A quick test of my blog’s micropub endpoint (there’s a WordPress micropub plugin) . Using Quill to post this. Quill doesn’t support categories, so this should initially end up on the front page. Ultimately want to be able to simply post on the go from mobile through micropub.

Results:

  • It submitted the blogpost ok
  • It made HTML appear as regular text, did not interpret the link I added
  • It added all the tags as one tag
  • It, as expected, did not use categories

Also tried to do the same using Micropublish, but that throws an ‘unauthorized’ error. If it worked, it would however support categories, as well as various microformats, such as replies, like and rsvps. Need to take a look at that error message.

In just over a week I will be joining the Nuremberg IndieWebCamp, together with Frank Meeuwsen. As I said earlier, like Frank, I’m wondering what I could be working on, talking about, or sharing at the event. Especially as the event is set up to not just talk but also build things.

So I went through my blogpostings of the past months that concerned the indie web, and made a list of potential things. They are of varying feasibility and scope, so I can probably strike off quite a few, and should likely go for the most simple one, which could also be re-used as building block for some of the less easy options. The list contains 13 things (does that have a name, a collection of 13 things, like ‘odd dozen’ or something? Yes it does: a baker’s dozen, see comment by Ric below.). They fall into a few categories: webmention related, rss reader related, more conceptual issues, and hardware/software combinations.

  1. Getting WebMention to display the way I want, within the Sempress theme I’m using here. The creator of the theme, Matthias Pfefferle, may be present at the event. Specifically I want to get some proper quotes displayed underneath my postings, and also understand much better what webmention data is stored and where, and how to manipulate it.
  2. Building a growing list of IndieWeb sites by harvesting successful webmentions from my server logs, and publish that in a re-usable (micro-)format (so that you could slowly map the Indieweb over time)
  3. Make it much easier for myself to blog from mobile, or mail to my blog, using the MicroPub protocol, e.g. using the micropublish client.
  4. Dive into the TinyTinyRSS datastructure to better understand. First to be able to add tags to feeds (not articles), as per my wishlist for RSS reader functionality.
  5. Make basic visualisation possible on top of TinyTinyRSS database, as a step to a reading mode based on pattern detection
  6. Allow better search across TinyTinyRSS, full text, to support the reading mode of searching material around specific questions I hold
  7. Adding machine translation to TinyTinyRSS, so I can diversify my reading, and compare original to its translation on a post by post basis
  8. Visualising conversations across blogs, both for understanding the network dynamics involved and for discovery
  9. Digging up my old postings 2003-2005 about my information strategies and re-formulate them for networked agency and 2018
  10. Find a way of displaying content (not just postings, but parts of postings) limited to a specific audience, using IndieAuth.
  11. Formulate my Networked Agency principles, along the lines of the IndieWeb principles, for ‘indietech’ and ‘indiemethods’
  12. Attempt to run FreedomBone on a Raspberry Pi, as it contains a range of tools, including GnuSocial for social networking. (Don’t forget to bring a R Pi for it)
  13. Automatically harvest my Kindle highlights and notes and store them locally in a way I can re-use.

These are the options. Now I need to pick something that is actually doable with my limited coding skills, yet also challenges me to learn/do something new.

I was a bit surprised to see a Dutch title above one of Peter’s blog posts. It referred to the blog of Marco Derksen, that I follow. I think Peter may have found it in the list of blogs I follow (in OPML) that I publish.

Peter read it through machine translation. Reading the posting made me realise I only follow blogs in the languages I can read, but that that is limiting my awareness of what others across Europe and beyond blog about.

So I think I need to extend my existing list of demands for an RSS reader with built-in machine translation. As both Tiny Tiny RSS which I self host and Google translate have API’s that should be possible to turn into a script.

RSVPed Attending IndieWebCamp Nürnberg - Oct 20-21, 2018 - Nürnberg, Germany
IndieWebCamp Nürnberg 2018 is a gathering for independent web creators of all kinds, from graphic artists, to designers, UX engineers, coders, hackers, to share ideas, actively work on creating for their own personal websites, and build upon each others creations.

