Quotebacks have been mentioned in various corners of the IndieWeb a lot in the past few weeks. As it was launched as a Chrome plugin, I didn’t try it out (Chrome is an unpalatable ad delivery vehicle imo). Now however there is a Firefox Quotebacks plugin, Tom Critchlow announced.

As Tom says, Quotebacks are meant to reduce friction in quoting other blogs/sites/sources, and if that increases the number and length of distributed conversations I’m all for it.

I think of it as smoothing some friction for behaviors we’re interested in encouraging

How is it different from a block-quote? It isn’t actually, under the hood it is still a block-quote. It’s just styled differently, and the browser plugin makes it very easy to capture everything you need and paste it into your blog-editor. The quoteback you see above is a html block-quote in the source:

screenshot of the html code of a block quote styled as quoteback

While reading you can select text and in Firefox press alt s, and the plugin will pop-up. It allows you to add / edit things, and then copy the html encoded quote to your clipboard, to paste into your blog editor.

screenshot of the Quoteback plugin pop-up during browsing

I like the easy ‘quote, copy, paste’ flow and having it look nice. I do think that the styling, which mimicks how e.g. Tweets are embedded in websites, may sometimes however actually break the flow of a blogpost, where a block-quote is more like a highlight in the pace and rhythm of a text, while a quoteback is presented as an embed, a different thing separate from the text. In fact I mostly actively dislike the embedded tweets in e.g. ‘news’ articles. There it feels like a way of not having to write an actual article or story, resulting in ‘news’ items along the basic template of “X said something, Twitter wasn’t having it” (With the article often stating the content of a tweet in its text, and then embedding the tweet below it, repeat 12 times. Voila, ‘journalism’ done.) It’s an additional visual amplification, easy on the eyes yes and instantly recognisable as a visual pointer to elsewhere, that probably isn’t always warranted, and may even reduce attention to the post the quote is used in. That would then decrease the level of distributed conversation, not increase it as intended.

Of course it is entirely possible to use the quoteback plugin, and not having the visual style of embedding applied. Below is the exact same quoteback as above, but with the class="quoteback" removed, reverting it back to a regular block-quotes (but keeping the link to the source and comments you may have added). Alternatively you can also delete the script element that provides the styling information for the quoteback. (I do exactly the same with Flickr embeds)

I think of it as smoothing some friction for behaviors we’re interested in encouraging

I’ll experiment for a while to see how it works for me in practice. I’ve put the script that styles the embed on my own domain, so I can also fiddle a bit with the styling if I want.