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.
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:
an independent network of websites;
a set of broad-based web standards;
a set of principles;
a group of people;
a support network;
an inclusive community;
a Utopian dream of what the decentralized, open Internet could be.
In some sense it is all of these things and many more.
Whether you’re starting a blog, building your personal brand, posting a resume, promoting a hobby, writing a personal journal, creating an online commonplace book, sharing photos or content with friends, family, or colleagues, writing reviews, sharing recipes, podcasting, or any one of the thousand other things people do online it all starts with having a presence and an identity online.
The seemingly difficult task these days is deciding where that should be. There’s Twitter for sharing short updates and bookmarks to articles; Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr, and YouTube for photos and videos; Facebook for communicating with family and friends; LinkedIn for work and career related posts; Swarm for sharing your location; and literally thousands of others for nearly every micro-slice of content one could think of.
Can you possibly be on them all? Should you? Would you want to be? Could you keep up with it? Which one really and truly represents the real you? Could any of them?
And what about your friends, family, and potential audience for all of these things? Some will be on Twitter while others only use Facebook. Grandma is worried about privacy and is only on Instagram to see photos of the grandchildren. Mom is on Facebook because she thinks that’s what the internet is, and wants to like everything her children post. Teenagers don’t want to be on any platforms their parents have heard of. It’s obvious that everyone has their own preferences and favorites.
In short, the web and using it for easy communication has become fraught with fragmentation and walls that often make communicating online far more difficult than it should be. Wouldn’t it be better if you had a single website that represented you online and through which you could easily communicate with everyone?
By analogy consider the telephone system which, just like the internet, consists of wires and hardware to access the network. Every user on the network has their own phone and phone number. What would it be like if AT&T users could only speak to other AT&T users and needed another separate phone, account, and phone number to speak to friends and family on Verizon and yet another to talk to friends on Sprint? To a great extent, this is what the internet has evolved to become with monopolistic, for-profit, corporate services like Facebook/Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the rest.
Is there a better and more robust solution than these multitudes of social media sites which all come with their own onerous terms of service, limitations on your creativity, reach, ownership, and control of your online identity?
A growing number of people on the web are sure there is and they’re working together in an open yet coordinated way to improve the democratized nature of the decentralized internet. This movement is known as the IndieWeb.
Purpose of IndieWeb
The purpose of the IndieWeb movement is to help put you in control of your web presence, allow you a more true sense of ownership of your content, and to allow you to be better connected to your friends, family, colleagues, and communities. By first owning your own domain name and having your own personal website, the IndieWeb aims to help facilitate the following:
You are in Control
You can post anything you want, in any format you want, with no one monitoring you. In addition, you share simple readable links such as http://www.example.com/ideas. These links are permanent and will always work.
Control and Freedom
You should be able to exercise your freedom of speech and publish anything you want whenever you want. You should be able to set your own rules and own limits. You should be able to post content as long or short as you like with no pre-imposed limits or types whether it be text, photos, audio, or video. You should be able to have control over comments and protection against potential harassment, bullying, and online trolls.
Identity & Identity loss
Almost every social media site has a multi-page statement of their terms of service written in complicated legalese. More often that not, these terms are to protect them and not you. As a result people have found their accounts frozen, they’ve been shut out with no notice or warning, their identities have been reassigned, or their content simply disappears with little or even no notice. Often there is either no method of recourse, or it is difficult to communicate with these corporations and may take weeks or worse to recover one’s account and data, if at all.
Without care, one can become branded with the identity of the social media network of which they’re a part. If trolls overrun your social service then suddenly by association, you’ve become one too.
User Interface/User EXperience
You should have the ability to control how your site looks and works. Do you want a piece of functionality that one of your social network sites doesn’t have? Add it the way you want it. Create better navigation, better interactivity, better design to reflect your own identity instead of a corporation’s cookie-cutter idea of your identity. Since your data is yours you can add new and interesting pieces of functionality using that data instead of waiting on a social site to think about it and implement it for you. Chances are that unless millions will find it valuable or a company doesn’t think it will scale, most won’t build it, so don’t hold your breath.
