Why I'd like to find a way to combine longer blog posts with shorter updates and cover a larger variety of topics.
Comparing two different approaches that help you take control back over your own data on the web.
One thing that I think you’ve only briefly touched upon is the ability to also have likes, replies/comments, etc. also come back to your site as native content via webmentions. I’ve been able to get rid of five apps and their incessant notifications and trim it all back to just using my own site to handle everything instead. Using something I choose to use instead of something I’m forced to, while also owning my data, is really very liberating.
Like you, I too have always wanted to own my own content on the web, and there are some easier and some harder methods. Not being as strong a developer as many, I’ve taken a more hybrid approach to things which is still evolving. To some extent I began at the easy end with some PESOS based workflows and relying on simple tools like IFTTT.com to at least begin owning all my content. For many content management systems, this is nearly dead easy, and could even be done with something as simple and flexible as Tumblr without much, if any, coding experience.
Over time, as I’ve been able, I’ve moved to a more direct POSSE method as either I or, more often, others have managed to master making the simple posting interfaces easier and easier. I think in the end, POSSE is the strongest of the methods, so that has always been my ultimate goal.
From a Drupal-centric approach, you might be able to gain an interesting perspective on the multitude of ways POSSE/PESOS can be done by looking at the various ways that are available in WordPress ecosystem. It’s probably easy to discern that some are far easier than others based on one’s facility with coding. In general, I’ve noticed that the more freedom and flexibility a particular method or plugin has, the longer it takes to code and/or configure. The less flexibility a plugin offers, the easier. (So one could compare something like SNAP at the more comprehensive/difficult end to something simpler like JetPack for POSSE.) The difficulty is in the administrative tax of keeping up with the panoply of social media platform APIs to keep things working smoothly over time, particularly when you want your posts to be able to leverage the broad arrays of posting options and display outputs platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer. The other difficult questions can sometimes be: am I just replacing one or two social platforms, or am I trying to replace 20? and am I doing them with one plugin or with 20? and finally, how DRY is that process? Sometimes manually cutting and pasting is just as good.
As you do, I write first and foremost for myself and then a distant second for reaction and conversation with others. Thus I think of my personal site as just that: personal. To some extent it’s a modern day version of a commonplace book where I collect a variety of thoughts in a variety of means, while still trying somewhat to keep it in an outer facing form to look what people might expect a site to look like. This means that I have a good number more than the traditional types of posts most social media sites have. I try to own all my own bookmarks and even post what I’m reading both online and in physical form. I keep highlights and annotations of things I find interesting. I naturally keep longer posts, status updates, and photos like many. I even log scrobbles of music and podcasts I listen to as well as film and television I watch. Interestingly there’s a tremendous amount I only publish privately to myself or a small circle of others that’s hidden on my site’s back end. Depending on how far and deep you want your experience to go you might want to consider how all these will look or be represented on your site. To a great extent, I think that WordPress’s attempt to copy Tumblr (text, photo, quote, link, chat, audio, video) with their Post Formats was interesting, it just didn’t go far enough. Naturally, this may take a different form for you depending on whether you’re building just for yourself or if you’re planning something more modular for the larger Drupal community to leverage.
The best part of all this is that I’ve not done any of it alone. While I try to maintain a list of some of my experiments to help others (you’ll probably appreciate the ones on mobile posting and RSS based on your outline), there’s also a wealth of other examples on the IndieWeb wiki and a terrifically stellar group of people around almost 24-7 in the IndieWeb chat to help spur me along. I’ll echo Tantek’s welcome to what I think is a more thoughtful and vibrant open web.
I hope others also find these resources so they’re not fumbling around in the dark as I was for so long. Since you’re obviously building in Drupal, I can recommend you take a look at some of the examples provided by the WordPress and the Known communities which Ben referenced. Since they’re all .php based and open-source, you may get further faster in addition to being able to iterate upon and improve their work. Many of the developers are frequently in the IndieWeb chat and I’m sure would be happy to help with ideas and pitfalls they came across along the way.
Like others, I’m posting my reply first on my own website, and manually cross-posting it to yours (manually until you support Webmention–perhaps via the Vinculum plugin?) as well as automatically to Twitter and others.
As you say, much of the data one posts may have little value and feel ephemeral, but certainly not all of it, and certainly not in aggregate. At least the individual should get to decide and have agency over the decision. As it stands, I can delete individual posts from Facebook, but I have no guarantee that the data is physically removed from their servers and still available for either their internal use or for possible future governmental use.
Another way to frame it all is to think of your web presence as a commonplace book.
