Something called Webmentions – which looks remarkably like the old WordPress pingbacks, once popular in the late 2000s – is grinding through the machinery of the mighty, and slow-moving, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).
But don’t be deceived. Lurking behind that unassuming name lies something that might eventually offer users a way of ditching not just Facebook and Twitter but also those other massive corporations straddling the web.
An awfully inflamatory headline and opening, but the rest was not so up-in-arms and seemed relatively measured. Was it intended to try to be link bait?
Editor’s note: This is a copy of an article that was originally published on A List Apart.
Over 1 million Webmentions will have been sent across the internet since the specification was made a full Recommendation by the W3C—the standards body that guides the direction of the web—in early January 2017. That number is rising rapidly, and in the last few weeks I’ve seen a growing volume of chatter on social media and the blogosphere about these new “mentions” and the people implementing them.
So what are Webmentions and why should we care?
While the technical specification published by the W3C may seem incomprehensible to most, it’s actually a straightforward and extremely useful concept with a relatively simple implementation. Webmentions help to break down some of the artificial walls being built within the internet and so help create a more open and decentralized web. There is also an expanding list of major web platforms already supporting Webmentions either natively or with easy-to-use plugins (more on this later).
Put simply, Webmention is a (now) standardized protocol that enables one website address (URL) to notify another website address that the former contains a reference to the latter. It also allows the latter to verify the authenticity of the reference and include its own corresponding reference in a reciprocal way. In order to understand what a big step forward this is, a little history is needed.
The rise of @mentions
By now most people are familiar with the ubiquitous use of the “@” symbol in front of a username, which originated on Twitter and became known as @mentions and @replies (read “at mentions” and “at replies”). For the vast majority, this is the way that one user communicates with other users on the platform, and over the past decade these @mentions, with their corresponding notification to the receiver, have become a relatively standard way of communicating on the internet.
I been smashed the idea of that album even existing. I got joints to roll @kanyewest
Many other services also use this type of internal notification to indicate to other users that they have been referenced directly or tagged in a post or photograph. Facebook allows it, so does Instagram. Google+ has a variant that uses + instead of @, and even the long-form article platform Medium, whose founder Ev Williams also co-founded Twitter, quickly joined the @mentions party.
The biggest communications problem on the internet
If you use Twitter, your friend Alice only uses Facebook, your friend Bob only uses his blog on WordPress, and your pal Chuck is over on Medium, it’s impossible for any one of you to @mention another. You’re all on different and competing platforms, none of which interoperate to send these mentions or notifications of them. The only way to communicate in this way is if you all join the same social media platforms, resulting in the average person being signed up to multiple services just to stay in touch with all their friends and acquaintances.
Given the issues of privacy and identity protection, different use cases, the burden of additional usernames and passwords, and the time involved, many people don’t want to do this. Possibly worst of all, your personal identity on the internet can end up fragmented like a Horcrux across multiple websites over which you have little, if any, control.
Imagine if AT&T customers could only speak to other AT&T customers and needed a separate phone, account, and phone number to speak to friends and family on Verizon. And still another to talk to friends on Sprint or T-Mobile. The massive benefit of the telephone system is that if you have a telephone and service (from any one of hundreds or even thousands of providers worldwide), you can potentially reach anyone else using the network. Surely, with a basic architecture based on simple standards, links, and interconnections, the same should apply to the internet?
The solution? Enter Webmentions!
As mentioned earlier, Webmentions allow notifications between web addresses. If both sites are set up to send and receive them, the system works like this:
Alice has a website where she writes an article about her rocket engine hobby.
Bob has his own website where he writes a reply to Alice’s article. Within his reply, Bob includes the permalink URL of Alice’s article.
When Bob publishes his reply, his publishing software automatically notifies Alice’s server that her post has been linked to by the URL of Bob’s reply.
Alice’s publishing software verifies that Bob’s post actually contains a link to her post and then (optionally) includes information about Bob’s post on her site; for example, displaying it as a comment.
A Webmention is simply an @mention that works from one website to another!
If she chooses, Alice can include the full text of Bob’s reply—along with his name, photo, and his article’s URL (presuming he’s made these available)—as a comment on her original post. Any new readers of Alice’s article can then see Bob’s reply underneath it. Each can carry on a full conversation from their own websites and in both cases display (if they wish) the full context and content.