Your content is yours
When you post something on the web, it should belong to you, not a corporation. Too many companies have gone out of business and lost all of their users’ data. By joining the IndieWeb, your content stays yours and in your control.
Greater reliability and protection against content loss
Social media is only about 11 years old, and one thing is certainly true: sites will go out of business, they will get acquired, they can and willdisappear. When this happens, your data can disappear overnight without the ability to back it up or export it. A new corporation can take over and change the terms of service and do things with your data that you never intended. Content can accidentally or even willfully disappear without notice to you. In addition to the data, you can also lose contact with family, friends, and community members that also disappear without the service that connected you to them.
You can have greater control of site downtimes, server outages, maintenance, scalability issues, and database failures of silos attempting to solve massive scaling/engineering problems.
A better sense of ownership
Many in the IndieWeb community have found that they post more interesting and thoughtful pieces of content when they’re doing it on their own site rather than the “throw away” content they used to post to sites like Twitter. They feel a greater sense of responsibility and ownership in what they’re posting about and this can have a profound effect on the future of the internet and its level of civility.
When you own your own website, other web sites see that it’s you personally sending traffic to their sites instead of a generic social site. You have the ability to edit content at any time or delete it if you like.
You also have:
greater choice of public vs. private posts and control of who your audience is;
the ability to fix URL links when they break or disappear;
no outside advertising on your site without your explicit permission;
no one monetizing you;
no censorship of your content;
no terms of service which can often co-op your work without notice for advertising or other use;
ownership and control of affiliate links to monetize your work if you choose.
You are better connected
Your articles and status messages can go to all services, not just one, allowing you to engage with everyone regardless of their choice of platform. Even replies and likes on other services can come back to your site so they’re all in one place.
Since your content isn’t hidden behind the robots.txt of a silo service, you have much better search engine rankings and are more likely to be found, read, or have people interact with your content. If you choose, you can still syndicate your content to one or more social silos while still owning your content in the case that something happens to those silos. This allows you to continue to reach your friends, family, colleagues, and community who may have different ideas about where they prefer to interact online. Comments to and interactions with your content can come back to your original post to create a comprehensive conversation rather than have your conversation disjointed and spread over dozens of sites throughout the web.
How to be a part of the IndieWeb
Now that you’ve got a bit of an idea about what the IndieWeb movement is attempting to help people accomplish, how can you become a part of it and enjoy the benefits for yourself?
Own and use your own domain name
Fifteen or more years ago having your own domain wasn’t as easy or as inexpensive as it is now. There are hundreds and hundreds of domain registrars around the world that can register almost any domain name you can come up with for as little as 99 cents a year with the average closer to the $10-20 range depending on the name and the top level domain (.com, .org, .net, and .edu are examples of top level domains.)
For an extra $0-10 a month you can quickly purchase domain hosting so that when someone visits your fancy URL, it actually connects to a page on the internet. Whether that page is a single page of simple HTML with a line of text and a photo; a plug and play site like Wix or SquareSpace; a full blown professional open source content management system like WordPress or Drupal; a web site you build by hand using your own code; or it points to your Facebook or Twitter account page, you’ve just made a huge step toward better cementing your identity on the internet.
Once you own your own domain name, everything you post to the web will have a permalink URL which you can control. If you wish to change platforms or service providers you can relatively easily move all of your content and the permalinks along with it–much the same way you can move your cell phone number from one provider to another. People who visit your URLs will always be able to find you and your content.
If nothing else, owning your own domain name will give you something useful to put into the ubiquitous field labeled “your website” that exists on literally every social media website out there. (Even they are subtly telling you that you should have your own domain name.)
Added bonus: even most inexpensive domain registrars and hosting services will give you free email for your domain so you can create a custom branded personal email address like email@example.com. Even if you rely on G-mail or some other third party service for your email, it’s pretty easy to connect your own personal email address to your pre-existing account. It’ll make you look a lot more professional and will be far easier for your friends, family, and business colleagues to remember.
So you own your domain now?! Congratulations, you are officially a full-fledged member of the IndieWeb!
Own your data
Wait, it can’t be that simple can it? It is! But now that you’ve got your own website, it’s time to start using it to own your online identity and own your own content.
Next you may want to choose a content management system (CMS) in which to store and present your data. The IndieWeb has lists of projects which range from common services as simple as Tumblr and WordPress.com (both managed services with free hosting) to help in building your own site from the ground up in your programming language of choice. Which project you choose depends on your needs, desires for the future, and your abilities. There is something available for people of nearly every level of ability. Most domain registrars and internet host providers provide one or more means to quickly get up and running–just ask their customer service departments or see what they’ve got available online.
Most of these CMS solutions will give people a far bigger range of flexibility in terms of what they can write, record, and broadcast online. You don’t need to be limited to 140 characters if you choose not to be. Want to post more multi-media-based content with text, video, audio, and photos all at once? The online world can be your oyster and your social media platform no longer limits what is possible.
Ideally, what a lot of the IndieWeb developer community is rapidly building and iterating upon is an open and broadly distributeable way to make it easier for the everyday person to more easily own and operate all the functionality offered by the hundreds of social media websites without a lot of heavy and difficult-to-maintain overhead. A decade ago allowing Facebook to do everything for you may have been a simple “way out”, but now there are far more robust, diverse, and flexible solutions that aren’t as onerous. There are also newer open and easily supportable web protocols that make publishing and sharing your content far easier than before.
The first big piece most people enjoy implementing is writing their own content on their own site and syndicating it out to other services on the internet if they choose. Continuing to participate in your old siloed networks can help you stay connected to your pre-existing social networks, so you’re not leaving all your friends and family behind. Next, having all your replies/comments, likes, and other interactions come back from social silos to your own site as comments along with notifications is incredibly valuable. (These two processes are commonly known as Post On your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere (POSSE) and backfeed, and they can typically be done most easily with a free service like Brid.gy.)
Being able to write replies to articles or status updates on your own website and either @mentioning others as a means of notifying them is also very useful. The IndieWeb calls this universal implementation of @mentions that work across website boundaries Webmention and it’s built on an open and straightforward standard so that it can work with any website on the internet. (Remember the telephone analogy above? Now, thanks to Webmentions, everyone can be communicating on the same network.) As an example, imagine for a moment if you could @mention someone on Facebook from Twitter or vice-versa?! What if you could post a reply to a tweet on Twitter with your Facebook account?Using the Webmention spec, independent websites can easily do this now, though it may be quite a while before for-profit corporations support this simple protocol that is now a W3C recommendation.
With some of the basic building blocks out of the way, people tend to spread out a bit in the types of functionalities they’re looking for. It may range from posting status updates, pictures, or video to hosting your own podcast or or having different user interfaces to post to your own site–Micropub is great for this–to being able to put events on your site and allowing people to RSVP to them easily. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could post an event on your own website and people could use Facebook to RSVP to it? My site allows this possibility. Yours could too.
Everyone’s desires and needs will be different. Work on what you find most interesting and useful first (the IndieWeb calls these itches). Make a list of what you use most often on your old social media silos or wish they had and work on that first. Check out the IndieWeb wiki to see how others have implemented it–there’s no need to reinvent the wheel in darkness. Hop into the IndieWeb chat (there are multiple ways of doing this and interacting) and ask questions. Document what you’ve done in the wiki to make it easier for those who come after you.
Personally, I’ve always just thought about what functions do I use most on social sites and then ask myself how I might be able to do that on my own site. There’s little out there that hasn’t been explored by the bigger community, so searching the wiki for those types of functionality and seeing how others managed it usually makes it far easier. Chatting with folks in the community while I’m working always helps to sharpen my thinking and make me aware of ideas and methods I may have never considered much less come up with on my own.
If you never RSVP for things online or host events, then obviously don’t start there. Do you post photos regularly? Maybe you “like” everything you see online. In my case, I was a heavy user of Goodreads, so I spent parts of the last year working on more easily bookmarking things I’d like to read, posting reading status updates, and keeping notes on what I read, as well as highlights, marginalia, and book reviews after I’d finished reading.
