I usually think not a wit about SEO and web stats/traffic with respect to my personal website, but a recent WordPress notification about an unusual spike in traffic got me thinking.
In the past, I’ve very often posted some social bookmark-type posts of what I read, watch, and listen to online. They’re usually of a very small microblog or linkblog sort of nature and have very little intrinsic value other than to people who may want to closely follow this sort of minutiae to see what I’ve been interested in lately.
Recently I noticed that there’s been a 4-5 fold increase in web traffic to my site, so I thought I’d take a look and it turns out that I’m getting some larger than usual numbers of visitors to my site for an article I bookmarked as having read three years ago.
Here’s a list of the top ten most highly trafficked pages on my website over the past year.
The top post with almost 18,000 views in the last year is essentially a link to an article I read about gaslighting in 2018 which includes a brief reply context (reminder) of what the original post is about. The next two are slightly differently named links to my homepage for a total of 6,500 views followed by an article I wrote about TiddlyWiki (1,500 views). Articles I wrote about commonplace books, my furniture hobby, and my about page are also among my native content in the top ten.
However a watch post about How to Buy a Velomobile (1,310 views), and read posts about configuring an iPhone (I don’t even own one) (654 views) and an article about opinions and fact checking in the Houston Press (619) round out the bottom of the list.
I don’t know what to really think about these short bookmark posts accounting for so many views or that my site ranks so highly in terms of SEO for some of these oddball topics (look at the mnemonics and commonplace aficionado calling the kettle black).
I’m wondering if I should look at my little widget that recommends content and begin to narrow it down to more of my own native content? Should I tamp down on content I was tangentially interested in at some point but don’t really care about or want to rank on? Gaslighting and fact checking are interesting broad topics to me, but velomobiles and iPhones really aren’t. Of the tens of thousands of things I’ve linked to, why should these stick out in particular? I get that there’s probably only a limited number of people writing about velomobiles, but the others?!?
It does make me wonder if other IndieWeb site owners have experienced the same sort of quirky behavior? What implications might this have on SEO if more of the wider web was taken over by personal sites instead of corporately controlled silos like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? I’m sure there are other great questions to be asked here. Brainstorming of ideas, answers, and implications are encouraged below.
I’ve switched over my Diigo bookmarking from posting to my website via a simple IFTTT recipe to using a Webhook in conjunction with Micropub. I quite like the results and it cuts down on some of the manual portions of the process.
Because they’re so similar, I’ve decided to discontinue the custom highlight posts my site had in lieu of the more prevalent annotation post kind. The layout and format of both as highlighted text quoted from another site was almost exactly the same with the primary difference being my additional commentary added to the highlighted text to call it an annotation. Conceptually I considered “highlight + commentary/reply = annotation”. The difference is marginal at best–pun intended.
Since I only had 13 highlight posts versus 121 annotation posts (plus various additional annotations and highlights which I’ve rolled up into the body of some of my read posts) over the last year and a half, I felt it seemed redundant and bothersome to maintain two separate, but nearly identical post kinds. Semantically one may think of a highlight on some text as an annotation anyway, thus the idea of annotation subsumes that of a simple highlight.
As of this evening, I’ve changed all the custom highlight posts to be of the annotation kind. Other than the one word visual difference of the post kind text changing from “highlight” to “annotation” this change won’t affect much except for those who may have been subscribed to the highlight feed. Going forward you may consider subscribing to my annotation feed instead.
I had created highlight postsfirst, but in the end annotation posts have won the day. And for those that don’t have them, fear not, because honestly annotation posts are really just glorified bookmarks with custom text in the context. (The glorification only entails a highligher icon instead of a bookmark icon and a bit of CSS to color the text yellow.) I do find having them delineated for my personal research purposes useful though.
Lurking is the quiet watching/listening that what many people of the web do in chat rooms in order to begin gauging culture, learning jargon or lingo, and other community norms or unspoken principles before diving in to interact on a more direct level with other participants.
While the word lurking can have a very negative connotation, online it often has a much more positive one, especially in regard to the health and civility of the commons. Rather than rehash what Ton has done an excellent job of doing, I won’t go into the heavy details and history of online lurking, but instead, let’s take a look at where it isn’t in today’s social media landscape.
Since 2004, Twitter and a slew of other social media has popped up on the scene and changed many of our prior behaviors concerning lurking. In particular, Twitter’s interface has made it far easier to either like/favorite a post or retweet it.