User behaviors with Webmentions are a little different than they are with @mentions on Twitter and the like in that they work between websites in addition to within a particular website. They enable authors (of both the original content and the responses) to own the content, allowing them to keep a record on the web page where it originated, whether that’s a website they own or the third-party platform from which they chose to send it.
Interaction examples with Webmention
Webmentions certainly aren’t limited to creating or displaying “traditional” comments or replies. With the use of simple semantic microformats classes and a variety of parsers written in numerous languages, one can explicitly post bookmarks, likes, favorites, RSVPs, check-ins, listens, follows, reads, reviews, issues, edits, and even purchases. The result? Richer connections and interactions with other content on the web and a genuine two-way conversation instead of a mass of unidirectional links. We’ll take a look at some examples, but you can find more on the IndieWeb wiki page for Webmention alongside some other useful resources.
With Webmention support, one could architect a site to allow inline marginalia and highlighting similar to Medium.com’s relatively well-known functionality. With the clever use of URL fragments, which are well supported in major browsers, there are already examples of people who use Webmentions to display word-, sentence-, or paragraph-level marginalia on their sites. After all, aren’t inline annotations just a more targeted version of comments?
As another example, and something that could profoundly impact the online news business, I might post a link on my website indicating I’ve read a particular article on, say, The New York Times. My site sends a “read” Webmention to the article, where a facepile or counter showing the number of read Webmentions received could be implemented. Because of the simplified two-way link between the two web pages, there is now auditable proof of interaction with the content. This could similarly work with microinteractions such as likes, favorites, bookmarks, and reposts, resulting in a clearer representation of the particular types of interaction a piece of content has received. Compared to an array of nebulous social media mini-badges that provide only basic counters, this is a potentially more valuable indicator of a post’s popularity, reach, and ultimate impact.
Building on the idea of using reads, one could extend Webmentions to the podcasting or online music sectors. Many platforms are reasonably good at providing download numbers for podcasts, but it is far more difficult to track the number of actual listens. This can have a profound effect on the advertising market that supports many podcasts. People can post about what they’re actively listening to (either on their personal websites or via podcast apps that could report the percentage of the episode listened to) and send “listen” Webmentions to pages for podcasts or other audio content. These could then be aggregated for demographics on the back end or even shown on the particular episode’s page as social proof of the podcast’s popularity.
Websites selling products or services could also accept review-based Webmentions that include star-based ratings scales as well as written comments with photos, audio, or even video. Because Webmentions are a two-way protocol, the reverse link to the original provides an auditable path to the reviewer and the opportunity to assess how trustworthy their review may be. Of course, third-party trusted sites might also accept these reviews, so that the receiving sites can’t easily cherry-pick only positive reviews for display. And because the Webmention specification includes the functionality for editing or deletion, the original author has the option to update or remove their reviews at any time.
If you’re working with WordPress, there’s a simple Webmention plugin that will allow you to begin using Webmentions—just download and activate it. (For additional functionality when displaying Webmentions, there’s also the recommended Semantic Linkbacks plugin.) Other CMSs like Drupal, ProcessWire, Elgg, Nucleus CMS, Craft, Django, and Kirby also have plugins that support the standard. A wide variety of static site generators, like Hugo and Jekyll, have solutions for Webmention technology as well. More are certainly coming.
A weak form of Webmention support can be bootstrapped for Tumblr, WordPress.com, Blogger, and Medium with help from the free Bridgy service, but the user interface and display would obviously be better if they were supported fully and natively.
As a last resort, if you’re using Tumblr, WordPress.com, Wix, Squarespace, Ghost, Joomla, Magento, or any of the other systems without Webmention, file tickets asking them to support the standard. It only takes a few days of work for a reasonably experienced developer to build support, and it substantially improves the value of the platform for its users. It also makes them first-class decentralized internet citizens.
Webmentions for developers
If you’re a developer or a company able to hire a developer, it is relatively straightforward to build Webmentions into your CMS or project, even potentially open-sourcing the solution as a plugin for others. For anyone familiar with the old specifications for pingback or trackback, you can think of Webmentions as a major iteration of those systems, but with easier implementation and testing, improved performance and display capabilities, and decreased spam vulnerabilities. Because the specification supports editing and deleting Webmentions, it provides individuals with more direct control of their data, which is important in light of new laws like GDPR.