The IndieWeb effort is different in several ways from previous efforts and communities. In particular it values principles over project-centrism. Other efforts have assumed a monoculture of one project as the ultimate solution for everyone. IndieWeb prefers developing a plurality of projects–why not have the same diversity on the web as we do in real life?
The community prefers chat in combination with a wiki to communicate and document its process. Some may prefer email distribution lists, but why? Who likes to read and respond to long email threads where information is typically locked away from the group, ignored, and simply unread? Instead, we utilize a chat (which has multiple methods of access–plurality, remember?) to host searchable conversations after which the best portions are documented on the wiki to be easily searchable and discoverable to all.
In the early days of social media, many talked, emailed and chatted about what they’d like to see. Sadly not much was done about expanding on these ideas, particularly by companies that all had their own profit-driven motives. As a result, the IndieWeb movement values showing before telling. They prioritize development by encouraging people to scratch their own itches, creating what they want to have and use on their own sites, and then iterating on those pieces to improve and refine them. If you won’t use a feature on your own site, why bother to have it?
IndieWeb puts design first and foremost. Protocols & formats come second. They’d prefer to focus on good user experience and user interaction. Users selfdogfood prototypes on their own sites to create minimum necessary formats & protocols.
Perhaps most importantly, the IndieWeb is people-focused instead of project-focused. The community is rich and diverse and has regular in-person meetups as well as camps across the world where everyone is welcome. The IndieWeb community is inclusive and has a code-of-conduct.
Join the IndieWeb Community
Where do I go from here? You said community in there. Where can I find it? How can I interact, get help, or even contribute back?
Regardless of your level of expertise, there are a huge number of resources, events, and even people available to you in a variety of formats. Whether you choose to meet with friends in person at IndieWebCamps or at regularly scheduled Homebrew Website Club meetups or interact online at a nearly continuous worldwide chat (using either web chat, Slack, Matrix, or IRC) there are many means of getting help and interacting to suit your schedule and needs to help build the personal website you’ve always wanted.
Building the indie web is a continuous process. While attending an IndieWebCamp can be an incredibly inspiring and encouraging event, we need to carry on doing so for more than just a few days a year when we can meet up in real life. We can not only support one another; we can share the best way to do things online. As we discover new ways of doing things, we can document them and share them easily with each other and the growing community.
If you’ve made it this far, I invite you to join us, and get started building the internet you’ve always wanted by building your home on the web first.
As of December 2017, the AltPlatform.org site which originally published this article has shut down. I’ve smartly kept a private archived copy of the original of this post here on my personal site and manually syndicated a copy of it to AltPlatform for just such a possibility. (Hooray for PASTA (Publish Anywhere, Save to (Private) Archive)!) As a result of the shutdown, I’m making the original public here.
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.”
I’ve been officially participating in the IndieWeb movement for almost two years–though from a philosophical standpoint it’s much closer to twenty. While I can see lots of value in the IndieWeb for even the average person on the internet, I’ve always felt that there’s also a tremendous amount of specific value for journalists and web-based publishers.
I suspect that a lot of the value of the IndieWeb philosophy is that it encompasses how many people inherently wish the internet worked. As a result I’ve seen a growing number of people discovering the concept de novo either on their own or by borrowing bits and pieces from their friends and colleagues who are practicing parts of it as well. This harkens back to the early days of the web when bloggers incrementally improved their websites based on what they saw others doing and sharing ideas more directly and immediately with their audiences.
An(other) unwitting example in the wild
Recently I came across the personal website of journalist Marina Gerner which is one of the few, but growing number, I’ve come across that is unknowingly practicing some of the primary tenets of the IndieWeb movement that I suspect more journalists will eventually come to embrace to better reach and engage with their audiences.
Another brief example I’ll mention having seen recently that almost explicitly rewrote the IndieWeb philosophy verbatim was on the the website redesign launch of PressThink, the blog of Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU. It’s a great read individually as is the majority of what Mr. Rosen writes.