In comparison the the preceding era of the blogosphere represented by Tons’ post, Twitter has allowed people to send simple notifications back and forth about each others’ posts indicating a lower bar of interaction than writing a thoughtful and measured comment. Now instead of not knowing about dozens, hundreds, or thousands of lurkers, a (micro)blogger would more quickly know who many more of their readers were because they were liking or resharing their content. Naturally there are still many more potential lurkers who don’t interact with one’s posts this way, but these interactions in some way are like adding fuel to the fire and prompt the writer to continue posting because they’re getting some feedback that indicates they’ve got an audience. Twitter has dramatically lowered the bar for lurkers and made it more socially acceptable for them to make themselves known.
Of course, not all is rosy and happy in Twitterland as a result of this lowering the social bar. Because it’s so easy to follow almost anyone and interact with them, naturally everyone does. This means that while before one may have lurked a blog for weeks or months before posting a response of any sort, people are now regularly replying to complete strangers without an resistance whatsoever. While this can be valuable and helpful in many instances, oftentimes it comes off as rudely as if one butted into the private conversation of strangers at a public gathering. At the farther end of the spectrum, it’s also much easier for trolls to tag and target unsuspecting victims. As a result, we have the dumpster fire that Twitter has become in the past several years for many of its users.
The problem for the continued health of the commons is how can we maintain a bar for online lurking, but still provide some feedback? How can we keep people from shouting and yelling at passer-by from their proverbial front porches or vice-versa? How might we encourage more positive lurking online before directly jumping into a conversation?
Read Posts and Private Posts
For several years now, as a part of the IndieWeb movement, I’ve been more directly controlling my online identity and owning my content by using my own domain name and my own website (boffosocko.com). While I still use Twitter, I’m generally only reading content from it via a feed reader. When I post to or interact with it, I’m always publishing my content on my own website first and syndicating a copy to Twitter for those who don’t own their online identities or content and (sadly) rely on Twitter to do that for them.
Within this setting, since roughly late 2016, I’ve been posting almost all of what I read online or in books, magazines, or newspapers on my own website. These read posts include some context and are often simply composed of the title of the article, the author, the outlet, a summary/synopsis/or first paragraph or two to remind me what the piece was about, and occasionally a comment or two or ten I had on the piece.
In tandem with these posts, I’m also sending webmentions to the websites of those pieces. These (experimental) read webmentions are simply notifications to the originating site that I’ve read their piece. In our prior framing of lurking or Twitter, I’m sending them the simplest notification I can think of to say, “I’m here lurking. I’m reading or looking at your work.”
I’m not saying that I liked it, favorited it, disliked it, bookmarked it, commented on it, or anything else, but simply that I read it, I consumed it, I spent the time to interact with it. But in contrast with Ton’s older method of looking at server logs to see what kind of traffic his posts are getting, he can see exactly who I am and visit my website in return if he chooses. (Ton’s old method of sifting through those logs was certainly not a fun experience and the data was usually relatively anonymous and useless.) These newer read notifications could potentially give him a much richer idea of who his (lurking) audience actually is. Then when someone shows up with a comment or reply, it’s not completely from out of the dark: they’ve previously indicated that they’re at least somewhat aware of the context of a potentially broader conversation on his site.
These read notifications are semantically different from likes, favorites, or even bookmarks on other platforms. In fact many platforms like Twitter, which has moved from “stars” (with the semantic idea of a favorite) to “hearts” (with the semantic idea of a like), have so few indicators of reaction to a post that the actual meaning of them has been desperately blurred. Personally I’ll use Twitter’s like functionality variously to mean: “I’m bookmarking this (or the linked article within it) for reading later”, “I like this post”, “I’ve read this post”, or even “I’m acknowledging receipt of your reply to me”. That’s just too much meaning to pack into a silly little heart icon.
If they choose, some website owners display these read post notifications in one or more ways. Some sites like Aaron Parecki’s or Jeremy Keith’s will show my interactions as bookmarks. Others, primarily WordPress-based websites that support Webmention (via plugin), will actually show these interactions in their comment sections under the heading “Read” and display my photo/avatar as an indicator that I’ve interacted with that post. In the case of read posts on which I’ve written one or more comments, the receiving site also has the option of showing my interaction not as a read/bookmark intent, but could also show my comments as a reply to their post. I’ve written a bit about this and its potential for large news outlets before in Webmentions: Enabling Better Communication on the Internetfor A List Apart. There are also some older legacy sites that might show my interactions as a trackback or pingback, but these seem few and far between these days, particularly as those systems are major targets for spam and the Webmention protocol has a richer interaction/display model.