In addition to reading the specification, as mentioned previously, there are multiple open source implementations already written in a variety of languages that you can use directly, or as examples. There are also a test suite and pre-built services like Webmention.io, Telegraph, mention-tech, and webmention.herokuapp.com that can be quickly leveraged.
Maybe your company allows employees to spend 20% of their time on non-specific projects, as Google does. If so, I’d encourage you to take the opportunity to fbuild Webmentions support for one or more platforms—let’s spread the love and democratize communication on the web as fast as we can!
And if you already have a major social platform but don’t want to completely open up to sending and receiving Webmentions, consider using Webmention functionality as a simple post API. I could easily see services like Twitter, Mastodon, or Google+ supporting the receiving of Webmentions, combined with a simple parsing mechanism to allow Webmention senders to publish syndicated content on their platform. There are already several services like IndieNews, with Hacker News-like functionality, that allow posting to them via Webmention.
If you have problems or questions, I’d recommend joining the IndieWeb chat room online via IRC, web interface, Slack, or Matrix to gain access to further hints, pointers, and resources for implementing a particular Webmention solution.
The expansion of Webmentions
The big question many will now have is Will the traditional social media walled gardens like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like support the Webmention specification?
At present, they don’t, and many may never do so. After all, locking you into their services is enabling them to leverage your content and your interactions to generate income. However, I suspect that if one of the major social platforms enabled sending/receiving Webmentions, it would dramatically disrupt the entire social space.
In the meantime, if your site already has Webmentions enabled, then congratulations on joining the next revolution in web communication! Just make sure you advertise the fact by using a button or badge. You can download a copy here.
About the Author
Chris Aldrich is developer and researcher who lives in Los Angeles. When not working on the abstract mathematics of digital communication, he tinkers on the web. An active member of the IndieWeb community, he enjoys replacing his dependency on social silos with his website which doubles as his commonplace book.
I’ve had refbacks on the brain for the past couple of months after having read Why Refback Still Matters, so I figured since I’ve already got the pingbacks, trackbacks, and webmentions enabled, what’s one more way to communicate with my website from the outside? So as of this evening, just for fun, I’m now accepting refbacks too.
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.
I've made the difficult decision to drop support for Twitter authentication on IndieAuth.com. Some time last week, Twitter rolled out a change to the website which broke how IndieAuth.com verifies that a website and Twitter account belong to the same person.
We're two senior IndieWeb participants talking about owning your own content.
I can see why several folks in the IndieWeb community love this discussion. Jeena and Marjtin have a wide-ranging conversation that hits almost all of the high points and most of the discussion is very accessible. There are some places in the second half of the episode where those who aren’t developers may feel like they’re in some higher weeds particularly with some jargon, but much of it is well defined and discussed. In solid journalistic fashion, they start from the most basic (with lots of attention to definitions and detail) and ramp up to the more advanced and detailed. If you’re a blogger, journalist, librarian, educator, other who is relatively web savvy and wants to supplement your knowledge of what is going on in this area, this is a great place to help fill in some gaps before delving into additional help and documentation.
In particular, I love that they do an excellent job of helping to communicate the intentional work, craft, morality, ethics, and love which most of the community approaches the topic.
As I suspect that Jeena doesn’t receive many “listen” posts, I’ll webmention his post here with an experimental microformat class like-of. Perhaps he’ll join some of the podcasting community who supports this and make it a stronger standard.
Click a link in a web browser, it should open a web page, not try to open an app which you may not have installed. This is what Apple does with podcasts and now news.#
Facebook is taking the place of blogs, but doesn't permit linking, styles. Posts can't have titles or include podcasts. As a result these essential features are falling into disuse. We're returning to AOL. Linking, especially is essential.#
Google is forcing websites to change to support HTTPS. Sounds innocuous until you realize how many millions of historic domains won't make the switch. It's as if a library decided to burn all books written before 2000, say. The web has been used as an archival medium, it isn't up to a company to decide to change that, after the fact. #
Medium, a blogging site, is gradually closing itself off to the world. People used it for years as the place-of-record. I objected when I saw them do this, because it was easy to foresee Medium pivoting, and they will pivot again. The final pivot will be when they go off the air entirely, as commercial blogging systems eventually do.
A frequently raised warning, and one that’s possibly not taken seriously enough.
