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This day’s portion

Notes on the “indieweb” #4: four months in – community, difficult discussions and the end of the web

/ Commentary

I first talked about “going indieweb” on 9 January. Getting this website to play nicely with comments, webmentions and posting to external services like Twitter and micro.blog has taken a bit of work, which admittedly isn’t the most onerous task in the world. At the same time, I’ve been disciplined in publishing on a regular basis – lots of notes, a few links and at least one fully fledged post every weekend.

So having set everything up what’s it actually like forgoing Twitter for your website, micro.blog and RSS feeds?

The first thing to note is that building some form of community takes time, just as it did in the prelapsarian blogging period of the early to mid 00’s. Getting all this technical stuff to hang together is only half the job (although it does provide lots of blogging fuel).

For a while, I simply pushed posts to micro.blog and Twitter without considering how they looked to subscribers. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, no-one was responding (and if I even had any followers on micro.blog I wouldn’t know – it doesn’t tell you). I solved that problem by tinkering with my RSS feeds to customise what I publish elsewhere, which resulted in more responses.

More importantly, I actually started following people on micro.blog and replying to their posts. Micro.blog doesn’t reveal your follower list – or even a count – an intriguing design choice which removes any embarrassment you may or may not experience at your low follower numbers. Combine with a regularly updated, human-curated discover feed, and you should be able to find interesting people to follow from a standing start (not least a thriving community of bloggers figuring out how to get their websites working properly).

What I’ve also found on micro.blog is an enthusiasm for “civilised” discussion lacking on Twitter. This sometimes puts me in mind of a sect that has rejected the outside world’s way of doing things. It can be great: posters are polite, considerate and welcoming of new members. On the other hand, I initially found it quite bland and slightly disconcerting – discussions of “difficult” topics seemed to be consciously avoided, perhaps in an effort to not be like Twitter at any cost.

However, I feel this has changed recently, the Basecamp controversy proving a bit of a watershed. At first, there were a few posts supporting Fried and DHH, or expressions of regret at the general tone of the discussion on the internal Basecamp message boards and Twitter. However, it’s been encouraging to read alternative views, especially this from Pratik on what it’s like to work in a US university when you’re from a minority culture and rnv’s insightful posts on workers and management. I’d like to see more of this on micro.blog – I think it can maintain a civil tone while allowing for interesting, robust discussion.

Of course, micro.blog is still a social media network where you interact with other users in an app or on its website. It may be easier to post to the service from your own site, and it does webmentions well, but essentially it’s a differently designed Twitter. True, a lot of its users have a website, and a lot of the discussions are about building and publishing to these sites, but this is not quite the indieweb in its purest sense.

Does this matter? Probably not – even the indieweb website isn’t precious when it comes to having conversations on Twitter et al, but four months in and I’m nearly convinced that the possibility of a decentralised network of websites talking to each other through comments sections and pingbacks (known as the web) has probably passed. We want somewhere to congregate and handle the ins and outs of replies and links – the question is what sort of discussion that place engenders.

I say nearly. Ironically enough, when I mentioned in passing how conversation no longer takes place below the line on websites, I got myself a comment, which in turn generated another post and more comments. It’s like 2008 all over again! Admittedly, this wasn’t the smoothest experience, but there it was – a conversation conducted in the comments and via webmentions.

I should admit that all this stuff is probably of very little interest to the outside world, and it’ll never attract much commentary. That’s fine. Or perhaps it’ll just take years to develop. That’s also OK – I have the time.