Openness, rivers, the IndieWeb community

Yesterday I wrote a post about blogrolls. I published it on AltPlatform, the new tech blog I recently started with my old ReadWriteWeb friend Emre Sokullu. It was the second post in a series I’m doing about IndieWebifying my personal website. I got some great responses, which I’m going to discuss in this post.

Firstly, a note about what I’m attempting to do in 2017 with blogging. My goal is to explore the latest social web technologies and learn how to do more on the Open Web. The main impetus is my growing dissatisfaction with Walled Garden social networks, like Facebook and Twitter. My spidey sense is picking up similar vibes across the Web. It’s difficult to define at this point, but there’s a feeling that something needs to change. And that something has a lot to do with openness, inclusivity and not letting powerful corporations dictate what we do and think.

One of my blogging heroes, Dave Winer, wrote a very nice post in response to mine. He has been thinking about blogrolls too (amongst many other things – he’s always one step ahead of the rest of us). Dave wants to link blogrolls to the “river of news” products he has been developing in recent times. I need to look more closely at this. I downloaded his Electric River product, which he says is “the closest to what Radio UserLand did with aggregation in 2002.” Radio Userland was how I got my start in blogging, so I’m intrigued. I will play with Electric River and put my thoughts into a separate post soon.

Dave also pointed out the need to be open about which Open Web technologies to try. As he noted, I have been experimenting with the IndieWeb community’s suite of tools – and in particular their WordPress plugins. Also I’ve been following closely what fellow AltPlatform blogger Chris Aldrich has done on his personal website. Chris is a key contributor to the IndieWeb community.

I’ve found the IndieWeb tools to be tremendously helpful, and the community to be open and friendly. But I think my own goals are a little different. I’m less interested in the technologies themselves (like microformats and webmention) and more interested in how they’re being used in the wider Web community. Not dissimilar to my interests when I started ReadWriteWeb. But of course to do this, I need to stand on the shoulders of the developers who build the tools.

I think of it this way… The IndieWeb community is a group of tech people who are creating the building blocks, for which I’m very grateful. Dave Winer also creates building blocks, so I’m equally grateful to him. My “job” (although it’s really just my idea of fun, since AltPlatform is a non-profit blog) is to try out the technologies that IndieWeb, Dave and others are building. Ideally I’d like to help smooth the path for Open Web technologies to be used by non-tech people.

An example perhaps is Tracey Todhunter, who runs a blog called Baking and Making. Tracey left this comment on my AltPlatform post about blogrolls: “I have a list of “blogs I read” – I almost deleted it because someone told me blog rolls were “so last century”! I noticed lots of new visitors to my blog click on these links (and hopefully discover other bloggers, so I’ve kept it.” Tracey’s comment is exactly the type of thing I want to see happen with the Open Web. She has an excellent niche blog and is using the Open Web to connect to other people. This is why blogging is still relevant in 2017.

A couple of other responses I got…

Kevin Marks, one of the founders of the IndieWeb movement, wrote a couple of posts overnight my time. Both were syndicated to the comments section of my AltPlatform post, which I was pleased to see (apologies Kevin that it got caught in our spam filter – we’re still dealing with the quirks of a new blog). In one post, Kevin defended the IndieWeb feed reader product Woodwind: “Woodwind’s integrated reading and posting is the thing I like best about it, so I’m sorry that Richard was unimpressed with it.” To clarify, I was mainly put off by the geeky UI. I certainly admire the sophisticated ‘under the hood’ technology of it. Perhaps I’ll give it another try.

Kevin’s second post was more of a conversation with Dave. The only 2 cents I’d add is… kumbaya, let’s all work together 🙂

Last but not least, Colin Walker also responded to my blogrolls post. He pointed out one problem with blogrolls: “Part of the problem with people based following models on social networks is that you follow the whole person so see everything they post whether it is relevant to you or not. There is no filtering system.” It’s a great point – and one of the reasons I was so interested in topic feeds back in the day. So this is something I’ll need to explore for this era too.