I’ll be driving there with Frank Meeuwsen. Had already registered, but this is a test to see if RSVPing from my own blog works (using webmention, and microformat to state that this is a rsvp). If a reference to me shows up at the mentioned URL, then yes, it worked.

And it did work. Here’s a screenshot of the event page.

I plan to dedicate some learning time in the coming 12 weeks to better understand the protocols that drive the independent web, or IndieWeb. During our STM18 birthday unconference Frank Meeuwsen presented his experiences on the IndieWeb. Frank, Peter and I have formed an impromptu triade to explore the IndieWeb in the past months. In one of his slides Frank conveniently listed the relevant protocols. I’ll plan for 24 hours to explore 6 protocols. Some of them I already understand better than others, so I’ll start with the ones I feel less knowledgeable about.

The ones I want to explore in more detail, in planned order, are:

  • ActivityPub / OStatus, a decentralized networking protocol (as this ties into my Mastodon experiments as well, this comes first)
  • Micropub, publish on your own domain with 3rd party tools
  • Microsub, own your feed-subscriptions (although I already run my own TinyTinyRss instance)
  • Microformats, markup for data, text, people, events (already used on my blog, but curious to see how I can extend that to more types of data)
  • Indieauth, federated login protocol to sign in with your own domain on other services (already active on my blog, but interested in where else I could use it)
  • Webmentions, respond to a blogpost through your own site (already active on my site, but strongly wish to better format and style it on my site)

In the discussions during Smart Stuff That Matters last Friday, I mentioned a longtime demand I have of social media. The ability to on my blog have different levels of access, of presenting content. But not in the shape of having accounts on my site and corresponding overhead, but more fluid like layers of an onion, corresponding to the social distance between me and a specific reader. Where I write an article, that looks different to a random reader, compared to what e.g. Peter or Frank sees. Maybe even mark-up the content in a way that controls how specific parts of a posting are visible or not. We mused if IndieAuth might be useful here as a first step, as it at least spares me from the maintenance of accounts.

When I link to another blog or site that has enabled webmention, my server log should record that it received a 20* response when trying to reach a webmention end point.

Assuming this is indeed in my server log, then it should be possible to have a script that pulls the successful webmentions from the server log. From that a growing list of IndieWeb sites can grow. Especially if you’d share that list, and others do too, so you can compare and detect new additions to the list. An incremental way of mapping the IndieWeb. Might even become a new, indie Technorati of sorts. At the very least it’s a discovery vehicle to find others interested in the distributed web and outside the silos and media sites.

Or does something like that already exist?

Is this why Bridgy can’t find my web address on Twitter and returns an error when I try to post to Twitter from my WordPress blog? Bridgy expects a rel=”me” reference to my site’s URL on both my blog and my Twitter profile. I have that, but the Twitter one is a t.co shortened version and only shows my actual url as title, not as the link. Like rel=”me” href=”https://t.co/OaBGAJ7WV6″ title=”https://zylstra.org/blog”. So no 2-way confirmation of the relationship? [UPDATE It’s a missing www on my site. Tested with indiewebify.me and works now]

I switched the theme of my site to SemPress. It’s a theme that is created to properly support microformats. So I could switch off the Microformats 2 plugin that attempts to do the same as a ‘best effort’ inside other themes. This theme is by the same coder(s) as the plugin. Hopefully this fixes the microformat errors on my side. Next step is looking at the way I display webmentions.

Webmentions is what makes it possible for me to write here about someone else’s blogpost and have my response show up beneath theirs. And vice versa. Earlier mechanisms such as pingback and trackback did the same thing, but slipped under the radar or succumbed to spam. Webmention is a W3C recommendation.

The webmention itself is simple
The core of webmention is straightforward: if I write something here, my webserver will try to let every site I link to in my text know I link to them. This by checking if the sites I link to have an ‘endpoint’, an antenna basically, for webmentions. If a site does, then it will send a simple message to that antenna stating two web addresses, the source (here my blogpost) and the target (here your blogpost). When your site receives a webmention it will do some checking: does my source blogpost indeed link to your target address?

