Miriam Eric Suzanne » Am I on the IndieWeb Yet?

June 4, 2022

in writing, indieweb, webmentions

I’m really into the IndieWeb, or the ideas behind it. I like to own my data, I like a space to play and experiment, I like the idea of syndicating content to be read/experienced in a variety of formats. I love microformats, and RSS feeds, and… wait… how do webmentions work?

Slow Social

A few weeks back there was another round of social-media panic (which is reasonable), and the ever-present reminders to Use A Personal Site.

Personal sites are great! But I have some issues with that reply, and I posted about it on Twitter:

Personal sites are wonderful. But they can be a lot of work to set up & maintain. Also: personal solutions don’t solve the problem of building networks & public digital spaces.

If we want ‘personal sites’ to be an answer to social platforms, we have a lot of work to do.

Me, on Twitter

At the core, I’m skeptical about treating “public space” issues as a matter of personal responsibility.

Chris Coyier made a point of replying on his personal site – a lovely little post about how cool RSS is, and the benefits of “slow social” web interactions.

And I agree completely! [insert requisite mourning for Reader]

But then I look at my site – this site, here – and it’s a struggle to get all the pieces working the way that I want, especially when it comes to syndication.

I do have a feed that you can subscribe to, but I’ve struggled to categorize what on my site is a “post” worth syndicating vs a “page” vs ???.

And I’m not always sure I have it set up right? Validators flag the style attribute (setting custom props in some content), or embedded iframes (for audio/video), or scripts (usually for embedding content). How much should I worry about these issues? Do I need to run my content through a tool like sanitize-html, and if so, how strict should it be? I often have similar questions when setting up microformats, and trying to match the needs of the format to the needs of my content.

These are very solvable problems with testing and research – but they start to add up.


Since making that post, I’ve also started to explore WebMentions, following instructions from Matthias Ott, Keith Grant, and Max Böck. I recommend all three articles, but the first thing that becomes clear is that this requires multiple steps, and is not a simple or straight-forward process.

The first round required several online services along with HTML & JS changes to my static site, just to verify my indieweb identity. Then more changes to the site and more online services to help fetch any mentions (so far, nothing to see, but that’s probably expected). It seems the only way to test the setup is to launch all those changes publicly, and then ask for other devs to send you mentions.

(That’s partly the goal of this post.)

Every time I think I have the basics in place, I find some other set of instructions suggesting there’s another step to take.

Update: I seem to have things working here now, but I’m still not entirely clear on how it works. In the end I’ve added some metadata to the site head, a number of microformats to the markup, several third-party services, and an API call to download the data from one of them. I’m not convinced I have all the details right, and I’m not sure which validators to test against.

If I want live updates (this is a static site) there’s still more to learn.

A Proof Of Concept (for developers only)

I’m an experienced web developer, and I can figure it out. But the steps aren’t simple, and most of my friends are not web developers. So, to me, this all feels like the prototype of an idea – a proof of concept.

We have the technology to implement a slow social network of personal sites. I’m excited to keep playing with that code. But proving the concept is not the same as actually making it easy & accessible in a way that can replace platforms.

What’s Next?

I know there are plugins for WordPress and other blogging software to help make the setup simpler. That’s great!

What I would like to see is a tool that helps bring the entire system together in one place. Somewhere that non-technical people can:

  • build their own site, with support for feeds/mentions
  • see what feeds are available on other sites, and subscribe to them
  • easily respond to other sites, and see the resulting threads

That’s a large feature set, I know. In my mind, it would make the most sense for those features to live in a browser, but it might be possible to build as a web service with browser plugins?

Whatever it looks like, it will take a lot of work to get there.


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