24 thoughts on “Openness, rivers, the IndieWeb community

  1. hey Richard, been enjoying your posts. If you’re looking for more IndieWeb software to try, feel free to try out my reader at unicyclic.com. It can import opml so hopefully provides some of that blogroll / reader integration that you’ve written about 😉

  2. (The oldest digital photo I could find of myself. I haven’t waterskied ever since but that’s roughly how old this domain is.)
    The golden days of my own website
    It all started in 1999 when I registered the domain name reitnauer.com for a whopping $34.99 USD at Network Solutions. My boss back then had to purchase it for me because I didn’t have a credit card, and I remember getting a letter confirming the domain registration–much to my excitement. Little did I know domains would play such an important role in my work life a bit later.
    The oldest archived version of my website is from March 2001 which was just a static “coming soon” page with banners (designed by me) linking to my employer at that time. I think the site stayed like this for a while and served as a playground for Photoshop experiments before I set up a little server for email and WordPress later on. On my blog, I wrote mainly about my travel experiences and moving countries from Germany to Australia in 2007, and then finally to New Zealand the year after. That setup served me well from c. 2005 – c. 2010 until social media took over most of my web publishing (to be fair I was still writing quite a bit on the iwantmyname blog).
    The fall of my own website
    I was never a big social media user but sharing content on Twitter or posting photos to Facebook or Instagram was just so much easier compared to updating a blog. But I didn’t want to give up on having a website on reitnauer.com just yet, so I used a personal profile page from Flavors.me (RIP) and about.me linking to all my online profiles for a bit. That worked fine until I started getting a bit tired of social media in late 2014 which is when I also questioned why I should even publish anything online. As a result, I stopped updating Twitter, deactivated Facebook, and only used my domain for email.
    A fresh start
    After thinking about what I want from an online presence in the last two years, I decided to go back to where I started and set up WordPress with IndieWeb plugins. It ticked several boxes for me such as being open source, I could run it on my server, and if I ever have any problems, there is a huge community of people who can help. From being very against setting up my own software and managing a server I went the exact opposite because I was tired of not being able to experiment.
    I should add that this was my second attempt of relaunching my personal site. I came across the IndieWeb movement a few years ago when doing some research at work, but it wasn’t until last year that I started looking into it more closely in a first attempt to relaunch my website using Known. It looks like they slightly changed their value proposition to a “social learning platform” in the meantime but it should still work quite well for personal sites as well. I somehow wish I stuck to it because they’ve got IndieWeb features built right in whereas it very much feels tacked on to WordPress at the moment.
    The biggest problem for me right now is to find a workflow for publishing. I struggle to get into the habit of writing status updates on WordPress and cross-post them to closed networks because it’s not where I read my Twitter timeline. Same goes for reposting, replying and liking which is why I got excited when I heard about woodwind.xyz in AltPlatform’s blog post on feed readers. Just the day before reading it, I signed up for InoReader after making the decision to only follow people on Twitter and use RSS for everything else. I still need to play with woodwind.xyz a bit more, but I think a service like this could be a step in the right direction.
    There is hope for the open web
    As Richard MacManus wrote today on why he joined the IndieWeb:

    The main impetus is my growing dissatisfaction with Walled Garden social networks, like Facebook and Twitter. My spidey sense is picking up similar vibes across the Web. It’s difficult to define at this point, but there’s a feeling that something needs to change. And that something has a lot to do with openness, inclusivity and not letting powerful corporations dictate what we do and think.

