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)

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.

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 blogpost



These 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]