The confusion about the indieweb

Alex Kearney wrote about her first two years of indieweb. It makes for a very interesting read.

One thing that really came through was the confusion people feel when looking to "join the #indieweb" - it illustrates a common misconception that sites have to implement every bit of technology going.

Dave Winer said in a blog post that the indieweb community "chose such an inclusive name, but have an exclusive approach" giving RSS as an example, arguing that this established web technology has been ignored.

He obviously has a vested interest because RSS is his baby; I also thought some of his initial comments about JSON Feed were particularly harsh.

Such a comment understandably hasn't gone down too well in some quarters and there is a sense of defensiveness. But there is also a move for the community to look at itself, especially the wiki, in order to identify why these confusions and misconceptions arise.

When new technology is introduced it threatens the status quo whether it intends to or not.

Incumbents can reject 'new' because the status quo is how they've always done things and see no reason to change.

Conversely, the inventors of 'new' will have done so because the status quo doesn't meet their needs or they feel there is a better way.

It's a tricky situation but doesn't need to be either/or.

It's not all about the tech

At its core the indieweb has a set of principles such as owning your data, building tools for yourself and dogfooding them on your own site. The principles even state that user experience design is more important than protocols.

I wrote recently that the indieweb:

"promotes and relies on the open web but recognises that the closed web exists, plays a large part of people’s lives, and tries to integrate with it"

So much of what is discussed and developed as part of the movement relates not to the replacement of social networks and data silos but the integration with them whilst retaining ownership.

That doesn't sound very exclusive to me.

The problem, however, goes back to the perception that the indieweb is effectively insular because of the knowledge required to implement all the various technical elements. Plugins can only take you so far.

The community wrestles with the self-realised existential crisis that it is, currently, a developer community not a user community.

What to implement?

Look back at the principles above.

Okay, they talk about building tools but put the emphasis on the experience before protocols.

For me the indieweb is an idea, a way of doing things rather than the specific technology used to achieve it.

When examining how to establish the number of indieweb properties that existed it was suggested you could:

"consider a page part of the IndieWeb if it has a microformats2 class or advertizes a webmention or micropub endpoint."

This is looking at it from a technical perspective - an obvious indication that the page or site has implemented some form of identifiable indieweb technology. Not all are required, just one.

Yet there is still a problem, and that is the apparent insistence on the implementation of specific technologies as implied by the guides and documentation.

So much for design over protocols.

It is entirely possible for a site to be considered part of the indieweb and conform to its principles without any of these elements being present.

Stepping back

Just as the likes of Winer can seem too close to an established technology so proponents of a new way can be too focused.

Perhaps this is because many of the indieweb developers have been involved for a number of years and, psychologically, moved beyond the initial stages. They can see the destination and are driving full speed to get there.

Perhaps the principles become obscured by the need to get the tools ready for the next generation but they haven't even begun the journey so see completely different scenery.

In the drive to create systems that are simple enough for anyone to use (and we are nowhere near that stage) the how has become more important than the why.

Fortunately, the community already acknowledges the need to step back and view things from a user's perspective rather than that of a developer.

  1. “consider a page part of the IndieWeb if it has a microformats2 class or advertizes a webmention or micropub endpoint.”

    If I‘m remembering correctly, I believe that quote originated from Ryan when he was trying to find criteria to estimate how many indieweb sites are out there. I don‘t think it was meant to be a litmus test for whether one is indieweb or not.

    →†’
  2. ricmac says: #
    The confusion about the indieweb by Colin Walker (Social Thoughts)

    The community wrestles with the self-realised existential crisis that it is, currently, a developer community not a user community.

    Colin, you hit the nail on the head. The IndieWeb community has done brilliant work over the years, but I think 2017 is the year to make it easier for “the users” to tap into these Open Web technologies too. It feels quite similar to 2003/04 in that way.

    →†’
  3. I’m curious what, if anything, you all think that the IndieWeb as a community could do or do better to make things easier for Generation 2 users?
    Additionally is there something we all (as Gen2 users) could band together to do to make it easier for others like us not to have to “suffer” as we did? Comments back to this are welcome, as is conversation in the #indieweb channel, or even brainstorming on the wiki (perhaps the generations page: https://indieweb.org/generations#Generation_2_IndieWeb)
    →†’