Though I read many of the publications for which Ms. Gerner is writing and might see most of what she’s writing organically, having all of her work in one primary location is a spectacular convenience! I can quickly and easily subscribe to all her work by email or RSS. For a working journalist, this is a boon, because like musicians in the evolving music business a lot of the value that they bring to the table (and to the venues in which they play) is a result of their individual fan bases.
While her personal website probably doesn’t drive even a tiny fraction of exposure for her work as when it appears in The Economist or the Financial Times, for example, it does allow her fans to easily keep up with what she’s writing and thinking about. Ideally in the future, outlets will make links to writer’s bylines direct to the writer’s own website rather than to archive pages within their own publications (or perhaps both if necessary).
Journalistic Brand & the Sad Case of Leon Wieseltier: The Counter-example
Here I’m reminded of the seemingly sad case of Leon Wieseltier, the long time literary editor of The New Republic, who was ousted by its editor-in-chief and publisher Chris Hughes, a former Facebook executive. Wieseltier’s brand was almost all-too-wrapped up in The New Republic, where he had worked for decades, and when he was pushed out (ostensibly for the puerile desire to get more clicks and eyeballs), his output and influence seemingly disappeared overnight. Suddenly there just wasn’t as much of him to read. While he still has some output, as a fan who enjoyed reading his work, the problematic hurdles of finding his new work were the equivalent of using a cheese grater to file down one’s knee cap. I suspect that if he had his own website or even a semblance of a Twitter presence, he could easily have taken a huge portion of his fans and readership built up over decades along with him almost anywhere.
While there are some major brand names in journalism (examples like James Fallows, Walt Mossberg, or Steven Levy spring to mind), who are either so wrapped up in their outlet’s identities or who can leave major outlets and take massive readerships with them, this isn’t the case for the majority of writers in the game. Slowly building one’s own personal journalistic brand isn’t easy, but having a central repository that also doubles as additional distribution can certainly be beneficial. It can also be an even bigger help when one decides to move from one outlet to another, bridge the gap between outlets, or even strike out entirely on one’s own.
From a work/business perspective, Ms. Gerner’s site naturally acts as a portfolio of her work for perspective editors or outlets who may want to see samples of what she’s written.
Sadly, however, she doesn’t seem to be utilizing the WordPress category or tag functions which she could use to help delineate her work by broad categories or tags to help find specific types of her writing. She appears to have a “featured” category/tag for some of her bigger pieces to appear at the top of her front page, but I can see the benefit of having a “portfolio” or similar tag to give to prospective outlets to encourage them to read her “best of” work. This would also be helpful to new readers and future fans of her work.
An IndieWeb mini-case study of Ms. Gerner’s website
Because it might take some a bit of time to delve into and uncover a lot of the spectacular and inherent value in the the massive and growing wiki behind IndieWeb.org, I thought I’d take a minute or two to point out some of the subtle IndieWeb-esque things that Ms. Gerner’s site does well and point out a few places she (or others) could quickly and easily add a lot of additional value.
IndieWeb-forward things that she is doing
She has her own domain name.
If you’re looking for all things Marina Gerner on the web, where better to start than http://www.marinagerner.com?
She owns her own data.
Technically, it looks like her site is hosted on WordPress.com, so they own, backup, and maintain it for her, but there is a very robust export path, so she can easily export it, back it up, or move it if she chooses.
She’s posting her own content on her own site.
I’m not sure if she’s posting on her site first using the concept of Post on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere (POSSE), but even if she’s posting it secondarily (known as PESOS), she’s still managing to capture it on her site and thereby own a full copy of her output. If any of the publications for which she’s published should go out of business or disappear from the internet, she will still own a copy of her work. (See and compare also the commentary at Anywhere but Medium.)
She’s even got a syndication link (or attribution) at the bottom of each article to indicate alternate locations where the content lives on the internet. Since she’s not using Webmentions to back-port the resulting commentary (see below for more), this is highly useful for finding/reading the potential ensuing commentary on her posts or interacting with it in the communities in which it was originally intended.
