Aaron Gustafson analy­ses the IndieWeb’s im­pact on web stan­dards

net magazine - - CONTENTS - Aaron is the for­mer @WaSP man­ager ad­vo­cat­ing for web stan­dards and a11y at @Mi­crosoft. We are de­lighted that he’ll be speak­ing at Gen­er­ate Lon­don 2017. Get your ticket now: netm.ag/298-gen­er­ate

Aaron Gustafson analy­ses the IndieWeb’s im­pact on web stan­dards

In case you haven’t heard, the IndieWeb move­ment is all about you. Chances are you’ve been burned once or twice when you in­vested heav­ily in a so­cial net­work or other plat­form, only to see it shut­tered and all of your con­tent va­por­ise. The IndieWeb is mo­ti­vated by a sin­gle premise: your data should be­long to you.

This ethos man­i­fests it­self in many ways. For in­stance, there’s the POSSE con­cept: Pub­lish (on your) Own Site, Syn­di­cate Else­where. Un­der this ap­proach, rather than post­ing a photo di­rectly on a ser­vice like In­sta­gram, you would post it to your own site and then syn­di­cate the photo out us­ing each ser­vice’s APIs. On my own site, which is built us­ing Jekyll, I have a sim­i­lar setup with Medium: I write a blog post on my own site and when I pub­lish it, the build process syn­di­cates a copy out to my Medium ac­count, with a ref­er­ence back to the orig­i­nal. POSSE keeps you in con­trol of the work you cre­ate. You re­tain own­er­ship, re­duce your de­pen­dence on third par­ties, drive traf­fic back to your own site, and a whole lot more.

The IndieWeb com­mu­nity can trace its roots back to the in­ven­tion of mi­cro­for­mats. Mi­cro­for­mats came about as a way to cod­ify markup con­ven­tions in or­der to em­power HTML. For in­stance, when mark­ing up a per­son’s de­tails, there’s not an ap­pli­ca­ble HTML el­e­ment. There is, how­ever, a mi­cro­for­mat for that: h-card. The h-card mi­cro­for­mat uses a series of agreed-upon class names to iden­tify a per­son’s info, such as their name, job ti­tle, email ad­dress, web­site, photo and so on. None of the mi­cro­for­mats cre­ated by the com­mu­nity be­came ‘stan­dards’ in the of­fi­cial W3C sense, but com­mu­nity ex­cite­ment turned them into de facto stan­dards. You can find mi­cro­for­mats in use across the web on ev­ery­thing from the small­est blogs to the largest so­cial net­works.

Whereas the goal of mi­cro­for­mats was never an of­fi­cial sanc­tion by the pow­ers-that-be, the IndieWeb com­mu­nity has no aver­sion to stan­dard­i­s­a­tion. That said, their ap­proach is atyp­i­cal for a stan­dard: the IndieWeb val­ues show­ing over telling. In­stead of craft­ing a hy­po­thet­i­cal spec in email or IRC, you’ve got to build it. As it says on their web­site: ‘Pri­or­i­tize by scratch­ing your own itches, cre­at­ing, it­er­at­ing on your own site’. It’s a bit dif­fer­ent than the ‘ivory tower’ ap­proach stan­dards bod­ies are of­ten de­rided for – and it works! The IndieWeb com­mu­nity has al­ready landed two specs at the W3C: Mi­cropub and Web­men­tions.

Mi­cropub is a pro­to­col that can be used to cre­ate, up­date and delete posts on your own site via third­party clients, such as na­tive apps or other web­sites. For in­stance, you could use Mi­cropub to post a photo to your site, which in turn gets syn­di­cated to In­sta­gram, as I men­tioned ear­lier. It’s an up­dated ap­proach to what the Me­taWe­blog API used to do, but is much sim­pler in its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

A Web­men­tion is a way to no­tify a URL when you men­tion it from an­other URL. If you’ve used Ping­backs, it’s sim­i­lar, yet sim­pli­fied (no need for XML-RPC). It in­cor­po­rates lessons learned from Ping­back, and has been en­hanced to sup­port ed­its, up­dates and re­lated no­ti­fi­ca­tions like ‘Aaron tagged you in Ben’s photo’. Web­men­tions can come di­rectly from web­sites or can even be gath­ered by third par­ties like Brid.gy, which ag­gre­gates Web­men­tions from a va­ri­ety of ser­vices, in­clud­ing Face­book, Flickr, Google+, In­sta­gram and Twit­ter. There’s also web­men­tion.io, which pro­vides pro­gram­matic ac­cess to the data col­lected by Brid.gy.

There are many re­ally in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ments and ideas ger­mi­nat­ing in the IndieWeb com­mu­nity, all of which aim to put you back in con­trol of your con­tent with­out in­creas­ing the com­plex­ity of your day-to-day in­ter­ac­tions on the web. If you haven’t been track­ing their work, head on over to indieweb.org or join the com­mu­nity on Slack or IRC.

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