Indie web building blocks

I was back in Nürnberg last week for the second border:none. Joschi tried an interesting format for this year’s event. The first day was a small conference-like gathering with an interesting mix of speakers, but the second day was much more collaborative, with people working together in “creator units”—part workshop, part round-table discussion.

I teamed up with Aaron to lead the session on all things indie web. It turned out to be a lot of fun. Throughout the day, we introduced the little building blocks, one by one. By the end of the day, it was amazing to see how much progress people made by taking this layered approach of small pieces, loosely stacked.

relme

The first step is: do you have a domain name?

Okay, next step: are you linking from that domain to other profiles of you on the web? Twitter, Instagram, Github, Dribbble, whatever. If so, here’s the first bit of hands-on work: add rel="me" to those links.

<a rel="me" href="https://twitter.com/adactio">Twitter</a>
<a rel="me" href="https://github.com/adactio">Github</a>
<a rel="me" href="https://www.flickr.com/people/adactio">Flickr</a>

If you don’t have any profiles on other sites, you can still mark up your telephone number or email address with rel="me". You might want to do this in a link element in the head of your HTML.

<link rel="me" href="mailto:jeremy@adactio.com" />
<link rel="me" href="sms:+447792069292" />

IndieAuth

As soon as you’ve done that, you can make use of IndieAuth. This is a technique that demonstrates a recurring theme in indie web building blocks: take advantage of the strengths of existing third-party sites. In this case, IndieAuth piggybacks on top of the fact that many third-party sites have some kind of authentication mechanism, usually through OAuth. The fact that you’re “claiming” a profile on a third-party site using rel="me"—and the third-party profile in turn links back to your site—means that we can use all the smart work that went into their authentication flow.

You can see IndieAuth in action by logging into the Indie Web Camp wiki. It’s pretty nifty.

If you’ve used rel="me" to link to a profile on something like Twitter, Github, or Flickr, you can authenticate with their OAuth flow. If you’ve used rel="me" for your email address or phone number, you can authenticate by email or SMS.

h-entry

Next question: are you publishing stuff on your site? If so, mark it up using h-entry. This involves adding a few classes to your existing markup.

<article class="h-entry">
  <div class="e-content">
    <p>Having fun with @aaronpk, helping @border_none attendees mark up their sites with rel="me" links, h-entry classes, and webmention endpoints.</p>
  </div>
  <time class="dt-published" datetime="2014-10-18 08:42:37">8:42am</time>
</article>

Now, the reason for doing this isn’t for some theoretical benefit from search engines, or browsers, but simply to make the content you’re publishing machine-parsable (which will come in handy in the next steps).

Aaron published a note on his website, inviting everyone to leave a comment. The trick is though, to leave a comment on Aaron’s site, you need to publish it on your own site.

Webmention

Here’s my response to Aaron’s post. As well as being published on my own site, it also shows up on Aaron’s. That’s because I sent a webmention to Aaron.

Webmention is basically a reimplementation of pingback, but without any of the XML silliness; it’s just a POST request with two values—the URL of the origin post, and the URL of the response.

My site doesn’t automatically send webmentions to any links I reference in my posts—I should really fix that—but that’s okay; Aaron—like me—has a form under each of his posts where you can paste in the URL of your response.

This is where those h-entry classes come in. If your post is marked up with h-entry, then it can be parsed to figure out which bit of your post is the body, which bit is the author, and so on. If your response isn’t marked up as h-entry, Aaron just displays a link back to your post. But if it is marked up in h-entry, Aaron can show the whole post on his site.

Okay. By this point, we’ve already come really far, and all people had to do was edit their HTML to add some rel attributes and class values.

For true site-to-site communication, you’ll need to have a webmention endpoint. That’s a bit trickier to add to your own site; it requires some programming. Here’s my minimum viable webmention that I wrote in PHP. But there are plenty of existing implentations you can use, like this webmention plug-in for WordPress.

Or you could request an account on webmention.io, which is basically webmention-as-a-service. Handy!