What happens next is less simple
It can quickly get confusing during what happens next.
When my site receives a webmention (this source x links to your target y), all it knows is just the URL of a page that links to me. What my site displays and how it displays that as a consequence of a webmention message depends on multiple factors:

My server will try to read the source blogpost, and see what machine readable information it contains, and what it can know about the source blogpost. These machine readable parts are in the form of microformats.
My server will store some of the information it finds.
Then my website template will show some information from what the server stored when showing the target blogpost on my site.

How well that works depends on multiple factors therefore:

  1. The available machine readable info in the source blogpost, and whether that info is properly encoded
  2. The settings of my server for what it stores
  3. The settings of my site template for what it shows

When something seems to be going wrong, it could be a problem with your site, my site template or my server settings, and it is never obvious which one it is, or if it is the aggregation of multiple issues. It also depends on how easy it is to alter any settings whether you can repair or change things when webmentions are not properly dealt with. Supposedly the Webmention and Semantic Linkbacks plug-ins I use should take care of those issues but it is not obvious that they indeed do.

An example, me and Frank’s sites webmentioning each other
Frank Meeuwsen and I have been mentioning eachother several times and we’ve seen some strange webmention behaviours. For instance in one case Frank’s blog displayed not just a short part of my posting mentioning him, but my entire page including header, footer and sidebar. Clearly something wrong, likely with some of my machine readable encoding, but maybe also something wrong on his end. I suspect my machine readable encoding is indeed faulty but there’s no clear way in which I can change how my webmention plugins deal with that. And if I alter the code, which I could, it is likely the next software update will simply overwrite it.

Yesterday Frank posted about the puzzle webmention is to him in Dutch. Here are some screenshots on how pieces of that puzzle look on my end of things.

Frank’s posting lives at http://diggingthedigital.com//Waar-te-beginnen-met-Webmentions/ In his posting he refers to a posting on my site. He did not send a webmention. But I can do that myself, using a simple form at the bottom of my posting (visible at the bottom of this page too). In that webform I pasted the mentioned url, and that sends the simple webmention message. That message has been received and stored on my server, with the correct source and target address and a timestamp:

What ended up underneath my posting is:

Or as it looks for me as the site’s owner:

A few things stand out:

  • There’s no link to the actual blogpost by Frank (the source), just to his general domain
  • There’s a link to news.indieweb.org, which is a completely different domain
  • There’s no image of the author or an avatar in absence of an image
  • There isn’t any content from Frank’s post shown as part of the mention

So what’s happening? Is this an issue at Frank’s end, is it an issue with what I store on my server, or what I show in my site template? One, two, all three of them?

Puzzling over the pieces in this example

The missing avatar. My site tries to look for an avatar in the source, and if there isn’t one, it shows a general one. Here neither happens, it’s just a blank space. The HTML source of my page reveals it does try to show an avatar, the one that Frank sets in his own blog page as the one to use. His site says in the source code:

<a href="/" class="site-avatar"><img src="/images/dtd-avatar.png" class="u-photo" /></a>

The micro format u-photo is interpreted correctly by my site, and it tries to show the linked image. When you go to that image in your browser it works, but if you try to embed it in your own page it doesn’t.

Frank’s image should be visible below this line,
Frank's avatar
and above this one, but it isn’t.

Probably Frank’s web server prevents bandwidth theft by sending back a white pixel and not the requested image.
[UPDATE] The issue, as Sven points out in the comments, is that this site is https and Frank’s is http. My browser is set-up to reject http material on an otherwise https site. A case of my browser being my castle.[/UPDATE]
Making the avatar fail because my site doesn’t try to store the avatar locally.

The link to news.indieweb.org and the absence of a link to the actual blog post by Frank. The source (Frank’s blogpost) was sent and received correctly as we saw. In the machine readable part of Frank’s site a value is set as ‘canonical’ address for his blogpost.

There is an extra / in that url, and I’m not sure what that might cause, but on my end the canonical that gets saved is very different, it’s that indieweb address.

The odd bit is that indieweb.org address is not mentioned in the source of Frank’s page. At the same time, it seems it isn’t unique to my server, as underneath a posting about webmentions by Sebastiaan Andeweg you see the same thing happening. Frank’s webmention from May 12th shows the indieweb link (and no avatar). Sebastiaan doesn’t use WordPress or the plugins I use as far as I can tell.

