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The IndieWeb Mixed Bag

Thoughts about the (d)evolution of blog interactions

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tags icon privacy indieweb accessibility

It’s that time again: I started fiddling with my blog code - for the nth time. Kev Quirk calls it pissing around with the code. That was meant negatively, and one of the reasons for him to switch back from Jekyll to Wordpress. I, however, like pissing around because I like pissing - or coding, just for the sake of it. After all, Brain Baking is a big side project that helps me learn and discover new things, blogging technology included.

So, what changed?

I discovered the IndieWeb, perhaps an integral part of what Aral Balkan likes to call the Small Web. Many IndieWeb W3C standards have been around for almost twenty years! I have no idea why I only came across it a few weeks ago. Since then, I’ve been trying to refactor parts of my site to support the IndieWeb standards, and I’m starting to see why.

It’s a big hassle.

There’s this thing with h-card, e-content and u-url meta-classes that have to be added in order for your HTML content to be machine-parsable. Verification can be done with any microformats2-parser or the nice website indiewebify.me. That meant messing around with the templates - again - as of course many components were not properly placed within each other. Author information should be on the root page of your domain, syndication links should have proper meta classes, etc etc.

But why?

Now we’re getting somewhere! One compelling component of the IndieWeb movement is Webmentions. A webmention is a logical evolution from pingback links from the hopefully long lost XML era that nobody ever implements unless they happen to run a Wordpress website. With Webmentions, you notify others when you’ve written an article and linked theirs - or written a comment on theirs.

The concept is a webmention is that instead of commenting on someone else’s domain, you own your data. Want to write a comment or remark? Post it on your own site and send a webmention instead. This idea is also called POSSE: Publish On your Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. As opposed to PESOS: Publish Elsewhere, Syndicate to your Own Site. A very intriguing concept that got my full attention.

Until I started thinking about the ramifications of POSSE. It would be cool if the Switch supported POSSE instead of having me post screenshots to a private Twitter account. It would be great if we had access to the ecosystem of the target silo (a centralized social platform) when simply interacting with our own site. Jamie Tanna uses Indigenous to publish content to his site. Oh, you’ll need to implement a few microservices (micropub/sub) in order to get that working… And you’ll also lose context. So, again: why?

I like the idea of webmentions, because as an academic, I also like the idea of correctly citing each others work. In theory, writing something like this should automatically post webmention notifications to the people I mentioned in this article. A link to this article should appear on their page. Note that I’m using the word should here. A few major problems prevent me from smiling instead of sighing:

  • The responsibility for sending webmentions is the web blog owner. Many blogs do not send them out and only receive them because webmention.io makes it semi-easy to implement. Yes, many efforts like webmention.app exist to automate this, but none work effectively, and they all still require you to run the scripts.
  • Being dependent on something like webmention.io defeats the purpose of a Small Web: now I’m still using a big central silo to receive my stuff!
  • As for POSSE: that’s simply ridiculous when thinking about something like Goodreads. I might also be interested in what others are reading, and not every context gets synced to my site with the IndieWeb tools.

So don’t do it!

I wrote about my Facebook PESOS attempt before. I’d love to POSSE, but some questions that are posted there simply don’t make it back, and as a community maintainer, I simply sometimes need to be there, even if I really, really hate that.

Blog comments, another big debate. My evolution from Disqus to Commento to nothing to Mastodon to Webmentions says it all1: it’s a hassle. People like Evan Sheehan add a small form to each page where webmentions can be requested - although they should be sent automatically. But what about “normal”, non-tech savvy people? What if they want to comment? Oh, they can just use commentpara.de. Well, that doesn’t work, and I’ve tried it - and it’s another external liability.

All these headaches made people not just leave the IndieWeb standards behind: they are actually leaving static website generators behind and reverting to Wordpress! Read about Ru Singh and Chris Wiegman’s reasons. It’s mostly the convoluted workflow, and the hassle to get all the tools of their Jamstack-site just right.

Courtesy of rakhim.org. I'm somewhere on the lower right...

What’s a jamstack 🥞? I’ve been jamstack-ing more than four years and only just found out that there’s an acronym/cool word for the counterpart of a LAMP-stack: a Javascript + Microservices-stack. Because if you’re interested in receiving webmentions, you still need an end-point…

Sleeves up, code out:

Okay, so now, I can answer the why. Not because it will be heavily used, or the IndieWeb stuff feels like the future. The low adoption rate says it all… No, simply because I was bored and wanted to learn about modern JS frameworks. I had an excuse to code again. Yay!

Still, once I more or less finished a first revision of my own toolset (sending is up next), I felt a bit empty inside. What’s the point? Who will webmention me anyway? Those few other tech-related cooler bloggers? If you pay attention to the webmentions on other sites, you’ll notice that 95% of them are Twitter feeds, probably converted into webmentions by services like brid.gy. My point is that as far as usability goes, the IndieWeb standard completely falls apart. Sure, decentralization is the future. That’s why I try to host and own my own data such as my Mastodon Instance - and that’s the philosophy of the IndieWeb.

But I can’t ask my wife to stop posting on Instagram because she’s giving her data away? I can’t ask her to post it on her own Wordpress-site, after installing a bunch of barely working POSSES-related plug-ins? And I can’t ask visitors of my own site to “webmention me!” if they don’t have a site?

Feel free to prove me wrong, though. Why don’t you webmention this article?

Who owns what data?

One of the key properties of POSSE-ing is that you include a url-shortened reference to the original article, like so: (short.co 34yf1). Having to put up with visible junk metadata on Twitter is also a big concern for me. The theory behind it is good and logical, but without the silos supporting it, the implementation is just awful. Furthermore, without a reference, you won’t know if it’s POSSE or PESOS. Aren’t you still giving your data away either way? On Micro.blog’s help page, they explain the difference between Micro.blog and Twitter like so:

But when you use Twitter, your content stays at Twitter. At Micro.blog, you can write short posts that appear in the Micro.blog timeline, as well as on your own blog that you control.

But almost everyone who uses webmention uses it to syndicate replies from others to their site, after POSSE-ing their microblog contents to Twitter. Just for the record: I use PESOS on my fleeting notes, because it’s coming from my own Mastodon/Pleroma instance anyway.

So, in essence, you’re still sending out data to big “evil” third party silos - possibly including media. That means from thereon, a snapshot of that data does NOT belong to you anymore. You just gave it away! I can’t wrap my head around that. Again, I think the Own Your Data philosophy is great, and I fully support it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have taken the trouble to install LineageOS.

Maybe, a part of the blog technology fatigue is because of our own fanaticism…


  1. Managing comments is a hassle, as Kev and others agree. I got rid of these systems last year. If you like to chime in on the discussion, just toot or e-mail me. ↩︎

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a level 36 Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail. Thanks!

I think the IndieWeb makes a lot more fun without syndicating to the silos. I already had some nice interactions via just WebMentions and completely ditched those social networks.

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This test verifies that you accept a Webmention request that contains a valid source and target URL. To pass this test, your Webmention endpoint must return either HTTP 200, 201 or 202 along with the appropriate headers. If your endpoint retu...

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Recommended read: The IndieWeb Mixed Bag - Thoughts about the (d)evolution of blog interactions https://brainbaking.com/post/2021/03/the-indieweb-mixed-bag/

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I've been fiddling with IndieWeb stuff the last week and all in all, I think it's a mixed bag: https://brainbaking.com/post/2021/03/the-indieweb-mixed-bag/@kev after I published it, I found out your "removing support for indieweb" post. Seems like we...

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