Once you have a webmention endpoint, you can point to it from the head of your HTML using a link element:

<link rel="mention" href="https://adactio.com/webmention" />

Now you can receive responses to your posts.

Here’s the really cool bit: if you sign up for Bridgy, you can start receiving responses from third-party sites like Twitter, Facebook, etc. Bridgy just needs to know who you are on those networks, looks at your website, and figures everything out from there. And it automatically turns the responses from those networks into h-entry. It feels like magic!

Here are responses from Twitter to my posts, as captured by Bridgy.

POSSE

That was mostly what Aaron and I covered in our one-day introduction to the indie web. I think that’s pretty good going.

The next step would be implementing the idea of POSSE: Publish on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.

You could do this using something as simple as If This, Then That e.g. everytime something crops up in your RSS feed, post it to Twitter, or Facebook, or both. If you don’t have an RSS feed, don’t worry: because you’re already marking your HTML up in h-entry, it can be converted to RSS easily.

I’m doing my own POSSEing to Twitter, which I’ve written about already. Since then, I’ve also started publishing photos here, which I sometimes POSSE to Twitter, and always POSSE to Flickr. Here’s my code for posting to Flickr.

I’d really like to POSSE my photos to Instagram, but that’s impossible. Instagram is a data roach-motel. The API provides no method for posting photos. The only way to post a picture to Instagram is with the Instagram app.

My only option is to do the opposite of POSSEing, which is PESOS: Publish Elsewhere, and Syndicate to your Own Site. To do that, I need to have an endpoint on my own site that can receive posts.

Micropub

Working side by side with Aaron at border:none inspired me to finally implement one more indie web building block I needed: micropub.

Having a micropub endpoint here on my own site means that I can publish from third-party sites …or even from native apps. The reason why I didn’t have one already was that I thought it would be really complicated to implement. But it turns out that, once again, the trick is to let other services do all the hard work.

First of all, I need to have something to manage authentication. Well, I already have that with IndieAuth. I got that for free just by adding rel="me" to my links to other profiles. So now I can declare indieauth.com as my authorization endpoint in the head of my HTML:

<link rel="authorization_endpoint" href="https://indieauth.com/auth" />

Now I need some way of creating and issuing authentation tokens. See what I mean about it sounding like hard work? Creating a token endpoint seems complicated.

But once again, someone else has done the hard work so I don’t have to. Tokens-as-a-service:

<link rel="token_endpoint" href="https://tokens.indieauth.com/token" />

The last piece of the puzzle is to point to my own micropub endpoint:

<link rel="micropub" href="https://adactio.com/micropub" />

That URL is where I will receive posts from third-party sites and apps (sent through a POST request with an access token in the header). It’s up to me to verify that the post is authenticated properly with a valid access token. Here’s the PHP code I’m using.

It wasn’t nearly as complicated as I thought it would be. By the time a post and a token hits the micropub endpoint, most of the hard work has already been done (authenticating, issuing a token, etc.). But there are still a few steps that I have to do:

  1. Make a GET request (I’m using cURL) back to the token endpoint I specified—sending the access token I’ve been sent in a header—verifying the token.
  2. Check that the “me” value that I get back corresponds to my identity, which is https://adactio.com
  3. Take the h-entry values that have been sent as POST variables and create a new post on my site.

I tested my micropub endpoint using Quill, a nice little posting interface that Aaron built. It comes with great documentation, including a guide to creating a micropub endpoint.

It worked.

Here’s another example: Ben Roberts has a posting interface that publishes to micropub, which means I can authenticate myself and post to my site from his interface.

Finally, there’s OwnYourGram, a service that monitors your Instagram account and posts to your micropub endpoint whenever there’s a new photo.

That worked too. And I can also hook up Bridgy to my Instagram account so that any activity on my Instagram photos also gets sent to my webmention endpoint.

