Tag Archives: indiewebcamp

Decline and return of indie blogs

In announcing plans to move A List Apart away from advertising, Jeffrey Zeldman writes about the decline of independent web sites:

In recent years, we’ve seen our rich universe of diverse, creative blogs and sites implode—leaving fewer and fewer channels available to new voices. As more content centralizes into a handful of all-powerful networks, there’s a dreary sameness in perspective and presentation.

I don’t know what the new A List Apart will look like, but if they can encourage designers and developers to embrace independent blogs again, I’m all for it. I like the way Zeldman has framed the change for A List Apart.

It used to be that A List Apart’s most popular authors were all frequent bloggers. I think the attention on Twitter instead of personal sites has effectively created a gap of lost years for many blogs: long stretches of time with very few if any posts. Perhaps Zeldman’s post is an indication that this trend has already reversed.

Gabe Weatherhead recently made some points on Macdrifter about the decline of indie blogs — that podcasting is a cheap substitute for written posts, and that tweets and link-blogging have killed thoughtful commentary:

I want to hear opinions and ideas from good writers, not pull quotes with a trailing off-the-cuff remark.

It’s a good post, but I see his conclusion differently. The solution isn’t fewer link blogs, but more of them. By taking microblogging back from Twitter, we create a natural place for traditional blogs to grow. Indie microblogging is the gateway drug for long-form content.

To everyone reading Zeldman’s post about A List Apart and nodding your head, retweeting the link, clicking the like button… Dust off your blog and actually post about it. A better web is built one page at a time.

Homebrew Website Club

Tonight we’re starting up a local Austin chapter of the Homebrew Website Club. This is a group from the IndieWeb community which already meets regularly in San Francisco, Portland, other cities, and online.

From the IndieWeb wiki:

Homebrew Website Club is a bi-weekly meetup of people passionate about or interested in creating, improving, building, designing their own website, in the same structure as the classic Homebrew Computer Club meetings.

For Austin, the first meeting will be 6:30pm at Monkey Nest Coffee, 5353 Burnet Rd. Everyone’s welcome. Bring ideas for your own web site, questions about Micro.blog, or just grab a coffee and hang out. We’ll meet in the extra room at the back of the coffee shop.

Medium stumbling forward

Dave Winer isn’t optimistic about the recent Medium changes:

We’re in the long tail of the demise of Medium. They’ll try this, and something else, and then another thing, each with a smaller probability of making a difference, until they turn it off.

This has been the concern with Medium since the very beginning. Because they defaulted to Medium-branded user blogs on medium.com instead of your own blog at a personal domain name, there was a risk that if Medium didn’t work out as a business, many great posts would disappear along with the service. You might get more readers in the short-term, but it’s a bad trade-off when links break and you have to start all over again.

Nick Heer wrote about the “sameness” of Medium sites — how the sites blur together as just pages on Medium’s platform. Several prominent sites have left:

Earlier this year, Film School Rejects and Pacific Standard moved away from the platform; this month, the Awl announced that they went back to WordPress with their old custom theme. The Ringer and Backchannel also left Medium. Once again, I can tell those sites apart from each other.

I think Medium has good intentions. But the premise was wrong, with an emphasis on medium.com/@username URLs that aren’t portable, and no obvious way to get a custom domain. Getting this right is IndieWeb 101.

That’s why on Micro.blog the microblogs are username.micro.blog by default. It sounds like a small thing, but that difference is everything. It’s easy to swap out for a personal domain name, with free SSL hosting, multiple themes, custom CSS, and it’s based on Jekyll so that it can be moved to any host.

Medium is stumbling forward, trying to find the right path because their initial foundation wasn’t right. I hope they get there.

Webmention in action

It’s always cool to see Webmention comments on real sites across the web. It’s not just a W3C spec. Like many ideas from the IndieWeb, this is a simple web technology that actually works today.

We’ve been improving Micro.blog’s support for Webmention. When you reply to a post on Micro.blog, from the web or iOS app, it will ping the site you’re replying to, giving that site a chance to include the comment. You can see these replies show up under recent posts from Aaron Parecki and Jonathan LaCour.

Drew McLellan had a good overview of implementing Webmention, including using services like Bridgy to bring in tweet replies:

The end result is that by being notified of the external reaction, the publisher is able to aggregate those reactions and collect them together with the original content.

Colin Walker highlighted Webmention when writing about Micro.blog:

It looks like a basic Twitter-style network but that is only scratching the surface; its simplicity belies its power.

Micro.blog also has limited support for receiving Webmention requests for people replying to a Micro.blog-hosted blog from their own site. As this support improves, both in Micro.blog and as more people enable Webmention on their WordPress sites, the distributed nature of the web as a broad social network will really start to shine.

