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28/08/2021

# 6 comments: click to read or leave your own

Are we there yet?

Leon Paternoster wrote of the IndieWeb:

"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."

Platforms, and by this I don't just mean social networks, are too entrenched. Platforms "know best" and want you to do things their way. Platforms make things easy for you — maximum return for minimum effort. Competing with them is hard, if not impossible.

As much as I would love the Indieweb to grow and become a widespread force on the web, I agree with one of the comments to Leon's by Richard Carter:

"I’m less sold on the ‘homebrew’ software ethos of Indieweb. Yes, as someone (reasonably) technically competent, who loves to dabble, I can see the fun. But I think placing too much emphasis on home-grown solutions is going to put an awful lot of ordinary people off"

One of the IndieWeb mantras is "scratch your own itch" — if you want something, build it. After years of trying to push the IndieWeb principles shouldn't we be at the point where enough solutions already exist that someone else has already scratched your itch for you and implementing it is easy?

WordPress may have all of the building blocks available but it's still not native. Plugins, themes, tweaks to get just so and working properly. Micro.blog is the closest we have but it's still a platform with its own way of doing things.

The IndieWeb is an ethos, based on a core set of principles, but those principles are tightly linked to the technology employed:

"The IndieWeb Community is largely based on principles (AKA tenets) such as own your data, make what you need, use what you make, document your stuff, open source your stuff, UX design is more important than protocols, visible data for humans first and machines second, platform agnostic platforms, plurality over monoculture, longevity, and remember to have fun!"

There is still a focus on DIY. It is contradictory: UX design is more important than protocols but the front page of indieweb.org states:

"The IndieWeb is a community of individual personal websites, connected by simple standards"

You are better connected, but to connect requires those very protocols that, supposedly, aren't as important as the user experience. In this instance, the tech helps to define the UX — it cannot be truly separate. If the goal is to create a network of connected sites, it's a bit pointless to have a wonderful experience on your blog but not have it link to anything or not enable anyone to link back to you.

I think if the IndieWeb was going to become a bigger thing I feel it needed to happen before the big platforms became so dominant. That's not to say that nothing can surplant them but look at what does succeed in the current environment: more platforms. The platforms themselves won't support or enable IndieWeb principles or technology because it takes away from their very raison d'être — they know best, remember.

I first jumped on the IndieWeb train over four years ago and I was already late to the party. Realistically, how far have come since? Standards have been improved, tools and technology refined, but the reach is very slow to expand.

So, if I feel like this, why make so much of an effort to create a blog that handles webmentions, etc.? Because I still believe in the idea of an interconnected, independent web, and enjoy the connections having an indiewebified site enables. However, like Leon, I'm not so sure how much bigger it can get.

Maybe I'm overthinking it. Maybe the purpose of the IndieWeb isn't really to grow and become a dominant force. It's not trying to surplant the platforms, but to provide a sense of community to those that do not wish to be beholden to them.

Carl Barenbrug posted a definition of community:

"At its core, a community is a group of people that come together around a shared interest or purpose for active and expansive collaboration and engagement."

Manuel Moreale argues:

"I don't think we need something new. We need a new mentality, not a new tool. There's plenty of tools but they all try to reinvent the wheel."

The IndieWeb isn't trying to create new tools per se but ways of connecting existing tools so that we don't always have to go via one of the big platforms. It doesn't preclude using those platforms but is trying to instill a different mentality. At the most basic level, the IndieWeb is advocating having your own site, your own home on the web, and owning your own data. That's all it needs to be to get started, just like it used to be before the platforms took over.

Everything else is icing on the cake.

It's a trade off. Being a part of the IndieWeb should not require you to implement all of the technologies that empower connection, but doing so enhances the experience. It should be a choice based on wants, needs, and skills.

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wearsmanyhats says:Reply to wearsmanyhats

@colinwalker Part of my problem with IndieWeb is that it's hard to work out how it provides any benefit to me, and if that supposed benefit justifies the effort of grafting extra things onto my website.

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Colin Walker replied:

It's a catch 22 situation — the benefits won't add up until more adopt the tech but don't want to adopt the tech because of low benefits.

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James says:Reply to James

I agree with Leon and Colin. There's a lot to unpack in both of these posts and I agree with all of it. But I'll chime in my 2.2 yen anyways.

The masses aren't going to adopt their own websites instead of visiting and posting on one of the large social networks. That's a feature, not a bug.

An interconnected IndieWeb the size of Twitter would present each user with the opportunity to filter and moderate the dregs of internet. That's something I'm not interested in and I doubt many on the IndieWeb today would be either.

The utility of the IndieWeb technology is that it helps us find and connect to like minded people in a decentralized matter. But still, discovery is still not solved. Without micro.blog (and perhaps the IndieWeb WebRing ) we'd all be blogging alone. And without the IndieWeb community, I'm not sure if I'd even be blogging, let alone building my own engine.