    I’ve been through this phase myself, and I very much agree about the vibe, but people don’t quite know what they can do to be less dependent on the big social networks. Not every social media user will care of course, but I believe there is an opportunity for previous website owners and bloggers to start fresh.
    At the very least, do yourself a favour and get a domain name that you can use throughout your life. There has been an explosion in domain extensions recently, and everyone should be able to find a suitable web address for themselves. Domains are such an underappreciated piece of open web technology, but as you can see in my example, it has been the one constant throughout the years. And if you don’t use it for a website, make the switch from Gmail to using your domain for email, for instance. There are great email hosting providers like FastMail or ProtonMail who don’t break the bank and are not associated with any big corporations.
    It’s still early days for IndieWeb publishing, and along with other initiatives, it’s the first time in a while I feel excited and hopeful for the open web. I plan to continue experimenting with my own site and look forward to the first ever Homebrew Website Club in Wellington. If you care about an independent web and want to discuss your website, you should come along!
    Also on:

  3. Richard,

    One way in which I implement a list of people I am interested in following is to create a “river” site from the available feeds for those people. Some examples are http://1999bloggers.andysylvester.com (a list of bloggers using the 1999.io blogging tool) and http://osbridge.andysylvester.com (a collection of tweets related to the 2017 Open Source Bridge conference that just ended in Portland, Oregon, info on the setup at http://andysylvester.com/2017/06/16/how-the-open-source-bridge-river-of-news-app-works/). Dave Winer has done similar sites like http://mlbriver.com/. For me, these are good ways of keeping on topic areas, and the list of feeds can be linked from the site.

  4. A few days ago, in part based on something that [Richard MacManus wrote](https://richardmacmanus.com/2017/06/22/openness-rivers-indieweb/) (and which may have prompted @scripting‘s response), I noticed that Inoreader differentiates between importing an OPML and subscribing to an OPML.
    > # Importing an OPML
    > If you import an OPML file in your RSS reader, you are creating a static copy of the reading list. If the owner of the original list updates the list, this change will not be shown in your feed collection.
    >
    > # Subscribing to an OPML
    > An OPML subscription, however, creates a live connection between the original source and your feed folder. Whenever a feed is added or deleted from the original list, the change will be reflected in your subscriptions. The notification system in Inoreader will notify you that new feeds were imported or existing feeds were removed.
    Ideally, if a site had a blogroll or other mechanism by which they maintained and publicly published their own OPML list, then the user could plug that into the reader to subscribe to the list which could update dynamically. One could also subscribe to others’ OPML lists (or subsets of them?) as well without needing to pay attention to them. In total, this sounds like what Ben’s reader (and Known’s subscription list) were doing, but by using a pre-existing standard that’s broadly supported. (As an example WordPress sites with the Links module enabled publish their OPML files at example.com/wp-links-opml.php).

  5. Inspired by Richard MacManus’ recent post, I spent a little bit of time rebuilding/refreshing some old blogroll functionality (cum follow list functionality) into my site.
    It’s far from finished (particularly from the data perspective), but it’s starting to shape up and look like something. I’m currently publishing an Indieweb blogroll on my front page. (Don’t presume anything if you’re not on it yet, I’ve a long way to go.) I’m still contemplating how to break it up into more manageable/consumable chunks primarily for myself, but also for others like Richard who were looking for ways to subscribe to others in this particular community.
    For those who have readers that allow them to either subscribe to OPML files and/or import them, here’s my open OPML file. It’s a full firehose of everything, but hopefully I’ll get a chance to divide it into chunks more easily. I’d recommend subscribing to it if you can as it’s sure to see some reasonable changes in the coming weeks/months.
    A snippet of the admin UI of my blogroll functionality. Pictures are always nice!Syndicated copies to:

    Related

    Author: Chris Aldrich

    I’m a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history.

    I’m also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.
    View all posts by Chris Aldrich

  6. I’m not a developer, so can’t contribute in that sense. But I am a journalist, have been online since the 1980s and have been writing or blogging or attempting to do something similar since the mid-1990s. I know traditional and online publishing.

    I’m interested in exploring how this can work for those of us who operate somewhere between the mainstream media and independent online publishing. I already syndicate my copy around a handful of sites and would like to extend that. But most of all, I want to keep information, news and knowledge free and independent.