The open web and Micro.blog progress

I was very excited to see this post from Brandon Kraft, about the potential for an expanded role for WordPress in the IndieWeb movement:

The dream isn’t to return to the past before social media, but help make social media part of the web in an organic way. For this post, you can like it or comment it on via this site, WordPress.com, Twitter, or Facebook, but all of the comments will appear here using Webmentions. The closed gardens will still exist, but it’ll make it easier for people to reach out between them.

People always ask me how Micro.blog is going. There are many answers to that: from the business side, or how the community is growing, or the technical bits of scaling the backend. But one simple answer is how Micro.blog’s success can be judged in posts like Brandon’s.

I still believe strongly in the dual nature of success that I posted about earlier this year:

Key for Micro.blog: it’s a success if more people blog. To provide value it doesn’t need to replace Twitter. But also, it can.

Of course, “if more people blog” is a simplification that leaves out what naturally happens next: the spread of more web standards and better tools for microblogging. If Micro.blog has played even a small part in encouraging IndieWeb standards within WordPress itself, that is great progress. I’ll be happy to raise the bar for what success looks like.

Jeremy Keith on Presentable and the IndieWeb

I know there are so many great podcasts that it’s difficult to listen to everything. I’m still making my way through all the commentary about WWDC. But I just finished Jeff Veen’s Presentable episode 25 this week and particularly enjoyed it.

Jeff talked to Jeremy Keith about his new web design book, and about the web industry repeating the same old mistakes, with a really great discussion about the IndieWeb. When asked about how people prefer to post on a social network, because maybe fewer people will find their own site, Jeremy said:

I always get frustrated when people talk about this as a reason not to do something. For me, that was the whole point of the web — that nobody was stopping you. You’re right, maybe nobody will read this thing that I’ve published, but I could publish it and nobody was stopping me. To see people stop themselves, to act as their own gatekeeper…

There’s much more that I can’t capture in a truncated quote. Highly recommend listening to the full interview in context.

IndieWeb Summit

WWDC is only 1 week away, but I have another event on my mind as well: IndieWeb Summit in Portland, June 24th – 25th. From the description for the 2-day conference:

The seventh annual gathering for independent web creators of all kinds, from graphic artists, to designers, UX engineers, coders, hackers, to share ideas, actively work on creating for their own personal websites, and build upon each others creations.

I’m still trying to figure out if I can make it. If you care about indie blogging and open formats, consider attending. I had a great time in Portland earlier this year meeting more of the IndieWeb folks. They are leading some of the most important work on simple formats and protocols, with a focus on personal web sites instead of silos.

Microblogging community on Slack

Since I launched on Kickstarter, backers have asked if there should be a Slack community to discuss Micro.blog and related microblogging topics. I wasn’t sure. I know some people are already in multiple Slack groups, including the excellent IndieWebCamp IRC/Slack, and I also didn’t want to distract from any posts that should happen in the open on blogs.

Some discussion just fits better in chat, though. There’s an emerging community of indie microbloggers. Having a place to share tips, tools, and ask questions about Micro.blog just makes sense.

I’m experimenting with the Slack channel now, and I’ll be opening it to all Kickstarter backers next week. If you’ve backed the project before Monday, expect a backers-only project update with information on how to join.

Webmention is a W3C Recommendation

Webmention has been on my radar for a little while, and I mention it in the Indie Microblogging text on Kickstarter. It’s great to see it go from an IndieWebCamp spec through the W3C process now as a standard recommendation:

The Social Web Working Group has published a W3C Recommendation of Webmention. A Webmention is a notification that one URL links to another and is a simple way to notify any URL when you mention it on your site. From the receiver’s perspective, it’s a way to request notifications when other sites mention it.

The replies on Micro.blog are kind of a stopgap while infrastructure like Webmention rolls out to more web sites. I think Webmention will become an important part of cross-site mentions.

There’s a lot happening at once right now. As I suggested in a microblog post yesterday, the first measure of success is whether more people are blogging. Meanwhile there are new formats and APIs like Webmention. You don’t replace Twitter overnight, or even try to. But step by step, we’re going to end up with a better web, and I think independent microblogging is part of that.

Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid

I’ve written about IPFS before, but Solid (from Tim Berners-Lee himself, among other MIT folks) is another new proposal for a more distributed web. I wasn’t familiar with it until reading this article at Digital Trends, which first makes the case for independent content vs. the big centralized platforms:

Now a handful of companies own vast swaths of web activity – Facebook for social networking, Google for searching, eBay for auctions – and quite literally own the data their users have provided and generated. This gives these companies unprecedented power over us, and gives them such a competitive advantage that it’s pretty silly to think you’re going to start up a business that’s going to beat them at their own game.