A new itch
But as I think about these read posts, lurking, and being more civil on the internet, I have a new itch for some functionality I’d like to add to my website. I very frequently use my website as a digital commonplace book to collect links of things I’ve read, watched, and listened to. I’ll collect quotes, highlights, and even my own marginalia. As I mentioned above, my read posts sometimes have comments, and quite often those comments are really meant just for me and not for the author of the original post. In many cases, when my comments may be too egregious, sensitive, or perhaps even insulting to the original author, I’ll make these posts private so that only I can see them on my site. Of course when they’re private, no notifications are sent to the site at the other end of the line.
Sometimes I would like to be able to send a read notification to the site, but also keep my commentary privately to myself. This allows me to have my notes on the piece and be highly critical without dragging down the original author or piece who I may not know well or the audience of that same piece which I haven’t properly lurked (in the positive community-based sense indicated above) to be as intelligently and sensitively commenting as I would otherwise like. Thus I’d like to build in some functionality so that I can publicly indicate I’ve read a piece (and send a notification), but also so that I can keep the commentary on my read private to either myself or a smaller audience.
I suspect that I can do this in a variety of meta-fields on my website which aren’t shown to the public, but which might be shown to either myself or logged in users. In some sense, this is a subset of functionality which many in the IndieWeb have been exploring recently around the ideas of private posts or by limiting the audience of a post. In my case, I’m actually looking at making a post public, but making smaller sub-portions of it private.
To begin with, I’ll most likely be looking at doing this at a small scale just for myself and my commonplace book, as I can definitely see second and third-order effects and a variety of context collapse issues when portions of posts are private, but others who may be privy to them are commenting on those pieces from the perspective of their public spheres which may not be as private or closed off as mine. i.e.: While I may have something marked as private, privy readers will always have the option of copy/pasting it and dragging it out into the public.
I use Hypothes.is regularly as part of my daily workflow. I’m also very interested in being able to “own” the data I generate with the tool and being able to keep it on my own digital commonplace book (aka website). As part of this, I’d like to be able to receive notifications from people publicly annotating, highlighting, and replying to my content and potentially display those directly on either my website in the comments section or as marginalia.
I’d promised to do a quick outline for the kind gang at Hypothes.is to outline how to make their product could be a bit more open and support some additional web standards to make it more IndieWeb friendly as well as to work toward supporting the Webmention protocol to send notifications of annotations on a page. A few weeks ago at IndieWebCamp New Haven I decided to finally sketch out some of the pieces which should be relatively easy for them to implement into the product. Below are some of the recommendations and some examples of what needs to be done to implement them into their platform to allow it to better interact with other content on the web. This post is in reply to a few prior conversations about Webmention, but primarily pertains to Microformats which will help in creating those.    
To my knowledge Hypothes.is generates a hash for each annotation it has in the system and generates two separate, but related URLs for them. As an example, here are the two URLs for a response Jon Udell made on my website recently:
The first URL is where a stand-alone copy of the annotation lives on the web, separate from the content it is related to. The second URL resolves to the page on which the annotation was made and both will automatically open up Hypothesis’ side drawer UI to the annotation in question and will–on most browsers–auto-scroll down the page to show the point at which the annotation was made. Essentially this second URL shows the annotation in-situ in conjunction with the Hypothes.is user interface. I’ll note that they can also have some human readable trailing data in the URL that indicates the site on which the annotation was made like so: https://hyp.is/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow/boffosocko.com/?p=55708991. However, in practice, one could remove or replace the boffosocko.com and trailing portion with any other URL and the correct page will still resolve.
Add the appropriate microformats classes on those pages;
Add the canonical URL for the page on which the annotation is in reference to either instead of or in addition to the Hypothes.is prefixed URL which already appears on these pages. Webmention functioning properly will require this canonical URL to exist on the page to be able to send notifications and have them be received properly.