If you recall the early days of social media, you may appreciate this alternate viewpoint of social media that I wrote about a few months ago: http://boffosocko.com/2017/04/11/a-new-way-to-know-and-master-your-social-media-flow/
Interestingly, I came across your post almost immediately after fleshing out some detail on the wikipage for cross-posting which may be a worthwhile overview from the perspective of a traditional social media user. To help conglomerate all of the various pieces for you and others in the future, I’ve created a category page under the heading “syndication” with links to all of the various pieces which may together make a more coherent whole.
As for your question (excuse my rough translation):
Then I think again, if I put my tweets first on my own site, what about the possible conversations that result from it? If someone answers and I reply again, do I do that on my own site? The IndieWeb wiki is not very clear here…
There isn’t a direct answer within some of the pages you mention, but ideally, yes, all of the conversation takes place in a back and forth manner on your own website (as well as that of those with whom you’re communicating). Sadly, not all of the moving pieces have been solved completely with respect to user interface which could be done in multiple ways. One standard in particular that isn’t supported by many is that of salmention. Until then, some of us are managing to do this manually to maintain the threaded comments so that the entire context of a conversation is still available on our own sites. Even without it, some semblance of threading is possible by providing permalink URLs for all the parts of the conversations on individual pages until such time as it’s more feasible. If you care to experiment, try commenting on this on my site and see what happens.
Incidentally, especially if you haven’t come across it yet, I hope that as you continue to explore and write that you’ll syndicate your content to https://news.indieweb.org/nl for the benefit of others.
Straightforward syndication/POSSE plugins (requires an account on a Mastodon instance):
More advanced plugins (shouldn’t require an account as they make your site behave like a standalone instance of Mastodon):
- Ryan Barrett‘s Fed.Brid.gy – allows one to let their own website federate directly into Mastodon and other networks in various ways. I’ve tinkered with it a bit but haven’t gotten all the pieces working yet. This was just recently released, but Ryan has gotten some interesting pieces working well based on tests I’ve seen.
- Matthias Pfefferle‘s OStatus – supports a variety of post kinds on Mastodon; it includes a handful of sub-plugins (Webfinger, Salmon, Activity Streams, etc.) to get everything working. I hope to get around to testing this out shortly too, but has many more moving parts.
Do you know of any other interesting methods for using these two systems in combination with each other in a straightforward manner? I’d love to hear about them.
I’m definitely in for this general schedule and someone has already gifted me a copy of the book. Given the level of comments I suspect will come about, I’m putting aside the fact that this book wasn’t written for me as an audience and will read along with the crowd. I’m much more curious how Bryan’s audience will see and react to it. But I’m also interested in the functionality and semantics of an online book club run in such a distributed way.
This presentation was given by Jim Walker, The Hack Repair Guy, on "Using IFTTT for WordPress Social Media Automation", at the Advanced WordPress Meetup, San Diego, California, July 2017.
Below are the slides from the presentation, which includes this gruesome looking diagram:
For quite a while now, I’ve been publishing most of my content to my personal website first and syndicating copies of it to social media silos like Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Facebook. Within the Indieweb community this process is known as POSSE an acronym for Post on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.
The Facebook Algorithm
Anecdotally most in social media have long known that doing this type of workflow causes your content to be treated like a second class citizen, particularly on Facebook which greatly prefers that users post to it manually or using one of its own apps rather than via API.  This means that the Facebook algorithm that decides how big an audience a piece of content receives, dings posts which aren’t posted manually within their system. Simply put, if you don’t post it manually within Facebook, not as many people are going to see it.
Generally I don’t care too much about this posting “tax” and happily use a plugin called Social Media Network Auto Poster (aka SNAP) to syndicate my content from my WordPress site to up to half a dozen social silos.
What I have been noticing over the past six or more months is an even more insidious tax being paid for posting to Facebook. I call it “The Facebook Algorithm Mom Problem”.
Here’s what’s happening
I write my content on my own personal site. I automatically syndicate it to Facebook. My mom, who seems to be on Facebook 24/7, immediately clicks “like” on the post. The Facebook algorithm immediately thinks that because my mom liked it, it must be a family related piece of content–even if it’s obviously about theoretical math, a subject in which my mom has no interest or knowledge. (My mom has about 180 friends on Facebook; 45 of them overlap with mine and the vast majority of those are close family members).
The algorithm narrows the presentation of the content down to very close family. Then my mom’s sister sees it and clicks “like” moments later. Now Facebook’s algorithm has created a self-fulfilling prophesy and further narrows the audience of my post. As a result, my post gets no further exposure on Facebook other than perhaps five people–the circle of family that overlaps in all three of our social graphs. Naturally, none of these people love me enough to click “like” on random technical things I think are cool. I certainly couldn’t blame them for not liking these arcane topics, but shame on Facebook for torturing them for the exposure when I was originally targeting maybe 10 other colleagues to begin with.