At a time when millions are losing trust in the the web’s biggest sites, it’s worth revisiting the idea that the web was supposed to be made out of countless little sites. Here’s a look at the neglected technologies that were supposed to make it possible.
Though the world wide web has been around for more than a quarter century, people have been theorizing about hypertext and linked documents and a global network of apps for at least 75 years, and perhaps longer. And while some of those ideas are now obsolete, or were hopelessly academic as concepts, or seem incredibly obvious in a world where we’re all on the web every day, the time is perfect to revisit a few of the overlooked gems from past eras. Perhaps modern versions of these concepts could be what helps us rebuild the web into something that has the potential, excitement, and openness that got so many of us excited about it in the first place.
Anil is great at describing a fundamental problem on the web here. I feel a bit like he’s written a variation of this article a few times now.1–3
I wish that when he pivoted from ThinkUp he’d moved towards building an open platform for helping to fix the problem. He’s the sort of thinker and creator we could use working directly on this problem.
I do think he’d have a bit more gravitas if he were writing this on his own website though instead of on Medium.
Text, as the Hypothesis annotation client understands it, is HTML, or PDF transformed to HTML. In either case, it’s what you read in a browser, and what you select when you make an annotation.
What’s the equivalent for audio and video? It’s complicated because although browsers enable us to select passages of text, the standard media players built into browsers don’t enable us to select segments of audio and video.
It’s trivial to isolate a quote in a written document. Click to set your cursor to the beginning, then sweep to the end. Now annotation can happen. The browser fires a selection event; the annotation client springs into action; the user attaches stuff to the selection; the annotation server saves that stuff; the annotation client later recalls it and anchors it to the selection.
But selection in audio and video isn’t like selection in text. Nor is it like selection in images, which we easily and naturally crop. Selection of audio and video happens in the temporal domain. If you’ve ever edited audio or video you’ll appreciate what that means. Setting a cursor and sweeping a selection isn’t enough. You can’t know that you got the right intro and outro by looking at the selection. You have to play the selection to make sure it captures what you intended. And since it probably isn’t exactly right, you’ll need to make adjustments that you’ll then want to check, ideally without replaying the whole clip.
Jon Udell has been playing around with media fragments to create some new functionality in Hypothes.is. The nice part is that he’s created an awesome little web service for quickly and easily editing media fragments online for audio and video (including YouTube videos) which he’s also open sourced on GitHub.
This selection tool has nothing intrinsically to do with annotation. It’s job is to make your job easier when you are constructing a link to an audio or video segment.
(If I were Virginia Eubanks I might want to capture the pull quote myself, and display it on my book page for visitors who aren’t seeing it through the Hypothesis lens.)
Social media and kids, Google fiber fail, 5G dreams, and more.
Surprise: young people use social more than the oldsters. Some of them even use Vero. Samsung Galaxy S9 takes top marks for display and camera. Google Fiber didn't go quite as planned. Feds in your iPhone? It's more likely than you think. Amazon buys Ring, can now see and hear everything. US vs Microsoft II: The Revenge of the Irish. GitHub gets gotten by the biggest DDoS EVER.
There’s a great conversation in this episode about open platforms and why they’re important. The basic conversation starts around 12m19s, but really gets going at 16 minutes in and continues through to about 26:30. It includes some great examples of text messaging, social media companies, reservation systems and how they work either for the good or the bad based on how open or closed they are. It becomes a textbook set of cases for why the IndieWeb movement is important.
For those interested in just this short 10 minute section you can listen below on this bookmarked version of the audio:
Another interesting sub-segment is at 17:13 where Dwight Silverman comments that he knows many people who’ve removed social apps from their cell phones, including Leo Laporte. I’ve done this nearly a year ago and recently Dries Buytaert mentioned he’s done it as well. There’s also a recent article by Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times that he’s done something similar with solid results. For a list of people who’ve gone further, check out this list of silo-quits.
Just as I was getting sick last week, Colin Walker wrote “There has to be a better way to subscribe to sites.” He’s definitely hit the nail right on the head. The process is currently painful and disorganized, it’s also working on technology that’s almost two decades old and difficult for newcomers at best.
I’ve always posited that one of the reasons that social media silos have been so successful is that they’ve built some fantastic readers. Sure their UI is cleaner and just dead simple, but to a great extent 95% of their product is an evolved feed reader while the other 5% is a simple posting interface that makes it easy to interact. To compare, most CMSes are almost completely about posting interface, and spend very little time, if any, worrying about providing a reading experience.
The IndieWeb has been making some serious strides on making cross-site interactions easier with the Webmention and Micropub protocols, but the holy grail is still out there: allowing people to have an integrated feed reader built into their website (or alternately a standalone feed reader that’s tightly integrated with their site via Micropub or other means).
For those watching the space with as much interest as I have, there are a couple of interesting tools in the space and a few on the immediate horizon that are sure to make the process a whole lot easier and create a new renaissance in the open web.
SubToMe: a Universal Subscribe Button
First, for a relatively simple one-size-fits-all subscribe button, I recommend people take a look at SubToMe which touts itself as a “Universal Follow button” because it “makes it easy for people to follow web sites,because browsers don’t do it.” The button is fairly straightforward and has an awful lot of flexibility built in. In the simplest sense it has some solid feed detection so it finds available feeds on a web page and then provides a handful of recommended major readers to the user. With two clicks, one can pretty quickly and almost immediately subscribe to almost any feed in their reader of choice.
For publishers, one can quickly install a simple button on their site. They can further provide a list of specific feeds they want to advertise, and they can even recommend a particular feed reader if they choose.
For consumers, the service provides a simple browser bookmarklet so that if a site doesn’t have a button, they can click a subscribe button in their browser. Then click on a provider. Done. One can also choose a preferred provider to shorten the process.
Since last June there’s been a quietly growing new web spec called Microsub that will assuredly shake up the subscription and reader spaces. In short it provides a standardized way for clients to consume and interact with feeds collected by a server.
While it gets pretty deep pretty quickly, the spec is meant to help decouple some of the heavy architecture of building a feed reader. In some way it’s analogous to the separation of content and display that HTML and CSS allows, but applied to the mechanics of feed readers and how readers display their content.
There are already a few interesting projects by the names of Together and Indigenous that are taking advantage of the architecture
I can’t wait to see how it all dovetails together to make a more integrated reading and posting interface as well as the potential it has for individual CMSs to potentially leverage the idea to include integrated interfaces into their products. I can’t wait for the day when my own personal website is compatible with Microsub, so that I can use any Microsub client to read my timeline and follow people.
I’m also sure that decoupling the idea of displaying posts from actually fetching remote feeds will make it easier to build a reader clients in general. I hope this has a Cambrian explosion-type of effect on the state of the art of feed readers.
On a recent walk I listened to Unmasking Misogyny on Radio Open Source. One of the guests, Danielle McGuire, told the story of Rosa Parks’ activism in a way I hadn’t heard before. I wanted to capture that segment of the show, save a link to it, and bookmark the link for future reference.
Jon, this is certainly an awesome and interesting way to target audio on the web, which can be tremendously useful.
Given what you’ve got here, I suspect that you may be unaware of the W3C spec for media fragments which may make portions of what you’re attempting to do a bit easier (and also much more standardized). The spec is relatively broadly supported by most browsers, so it immediately makes things a tad easier from a plumbing perspective.
Some people will be somewhat familiar with the targeting technique as it’s similar to the one used by YouTube which lets users hot link to specific portions of video on their platform.
To summarize the concept, on most audio and video files one can add a #t=XXX the the end of a URL where XXX is the number in seconds into the file where one wants to start. One can target stretches of audio similarly with the pattern #t=XXX,YYY where XXX is the start and YYY is the stop time for the fragment, again in seconds.
As an example I can use it to specifically target the audio on a particular standalone audio file like so:
As an added bonus, on this particular page with audio, you’ll notice that you can play the audio and if you pause it, the page URL in your browser should automatically refresh to indicate the particular audio timestamp for that particular position! Thus in your particular early example it makes things far easier to bookmark, save, or even share!
It would be nice if the user could queue up the particular audio segment and press pause, and then annotate the audio portion of the page using such a targeting segment. Then one could potentially share a specific URL for their annotation (in typical Hypothesis fashion) that not only targets the original page with the embedded audio, but it could also have that audio queued up to the correct portion (potentially with a page refresh to reset the audio depending on the annotation.)
The nice part is that the audio can be annotated within the page on which it originally lived rather than on some alternate page on the web that requires removing the context and causing potential context collapse. It also means one doesn’t have to host an intermediate page to have the whole thing work.
I’m curious if the scheme may make putting all the smaller loose pieces together even easier, particularly for use within Hypothesis? and while keeping more of the original context in which the audio was found?
I also suspect that these types of standards could be used to annotate audio in much the same way that the SoundCloud service handles their audio annotations, though in a much more open way. One would simply need to add on some additional UI to make the annotations on such audio present differently.
Commenting on blog posts and other website articles is a divisive topic in web circles. WPMU DEV has as many articles about dispensing with comments altogether as it does with fostering conversation through WordPress!
Michael, good job bringing some attention to these two new specs!
After having used Webmentions on my site for 2+ years, I think you (and the Trackbacks vs Pingbacks vs Webmentions for WordPress article) are heavily underselling their true value. Yes, in some sense they’re vaguely similar to pingbacks and trackbacks, but Webmentions have evolved them almost to the point that they’re now a different and far more useful beast.
I prefer to think of Webmentions as universal @mentions in a similar way to how Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Medium and others have implemented their @mentions. The difference is that they work across website boundaries and prevent siloed conversations. Someone could use, for example, their Drupal site (with Webmentions enabled) and write (and also thereby own) their own comment while still allowing their comment to appear on the target/receiving website.
The nice part is that Webmentions go far beyond simple replies/comments. Webmentions can be used along with simple Microformats2 mark up to send other interactions from one site to another across the web. I can post likes, bookmarks, reads, watches, and even listens to my site and send those intents to the sites that I’m using them for. To a great extent, this allows you to use your own website just as you would any other social media silo (like Facebook or Twitter); the difference is that you’re no longer restrained to work within just one platform!
Another powerful piece that you’re missing is pulling in comments and interactions from some of the social services using Brid.gy. Brid.gy bootstraps the APIs of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, and Flicker so that they send webmentions. Thus, I can syndicate a post from my WordPress site to Twitter or Facebook and people commenting in those places will be automatically sending their commentary to my original post. This way I don’t really need to use Facebook natively to interact anymore. The added bonus is that if these social sites get shut down or disappear, I’ve got a copy of the full conversation from other places across the web archived in one central location on my personal site!
To add some additional perspective to the value of Webmentions and what they can enable, imagine for a moment if both Facebook and Twitter supported Webmentions. If this were the case, then one could use their Facebook account to comment on a Tweet and similarly one could use their Twitter account to like a Facebook post or even retweet it! Webmentions literally break down the walls that are separating sites on the web.
If it helps to make the entire story clearer and you’d like to try it out, here’s the link to my original reply to the article on my own site. I’ve syndicated that reply to Twitter and Facebook. Go to one of the syndicated copies and reply to it there within either Twitter/Facebook. Webmentions enable your replies to my Twitter/Facebook copies to come back to my original post as comments! And best of all these comments should look as if they were made directly on my site via the traditional comment box. Incidentally, they’ll also look like they should and absolutely nothing like the atrociousness of the old dinosaurs trackbacks and pingbacks.
Web annotations became a W3C standard last week but the world hardly noticed. For years, most conversations on the web have happened in the form of comments. Annotations are different in that they usually reference specific parts of a document and add context. They are often critical or explanatory in nature.
Web annotation seems to promote more critical thinking and collaboration but it’s doubtful that it would ever fully replace commenting systems.
But why not mix annotations and comments together the way some in the IndieWeb have done?! A few people are using the new W3C recommendation spec for Webmention along with fragmentions to send a version of comments-marginalia-annotations to sites that accept them and have the ability to display them!
A good example of this is Kartik Prabhu’s website which does this somewhat like Medium does. One can write their response to a sub-section of his post on their own website, and using webmention (yes, there’s a WordPress plugin for that) send him the response. It then shows up on his site as a quote bubble next to the appropriate section which can then be opened and viewed by future readers.
While annotation systems have the ability to overlay one’s site, there’s certainly room for serious abuse as a result. (See an example at https://indieweb.org/annotation#Criticism.) It would be nice if annotation systems were required to use something like webmentions (or even older trackback/pingbacks) to indicate that a site had been mentioned elsewhere, this way, even if the publisher wasn’t responsible for moderating the resulting comments, they could at least be aware of possible attacks on their work/site/page. #