These things would make these pages more easily and usefully parseable on the open web. If/when Hypothes.is may support Webmention (aka web notifications) then all of these prerequisite pieces will already be in place. In the erstwhile, even without Hypothes.is running code to support sending Webmentions, users could force manual Webmentions using services like Telegraph, mention-tech.appspot, or even personal endpoints generated on individual posts (see the one below) or on custom endpoint pages like mine on WordPress. Aaron Parecki’s article Sending your First Webmention from Scratch is a useful tutorial for those with little experience with Microformats or Webmention.
Types of Annotations and Microformats Markup
To my knowledge there are three distinct types of annotations that might occur which may need slightly different microformats mark up depending on the type. These are:
Unassigned page notes (or sometimes orphaned page notes): For all intents and purposes are the equivalent of bookmarks (and are used this way by many) though they go by a different name within the service.
Highlights of particular passages: In IndieWeb parlance, these are roughly equivalent to quotations of content.
Highlights and annotations of particular passages: In IndieWeb terms these again are quotes of content which also have what might be considered a reply or comment to that segment of quoted text. Alternately the annotation itself might be considered a note related to what was highlighted, but I suspect from a UI and semantic viewpoint, treating these as replies is probably more apropos in the majority of cases.
Each of these can obviously have one or more potential tags as well. Some of the examples below include the p-category microformats for how these would logically appear. Using the example URL above and several others for the other cases, I’ll provide some example HTML with proper microformats classes to make doing the mark up easier. I’ve created some minimal versions of text and mark up, though Hypothes.is obviously includes much more HTML (and a variety of divs for CSS purposes. While some of the mark up is a bit wonky, particularly with respect to adding the hyp.is and the original posts’ canonical URLs, it could be somewhat better with some additional reworking of the presentation, but I wanted to change as little as possible of their present UI. For the minimal examples, I’ve stripped out the native Hypothes.is classes and only included the semantic microformats. Because microformats are only meant for semantic mark up, the developers should keep in mind it is good practice NOT to use these classes for CSS styling.
<a class="p-author h-card" href="https://hypothes.is/users/judell">judell</a>
Public on <a href="https://hyp.is/gBZPQucmEeaPBQvYzSRo-Q/www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/">"As We May Think"</a> (<a class="u-quotation-of h-cite" href="https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/">www.theatlantic.com</a>)
<time class="dt-published" datetime="2017-04-30 08:40:00" title="Sunday, Apr 30, 2017, 08:40 AM"><a href="https://hypothes.is/a/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Apr 30, 2017</a></time>
<blockquote>First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together.</blockquote>
<a class="p-author h-card" href="https://hypothes.is/users/jeremydean">jeremydean</a>
Public on <a href="https://hyp.is/9JrX5lf9RraeLKKn9WwmMQ/www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/">"As We May Think"</a> (<a class="u-in-reply-to" href="https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/">www.theatlantic.com</a>)
<time class="dt-published" datetime="2015-09-02 15:11:00" title="Wednesday, Sep 2, 2015, 03:11 PM"><a href="https://hypothes.is/a/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Sep 2, 2015</a></time>
<blockquote class="p-in-reply-to h-cite">This has not been a scientist's war; it has been a war in which all have had a part.
<p>It kind of blows me mind that the end of WWII is the context for these early dreams of the Internet. Is it the hope experienced in patriotic collaboration toward technological innovation? That's what Bush seems to acknowledge explicitly. It's a techno-militaristic union that haunts us to this day (#prism). But I wonder too if it's the precarious of knowledge, or perhaps the destructiveness of knowledge, that also inspires Bush…</p>
I’ll also note that there’s the potential of a reply on Hypothes.is to a prior reply to a canonical URL source. In that case it could be either marked up as a reply to the “parent” on Hypothesis and/or a reply to the canonical source URL, or even both so that webmentions could be sent further upstream. (My experience in this is more limited, not having dealt with it personally in the past.) Once these pieces are implemented, they can be tested against a variety of microformats parsers to ensure they’re outputting the correct (and properly nested) information. I often find that pin13 is a pretty solid modern and up-to-date choice for this.
I’ll also leave the caveat here, that while I’ve got a stronger grasp of Microformats than the average bear, that the above examples may have some subtle quirks that others may catch or which could be improved upon. I find that the Microformats web chat can be a good source for helps from some of the world’s best experts in the area. (Other methods for engaging in chat via IRC, Slack, etc. can be utilized as well.)
If Dan, Jon, or any of the gang has questions about any of this, I’m happy to chat via phone, video conference, or other to help get them going.