Indie Web Camp

Each one of these building blocks unlocks greater and greater power:

Each one of those building blocks you implement unlocks more and more powerful tools:

But its worth remembering that these are just implementation details. What really matters is that you’re publishing your stuff on your website. If you want to use different formats and protocols to do that, that’s absolutely fine. The whole point is that this is the independent web—you can do whatever you please on your own website.

Still, if you decide to start using these tools and technologies, you’ll get the benefit of all the other people who are working on this stuff. If you have the chance to attend an Indie Web Camp, you should definitely take it: I’m always amazed by how much is accomplished in one weekend.

Some people have started referring to the indie web movement. I understand where they’re coming from; it certainly looks like a “movement” from the outside, and if you attend an Indie Web Camp, there’s a great spirit of sharing. But my underlying motivations are entirely selfish. In the same way that I don’t really care about particular formats or protocols, I don’t really care about being part of any kind of “movement.” I care about my website.

As it happens, my selfish motivations align perfectly with the principles of an indie web.

Have you published a response to this? :

Responses

tantek

btw - freshly posted by adactio on IndieWeb building blocks they got numerous folks up & running with social personal sites last weekend in Nürnberg: https://adactio.com/journal/7698

# Posted by tantek on Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 at 9:46am

prettygoodhat.com

Bridgy by Ryan Barrett is another fantastic-looking and new-to-me tool for spinning up your own piece of the indie web. I’m really excited for the possibilities presented by it and webmention.io, both of which I found via Jeremy Keith. His Indie web building blocks post is one more great primer on how all this works.

I have so much to do.

# Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 at 1:48am

Bernd

Last week I had the chance to attend the border:none 2014 and listen to very interesting talks. I didn’t know anything about the IndieWeb so far but that changed during the second day with hands-on work on how to integrate the first aspects and ideas.

Basically, own your content, be better connected and in control. Don’t let the social networks become „silos“ by posting everything only there.

Jeremy and Aaron mentioned and shared a lot of services, Github code and behind-the-scene examples.

Do you want to know more? Jeremy wrote a nice introduction on his blog. Enjoy!

 

# Posted by Bernd on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 at 4:55pm

Stephen Hay

Great stuff. I find it kind of sad, in a way, that we have to use the term Indie Web to describe the Web as it once was.

# Posted by Stephen Hay on Saturday, October 14th, 2017 at 12:31pm

Sara Soueidan 🐦

I’m plannin on hostin an ongoing AMA section on my site, as opposed to hashnode or Github or etc. I love this concept of it all being there.

remysharp.com

In a recent Twitch session I decided to add Webmentions to my blog, specifically in the flavour of showing “liked” from other websites (though, who am I kidding, it’ll just be Twitter…).

Amazingly I managed it in 90 minutes (with 3 stream crashes to boot).

Adding Webmentions to a site seemed straightforward and a well trodden path. Sending outgoing webmentions on the other hand seems to have been generally left to ones own devices.

So I decided to take up the challenge and build a platform agnostic method of sending outgoing webmentions, that anyone can use.

TL;DR - sending webmentions

I’ve written an application that will scan a URL’s contents and deliver webmentions (and pingbacks where supported) to those sites your post links to (and supports webmentions).

This works with a homepage containing multiple posts, single stand alone posts and RSS feeds. For homepage (or pages with multiple blog posts) there’s the expectation that the h-entry microformat schema is being used.

Please let me introduce: https://webmention.app

If relying on a third-party isn’t your bag, then you can install the command line tool and use it with your deploy process.

TL;DR - receiving webmentions

Webmentions are cool and the evolution of pingbacks. They’re also (supposed to be) decentralised, like the web. I’m pretty sure the way I’m using Webmentions on my blog today is wrong…ish.

To add webmentions to your site: connect your socials with Bridgy, auth with webmention.io and add client side JS webmention.js to your site.

Max Böck also has an excellent write up on using Webmentions on a static site.

My concerns are currently that there’s a great gravitation towards Twitter as the place a post gets mentioned. This lead directly to my next issue: that sending Webmentions for normal blog posts didn’t seem to have a common solution, yet…

Webmentions, Twitter and the status quo

From what I’ve seen so far there’s a particularly strong relationship between Twitter likes/retweets/replies and webmentions appearing on blogs. In fact it’s exactly how I approached Webmentions in the first place - to add likes on my posts. Those “likes” on my site are driven entirely by Twitter.