This would all be okay if the actual content was what Facebook was predicting it was, but 99% of the time, it’s not the case. In general I tend to post about math, science, and other random technical subjects. I rarely post about closely personal things which are of great interest to my close family members. These kinds of things are ones which I would relay to them via phone or in person and not post about publicly.
Posts only a mother could love
I can post about arcane areas like Lie algebras or statistical thermodynamics, and my mom, because she’s my mom, will like all of it–whether or not she understands what I’m talking about or not. And isn’t this what moms do?! What they’re supposed to do? Of course it is!
mom-autolike (n.)–When a mother automatically clicks “like” on a piece of content posted to social media by one of their children, not because it has any inherent value, but simply because the content came from their child.
She’s my mom, she’s supposed to love me unconditionally this way!
The problem is: Facebook, despite the fact that they know she’s my mom, doesn’t take this fact into account in their algorithm.
What does this mean? It means either I quit posting to Facebook, or I game the system to prevent these mom-autolikes.
I’ve been experimenting. But how?
Facebook allows users to specifically target their audience in a highly granular fashion from the entire public to one’s circle of “friends” all the way down to even one or two specific people. Even better, they’ll let you target pre-defined circles of friends and even exclude specific people. So this is typically what I’ve been doing to end-around my Facebook Algorithm Mom problem. I have my site up set to post to either “Friends except mom” or “Public except mom”. (Sometimes I exclude my aunt just for good measure.) This means that my mom now can’t see my posts when I publish them!
What a horrible son
Don’t jump the gun too quickly there Bubbe! I come back at the end of the day after the algorithm has run its course and my post has foreseeably reached all of the audience it’s likely to get. At that point, I change the audience of the post to completely “Public”.
You’ll never guess what happens next…
Yup. My mom “likes” it!
I love you mom. Thanks for all your unconditional love and support!!
Even better, I’m happy to report that generally the intended audience which I wanted to see the post actually sees it. Mom just gets to see it a bit later.
Dear Facebook Engineering
Could you fix this algorithm problem please? I’m sure I’m not the only son or daughter to suffer from it.
Have you noticed this problem yourself? I’d love to hear from others who’ve seen a similar effect and love their mothers (or other close loved ones) enough to not cut them out of their Facebook lives.
Further to the points I made in "Self-hosted microblogging - where does it fit?" I've been having more thoughts on how best to use Micro.blog and fit it into my own online ecosystem.
In keeping with the IndieWeb concept of POSSE (Publishing on my Own Site, Syndicating Elsewhere), I try to make social media posts on my own site first and then make similar (not always identical!) posts to my accounts on silos like Twitter and Facebook. I then add links to the posts on my site indicating that you can find the "syndicated copies" of that post on those silos.
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.
Where can I get it?
Impatient and can’t wait? Get started here.
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.
If you need help, there are people all over the world who have already implemented it who can help you out. Just join the indieweb in your favorite chat client option.
Some parting thoughts
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.
Outside Your Bubble
This past Wednesday, BuzzFeed rolled out a new feature on their website called “Outside your Bubble”. I think the concept is so well-described and so laudable from a journalistic perspective, that I’ll excerpt their editor-in-chief’s entire description of the feature below. In short, they’ll be featuring some of the commentary on their pieces by pulling it in from social media silos.
What is interesting is that this isn’t a new concept and even more intriguing, there’s some great off-the-shelf technology that helps people move towards doing this type of functionality already.
The IndieWeb and backfeed
For the past several years, there’s been a growing movement on the the internet known as the IndieWeb, a “people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’.” Their primary goal is for people to better control their online identities by owning their own domain and the content they put on it while also allowing them to be better connected.
As part of the movement, users can more easily post their content on their own site and syndicate it elsewhere (a process known by the acronym POSSE). Many of these social media sites allow for increased distribution, but they also have the side effect of cordoning off or siloing the conversation. As a result many IndieWeb proponents backfeed the comments, likes, and other interactions on their syndicated content back to their original post.
This concept of backfeed is exactly what BuzzFeed is proposing, but with a more editorial slant meant to provide additional thought and analysis on their original piece. In some sense, from a journalistic perspective, it also seems like an evolutionary step towards making traditional comments have more value to the casual reader. Instead of a simple chronological list of comments which may or may not have any value, they’re also using the feature to surface the more valuable comments which appear on their pieces. In a crowded journalistic marketplace, which is often misguided by market metrics like numbers of clicks, I have a feeling that more discerning readers will want this type of surfaced value if it’s done well. And discerning readers can bring their own value to a content publisher.
I find it interesting that not only is BuzzFeed using the concept of backfeed like this, but in Ben Smith’s piece, he eschews the typical verbiage ascribed to social media sites, namely the common phrase “walled garden,” in lieu of the word silo, which is also the word adopted by the IndieWeb movement to describe a “centralized web site typically owned by a for-profit corporation that stakes some claim to content contributed to it and restricts access in some way (has walls).”