The article continues with the types of data you might share in a Solid application:

For example, you might keep your personal information in one or several pods: the sort of data about yourself that you put into your Facebook profile; a list of your friends, family, and colleagues; your banking information; maps of where you’ve traveled; some health information. That way if someone built a new social networking application—perhaps to compete head-on with Facebook, or, more likely, to offer specialized services to people with shared interests—you could join by giving it permission to access the appropriate information in your pod.

One of the showcase applications is called Client-Integrated Micro-Blogging Architecture, surely named mostly for its pronounceable acronym. From the CIMBA project site:

CIMBA is a privacy-friendly, decentralized microblogging application that runs in your browser. It is built using the latest HTML5 technologies and Web standards. With CIMBA, people get a microblogging app that behaves like Twitter, built entirely out of parts they can control.

Solid and CIMBA are built on the Linked Data Platform, which in turn is based off of RDF. I’m admittedly biased against RDF, because it often brings with it an immediate sense of over-engineering — too abstracted, solving too many problems at once. I’m glad to see this activity around a distributed web, and I’ll be following Solid, but I also continue to believe that the simple microformats and APIs from the IndieWebCamp are the best place to start.

An open Twitter starts with the web

Dave Winer wants an open alternative to Twitter:

I want it to be friendly to Twitter, because as a user and a shareholder, and a developer who uses their platform, I want to see it thrive. But I also strongly believe we need the open system, the Central Park to Twitter’s condo buildings on Fifth Ave and Central Park West.

John Biesnecker, reading Dave’s post, suggested XMPP because it’s an open standard and federated. But as great as XMPP is for messaging, it seems too different from the web; it would be like starting over. The nice thing about building on independent microblogs is that we can leverage the existing open web infrastructure: all the WordPress installs, RSS feeds, and new work from the IndieWebCamp.

That’s what I’ve tried to do for Snippets.today. Learn from the UI innovations of Twitter — the fast timeline experience, the effortless posting — but without skipping the important first step of independent web publishing.

Micropub and the quiet IndieWebCamp revolution

There’s new activity at the W3C around independent blogging, with new proposals recently posted as working drafts. Helped by a push from the IndieWebCamp, two of the highlights include:

  • Micropub: Simple format for adding content to your site from native apps.
  • Webmention: Modern replacement for Pingback/Trackback, for handling cross-site replies.

I want to support these in my new web app. At launch, I hope to allow Micropub POSTs alongside the classic XML-RPC Blogger API (and my own native JSON API).

And of course the IndieWebCamp is also known for POSSE: publish on your own site, syndicate elsewhere. That strategy has helped me refine my own cross-posting.

I don’t think it’s my imagination that more and more people are blogging again. Now’s the time to resume your blog, start a microblog, and take back the future of the web from silos. If we can roll some of these new standards into what we’re building and writing about, the open web will be on the right track.

Here’s a Twitter feed

Whenever someone says “I don’t read RSS”, I actually hear “I don’t read Manton’s blog”. I could give plenty of reasons why they’re missing out by ignoring RSS — it’s still the best way to keep up with bloggers you like who aren’t linked or retweeted often enough to bubble up on Twitter — but some people won’t be convinced.

Over three years ago I stopped posting to Twitter. I know it was the right move on principle because there was a real cost in exposure, with fewer people actively keeping up with what I’ve been working on. As I’ve said before: it wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t cost me anything.

And yet, many people get their news from Twitter. Since I started microblogging on my own site, I’ve had time to reflect on the role of indie microblogging and cross-posting. I think the IndieWebCamp has it right: publish on your own site, syndicate elsewhere. I wrote more back in July about cross-posting.

Most importantly, as I work on a microblog publishing platform of my own, how can I develop a solid cross-posting feature if I don’t actively use it myself? I’ve recommended IFTTT to beta testers, but only by using it myself can I know where the gaps in functionality are.

So I’ve been experimenting. All of my posts now go out to the Twitter account @manton2. This was an account I created 6 years ago for testing. Except for a few of the first tweets, I’ve cleared out the test content and given it a new life.

It’s worth noting some advantages and disadvantages to this:

  • I can write at my domain name and own my content, but have it automatically sent to Twitter for folks who are there. Unlike how I’ve been treating these cross-posts to App.net, I’m not sure whether I will stay engaged and answer replies on Twitter. We’ll see.
  • Most of my microblog posts are around 200 characters. These will get truncated on Twitter, with a link back to my site. Full essays get a nicer title and link. I’ll continue to improve this.
  • I’m effectively starting over with zero followers, compared to the 5000 followers I left @manton with. I have no plans to resume using my original account, though. Think of the “2” in @manton2 as a reminder that this is a mirror of my posts, and an imperfect one.

You can follow @manton2 on Twitter. Thanks for reading.