My site is picking up Twitter likes because Bridgy is checking social media and sending Webmentions to my site. What I’m keen to see is Webmentions properly supersede their predecessor of pingbacks. I want to see “replies” on blog posts actually pointing to other blog posts.

Reading Jeremy Keith’s post on Indie Web building blocks, he touches on what I’m already starting to see:

My site doesn’t automatically send Webmentions to any links I reference in my posts—I should really fix that—but that’s okay; Aaron—like me—has a form under each of his posts where you can paste in the URL of your response.

I’ll acknowledge that starting with a form is a great form of progressive enhancement, but it’s how Jeremy, or anyone for that matter, might go about automating the problem that bothers me. It’s not a particularly simple task and potential bespoke for many.

If the status quo gets stuck at: I write a post, you write a response post (or separate commentary), then you have to come back to my post to enter your blog post URL to notify me of a WebMention, then…it feels…cumbersome, and like it probably won’t stand the test of time.

The ability to send Webmentions needs to be a part of an automated workflow - the same way as posting a new WordPress blog post automatically sent pingbacks.

Equally important is that a website that doesn’t accept webmentions should be able to send webmentions.

So lets go about fixing that.

How to automatically send outgoing Webmention notifications

In the workflow for webmentions, the biggest part that I believe needs automation is sending outgoing webmentions to links referenced in new posts.

So I’ve written my own solution to this:

🎉🌈 webmention.app ✨💫

I’ve also tried very hard to get the documentation to be as welcoming as I can. I’ve tried to think about my dear visitor and what they want to do with the software, rather than type my typical developer approach to documentation - listing all the features and options.

In addition, (and as usual with most of my projects) the source code is available on Github.

You can give the service a URL to the /check endpoint and it will give you a preview of notifications it will send. To send outgoing notifications (rather than a dry-run) use a POST request.

You can pass it:

  • An RSS feed
  • A single post URL
  • Any URL to find multiple posts (like your homepage)

In addition, if you’re not comfortable relying on a third-party for the notification process (because: who knows what site will outlast yours), you can install it as a command line tool and run locally.

The command line can be used as part of a build process - in this case we’re assuming that the project will generate a static RSS feed in ./_site/feed.xml.

$ npm install @remy/webmention
$ npx webmention ./_site/feed.xml --limit 1 --send

This will pick the first item in the RSS (the latest post) and send any Webmentions found.

In my personal case, I’m using the service as part of my Netlify post-build process - described in detail on the website. Each successful Netlify build calls the webmention.app service using my token and points to my RSS. As Netlify sends a POST webhook, the webmentions are automatically sent out.

Give it a try, let me know what you think. As I said, I’ve tried to put extra effort into the documentation and my hope that it is simple enough to follow for most bloggers: webmention.app

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Previously on this day

7 years ago I wrote Classy values

Semantics and such.

8 years ago I wrote Visionaries

A memory of Austin prompted by a readlist of seminal technology papers.

9 years ago I wrote Candygram

A child’s Halloween in Ireland.

12 years ago I wrote Typorn

Geeking out on the printing press.

13 years ago I wrote Closed open data

When is an hCard not an hCard?

18 years ago I wrote Stop the Patent Process Madness

Wired has published an excellent article by Lauren Weinstein on the ludicrous state of Intellectual Property patents:

18 years ago I wrote The Morning News - The Opposite of Sex and the City

What if Sex and the City had been written by Beckett?…

18 years ago I wrote Guess the Dictator or Sit-Com Character

This is a scarily accurate online version of twenty questions. It didn’t take long for it to guess that I was thinking of Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.

19 years ago I wrote Multiculturalism vs. feminism

The situation in Afghanistan has highlighted something of a dilemma for the liberal left - a group I would usually consider myself a part of.