We should do everything we can to lower the barrier of entry to participate in the IndieWeb. Getting started with Wordpress is confusing because, as Colin says, it's not native. There's Wordpress Post Kinds and there's IndieWeb Post Kinds. How do they interact? Why's there two? You need to select one of a couple of microformatted themes and hope you don't break the formats if you try to customize it. Plugins conflict and break randomly (more of a general Wordpress issue). Data's stored in opaque formats (do you own the data if you can't really re-use it?).

The standards for UX have risen a lot over the past decade. Being able to participate with a single click in software that is native to the IndieWeb is table-stakes for growing the community beyond it's current size or rate. And it needs to be hosted, because most people aren't capable of or have interest in maintaining their own server.

That hooks into my dilemma with Tanzawa. My goal is to make an IndieWeb native blogging engine that's easy to use is achievable. Provide people with clean apis and transparent / logical data formats so they can use their data how they want. I can do that. I'll get there one step at a time.

But hosting? I want people to use my software, but I'm not sure I want to start a niche hosting company just to improve the UX of being on the IndieWeb.

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L says:Reply to L

After bemoaning the fact my site had received very little below the line interest in the form of comments or pingbacks from other blogs, the same post got three links from other articles. All of which are really good. Other posts in this series Notes on the “indieweb” #4: four months in – community, difficult discussions and the end of the web Notes on the “indieweb” #3: Who’s it for? Notes on the “indieweb” #2: Where do I find things to read? Notes on the “indieweb” #1: Where do I publish and discuss? The first thing I’d note is that only one of them generated an incoming webmention. This could be for a number of reasons – the linking site wasn’t configured to send them, my reception implementation isn’t working properly or the sending site was misconfigured. But I think it demonstrates a problem I identifed in the original post: getting this stuff working is difficult, and relies on authors setting something up correctly, even if that is as relatively simple as installing a WordPress plugin. I only found out about Colin’s post because I was trialling Simple Analytics (recommended, incidentally). Manu was cool enough to send an email saying he’d written On the indie web. And virtually nobody is just filling in a comment form, which would have been how we’d have created networks in the golden, pre-social media age of blogging. Anyway. I particularly like Colin’s post as it picks at the subject – what indieweb purports to be and its contradictions: You are better connected, but to connect requires those very protocols that, supposedly, aren’t as important as the user experience. In this instance, the tech helps to define the UX — it cannot be truly separate. If the goal is to create a network of connected sites, it’s a bit pointless to have a wonderful experience on your blog but not have it link to anything or not enable anyone to link back to you. Are we there yet? I totally agree with this, but think I differ slightly with Colin in that I believe more platforms could be the answer. Yes, everything is a new fucking platform (from Medium to Substack, Hey World etc. etc.) but that’s how most users mediate with the internet, partly because they offer an easy UX, partly because that’s how we understand what the internet actually is. One could envisage a platform that did things the “right”, indieweb way, and encouraged expression through our own websites rather than Twitter and Facebook, by removing all the technical wrangling and making the UX good. James concurs (and is in fact building a platform called Tanzawa): The standards for UX have risen a lot over the past decade. Being able to participate with a single click in software that is native to the IndieWeb is table-stakes for growing the community beyond it’s current size or rate. And it needs to be hosted, because most people aren’t capable of or have interest in maintaining their own server. Response to Are we there yet? However, Colin and Manu are right, this isn’t going to happen in any large way, and perhaps it shouldn’t. But Colin’s conclusion got me to think about indieweb in a different way (or to simply not overthink it). Indieweb is just publishing to your own website. To focus on likes, retweets, reactions etc. is to betray a social media mentality. At the most basic level, the IndieWeb is advocating having your own site, your own home on the web, and owning your own data. That’s all it needs to be to get started, just like it used to be before the platforms took over. And it really never has been easier to set up your own website. This conclusion chimes with Manu: I kinda see the point Leon is making but at the same time I think he’s missing the bigger picture. When it comes to human connections happening through the web medium, I believe the path of the indie web is—or at least should be—quality over quantity. A network of personal sites can’t really compete with a platform like Twitter when it comes to reachability and possibility of going viral. Nor it should aspire to honestly… Deeper interactions require time. The indie web has to be slow in order to be effective. And Manu’s right – I just need to be patient, and write something that’s half interesting. I only started publishing everything to my website just over a year ago, and already some form of network has developed. That’s good in and of itself.

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2021/08/28#p2
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Not felt well all day and even went back to bed for a while. It's probably a rotten summer cold but booked a PCR test for Covid just to be on the safe side.

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adoran2 says:Reply to adoran2

@colinwalker Sorry to hear that Colin, hope you’re feeling better soon.

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2021/08/28#p3
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Spent some time making some noise during the moments when feeling a bit better and threw together an initial version of something new:

I'll redo it at some point but it's a start.

#acid

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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog