Manual Backfeed in the Blogosphere

Manual Backfeed in the Blogosphere

Forcing webmentions for conversations on websites that don’t support Webmention

Within the IndieWeb community there is a process called backfeed which is the process of syndicating interactions on your syndicated (POSSE) copies back (AKA reverse syndicating) to your original posts. As it’s commonly practiced, often with the ever helpful Brid.gy service, it is almost exclusively done with social media silos like Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Github, and Mastodon. This is what allows replies to my content that I’ve syndicated to Twitter, for example, to come back and live here on my website.

Why not practice this with other personal websites? This may become increasingly important in an ever growing and revitalizing blogosphere as people increasingly eschew corporate social sites and their dark patterns of tracking, manipulative algorithmic feeds, and surveillance capitalism. It’s also useful for sites whose owners may not have the inclination, time, effort, energy or expertise to support the requisite technology.

I’ve done the following general reply pattern using what one might call manual backfeed quite a few times now (and I’m sure a few others likely have too), but I don’t think I’ve seen it documented anywhere as a common IndieWeb practice. As a point of fact, my method outlined below is really only half-manual because I’m cleverly leveraging incoming webmentions to reduce some of the work.

Manually syndicating my replies

Sometimes when using my own website to reply to another that doesn’t support the W3C’s Webmention spec, I’ll manually syndicate (a fancy way of saying cut-and-paste) my response to the website I’m responding to. In these cases I’ll either put the URL of my response into the body of my reply, or in sites like WordPress that ask for my website URL, I’ll use that field instead. Either way, my response appears on their site with my reply URL in it (sometimes I may have to wait for my comment to be moderated if the receiving site does that).

Here’s the important part: Because my URL appears on the receiving site (sometimes wrapped as a link on either my name or the date/time stamp depending on the site’s user interface choices), I can now use it to force future replies on that site back to my original via webmention! My site will look for a URL pointing back to it to verify an incoming webmention on my site.

Replies from a site that doesn’t support sending Webmentions

Once my comment appears on the receiving site, and anyone responds to it, I can take the URL (with fragment) for those responses, and manually input them into my original post’s URL reply box. This will allow me to manually force a webmention to my post that will show up at minimum as a vanilla mention on my website. 

The manual webmention box and button that appear on all my posts.

(Note, if your site doesn’t have a native box like this for forcing manual webmentions, you might try external tools like Aaron Parecki’s Telegraph or Kevin Mark’s Mention.Tech, which are almost as easy. For those who are more technical, cURL is an option as well.)

Depending on the microformats mark up of the external site, the mention may or may not have an appropriate portion for the response and/or an avatar/name. I can then massage those on my own site (one of the many benefits of ownership!) so that the appropriate data shows, and I can change the response type from a “mention” to a “reply” (or other sub-types as appropriate). Et voilà, with minimal effort, I’ve got a native looking reply back on my site from a site that does not support Webmention! This is one of the beautiful things of even the smallest building-blocks within the independent web or as a refrain some may wish to sing–“small pieces, loosely joined”!

This method works incredibly well with WordPress websites in particular. In almost all cases the comments on them will have permalink URLs (with fragments) to target the individual pieces, often they’ve got reasonable microformats for specifying the correct h-card details, and, best of all, they have functionality that will send me an email notification when others reply to my portion of the conversation, so I’m actually reminded to force the webmentions manually.

An Illustrative Example

As an example, I posted on my website that I’d read an article on Matt Maldre’s site along with a short comment. Since Matt (currently) doesn’t support either incoming or outgoing webmentions, I manually cut-and-pasted my reply to the comment section on his post. I did the same thing again later with an additional comment on my site to his (after all, why start a new separate conversation thread when I can send webmentions from my comments section and keep the context?).

Matt later approved my comments and posted his replies on his own website. Because his site is built on WordPresss, I got email notifications about his replies, and I was able to use the following URLs with the appropriate fragments of his comments in my manual webmention box:

https://www.spudart.org/blog/xeroxing-your-face/#comment-43843
https://www.spudart.org/blog/xeroxing-your-face/#comment-43844

After a quick “massage” to change them from “mentions” into “replies” and add his gravatar, they now live on my site where I expect them and in just the way I’d expect them to look if he had Webmention support on his website.

I’ll mention that, all of this could be done in a very manual cut-and-paste manner–even for two sites, neither of which have webmention support.  But having support for incoming webmentions on one’s site cuts back significantly on that manual pain.

For those who’d like to give it a spin, I’ll also mention that I’ve similarly used the incredibly old refbacks concept in the past as a means of notification from other websites (this can take a while) and then forced manual webmentions to get better data out of them than the refback method allows.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Ideas for IndieWeb-ifying Hypothes.is

Ideas for IndieWeb-ifying Hypothes.is
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. [1] [2] [3] [4]

Overview

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. screen capture of the content at URL https://hypothes.is/a/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow 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.

It is great that they make the first URL available with the relevant data. This in itself is very IndieWeb friendly to have each annotation in the system have its own stand-alone URL. Sadly all the data on this particular page seems to be rendered using JavaScript rather than being raw HTML. (See also js;dr.) This makes the page human readable, but makes it much more difficult for machines to read or parse these pages. I’d recommend three simple things to make Hypothes.is more (Indie)Web friendly:

  1. Render the annotation on the first URL example in full HTML instead of JavaScript;
  2. Add the appropriate microformats classes on those pages;
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Highlights of particular passages: In IndieWeb parlance, these are roughly equivalent to quotations of content.
  3. 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.

Page note with no annotations (bookmarks)

Example from https://hypothes.is/a/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow (but without the annotation portion)


<div class="h-entry">
    <a class="p-author h-card" href="https://hypothes.is/users/judell">judell</a>
    Public on <https://hyp.is/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow/boffosocko.com/?p=55708991>"Chris Aldrich on the IndieWeb"</a> (<a class="u-bookmark-of" href="https://boffosocko.com/?p=55708991">boffosocko.com</a>)
    <time class="dt-published" datetime="2019-01-11 18:052:00" title="Friday, Jan 11, 2019, 6:52 PM"><a href="https://hypothes.is/a/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jan 11</a></time>
    
<div class="p-category">tag-name1</div>
 
<div class="p-category">tag-name2</div>
 
<div class="p-category">tag-name3</div>
</div>

Page note with an annotation

(aka a reply, but could alternately be marked up as above as a bookmark) Example from https://hypothes.is/a/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow


<div class="h-entry">
    <a class="p-author h-card" href="https://hypothes.is/users/judell">judell</a>
    Public on <https://hyp.is/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow/boffosocko.com/?p=55708991>"Chris Aldrich on the IndieWeb"</a> (<a class="u-in-reply-to" href="https://boffosocko.com/?p=55708991">boffosocko.com</a>)
    <time class="dt-published" datetime="2019-01-11 18:052:00" title="Friday, Jan 11, 2019, 6:52 PM"><a href="https://hypothes.is/a/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jan 11</a></time>
    
<div class="e-content">
        
<p>This is web thinking in action.</p>
<p>https://blog.jonudell.net/2011/01/24/seven-ways-to-think-like-the-web/</p>
<p>Well done!</p>

    </div>

    
<div class="p-category">tag-name</div>
</div>

Highlights (aka quotes)

Example from https://hypothes.is/a/_tLJyA-cEemE-qPndyfQow


<div class="h-entry">
    <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>

    
<div class="p-category">IAnnotate2017</div>
</div>

Annotations (replies)

Example from https://hypothes.is/a/9JrX5lf9RraeLKKn9WwmMQ


<div class="h-entry">
    <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.
<blockquote>
    
   
<div class="e-content">
        
<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>

    </div>

    
<div class="p-category">tag-name</div>
</div>

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.

Additional resources with examples

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.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich