Today I was reminded while thinking about Disqus that I had an Intense Debate account from April 23, 2009. Apparently it’s still functioning all these years later–possibly as a result of their purchase by Automattic in 2008. Not that there was much there, but I took a few minutes and exported out all my data and now own it here on my site.
One of the interesting parts was that it featured a comment about Twitter pulling the rug out from underneath developers–an event that foreshadowed even more of the same in the coming years as well as a conversation about the gamification of follower accounts, something which has gotten us into a sad state of affairs today nearly a decade later. Apparently while they tried to cap follower accounts, their early efforts just didn’t go far enough to help the civility of the platform.
For a quite a while I’ve been thinking about writing a book about the IndieWeb to provide a broader overview of what it is philosophically, how it works, how its community functions, and most specifically how the average person can more easily become a part of it.
Back in January Timo Reitnauer wrote Let’s Make 2017 The Year of the Indie Web. I agree wholehearted with the sentiment of his title and have been personally wanting to do something specific to make it a reality. With the changes I’ve seen in the internet over the past 22 years, and changes specifically in the last year, we certainly need it now more than ever.
As a result, I’m making my 2018 IndieWeb resolution early. For the month of November, as part of NaNoWriMo, I’m going to endeavor to lovingly craft together a string of about 2,000 words a day on the topic of the IndieWeb to create a book geared toward helping non-developers (ie. Generation 2 and Generation 3 people) more easily own their online identities and content.
Over the past year, surely I’ve read, written about, or interacted with the IndieWeb community concretely in one way or another on at least 70 days. This sprint of 30 days should round out a 100 days project. To be honest, I haven’t necessarily posted about each of these interactions on my own site nor are they necessarily visible changes to my site, so it may not follow the exact requirements of the 100 Days of IndieWeb, but it follows the spirit of the creator idea with the hopes that the publicly visible result is ever more people adopting the principles of the movement for themselves.
I’ll focus the book primarily on how the average person can utilize the wealth of off-the-shelf tools of the WordPress content management system and its community–naturally with mentions of other easy-to-use platforms like Known and Micro.blog sprinkled throughout–to own their own domain, own their content, and better and more freely communicate with others online.
If you haven’t heard about the movement before, I’ll direct you to my article An Introduction to the IndieWeb, portions of which will surely inform the introduction of the book.
If you’ve recently joined the IndieWeb, I’d certainly love to hear your thoughts and stories about how you came to it, why you joined, and what the most troublesome parts have been so I can help direct people through them more easily–at least until there are a plurality of one-click solutions to let everyone IndieWeb-ify themselves online.
As a publisher who realizes the value of starting a PR campaign to support the resultant book, I’m also curious to hear thoughts about potentially launching a crowdfunding campaign to support the modest costs of the book, with profits (if any) going toward supporting the IndieWeb community.
I’m happy to entertain any other thoughts or considerations people have, so feel free to reply in the comments below, or better yet, reply on your own site and send me a webmention.
The University of Mary Washington’s initiative, “Domain of One’s Own,” is phrased thusly as a nod to Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own,” in which she famously quipped that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” We can critique – and certainly we should – the class implications and expectations in Woolf’s commandment here; and we must consider both the financial burden and the transaction mechanism of a push for domains in education – as Maha notes, for example, many students in Egypt don’t have a credit card with which to make online purchases.
“Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days,” Woolf wrote in 1929. (That 500 quid is the equivalent to about $37,000 when adjusted for inflation.) But Woolf is not simply talking about having a piece of paper – a title, for example – that decrees she owns the room. It’s about having the financial freedom and a personal space to write.
To own is to possess. To own is to have authority and control. To own is to acknowledge. It implies a responsibility. Ownership is a legal designation; but it’s something more than that too. It’s something more and then, without legal protection, the word also means something less.
There is some important internet philosophy going on in this article. Though written for an education-based audience, I think it’s got an important message for everyone about owning their own space online and being able to write and freely express themselves.
Rel=”me” is a microformat tag put on hyperlinks that indicates that the paged linked to is another representation of the person who controls the site/page you’re currently looking at. Thus on my home page the Facebook bug has a link to my facebook account which is another representation of me on the web, thus it has a rel=”me” tag on it.
His data is a bit old as I now maintain a page entitled Social Media Accounts and Links with some (but far from all) of my disparate and diverse social media accounts. That page currently has 190 rel=”me”s on it! While there was one other example that had rel-mes pointing to every other internal page on the site (at 221, if I recall), I’m proud to say, without gaming the system in such a quirky way, that each and every one of the rel=”me” URLs is indeed a full legitimate use of the tag.
I’m proud to be at the far end of the Zipf tail for this. And even more proud to be tagged as such during the week in which Microformats celebrates its 12th birthday. But for those doing research or who need edge cases of rel-me use, I’m also happy to serve as a unique test case. (If I’m not mistaken, I think my Google+ page broke one of Ryan’s web crawlers/tools in the past for a similar use-case a year or two ago).
The Moral of the Story
The take away from this seemingly crazy and obviously laughable example is simply just how fragmented one’s online identity can become by using social silos. Even more interesting for some is the number of sites on that page which either no longer have links or which are crossed out indicating that they no longer resolve. This means those sites and thousands more are now gone from the internet and along with them all of the data that they contained not only for me but thousands or even millions of other users.
This is one of the primary reasons that I’m a member of the Indieweb, have my own domain, and try to own all of my own data.
While it seemed embarrassing for a moment (yes, I could hear the laughter even in the live stream folks!), I’m glad Ryan drew attention to my rel-me edge case in part because it highlights some of the best reasons for being in the Indieweb.
(And by the way Ryan, thanks for a great presentation! I hope everyone watches the full video and checks out the new site/tool!)
dokieli is a clientside editor for decentralised article publishing, annotations and social interactions.
dokieli envisions research results, analysis and data all being produced interactively on the Web and seamlessly linked to and from articles. Through annotations and notifications, the academic process of peer-review can be open, transparent and decentralised for researchers.
Personal sites, our blogs, these were once our playgrounds. My own site was the first place I added rollover images, CSS for fonts, tried out a “table free” design. I wrote about the web, surrounded by my own experiments with the web. We all did, and it was only in reading those words from 1999 that I realised there was more to owning your own content than simply not publishing your words elsewhere.
Rachel, To a great extent it sounds like you’ve independently discovered and rewritten a lot of the indieweb philosophy which can be found at https://indieweb.org. It’s a diverse group of web developers who have taken back the web and their identities from where things left off around 2007 when the social media silos drastically changed the way we all use the internet.
I suspect that given your interests, background, and what you’ve written here, you’ll not only feel right at home in this group, but you’ll get a lot of real value out of it both personally and professionally. In particular, I think you’ll enjoy concepts like webmention and micropub, services like Brid.gy, and many others. When you have time I invite you to come join us both on the wiki as well as in chat/IRC/Slack as we all continue building and improving our own personal websites in much the same way we did as “kids.”
Next month, two seminal image-sharing communities, FFFFOUND! and MLKSHK, will close their doors within a week of each other. There's a profound difference in how they're doing it as noted by someone who's previously sold off a community.
This is a great little piece comparing and contrasting how to relatively similar online communities and social silos are shutting down their services. One is going a much better route than the other and providing export tools and archive ability to preserve the years of work and effort.
On the anniversary of the death of FriendFeed, I update Louis Gray's flawed social media diagram.
I was reminded this morning that two years ago yesterday FriendFeed, one of my favorite social media sites, was finally shut down after years of flagging support (outright neglect?) after it was purchased by Facebook.
This reminded me of something which I can only call one of the most hurtful diagrams I saw in the early days Web 2.0 and the so-called social web. It was from an article from May 16, 2009, entitled Know and Master Your Social Media Flow by Louis Gray, a well-known blogger who later joined Google almost two years later to promote Google+.
Here’s a rough facsimile of the diagram as it appeared on his blog (and on several syndicated copies around the web):
His post and this particular diagram were what many were experimenting with at the time, and certainly inspired others to do the same. I know it influenced me a bit, though I always felt it wasn’t quite doing the right thing.
Sadly these diagrams all managed to completely miss the mark. Perhaps it was because everyone was so focused on the shiny new idea of “social” or that toys like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, and thousands of others which have now died and gone away were so engaging.
The sad part in searching for new ways to interact was that the most important piece of the puzzle is right there in his original diagram. No, it’s not the sorely missed FriendFeed service represented by the logo in the middle, which has the largest number of arrows pointing into or out of it. It’s not Facebook or Twitter, the companies which now have multi-billion dollar valuations. It’s not even the bright orange icon representing RSS, which many say has been killed–in part because Facebook and Twitter don’t support it anymore. The answer: It’s the two letters LG which represent Louis Gray’s own personal website/blog.
Sadly bloggers, and thousands upon thousands of developers, lost their focus in the years between 2007 and 2009 and the world is much worse off as a result. Instead of focusing on some of the great groundwork that already existed at the time in the blogging space, developers built separate stand-alone massive walled gardens, which while seemingly democratizing the world, also locked their users into silos of content and turned those users into the actual product to monetize them. (Perhaps this is the real version of Soylent Green?) Most people on the internet are now sharecropping for one or more multi-billion dollar companies without thinking about it. Our constant social media addiction now has us catering to the least common denominator, unwittingly promoting “fake news”, making us slower and less thoughtful, and it’s also managing to slowly murder thoughtful and well-researched journalism. Like sugar, fat, and salt, we’re genetically programmed to be addicted, and just like the effect they have on us, we’re slowly dying as a result.
The new diagram for 2017
Fortunately, unlike for salt, fat, and sugar, we don’t need to rely on simple restraint, the diet of the week, or snakeoil to fix the problem. We can do what Louis Gray should have done long ago: put ourselves, our identities, and our web presences at the center of the diagram and, if necessary, draw any and ALL of the arrows pointing out of our own sites. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, FourSquare/Swarm, etc. can all still be there on our diagrams, but the arrows pointing to them should all originate from our own site. Any arrows starting with those same social networks should ALL point (only) back to our sites.
This is how I always wanted my online diagram to look:
How can I do this?
In the past few years, slowly, but surely, I’ve managed to use my own website to create my diagram just like this. Now you can too.
A handful of bright engineers have created some open standards that more easily allow for any website to talk to or reply to any other website. Back in January a new W3C recommendation was made for a specification called Webmention. By supporting outgoing webmentions, one’s website can put a link to another site’s page or post in it and that URL serves the same function as an @mention on services like Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Google+, Instagram, etc. The difference here is that these mentions aren’t stuck inside a walled garden anymore, they can reach outside and notify anyone anywhere on the web that they’ve been mentioned. Further, it’s easy for these mentions to be received by a site and be posted as comments on that mentioned page. Because the spec is open and not controlled by a third party corporation, anyone anywhere can use it.
What does this mean? It means I can post to my own site and if you want to write a comment, bookmark it, like it, or almost anything else, you post that to your own website and mine has the option of receiving it and displaying it. Why write your well thought out reply on my blog in hopes that it always lives there when you can own your own copy that, though I can delete from my site, doesn’t make it go away from yours. This gives me control and agency over my own platform and it gives you ownership and agency over yours.
More and more platforms are beginning to support this open protocol, so chances are it may already be available to you. If you’re using an open source platform like WordPress.org, you can download a plugin and click “activate”. If you want to take few additional steps to customize it there’s some additional documentation and help. Other CMSes like Known have it built in right out of the box. Check here to see if your CMS or platform is supported. Don’t see your platform listed? Reach out to the developers or company and ask them to support it.
If you’re a developer and have the ability, you can easily build it right into your own CMS or platform of choice (with many pre-existing examples to model off if you need them) and there are lots of tools and test suites built which will let you test your set up.
Let’s go back to Louis Gray’s blog and check on something. (Note that my intention isn’t to pick on or shame Mr. Gray at all as he’s done some excellent work over the years and I admire it a lot, he just serves as a good public example, particularly as he was recruited into Google to promote and launch G+.)
If you look at his number of posts over time (in the right sidebar of his homepage), you’ll see he was averaging about 500+ posts a year until about the time of his diagram. That number then drops off precipitously to 7 and 5 in 2015 and 2016 respectively!! While life has its vagaries and he’s changed jobs and got kids, I seriously doubt the massive fall off in posts to his blog was because he quit interacting online. I’ll bet he just moved all of that content and all of his value into other services which he doesn’t really own and doesn’t have direct control over.
One might think that after the demise of FriendFeed (the cog at the center of his online presence) not to mention all the other services that have also disappeared, he would have learned his lesson. Even browsing back into his Twitter archive becomes a useless exercise because the vast majority of the links on his tweets are dead and no longer resolve because the services that made them died ignominious deaths. If he had done it all on his own website, I almost guarantee they’d still resolve today and all of that time he spent making them would be making the world a richer and brighter place today. I spent more than twenty minutes or so doing a variety of complicated searches to even dig up the original post (whose original URL had moved in the erstwhile) much less the original diagram which isn’t even linked to the new URL’s post.
Etymologically, the word samizdat derives from sam (Russian: сам, “self, by oneself”) and izdat (Russian: издат, an abbreviation of издательство, izdatel’stvo, “publishing house”), and thus translates as “self-published”.
With exception of the jail portion, these ideas underlie much of the Indieweb movement.
In a project which I started just before IndieWebCamp LA in November, I’ve moved a big step closer to perfecting my “Read” posts!
Thanks in large part to WordPress, PressForward, friends and help on the IndieWeb site too numerous to count, and a little bit of elbow grease, I can now receive and read RSS feeds in my own website UI (farewell Feedly), bookmark posts I want to read later (so long Pocket, Instagram, Delicious and Pinboard), mark them as read when done, archive them on my site (and hopefully on the Internet Archive as well) for future reference, highlight and annotate them (I still love you hypothes.is, but…), and even syndicate (POSSE) them automatically (with emoji) to silos like Facebook, Twitter (with Twitter Cards), Tumblr, Flipboard, LinkedIn, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Delicious among others.
Syndicated copies in the silos when clicked will ping my site for a second and then automatically redirect to the canonical URL for the original content to give the credit to the originating author/site. And best of all, I can still receive comments, likes, and other responses from the siloed copies via webmention to stay in the loop on the conversations they generate without leaving my site.
Here’s an example of a syndicated post to Twitter:
A Snap is a universal Linux package that works on (just about) any distribution or device. Snaps are faster to install, easier to create, safer to run, and they update automatically and transactionally so the software is always fresh and never broken. What this means for a normal person is that a tiny computer the size of a Starbucks coffee could be shipped to them and run on their home network. This would then interface with another server they have running in "the cloud". Rather than SSH into a Linux machine and install a bunch of disparate software packages, fiddle with configuration settings, and rage at Apache misconfigurations, a person would instead type something like the following into the public web server:
sudo snap install 10centuries
For those in the IndieWeb who want to take “own your data” to the highest level, 10centuries sounds like an interesting project.