Peter Rukavina picks up on my recent blogging about blogging, and my looking back on some of the things I wrote 10 to 15 years ago about it (before the whole commercial web started treating social interaction as a adverts targeting vehicle).

In his blogpost in response he talks about putting back the inter in internet, inter as the between, and as exchanges.

… all the ideas and tools and debates and challenges we hashed out 20 years ago on this front are as relevant today as they were then; indeed they are more vital now that we’ve seen what the alternatives are.

And he asks “how can we continue to evolve it“?

That indeed is an important question, and one that is being asked in multiple corners. By those who were isolated from the web for years and then shocked by what they found upon their return. But also by others, repeatedly, such as Anil Dash and Mike Loukides of O’Reilly Media, when they talk about rebuilding or retaking the web.

Part of it is getting back to seeing blogging as conversations, conversations that are distributed across your and my blogs. This is what made my early blog bloom into a full-blown professional community and network for me. That relationships emerge out of content sharing, which then become more important and more persistent than the content, was an important driver for me to keep blogging after I started. These distributed conversations we had back then and the resulting community forming were even a key building block of my friend Lilia’s PhD a decade ago.

So I’m pleased that Peter responds to my blogging with a blogpost, creating a distributed conversation again, and like him I wonder what we can do to augment it. Things we had ideas about in the 00’s but which then weren’t possible, and maybe now are. Can we make our blogs smarter, in ways that makes the connections that get woven more tangible, discoverable and followable, so that it can become an enriching and integral part of our interaction?

8 reactions on “Reinventing Distributed Conversations

  1. My friend Ton’s WordPress blog supports Pingbacks, which the WordPress documentation describes like this:

    A pingback is a special type of comment that’s created when you link to another blog post, as long as the other blog is set to accept pingbacks. To create a pingback, just link to another WordPress blog post. If that post has pingbacks enabled, the blog owner will see a pingback appear in their comments section

    So, for example, if I want to indicate to Ton that this post is in reference to his post from earlier today, Reinventing Distributed Conversations, his post contains guidance for my blogging engine as to where to send that notification:

    <link rel="pingback" href="https://www.zylstra.org/wp/xmlrpc.php" />

    (I found that by using View > Source from my browser menu when reading Ton’s post).

    Unfortunately contemporary Drupal (the blogging software I’m using to write this) has no built-in support for Pingbacks. There have been add-on modules in the past, but none have been updated recently, and none are covered by Drupal’s security advisory policy:

    Vinculum (not updated for 3 years)

    Pingback (never released for Drupal 7)

    Trackback (never released for Drupal 7)

    I suspect this is because as Drupal transitioned from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7, the commercial web had taken over, the social web was withering on the vine, and there was little or no motivation to develop modules for a standard that few were using.

    In the interim there are workarounds: this script allows me, in theory, to notify Ton’s blog manually, from the command line, with a Pingback, like this:

    ./pingback.sh
    https://ruk.ca/content/resuscitating-pingbacks
    https://www.zylstra.org/blog/2018/04/reinventing-distributed-conversations/

    I tried that out just now, but it didn’t work: there’s too much in the script that’s not supported by macOS.

    So, using guidance here, I tried doing this very manually, created an XML payload:

    <?xml version="1.0" encoding="iso-8859-1"?>
    <methodCall>
    <methodName>pingback.ping</methodName>
    <params>
    <param>
    <value>
    <string>https://ruk.ca/content/resuscitating-pingbacks</string>
    </value>
    </param>
    <param>
    <value>
    <string>https://www.zylstra.org/blog/2018/04/reinventing-distributed-conversations/</string>
    </value>
    </param>
    </params>
    </methodCall>

    and then used cURL to POST that to Ton’s Pingback endpoint:

    curl -X POST -d @pingback.xml https://www.zylstra.org/wp/xmlrpc.php

    But the response I got back suggests that there’s something up on Ton’s end:

    <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//IETF//DTD HTML 2.0//EN">
    <html><head>
    <title>403 Forbidden</title>
    </head><body>
    <h1>Forbidden</h1>
    <p>You don't have permission to access /wp/xmlrpc.php
    on this server.</p>
    </body></html>

    I suspect that might be due to Ton or his surrogates closing off access to Pingback because of a vulnerability.

    So no Pingbacks for now, both because my Drupal won’t send them, and Ton’s WordPress won’t receive them.