To some extent, it almost appears that the BuzzFeed piece parrots back portions of the Why IndieWeb? page on the IndieWeb wiki.
Helping You See Outside Your Bubble | BuzzFeed
A new feature on some of our most widely shared articles.
BuzzFeed News is launching an experiment this week called “Outside Your Bubble,” an attempt to give our audience a glimpse at what’s happening outside their own social media spaces.
The Outside Your Bubble feature will appear as a module at the bottom of some widely shared news articles and will pull in what people are saying about the piece on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, the web, and other platforms. It’s a response to the reality that often the same story will have two or three distinct and siloed conversations taking place around it on social media, where people talk to the like-minded without even being aware of other perspectives on the same reporting.
Our goal is to give readers a sense of these conversations around an article, and to add a kind of transparency that has been lost in the rise of social-media-driven filter bubbles. We view it in part as a way to amplify the work of BuzzFeed News reporters, and to add for readers a sense of the context in which news lives now.
And if you think there’s a relevant viewpoint we’re missing, you can contact the curator at email@example.com.
Editorial Perspective and Diminishing Returns
The big caveat on this type of journalistic functionality is that it may become a game of diminishing returns. When a new story comes out, most of the current ecosystem is geared too heavily towards freshness: which story is newest? It would be far richer if there were better canonical ways of indicating which articles were the most thorough, accurate, timely and interesting instead of just focusing on which was simply the most recent. Google News, as an example, might feature a breaking story for several hours, but thereafter every Tom, Dick, and Harry outlet on the planet will have their version of the story–often just a poorer quality rehash of the original without any new content–which somehow becomes the top of the heap because it’s the newest in the batch. Aram Zucker-Scharff mentioned this type of issue a few days ago in a tweetstorm which I touched upon last week.
Worse, for the feature to work well, it relies on the continuing compilation of responses, and the editorial effort required seems somewhat wasted in doing this as, over time, the audience for the article slowly diminishes. Thus for the largest portion of the audience there will be no commentary, all the while ever-dwindling incoming audiences get to see the richer content. This is just the opposite of the aphorism “the early bird gets the worm.” Even if the outlet compiled responses on a story from social media as they were writing in real time, it becomes a huge effort to stay current and capture eyeballs at scale. Hopefully the two effects will balance each other out creating an overall increase of value for both the publisher and the audience to have a more profound effect on the overall journalism ecosystem.
Personally and from a user experience perspective, I’d like to have the ability to subscribe to an article I read and enjoyed so that I can come back to it at a prescribed later date to see what the further thoughts on it were. As things stand, it’s painfully difficult and time consuming as a reader to attempt to engage on interesting pieces at a deeper level. Publications that can do this type of coverage and/or provide further analysis on ongoing topics will also have a potential edge over me-too publications that are simply rehashing the same exact stories on a regular basis. Outlets could also leverage this type user interface and other readers’ similar desire to increase their relationship with their readers by providing this value that others won’t or can’t.
Want more on “The IndieWeb and Journalism”?
See: 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.
In some sense, some of this journalistic workflow reminds me how much I miss Slate.com’s Today’s Papers feature in which someone read through the early edition copies of 4-5 major newspapers and did a quick synopsis of the day’s headlines and then analyzed the coverage of each to show how the stories differed, who got the real scoop, and at times declare a “winner” in coverage so that readers could then focus on reading that particular piece from the particular outlet.
Backfeed in action
What do you think about this idea? Will it change journalism and how readers consume it?
As always, you can feel free to comment on this story directly below, but you can also go to most of the syndicated versions of this post indicated below, and reply to or comment on them there. Your responses via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ will be backfed via Brid.gy to this post and appear as comments below, so the entire audience will be able to see the otherwise dis-aggregated conversation compiled into one place.
If you prefer to own the content of your own comment or are worried your voice could be “moderated out of existence” (an experience I’ve felt the sting of in the past), feel free to post your response on your own website or blog, include a permalink to this article in your response, put the URL of your commentary into the box labeled “URL/Permalink of your Article”, and then click the “Ping Me” button. My site will then grab your response and add it to the comment stream with all the others.
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.
Categories/tags could also be beneficial to readers who may want to follow only her book reviews and not her economics related work, or vice-versa. With a bit of massaging, she could easily have an economics-only RSS feed for those who wanted such a thing. I spent a bit of time in December writing about how I customized my own RSS feeds and helping to make them more discoverable.
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.
In a previous post, I talked about POSSE and PESOS, and publishing on your own site vs other platforms, syndicating content back and forth and content ownership. I mentioned that I’d opted for the PESOS approach, and that I was publishing content on other platforms, then syndicating it back to my own site. Let’s take a look at how that happens.