So where’s the actual link to Frank’s blogpost? The canonical URL Frank’s posts provides is stored on my server, in the database table for comments as the URL for the author. The indieweb URL however is stored as canonical URL in the comment metadata table in my database. And that gets used for displaying the webmention underneath my blogposting.

The same is true for the absence of the content of Frank’s mention of me. It is collected and stored in the comment table of my site’s database. Yet what is shown underneath my blogpost as mention is constructed only from the comment meta data table, and not the comment table.


Frank’s mention’s content is in my comment database, yet not shown


The metadata fields stored for Frank’s mention in my database

So what’s happening here is a mix of elements from Frank’s site, my webmention plugins and my site template. But how to influence the behaviour of my plugins without seeing that undone with the next update is not clear to me at this point. Nor is how to alter the plugins so I can improve the machine readable microformats on my site.

Hey Brad, discovery is why I started publishing the feeds I read as opml for others to explore, and some I read do so too. In 2005 I used to have photos of blog authors I read. Do you publish your feed list somewhere? Tom Critchlow also shows all the content of the feeds he follows on his site. Works well as a discovery mechanism too I found. Maybe I’ll start doing that as well from my TinyTinyRSS instance I installed earlier this week.

When I talk about Networked Agency, I talk about reducing the barrier to entry for all kinds of technology as well as working methods, that we know work well in a fully networked situation. Reducing those barriers allows others to adopt these tools more easily and find power in refound ability to act. Networked agency needs tech and methods that can be easily deployed by groups, and that work even better when federated across groups and the globe-spanning digital human network.

The IndieWeb’s principles (own your own data, use tools that work well on their own, and better when federated, avoid silos as the primary place of where you post content) fit well with that notion.

Recently I said that I was coming back to a lot of my material on information strategies and metablogging from 2003-2006, but now with more urgency and a change in scope. Frank asked what I meant, and I answered

that the principles of the open web (free to use, alter, tinker, control, trust by you/your group) also apply to other techs (for instance energy production, blockchain, biohacking, open source hardware, cheap computing hardware, algorithms, IoT sensors and actuators) and methods (p2p, community building, social media usage/production, group facilitation etc.). Only then are they truly empowering, otherwise you’re just the person it is ‘done to’.

Blockchain isn’t empowering you to run your own local currency if you can only run it on de-facto centralised infrastructure, where you’re exposed to propagating negative externalities. Whether it is sudden Ethereum forks, or the majority of BTC transactions being run on opaque Chinese computing clusters. It is empowering only if it is yours to deploy for a specific use. Until you can e.g. run a block chain based LETS easily for your neighbourhood or home town on nodes that are Raspberry Pi’s attached to the LETS-members’ routers, there is no reliable agency in blockchain.

IoT is not empowering if it means Amazon is listening into all your conversations, or your fire alarm sensors run through centralised infrastructure run by a telco. It is empowering if you can easily deploy your own sensors and have them communicate to an open infrastructure for which you can run your own gateway or trust your neighbour’s gateway. And on top of which your group does their own data crunching.

Community building methods are not empowering if it is only used to purposefully draw you closer to a clothing brand or football club so they can sell your more of their stuff. Where tribalism is used to drive sales. It is empowering if you can, with your own direct environment, use those methods to strengthen local community relationships, learn how to collectively accommodate differences in opinions, needs, strengths and weaknesses, and timely reorient yourself as a group to keep momentum. Dave Winer spoke about working together at State of the Net, and 3 years ago wrote about working together in the context of the open web. To work together there are all kinds of methods, but like community building, those methods aren’t widely known or adopted.

So, what applies to the open web, IndieWeb, I see applies to any technology and method we think help increase the agency of groups in our networked world. More so as technologies and methods often need to be used in tandem. All these tools need to be ‘smaller’ than us, be ours. This is a key element of Networked Agency, next to seeing the group, you and a set of meaningful relationships, as the unit of agency.

Not just IndieWeb. More IndieTech. More IndieMethods.

How would the ‘Generations‘ model of the IndieWeb look if transposed to IndieTech and IndieMethods? What is Selfdogfooding when it comes to methods?

More on this in the coming months I think, and in the runup to ‘Smart Stuff That Matters‘ late August.