    Have you any pointers to how this works with media companies?

    1. Hi Bill,

      It’s a good question and something for me to look into more as I explore this new IndieWeb world. So I don’t have the answers right now, but I’ll start searching…

  7. Richard MacManus is indiewebifying his site, and had this to say:

    I’ve found the IndieWeb tools to be tremendously helpful, and the community to be open and friendly. But I think my own goals are a little different. I’m less interested in the technologies themselves (like microformats and webmention) and more interested in how they’re being used in the wider Web community. Not dissimilar to my interests when I started ReadWriteWeb. But of course to do this, I need to stand on the shoulders of the developers who build the tools.

    All of which sums up my own position exactly. I’d go slightly further. I’m not as interested in how the technologies are being used in the wider Web community as I am in putting them to use myself.
    p.s. A major drawback of Withknown’s excellent engine is that it doesn’t allow New Posts to be replies, and that means I can’t use the MarkDown formatting.

  8. I defy the world and go back to RSS by Bryan Alexander (bryanalexander.org)

    It may be perverse, but in this age of Facebook (now 2 billion strong) I’ve decided to rededicate myself to RSS reading. That’s right: old school, Web 2.0 style.

    Why?

    A big reason is that Facebook’s front page is so, so massively unreliable. Despite having huge numbers of people that are my friends, clients, and contacts, it’s just not a good reading and writing service. Facebook’s black box algorithm(s) may or may not present a given’s user’s post for reasons generally inscrutable. I’ve missed friends’ news about new jobs, divorces, and deaths because the Zuckerbergmachine deems them unworthy of inclusion in my personalized river of news. In turn, I have little sense of who will see my posts, so it’s hard to get responses and very hard to pitch my writing for an intended audience. Together, this makes the FB experience sketchy at best. To improve our use of it we have to turn to experiments and research that remind me of Cold War Kremlinology.

    Bryan, so much of what you’re saying is not only not backwards, but truly awesome and inspiring, and not just with respect to RSS.
    I’ve lately become more enamored of not only RSS, but new methods for feeds including lighter weight versions like microformats h-feeds. A few months ago I was inspired to embed the awesome PressForward plugin for WordPress into my site, so I could have an integrated feed reader built right in. This makes it far easier to not only quickly share the content from my site, but it means I can also own archival copies of what I’m reading and consuming for later reference, some of which I store privately on the back end of my site as a sort of online commonplace book.
    There also seems to be a recent renaissance with the revival of blogrolls. I’ve even recently revived my own to provide subscribe-able OPML lists that others can take advantage of as well. Like your reading list, it’s a work in progress.
    On the subject of blogs not being dead and decrying the abuses of the social silos, you might be interested to hear about the Indieweb movement which is helping to both decentralize and re-democratize the web in useful and intelligent ways. They’re helping people to take back their identities online and let them own their own content again. They’re also using open protocols like Webmention (a platform agnostic and universal @mention) and Micropub or syndication methods like POSSE to make it easier to publish, share, and interact with people online anywhere, regardless of the platform(s) on which they’re publishing.
    As an example of what they’re doing, I’m publishing this comment on my own site first, and only then sending it as a comment to your post. If you supported Webmention, this would have happened seamlessly and automatically. I’ll also syndicate it as a reply to your tweet, and if you reply on twitter, the comment will be pulled back into my comment stream at the original.
    As you may expect, some educators are also using some of these tools and specs for educational reasons.
    Syndicated copies to:

    Related

    Author: Chris Aldrich

    I’m a biomedical and electrical engineer with interests in information theory, complexity, evolution, genetics, signal processing, theoretical mathematics, and big history.

    I’m also a talent manager-producer-publisher in the entertainment industry with expertise in representation, distribution, finance, production, content delivery, and new media.
    View all posts by Chris Aldrich

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