09/30/16 - Discovering the IndieWeb

Tags IndieWeb

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I learned of the IndieWeb movement while I was researching NeoCities to see if it would be a good place to start building my site. One of NeoCities’ founders, Kyle Drake, is active in the IndieWeb community, so searching for information about NeoCities led me to the recent Decentralized Web Summit. There is some jargon to distill, but the gist of it is this: own your content.

There more to it than that, of course. IndieWeb encourages taking full ownership of your online identity and not being reliant on other entities to publish content. The recommended model is publishing on a personal site and syndicating content to other platforms. IndieWeb also supports project plurality–many projects that accomplish different things, rather than one project for all–and encourages creators to “selfdogfood” by developing projects that meet their own personal needs and are used in their daily workflow.

Establish Your Identity

One of the central tenants of the IndieWeb movement is establishing an online identity through a personal domain. IndieAuth allows users to authenticate themselves through their domain names rather than their Facebook or Google account. You further establish your identity by creating a site profile that lists all your online accounts.

POSSE: Publish Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere

Ideally, you self-host content at your own domain. By doing so you are not beholden to content restrictions or censure. Creators then syndicate their content to other platforms with short links back to the original document. This establishes ownership of content while taking advantage of the social features (and readership) on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Centralize Your Conversations

Upon implementing POSSE one may centralize their content along with all the responses to it (the conversation) through backfeed or reverse-syndication. Tracebacks and pingbacks are a form of this, but webmentions are the current method. When someone likes, retweets, or comments in response to your content that response is aggregated along with the original document. All responses from all platforms are available in one location. In addition, you can implement federated comments where you post a response to someone else on your site and it is automatically published to that platform.

Implementation

Some of this sounds complicated and I wondered how difficult it would be to implement, particularly backfeed and federated comments. Fortunately, a number of tools are available. Bridgy syndicates and provides backfeed. Webmention.io and the webmention endpoint also handle backfeed. Wordpress users can utilize plugins and I was able to find plugins for a handful of platforms and static site generators, though in the case of static sites things get a little tricky. Known is a blogging platform that offers syndication and unified comments out of the box.

Is it Practical?

I whole-heartedly agree with idea of commercial decentralization/personal-centralization, even though I do not currently use social media platforms. It would be useful to be able to push important articles to friends and family on the platforms they primarily use. I have a few observations.
1. There are times I do not want to amplify my voice. Certainly, I don’t want to amplify every byte I post. While the automation of syndication and backfeed is pretty cool, selective syndication would work better for me.
2. Syndication still requires some form of silo use. IIRC Facebook requires you sign in every few weeks to get webmentions. I’ve quit silos and the idea of returning to them, even to share content with friends and family, isn’t very appealing.
3. Accessibility. There are users who want to own and control their content but do not have the resources or wherewithal to register a domain, and in the case of self-hosting, the ability to set up and adequately protect their space. NeoCities is a tremendous resource in this regard, but are still technological and knowledge barriers that need to be lowered or eliminated.

Decentralization of the web is an interesting and significant endeavor. There will always be the issue of maintaining connections with the Amazon-Facebook-Google-CorporateBehemoth side of the web because there will always be people who choose to use those services exclusively, but as more people work to build their own spaces we’ll see more solutions and ways to go about it.