The Indieweb

or: how I learnt to stop worrying and love the blog.

It’s been about a year since I ditched Blogger and made a move to my own site. Somewhere between all the python programming and CSS designing (and the physics on the side!), I was introduced to the IndieWeb. And I was hooked…

I previously wrote about my decision to move from Blogger in Redux. All the design decisions that motivated me then, still stand. The indieweb adds another piece to the independence puzzle. Can you own your data? Can your site somehow directly talk to other sites on the Web? Can you like, favourite, +1 other people’s posts without relying on Facebook, Twitter or Google?

The IndieWeb is an attempt to answer to all of those questions with a “Yes!”

Why?

For a time the Web was ruled by blogs — people writing their thoughts on their own personal part of the Web. Your blog was your identity on the Web. Syndication (like RSS/Atom) helped beam new posts to potential readers. But the ability to react, to discuss was restricted to the comments sections. People couldn’t really communicate with each other, through their own blogs.

individual blogs and identities

Then came the silos — the Facebooks, the Twitters, the Tumblrs, the Googles. We could now post things on the Web through our profiles with a simple click. We no longer had to write long blog articles, we could just tweet something in under 140 characters, or just post a photo from a vacation. Our friends (and foes) could react, discuss using their own profiles. We offered up our online lives to these silo-gods in exchange for limitless connectivity. It was all so easy. The silos slowly gobbled up the Web.

The convenience of silos

The blogs of old, withered (some even say, died1); starved by the silos. But the Web is still a fragmented place. These silos don’t really talk to each other. Unless your friend bows to the same silo-god as you do, the two of you can not communicate. Our Facebook profiles are separate from the Twitter ones even though we post the same thing to each of these silos; we have the same friends, each with different profiles for each silo. Our persona is fragmented; our audience, our friends are fragmented; the Web is fragmented.

fragmented identities in a silo-scape

All the advances in connectivity are hoarded up inside the silos.

How?

So how do we keep an independent persona on a site/blog and still communicate and stay connected to everyone else?

The first step would be to speak a common language on the Web. Wait! We already do that! It is called HTML. It is how your browser knows to fetch a page from some website and display it to you. HTML allows you to post text, images, videos on the Web and link to them. Of course, this is not really enough because HTML is very simple (by design). It can not — on its own — say whether this page is an article, or a person’s profile, or a comment made by another person.

Enter microformats. Microformats add a bunch of vocabulary to the existing HTML. It can identify a part of the page as a post — an article, a photo, an event; another part as the author of the post; a third part as a reply — a comment, a like, an RSVP — to the post. The microformats specification does this by using the already existing words of HTML without trying to completely reinvent the wheel — which makes it quite simple.

microformats add meaning

Once we speak a common language we need a common sound. This is provided by webmention. It is a way for you to tell me “Hey, I have written a post replying to your post. Check it out!”. I can then read your post and find out whether it is a comment, a like or an RSVP (because we both speak HTML+microformats) and then include it correctly in my post.2

blogs talk through a webmention

Webmention allows us to communicate with each other, all the while posting on our own sites/blogs. No need to bow before the silo-gods!3

The beauty of webmentions is, it does this by using the same technology that your browsers use to fetch a webpage — HTTP. No reinventing the wheel again!


“But I still want to be on Twitter!”, I hear you say. Well then, first post on your own site, and give copies to the silos. This is called POSSE. Ryan Barrett has made this amazing tool for backfeeds called Bridgy, that sends you webmentions for all the activity on your tweets back to your own original post. This way all the likes, replies on your copies find their way back home to your original post!4

POSSEing to a silo and getting copies of activities back home

Who?

“Can I use this right now?”

There are quite a few mature tools already. Many indieweb tools are available for Wordpress including a webmention plugin. Bloggers like Dan Gillmor and Darius Dunlap have already started using them on their own blogs. So if you know how to install Wordpress, a theme and some plugins you are good to go! Another project to watch out for is Idno, used quite nicely by Ben Werdmüller .

Right now the IndieWeb is mostly a group of developers making tools for themselves and playing with them. But it is all open for anyone to use. One of the main goals is to make the whole process of posting to your own site as easy as posting to silos, along with the simple UI/UX that goes with it. If you are a programmer/web-designer go ahead and contribute to the indieweb! Make your own project, add to the existing ones, give feedback about what you need/want, but most importantly use what you make.5 This really is for everyone.

The interconnected IndieWeb aka The Web

So that’s the IndieWeb6 or: the Web as it ought be — free7, open and connected.

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