Missing IndieWeb pieces that could provide additional value
Syndication Links to Social Media
There are no syndication links to where her content may be living on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media spaces to give an idea of the conversations that are taking place around her work. In addition to the value that these conversations add to her work, they also give an idea of the breadth of the reach of her work, which could be useful not only to her, but to future outlets/employers.
Webmention and back-feed from Brid.gy
She’s clearly not using Webmention (now a W3C Recommendation) or services like Brid.gy which would allow her to have the comments and conversation about her articles from other sites or social media silos come back to live with the original articles on her own site. Given the quality of what she’s writing, I’m sure there are some interesting threads of thought stemming from her work which she’s not capturing back on her own site, but certainly could. As it stands, it’s highly unlikely (and perhaps nearly impossible) that I would go trolling around the thousands or hundreds of thousands of links to try to uncover even a fraction of it myself, but it wouldn’t take much for her to be able to capture all that data and make it easy to consume.
Webmention is a simple protocol that allows one website to indicate to another that it has been mentioned elsewhere on the web–it’s akin to Twitter @mentions, but is something that works internet-wide and not just within Twitter. Brid.gy is a service that bootstraps services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Flickr via API to make them support webmention until they choose to implement it directly themselves.
Given the schedules of many journalists, they may not always have time to pay attention to the commentary on past articles, but if she were aggregating them back to her own site, she could occasionally check back in on them and interact as necessary or appropriate. Even better she could do this herself without necessarily needing to spend the additional time and energy to go to multiple other social websites to do so. I suspect that a lot of the value that journalists get out of Twitter could be better had by aggregating some of it within their own websites instead.
As an example, the reader will note that I also have syndication links (by means of icons) at the bottom of this post, but I’ve enabled Webmentions and have most of the replies and commentary from these social silos coming back to this original post to aggregate as much of the conversation back to this original post. In the event that any of these social media sites are acquired or go out of business for any reason, all of this commentary will be archived here on the site. As an experiment, if you’d like, click on the Twitter icon at the bottom of this post and reply to that post on Twitter, your reply will be sent to me via webmention through Brid.gy and I can choose to display it as a comment under this post.
Owning her replies to others
Naturally if she does interact with her pieces via other social channels (Twitter, for example), she could post those replies on her own site and automatically syndicate them to Twitter. This would also allow her to own all of that subsidiary content and conversation as well.
Search and SEO
Once she owns all of her own writing and subsidiary data, her platform of choice (WordPress along with many others) also provides her with some good internal search tools (for both public-facing and private posts), so that her online hub becomes an online commonplace book of sorts for not only searching her past work, but potentially for creating future work. Naturally this search also extends to the broader web as her online presence gives her some reasonable search engine optimization for making it more discoverable to future fans/followers.
And much more…
Naturally the IndieWeb encompasses far more than what I’ve written above, but for journalists, some of these highlighted pieces are likely the most immediately valuable.
I’ll refer those interested in learning more to browse the wiki available at IndieWeb or join the incredibly helpful community of developers who are almost always in the online chatroom which is accessible via multiple methods (online chat, Slack, IRC, etc.) Major portions of the IndieWeb have become easily attainable to the average person, particularly on ubiquitous platforms like WordPress which have simple configurable plugins to add a lot of this simple functionality quickly and easily.
Another IndieWeb Journalism Example
While I was writing this piece, I heard Mathew Ingram, who currently writes for Fortune, say on This Week in Google that he’s been posting his work to his own website for several years and “syndicating” copies to his employers’ sites. This means he’s got a great archive of all of his own work, though I suspect, based on his website, that much of is posted privately, which is also an option, though it doesn’t help me much as a fan.
I’d love to hear thoughts, comments, or questions journalists have about any of the above. Are there other online tools or features journalists would like to see on their own websites for improved workflow?
Please post them below, on your own website along with a permalink back to the original article (see “Ping Me” below), via webmention, or even by responding/replying on/to one of the social media silos listed just below in the syndication links, or natively on the social platform on which you’re currently reading.
Some thoughts about how journalists could improve their online presences with IndieWeb principles along with a mini-case study of a site that is employing some of these ideas.