    However, thanks to the diligent work of the IndieWeb tribe, there’s a more modern standard, called Webmention, that might allow us to get to the same place: there’s a plugin for WordPress for Ton’s end, but only support via the atrophied Vinculum module for Drupal; I’ll dig into that and see if there’s a way forward.

    In the meantime, I’ll just manually leave a comment on Ton’s blog pointing here.

    Update: I reinstalled Vinculum and have it set up to both send and receive Webmentions. As a result, if you View > Source on this page, you’ll find:

    <link rel="webmention" href="https://ruk.ca/node/22274/webmention" />

    This means that this page should be able to receive Webmentions. But it seems to be only partially working. Anyone care to send?

    WordPress | Drupal | Pingback

    • I added the Webmention plugin, and submitted a ticket to my hoster about xmlrpc.

  2. Yesterday at State of the Net I showed some of the work I did with the great Frysklab team, letting a school class find power in creating their own solutions. We had a I think very nicely working triade of talks in our session, Hossein Derakshan first, me in the middle, and followed by Dave Snowden. In his talk, Dave referenced my preceding one, saying it needed scaling for the projects I showed to alter anything. Although I know Dave Snowden didn’t mean his call for scale that way, often when I hear it, it is rooted in the demand-for-ever-more-growth type of systems we know cannot be sustained in a closed world system like earth’s. The small world syndrom, as I named it at Shift 2010, will come biting.
    It so often also assumes there needs to be one person or entity doing the scaling, a scaler. Distributed networks don’t need a scaler per se.
    The internet was not created that way, nor was the Web. Who scaled RSS? Some people moved it forwards more than others, for certain, but unconnected people, just people recognising a possibility to fruitfully build on others for something they felt personally needed. Dave Winer spread it with Userland, made it more useful, and added the possibility of having the payload be something else than just text, have it be podcasts. We owe him a lot for the actual existence of this basic piece of web plumbing. Matt Mullenweg of WordPress and Ben and Mena Trott of Movable Type helped it forward by adding RSS to their blogging tools, so people like me could use it ‘out of the box’. But it actually scaled because bloggers like me wanted to connect. We recognised the value of making it easy for others to follow us, and for us to follow the writings of others. So I and others created our own templates, starting from copying something someone else already made and figuring out how to use RSS. It is still how I adopt most of my tools. Every node in a network is a scaler, by doing something because it is of value to themselves in the moment, changes them, and by extension adding themselves to the growing number of nodes doing it. Some nodes may take a stronger interest in spreading something, convincing others to adopt something, but that’s about it. You might say the source of scaling is the invisible hand of networks.
    That’s why I fully agree with Chris Hardie that in the open web, all the tools you create need to have the potentiality of the network effect built in. Of course, when something is too difficult for most to copy or adapt, then there won’t be this network effect. Which is why most of the services we see currently dominating online experiences, the ones that shocked Hossein upon returning from his awful forced absence, are centralised services made very easy to use. Where someone was purposefully aiming for scale, because their business depended on it once they recognised their service had the potential to scale.
    Dave Winer yesterday suggested the blogosphere is likely bigger now than when it was so dominantly visible in the ‘00s, when your blogpost of today could be Google’s top hit for a specific topic, when I could be found just on my first name. But it is so much less visible than before, precisely because it is not centralised, and the extravagant centralised silos stand out so much. The blogosphere diminished itself as well however, Dave Winer responded to Hossein Derakshan’s talk yesterday.
    People still blog, more people blog than before, but we no longer build the same amount of connections across blogs. Connections we were so in awe of when our writing first proved to have the power to create them. Me and many others, bloggers all, suckered ourselves into feeling blog posts needed to be more like reporting, essays, and took our conversations to the comments on Facebook. Facebook, which, as Hossein Derakshan pointed out, make such a travesty of what web links are by allowing them only as separate from the text you write on Facebook. It treats all links as references to articles, not allowing embedding them in the text, or allowing more than one link to be presented meaningfully. That further reinforced the blog-posts-as-articles notions. That further killed the link as weaving a web of distributed conversations, a potential source of meaning. Turned the web, turned your timeline, into TV, as Hossein phrased it.
    Hoder on ‘book-internet’ (blogs) and ‘tv-internet’ (FB et al) Tweet by Anna Masera
    I switched off my tv ages ago. And switched off my FB tv-reincarnate nine months ago. In favour of allowing myself more time to write as thinking out loud, to have conversations.
    Adriana Lukas and I after the conference, as we sat there enjoying an Italian late Friday afternoon over drinks, talked about the Salons of old. How we both have created through the years settings like that, Quantified Self meetings, BlogWalks, Birthday Unconferences, and how we approached online sharing like that too. To just add some of my and your ramblings to the mix. Starting somewhere in the middle, following a few threads of thought and intuitions, adding a few links (as ambient humanity), and ending without conclusions. Open ended. Just leaving it here.

