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Notes on the “indieweb” #3: Who’s it for?

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Just what is indieweb? How do you go indieweb? Who has already done it? Who’s it for?

In one way, these are easy questions to answer. Indieweb is a movement with founders, supporters and a canonical website, which provides a simple definition…

The IndieWeb is a people-focused alternative to the “corporate web”.

That sounds great! There’s also a set of principles.

But actually going indieweb is difficult, as browsing the website will soon reveal. Beneath the friendly, lingo-free home page sits a world of wikis and acronyms, which arguably serve as a barrier to entry. That raises the question: who are the people in people-focused alternative?

For most people, setting up a website with a domain name is an arcane process compared to signing up for Facebook or Twitter. Then consider basic actions such as posting a photo or a 280 word update. And that’s before you’ve got webmentions working, which will involve installing a plugin, or actually writing code.

For someone like me, who has made a living from the web for the last 13 years, this is easy – fun, even. But what about someone who’s simply concerned about Facebook or Twitter, and wants to move to something else?

In fact, the term indie is possibly offputting, evoking a world of vinyl records, comics and expensive audio kit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – we all have our various interests and hobbies, and the vastness of the web encourages cultural fragmentation and exploration – but it is exclusive.

This is why micro.blog is important. It’s as easy to sign up for a micro.blog account as it is for Twitter, and while you can tinker with your site, you don’t have to; in fact, you can use the micro.blog social media network and never even think about your blog.

Posting is as frictionless, too – you can take a photo (on your iPhone, at least) and share it directly to your microblog. All the indieweb protocols, such as webmentions, are built in. No plugins or coding required.

But. I use micro.blog more than Twitter now, partly because it feels like a service made for someone like me – liberal, tech-literate, fairly into “indie” in its broadest sense. And there are lots of people like me on micro.blog; they’re working in web, happy tinkering with digital things, writing blogs, drinking coffee, taking photos of craft beer, talking about text editors etc. etc.

My fear is that indieweb just becomes another corner of the web, with its own lingo, rituals and protocols – albeit one I like and I’m comfortable in – rather than a movement agitating for change in how we do things. But I suspect that would take far more radical, political action, such as breaking up and nationalising the digital infrastructure of this world, such as Facebook.

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Comments

Poorchop

I kind of had this post in the back of my mind while I was setting up mentions. Hopping around various indieweb sites, it became clear that webmentions were serving solely as a means for mirroring social media interactions. It’s kind of a downer to see likes and replies on a post only to find out that they all link back to Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media site.

Webmention provides the ability to be social without relying on social media, but it doesn’t look like it’s ever going to be used in that capacity. While sites/projects like Mastodon and micro.blog are neat, they just seem like Twitter with more tech-oriented users who are equally as political and opinionated. I still like the concept of webmentions but I think that your fears have already been fully realized—the indieweb really is just a very niche corner of the web and it seems to be heavily intertwined with the services that it sought to avoid.

Leon

Yes, it is a shame. It’s obvious why social media took over conversations, even on the indieweb – it’s longwinded posting anything to a website compared to tapping a like or retweet/share icon. And of course, everyone’s already on Twitter and Facebook, or even micro.blog. It would take a monumental effort to wean people off these services (and indieweb is quite upfront about moving to where conversations already are).

I recently posted some stuff on what a new blogging system might look like, and that ended up going down a rabbit hole of replicating what you posted on Twitter – replies and all – on your site, and vice versa. If I was rewriting the post I’d ditch that idea and simplify things, making it easy to send a like or repost from your site and stopping there.

I used micro.blog a lot for a few weeks, and it is just another social media service at the end of the day, with its own unwritten rules and social nuances. In a way, I prefer Twitter, as there’s more variety and humour there, and mb conversations are often about a fairly limited set of subjects (Apple tech, pens and what software you’re using, for the most part). I’m happy enough in that world, but I do miss Twitter’s edge.

In fact, my objection to Twitter wasn’t the political content per se, more the fact that it encourages addictive behaviour and “shocking”, far right content while flogging all that sensitive data you merrily hand over.

This has basically got me thinking about the why of posting anything to the internet at all. Fuel for another post, I guess.

Poorchop

In addition to the ownership problem that you had mentioned, the other issue with POSSE is the reality of it: it’s more like publish on social media, follow up on social media, and mirror social media to your website. There are a bunch of people posting on their personal sites before syndicating elsewhere to be fair, but social media is the dominant force overall.

When I read your post initially, I didn’t think that we should feel inclined to make things as easy and as simple as social media. If you wanted an online presence in the early days of the web, you had to take time to understand HTML at the very least. The web seemed better off for it because it took at least a little effort and people willing to put in that effort generally had interesting things to day. It’s a stark contrast from Twitter users who just want to snap some candid shots in order to feel the rush of being flooded with thousands of likes, replies, and so forth.

Then again, not accommodating that sort of person is a surefire way to ensure that things like Webmention never see much use. Additionally, even those people who were taking the time to learn HTML 20+ years ago seemed to have fully embraced social media with no intention of going back. I actually think that Webmention’s best chance for more widespread adoption at this point is default integration into WordPress since I think that this is why pingbacks/trackbacks ever saw any use. That’s probably never going to happen though and I could be wrong about that changing anything anyway.

This has basically got me thinking about the why of posting anything to the internet at all. Fuel for another post, I guess.

I think about this from time to time and I’m not sure why I bother doing it. I initially enjoyed writing about certain issues that were important to me at those moments and I thought that publishing my thoughts where they are visible to the world would keep me honest and my writing clear. The opposite holds true however. It’s not possible to write honestly without running the risk of facing some serious consequences. However, I also kind of just like to document things for myself and collecting things in a place where the notes might potentially benefit others down the line seems like a good idea. Aside from writing, I have enjoyed messing around with HTML, CSS, and the backend itself.

Leon

Well, I have at least managed to POSSE and it’s worked out OK – I get a weird sense of satisfaction of writing every online thing through this website.

I wanted to get away from Twitter in lockdown as I was in a goldfish bowl of being stuck at home and scrolling through my timeline every 5 minutes. It was nuts. Of course, there’s nothing stopping me doing that with micro.blog.

(Incidentally, POSSE isn’t that common on micro.blog, which mildly surprised me. There are a few interesting folk doing it, though.)

I do feel there’s an important ethical reason for not using Twitter, Facebook etc. (a problem which POSSE doesn’t solve if you’re still pushing as-is updates from your website). But like you say, most of the world is still on Twitter, and will probably remain so 🤷🏻‍♂️, regardless of how easy it is to set up a website.

(Yes, WordPress would need to adopt webmention in its core. Would probably be a smart move?)

I came across this post on how we rather than social media broke the web, which I thought was pretty relevant:

I’d argue that it’s easier than ever to make a personal website. The amount of resources out there are staggering. And yet, people are not spending an afternoon setting up a personal site. They sign up to the next social platform instead.

and

As a result of that, you have to be proactive if you want people to see your content. You have to interact with other communities out there, you have to reach out to people, and all this takes time and effort.

When I say the why of writing I don’t quite mean what’s the point? For me, it’s enjoyable, makes me think and is a form of therapy – I’d do it with no readers (and probably often do). It’s more about what’s our motive when we’re trying to get read, and your comment It’s not possible to write honestly without running the risk of facing some serious consequences struck me as very true. Not in the sense that I’m some sort of right wing nutjob (quite the opposite), but that I have a job to hold down.

This is good on the weird online selves we create, and what we try to achieve through them. Could be interesting to explore when what you’re writing is a little read blog.

Anyway, apologies for rambling. I find this stuff interesting. Comments are another form of writing.