Servers

In addition to David Shanske’s recent valiant update to the IndieAuth plugin for WordPress, Manton Reece managed to finish up coding work to unveil another implementation of IndieAuth at the Summit. His version is for the micro.blog platform which is a significant addition to the community and will add several hundred additional users who will have broader access to a wide assortment of functionality as a result.

The Future

While work continues apace on a broad variety of fronts, I was happy to see that my proposal for a session on IndieAlgorithms was accepted (despite my leading another topic earlier in the day). It was well attended and sparked some interesting discussion about how individuals might also be able to exert greater control over what they’re presented to consume. With the rise of Indie feed readers this year, the ability to better control and filter one’s incoming content is going to take on a greater importance in the very near future. With an increasing number of readers to choose from, more people will hopefully be able to free themselves from the vagaries of the blackbox algorithms that drive content distribution and presentation in products like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. Based on the architecture of servers like Aperture, perhaps we might be able to modify some of the microsub spec to allow more freedom and flexibility in what will assuredly be the next step in the evolution of the IndieWeb?

Diversity

While there are miles and miles to go before we sleep, I was happy to have seen a session on diversity pop up at the Summit. I hope we can all take the general topic to heart to be more inclusive and actively invite friends into our fold. Thanks to Jean for suggesting and guiding the conversation and everyone else for continuing it throughout the rest of the summit and beyond.

Other Highlights

Naturally, the above are just a few of the bigger highlights as I perceive them. I’m sure others will appear in the IndieNews feed or other blogposts about the summit. The IndieWeb is something subtly different to each person, so I hope everyone takes a moment to share (on your own sites naturally) what you got out of all the sessions and discussions. There was a tremendous amount of discussion, debate, and advancement of the state of the art of the continually growing IndieWeb. Fortunately almost all of it was captured in the IndieWeb chat, on Twitter, and on video available through either the IndieWeb wiki pages for the summit or directly from the IndieWeb YouTube channel.

I suspect David Shanske and I will have more to say in what is sure to be a recap episode in our next podcast.

Photos

Finally, below I’m including a bunch of photos I took over the course of my trip. I’m far from a professional photographer, but hopefully they’ll give a small representation of some of the fun we all had at camp.

Final Thanks

People

While I’m thinking about it, I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who came to the summit. You all really made it a fantastic event!

I’d particularly like to thank Aaron Parecki, Tantek Çelik, gRegor Morrill, Marty McGuire, and David Shanske who did a lot of the organizing and volunteer work to help make the summit happen as well as to capture it so well for others to participate remotely or even view major portions of it after-the-fact. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Martijn van der Ven for some herculean efforts on IRC/Chat in documenting things in real time as well as for some serious wiki gardening along the way. As always, there are a huge crew of others whose contributions large and small help to make up the rich fabric of the community and we wouldn’t be who we are without your help. Thank you all! (Or as I might say in chat: community++).

And finally, a special personal thanks to Greg McVerry for kindly letting me join him at the Hotel deLuxe for some late night discussions on the intersection of IndieWeb and Domain of One’s Own philosophies as they dovetail with the education sector.  With growing interest and a wealth of ideas in this area, I’m confident it’s going to be a rapidly growing one over the coming years.

Sponsors

I’d also like to take a moment to say thanks to all the sponsors who helped to make the event a success including Name.com, GoDaddy, Okta, Mozilla, DreamHost, and likely a few others who I’m missing at the moment.

I’d also like to thank the Eliot Center for letting us hosting the event at their fabulous facility.

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👓 Brainstorming on Implementing Vouch, Following and Blogrolls | David Shanske

Read Brainstorming on Implementing Vouch, Following and Blogrolls by David ShanskeDavid Shanske (David Shanske)
Vouch is an extension to the webmention protocol. Webmentions usually have two parameters…source and target. Target is the URL on your website  that the Source URL is linking to. The vouch parameter is a third URL to help the target determine whether or not they should accept the webmention. This...

I like the sound of where this is going already! All these small little pieces loosely joined to build a much larger edifice is certainly interesting.

I’ve got a somewhat reasonable bookmarklet for quickly following people, though it’s not marked up with XFN data (yet) — perhaps another data field for Post Kinds? I do wish that there was either a mechanism for adding those to my Following page via the WordPress Link Manager or someone had a means of parsing lots of follow posts so I could quickly have data for both Vouch as well as for microsub readers either via my follow feed list or via OPML export and/or OPML subscription. WordPress obviously has some of the infrastructure built already, but there’s certainly a more IndieWeb way of doing it that wouldn’t require side-files like OPML.

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👓 Yarns v. Microsub | Jack Jamieson

Read Yarns v. Microsub? (Thinking out loud) by Jack JamiesonJack Jamieson (jackjamieson.net)
I’ve been slowly making some improvements to my Yarns Indie Reader for WordPress, and also seeing very impressive development of other IndieWeb readers such as Together, Indigenous, and Monocle.  These three readers all rely on Microsub, which splits the work of building a reader into two parts: ...

Just the fact that someone is contemplating building a microsub server for WordPress warms the cockles of my heart. This is definitely going to be the year of some fantastic new technology on the feed reader scene!

Having just run into Jan Cavan Boulas at WordCamp Orange County and talking with her about her relatively recent redesign of WordPress.com’s reader, I’d be curious to see what she and others might be able to do for a WordPress reader built on top of a solid microsub server.

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Defining the IndieWeb

The concept of IndieWeb is something slightly different to many people and it’s ever evolving and changing, just like the internet itself.

Trying to define it is somewhat akin to trying to define America: while it has a relatively well-defined geographic border and place in time, its people, laws, philosophies, and principles, while typically very similar, can vary and change over time. What it is can be different for everyone both within it as well as outside of it. It can be different things to different people based on their place, time, and even mood. In the end maybe it’s just an idea.

A basic definition of IndieWeb

In broadest terms I would define being part of the IndieWeb as owning your own domain name and hosting some sort of website as a means of identifying yourself and attempting to communicate with others on the internet.

At its simplest, one could say they have an IndieWeb site by buying their own domain name (in my case: boffosocko.com) and connecting it to a free and flexible service like Tumblr.com or WordPress.com. Because you’ve got the ability to export your data from these services and move it to a new host or new content management system, you have a lot more freedom of choice and flexibility in what you’re doing with your content and identity and how you can interact online. By owning your domain and the ability to map your URLs, when you move, you can see and feel the benefits for yourself, but your content can still be found at the same web addresses you’ve set up instead of disappearing from the web.

If you wished, you could even purchase a new domain name and very inexpensively keep the old domain name and have it automatically forward people from your old links to all the appropriate links on your new one.

By comparison, owning your own domain name and redirecting it to your Facebook page doesn’t quite make you IndieWeb because if you moved to a different service your content might be able to go with you by export, but all of the URLs that used to point to it are now all dead and broken because they were under the control of another company that is trying to lock you into their service.

Some more nuanced definition

Going back to the analogy of America, the proverbial constitution for the IndieWeb is generally laid out on its principles page. If you like, the pre-amble to this “constitution” is declared on the IndieWeb wiki’s front page and on its why page.

Some people may choose to host the business card equivalent of a website with simply their name and contact information. Others may choose to use it as the central hub of their entire online presence and identity. In the end, what you do with your website and how you choose to use it should be up to you. What if you wanted to use your website like Twitter for short status updates or sharing links? What if you wanted to use it like Facebook to share content and photos with your friends and family? What if you want to host audio or video like Soundcloud, YouTube, or Vimeo allow?

The corporate social media revolution was a lovely and useful evolution of what the blogosphere was already doing. Thousands of companies made it incredibly easy for billions of people to be on the internet and interact with each other. But why let a corporation own and monetize your data and your ability to interact with others? More importantly, why allow them to limit what you can do? Maybe I want to post status updates of more than 280 characters? Maybe I want the ability to edit or update a post? Maybe I want more privacy? Maybe I don’t want advertising? Why should I be stuck with only the functionality that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and thousands of others allow me to have? Why should I be limited in communicating with people who are stuck on a particular service? (Would you use your phone to only call friends who use AT&T?) Why should I have hundreds of social accounts and an online identity shattered like just so many horcruxes when I could have one that I can fully control?

By decentralizing things to the level of owning a domain and having a simple website with control of my URLs, I can move to cheaper or more innovative web hosts or service providers. I can move to more innovative content manage systems that allow me to do more and communicate better or more broadly with others online. As a side effect of empowering myself, I can help create more competition and innovation in the space to do things I might not otherwise be capable of doing solely by myself.

Web standards

Almost all of the people behind the IndieWeb movement believe in using some basic web standards as a central building block. Standards help provide some sort of guidance to allow sites to be easier to build and provide a simpler way for them to communicate and interact with each other.

Of course, because you have control of your own site, you can do anything you wish with it. (In our America analogy we could consider standards to be like speech. Then how might we define free speech in the IndieWeb?) Perhaps a group of people who want some sort of new functionality will agree on a limited set of new standards or protocols? They can build and iterate and gradually create new standards that others can follow so that the infrastructure advances and new capabilities emerge. Generally the simpler and easier these standards are to implement, the more adoption they will typically garner. Often simple standards are easier to innovate on and allow people to come up with new ways of using them that weren’t originally intended.

This type of growth can be seen in the relatively new W3C recommendation for the Webmention specification which grew out of the IndieWeb movement. Services like Facebook and Twitter have a functionality called @mentions, but they only work within their own walled gardens; they definitely don’t interoperate–you can’t @mention someone on Facebook with your Twitter account. Why not?! Why not have a simple standard that will allow one website to @mention another–not only across domain names but across multiple web servers and even content management systems? This is precisely what the Webmention standard allows. I can @mention you from my domain running WordPress and you can still receive it using your own domain running Drupal (or whatever software you choose). People within the IndieWeb community realized there was a need for such functionality, and so, over the span of several years, they slowly evolved it and turned it into a web standard that anyone (including Facebook and Twitter) could use. While it may have been initially meant as a simple notifications protocol, people have combined it with another set of web standards known as Microformats to enable cross-site conversations and a variety of other wonderous functionalities.

Some people in the IndieWeb might define it as all of the previous ideas we’ve discussed as well as the ability to support conversations via Webmentions. Some might also define an IndieWeb site as one that has the ability to support Micropub, which is a standard that allows websites to be able to accept data from a growing variety of applications that will allow you to more easily post different types of content to your site from articles and photos to what you’re drinking or reading.

Still others might want their own definition of IndieWeb to support the functionality of WebSub, MicroSub, IndieAuth, or even all of the above. Each small, free-standing piece expands the capabilities of what your personal website can do and how you can interact online. But since it’s your website and under your control, you have the power to pick and choose what and how you would like it to be able to do.

So what is the IndieWeb really?

Perhaps after exploring the concept a bit, most may not necessarily be able to define it concretely. Instead they might say–to quote United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart“But I know it when I see it […]”.

The IndieWeb can be many different things. It is:

  • a website;
  • an independent network of websites;
  • an idea;
  • a concept;
  • a set of broad-based web standards;
  • a set of principles;
  • a philosophy;
  • a group of people;
  • a support network;
  • an organization;
  • an inclusive community;
  • a movement;
  • a Utopian dream of what the decentralized, open Internet could be.

In some sense it is all of these things and many more.

In the end though, the real question is:

What do you want the IndieWeb to be?

Come help us all define it.

IndieWeb.org

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👓 An IndieWeb reader: My new home on the internet | GoDaddy

Read An IndieWeb reader: My new home on the internet by Aaron PareckiAaron Parecki (The Garage: GoDaddy)
What if you could reply to a blog post in your feed reader, and your reply would show up as a comment on the original post automatically? Or if you had one place to go to follow all of your friends’ blogs and more? An IndieWeb reader might be the answer. Get insight from the cofounder of the IndieWeb movement.

/me salivates…

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An IndieWeb Podcast: Episode 2 “IndieAuth”

Episode 2: IndieAuth

Summary: At long last, after about three weeks worth of work, David Shanske (along with help from Aaron Parecki) has added the ability for the IndieAuth plugin for WordPress to provide an IndieAuth endpoint for self-hosted versions of WordPress, but it also has the ability to provision and revoke tokens.

This week, David Shanske and I discuss IndieAuth and the WordPress plugin’s new functionality as well as some related micropub work David has been doing. To some extent, I alternate between acting innocent and serving as devil’s advocate as we try to tease out some of the subtleties of what IndieAuth is and what it means to the average user. As usual, David does an excellent job of navigating what can be some complicated territory.

 
Huffduff this Episode

Show Notes

Related IndieWeb Wiki Pages

Micropub Apps Mentioned in the episode

Closing discussion on IndieWeb Readers and Microsub Pieces

More Resources

If you need more IndieWeb content, guidance, or even help, an embarrassment of riches can be found on the IndieWeb wiki, including the following resources:

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👓 It’s Time For an RSS Revival | Wired

Read

This article, which I’ve seen shared almost too widely on the internet since it came out, could almost have been written any time in the past decade really. They did do a somewhat better job of getting quotes from some of the big feed readers’ leaders to help to differentiate their philosophical differences, but there wasn’t much else here. Admittedly they did have a short snippet about Dave Winer’s new feedbase product, which I suspect, in combination with the recent spate of articles about Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, motivated the article. (By the way, I love OPML as much as anyone could, but feedbase doesn’t even accept the OPML feeds out of my  core WordPress install though most feed readers do, which makes me wonder how successful feedbase might be in the long run without better legacy spec support.)

So what was missing from Wired’s coverage? More details on what has changed in the space in the past several years. There’s been a big movement afoot in the IndieWeb community which has been espousing a simpler and more DRY (don’t repeat yourself) version of feeds using simple semantic microformats markup like h-feed. There’s also been the emergence of JSON feed in the past year which many of the major feed readers already support.

On the front of people leaving Facebook (and their black box algorithmic monster that determines what you read rather than you making an implicit choice), they might have mentioned people who are looking for readers through which they can also use their own domains and websites where they own and maintain their own data for interaction. I’ve written about this in more depth last year: Feed reader revolution.

One of the more bleeding edge developments which I think is going to drastically change the landscape in the coming years for developers, feed readers, and the internet consumption space is the evolving Microsub spec which is being spearheaded by a group of projects known as the Aperture microsub server and the Together and Indigenous clients which already use it. Microsub is going to abstract away many of the technical hurdles that make it far more difficult to build a full-fledged feed reader. I have a feeling it’s going to level a lot of the playing field to allow a Cambrian explosion of readers and social related software to better leverage more easily reading content on the web without relying on third party black box services which people have been learning they cannot fully trust anymore. Aaron Parecki has done an excellent job of laying out some parts of it in Building an IndieWeb Reader as well as in recent episodes of his Percolator microcast. This lower hurdle is going to result in fewer people needing to rely solely on the biggest feed readers like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for both consuming content and posting their own content. The easier it becomes for people to use other readers to consume content from almost anywhere on the web, the less a monopoly the social networks will have on our lives.

I truly hope Wired circles around and gives some of these ideas additional follow up coverage in the coming months. They owe it to their readership to expand their coverage from what we all knew five years ago. If they want to go a step or two further, they might compare the web we had 15 years ago to some of the new and emerging open web technologies that are starting to take hold today.

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Exactly five years ago to the day I was excited about the possibilities of Digg Reader:

Now they’ve announced they’re shutting down. It seems to me that from a UI perspective, they only put in a bare minimal amount of effort to build out their reader and ceased iterating it on the day it it opened.

This is the second reader shut down recently, but I’m more excited about the idea of Microsub and what it may mean to the future of feed readers.

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❤️ Microsub bridge by Ryan Barrett

Liked Microsub bridge by Ryan Barrett (snarfed.org)
If you’re familiar with much of my IndieWeb work, you probably know I’m drawn to building translators, proxies, and bridges to connect different protocols and services that do similar things. There’s been a lot of activity recently around Microsub, a standard API for feed reader clients to talk to feed reader servers. Many existing readers have APIs, so I’ve been thinking about a bridge that would translate those APIs to Microsub, so that reader clients like Together and Indigenous could use traditional reader services like Feedly and NewsBlur as their backend.

This article brings such warmth to my heart. It’s even beyond what I had originally envisioned in Feed Reader Revolution.

I’m salivating what this portends for the web and my ability to read it better in the future!

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A better way to subscribe to or follow sites on the open web

Just as I was getting sick last week, Colin Walker wrote “There has to be a better way to subscribe to sites.” He’s definitely hit the nail right on the head. The process is currently painful and disorganized, it’s also working on technology that’s almost two decades old and difficult for newcomers at best.

I’ve always posited that one of the reasons that social media silos have been so successful is that they’ve built some fantastic readers. Sure their UI is cleaner and just dead simple, but to a great extent 95% of their product is an evolved feed reader while the other 5% is a simple posting interface that makes it easy to interact. To compare, most CMSes are almost completely about posting interface, and spend very little time, if any, worrying about providing a reading experience.

The IndieWeb has been making some serious strides on making cross-site interactions easier with the Webmention and Micropub protocols, but the holy grail is still out there: allowing people to have an integrated feed reader built into their website (or alternately a standalone feed reader that’s tightly integrated with their site via Micropub or other means).

For those watching the space with as much interest as I have, there are a couple of interesting tools in the space and a few on the immediate horizon that are sure to make the process a whole lot easier and create a new renaissance in the open web.

SubToMe: a Universal Subscribe Button

First, for a relatively simple one-size-fits-all subscribe button, I recommend people take a look at SubToMe which touts itself as a “Universal Follow button” because it  “makes it easy for people to follow web sites,because browsers don’t do it.” The button is fairly straightforward and has an awful lot of flexibility built in. In the simplest sense it has some solid feed detection so it finds available feeds on a web page and then provides a handful of recommended major readers to the user. With two clicks, one can pretty quickly and almost immediately subscribe to almost any feed in their reader of choice. 

For publishers, one can quickly install a simple button on their site. They can further provide a list of specific feeds they want to advertise, and they can even recommend a particular feed reader if they choose.

For consumers, the service provides a simple browser bookmarklet so that if a site doesn’t have a button, they can click a subscribe button in their browser. Then click on a provider. Done. One can also choose a preferred provider to shorten the process.

Almost all the major feed readers are supported out of the box and the process of adding new ones is relatively simple.

Microsub

Since last June there’s been a quietly growing new web spec called Microsub  that will assuredly shake up the subscription and reader spaces. In short it provides a standardized way for clients to consume and interact with feeds collected by a server.

While it gets pretty deep pretty quickly, the spec is meant to help decouple some of the heavy architecture of building a feed reader. In some way it’s analogous to the separation of content and display that HTML and CSS allows, but applied to the mechanics of feed readers and how readers display their content.

There are already a few interesting projects by the names of Together and Indigenous that are taking advantage of the architecture

I can’t wait to see how it all dovetails together to make a more integrated reading and posting interface as well as the potential it has for individual CMSs to potentially leverage the idea to include integrated interfaces into their products. I can’t wait for the day when my own personal website is compatible with Microsub, so that I can use any Microsub client to read my timeline and follow people.

I’m also sure that decoupling the idea of displaying posts from actually fetching remote feeds will make it easier to build a reader clients in general. I hope this has a Cambrian explosion-type of effect on the state of the art of feed readers.

I’d recommend those interested in a high level discussion to have a listen to the following thee short episodes of Aaron Parecki’s Percolator microcast.

Episode 3: Following

Episode 10: Microsub for Readers

Episode 17: It’s 2018!

Featured photo credit: Flock of sheep flickr photo by Jo@net shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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