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  3. I very much appreciate how Sven Knebel extensively responded to my previous posting on some Webmention issues I came across. Some of his responses do make me have new questions.
    About the wrong URL, i.e. not the source of the webmention, showing up in a Webmention, Sven writes:
    …. There’s a href=”https://news.indieweb.org/nl” class=”u-syndication” as the only top-level link inside his post, and no explicit url property set. This causes the microformats parser to assume that this link points to the canonical location of the post, and it is thus used for comment display. This seems like a problem with the microformats specification, and I’ll follow up on it there, but for now the easy fix would be for Frank’s posts to mark up their permalink, e.g. by adding a class=”u-url” to the link on the headline.
    To me this reads as a vulnerability. I would expect my site to always take the source from the webmention message as URL. That is the only one that has been checked from my end for the presence of a reference to my site (the target). If the source page is allowed to set a different URL, even by mistake like here, that feels extremely counterintuitive. It opens it up to spam. In this case the faulty link is to a benign site, but it could have been pills or malware. It is also strange to me that my server in the comments table of the database correctly stores the source url, but in the meta data table stores a url at the discretion of the source’s website. (Meanwhile Frank has fixed it for now on his end as demonstrated by his webmention to my previous post, but my point remains)
    About no content being shown of the blogpost that links to my blogposts Sven says:
    This is intentional. Frank’s post only mentions your post (=includes a link to it), it is not marked up as an explicit reply. Only replies are shown with content, since for mentions this is often misleading.
    This to me doesn’t make a lot of sense. [update: and for my site at least it isn’t true either, I linked back as an explicit reply to my own posting, but it still shows it as a mention].
    There is indeed a difference between a direct reply to something (@Frank….) and mentioning that something as part of something else (As Frank says….). Yet that doesn’t warrant a difference in presentation, where a reply would be shown, yet for a mention just the address of the site. It also gives the source control over how something is shown on my site (by setting a different microformat for a link), while I do not have that control.
    From the perspective of the reader of my blog it is not enough to only see that ‘some site links to this blogpost’ to click on that link to find out if it might be of interest, it is tremendously helpful to see a piece of that referring page to determine the context in which it refers to my blogpost.
    Most if not all of my mentions of others’ blogposts aren’t meant as a direct response but as building or continuing on a line of reasoning, riffing off other people’s ideas. This is the way distributed conversations take place, how ambient humanity is established. Distributed conversations are a fundamental part of blogging to me. It’s not back and forth replies, it’s a jam session. To enjoy the jam session, you need to see the whole band at a glance, not just a list of the line-up while listening to a sole musician. Discoverability and serendipity flow from it.
    It used to be that trackbacks did precisely that, show the context in which someone else referred to my blogposts. It is enriching my own posts to show that context underneath them. See below how that looked a long time ago, in a post on information strategies from 2005.
    Three trackbacks on an old post of mine, showing context of the linking blogpostThese three posts are not in response to me, but reflections triggered by my posts and extensions of my contribution
    So I’d definitely want to show that context for webmentions. What strikes me as odd now is how little control I have over how the Webmention and Semantic Linkbacks plugins actually deal with webmention data. The stuff I’d like to show is stored in my database, but I can’t through the plugins determine how that is shown.
    The same is true on the flipside: my site adds microformats so others can machine read my blog, but apparently it doesn’t do it right. Yet I have no control from the mentioned plugins interfaces over how that is done, nor do I have documentation / insight into how the plugins are designed to comply with microformat specifications. So the next step is: read up on microformat specifications, and dive into the code of the plugins to see where it does what, and whether I can change that in ways that won’t be simply overwritten with the first update of WordPress or the plugins. [UPDATE: I installed a different WordPress Theme, called Sempress, as it should be better at adding the correct microformats for this site]

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