Comparing two different approaches that help you take control back over your own data on the web.
Today’s web is very different from what it was 8 years ago. We’ve said it several times: publishing and consuming content are new frontiers for most of the web giants like Facebook, Google or Apple. We consume the web from mobile devices, we discover content on silo-ed social networks and, more importantly, the base metaphor for the web is shifting from “space” to “time”. Superfeedr, the open web’s leading feed API and PubSubHubbub hub has been an independent player for 8 years. Superfeedr exists in order to enable people to exchange information on the web more freely and easily. Today, we’re excited to announce Superfeedr has been acquired by Medium. In many ways, it’s a very natural fit: Medium wants to create the best place to publish, distribute and consume content on the web. Together, we are hoping to keep Medium the company a leader in good industry practices, and Medium the network a place where this conversation can gain even more traction.
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!
Join us for dinner, drinks, and IndieWeb conversation.
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.)
We launched this blog less than three months ago to explore the latest in Open Web technologies. Things like the IndieWeb movement, blockchain apps, API platforms, Open AI, and more. AltPlatform has always been an experiment, as I made clear in our introductory post. However, from a publishing point of view the experiment hasn’t worked out as we had hoped. To put it plainly, the page views haven’t eventuated – at least in a sustained way. So it’s time to try something new. We’re going to pivot into something a bit different…soon.
I love ricmac’s conceptualization of blogging and hope it comes back the way he–and I–envision it.
Paul Jacobson has added you to the Twitter list “Open Web Pioneers“
I only hope I can half-live up to the promise of the start of the fantastic list he’s building.
The most powerful aspect of the Internet is the open web. From the very beginning, there has been a conflict with on one side walled gardens and closed networks with open standards and interoperability on the other.
I've long been a believer in the power of the open web, but my passion for saving it has been ignited by the IndieWeb movement, as of late. More and more people are discovering their distaste for creepy, ad-driven content silos like Facebook. Today's post by Dave Winer on the evils of Facebook, and...
Welcome to our new blog here on the Internet. AltPlatform is a co-op nonprofit tech blog infused with the spirit of Open Web. Richard summed up our goals in his manifesto.
We realize that the world has changed a lot since our good old ReadWriteWeb days. Web 2.0 is no longer relevant. Things are changing so quickly in tech that even Marc Andreessen’s “software is eating the world” mantra is no more. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang puts it, now AI is eating the software.
We’re in the early stages of a new period of humanity, where bots and robots will take over not only labor-intensive jobs but also artistic ones. Computers have been fixing punctuation and grammar in our writing for some time now. But soon, well-trained networks will be able to consume the latest news articles and generate an opinion article in a snap. A decade from now, Saturday Night Live jokes will be produced not by a factory of writers, but by neural networks. Need proof? Just look at what the Prisma app can do without human intervention.
Welcome everyone to AltPlatform, a non-profit tech blog devoted to Open Web technologies. What do we mean by “Open Web”? Firstly, we want to experiment with open source (like this WordPress.org blog) and open standards (like RSS). We’re also using the word open to signify a wider, boundary-le...
Welcome everyone to AltPlatform, a non-profit tech blog devoted to Open Web technologies. What do we mean by “Open Web”? Firstly, we want to experiment with open source (like this WordPress.org blog) and open standards (like RSS). We’re also using the word open to signify a wider, boundary-less view of the Web. In other words, we want to look for opportunities beyond the Walled Gardens – proprietary platforms like Facebook and Twitter where you don’t own your own data, you have little control over your news feeds, and you have to live by certain rules.