Webmentions with WordPress for Open Pedagogy

Webmentions with WordPress for Open Pedagogy
Abstract: With growing support for the W3C Webmention spec, teachers can post assignments on their own websites & students can use their sites to respond and interact. Entire classes can have open discussions from site-to-site owning all their data and eschewing corporate surveillance capitalism.

Missed my presentation for PressEdConf20 on Twitter earlier and want to read it all bundled up instead? The “article” version appears blow. You can also enjoy the Twitter moment version if you like. 


ONE

Chris Aldrich
Chris Aldrich

Hello everyone! My name is Chris Aldrich. I’m an independent researcher in a variety of areas including the overlap the internet and education. You can find more about me on my website https://boffosocko.com

Today I’ll be talking about Webmentions for open pedagogy. 


TWO

For a variety of reasons (including lack of budget, time, support, and other resources) many educators have been using corporate tools from Google, Twitter, Facebook, and others for their ease-of-use as well as for a range of functionality that hadn’t previously existed in the blogosphere or open source software that many educators use or prefer.

This leaves us and our students open to the vagaries and abuses that those platforms continually allow including an unhealthy dose of surveillance capitalism.

Wall of security cameras looking down at two women
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

THREE

In the intervening years since the blogosphere and the rise of corporate social media, enthusiasts, technologists and open source advocates have continued iterating on web standards and open protocols, so that now there are a handful of web standards that work across a variety of domains, servers, platforms, allowing educators to use smaller building blocks to build and enable the functionalities we need for building, maintaining, and most importantly owning our online courseware.


FOUR

Some of these new W3C specs include Webmention, Micropub, WebSub, IndieAuth, and Microsub. Today I’ll talk abut Webmentions which are simply site-to-site @mentions or notifications which don’t involve corporate social media silos.

For those who’d like more information about Webmentions and how they could be used, I’ve written a primer for A List Apart entitled Webmentions: Enabling Better Communication on the Internet.

Cartoon of baseball player hitting a ball with a bat to a waiting player with a tennis raquet
Illustration by Dougal MacPherson
Image courtesy of A List Apart

FIVE

Many common content management systems support Webmention either out of the box or with plugins including: our friend WordPress, Drupal, WithKnown, Grav, and many others.

Webmention rocks logo
Webmention rocks

SIX

WordPress can use this new standard with the Webmention plugin. (Surprise!) I also highly recommend the Semantic Linkbacks plugin which upgrades the presentation of these notifications (like Trackback, Pingback, or Webmention) to more user-friendly display so they appear in comments sections much like they do in corporate social media as commentsrepostslikes, and favorites, detected using microformats2 markup from the source of the linkback.


SEVEN

Another plugin I love is Post Kinds Plugin (Classic editor only at present) which automatically parses URLs I want to reply to, like, bookmark, etc. and saves the reply context to my website which helps prevent context collapse. My commentary and notes then appear below it.

(I also use a plugin that saves the content of URLs on my site to the Internet Archive, so I can reference them there later if necessary.)

Example of a reply context with author name, image, title, and short synopsis


EIGHT

These plugins with WordPress allow teachers to post course content and students can then post their responses on their own sites and send notifications that they’ve read, listened to, or watched that content along with their ideas and commentary.


NINE

Examples of webmentions in a course setting: Greg McVerry and I ran an experiment with Webmentions in a class in 2018. 

Example assignment: https://archive.jgregorymcverry.com/5570-2/

Notice the replies underneath which came from other sites including my response which is mirrored on my site at https://boffosocko.com/2018/08/04/highlighting-some-of-my-favorite-edtech-tools/

Example podcast post for a class: https://archive.jgregorymcverry.com/2toponder-episode-one/

Notice the listen webmention in the comments which links to my listen response at: https://boffosocko.com/2018/08/06/2toponder-episode-one-intertextrevolution/ where I own a copy of the context and my own response. As a student, even if the originals disappear, I’ve got the majority of the important content from the course.


TEN

When the course is over, the student has an archive of their readings, work, and participation (portfolio anyone?) on a site they own. They can choose to leave it public or unpublish it and keep private copies.

[Copies for Facebook, Google+ or Big EdTech Giants? They can ask for them nicely if they want them so desperately instead of taking them surreptitiously.]


ELEVEN

As a concrete example, I now have tagged archives for all the work I’ve done for EDU522 with Greg McVerry who also has his related posts in addition to a variety that he subsequently archived.

Fluffy cat head that moves with the fur underneath it appearing more like rocket exhaustion as the cat "takes off" into the air


TWELVE

By taking the content AND the conversation around it out of the hands of “big social media” and their constant tracking and leaving it with the active participants, we can effect far more ethical EdTech.

Gif of grain silo on a farm collapsing in on itself.

[No more content farming? What will the corporate social media silos do?]


THIRTEEN

Imagine Webmentions being used for referencing journal articles, academic samizdat, or even OER? Suggestions and improvement could accumulate on the original content itself rather than being spread across dozens of social silos on the web.

gif of Kermit the frog sitting on a desk excitedly flailing his arms and legs

[Webmentions + creativity: How might you take their flexibility and use it in your online teaching practices?]


FOURTEEN

There’s current research, coding work, and thinking going on within the IndieWeb community to extend ideas like private webmentions and limiting audience so that this sort of interaction can happen in more secluded online spaces.

I’d welcome everyone who’s interested to join in the effort. Feel free to inquire at an upcoming IndieWebCamp, Homebrew Website Club, event, or in online chat right now.

Huge group of diverse attendees at IndieWebSummit 2019 waving


FIFTEEN

I’ve also been able to use my WordPress website to collect posts relating to my participation in conferences like PressEdConf20 or Domains 2019 which included syndicated content to Twitter and the responses from there that have come back to my site using Brid.gy which bootstraps Twitter’s API to send Webmentions back to my website.

If Twitter were to go away, they may take some of my connections, but the content and the conversations will live on in a place under my own control.


Thanks for your time and attention! I’m around on Twitter–or better: my own website!–if you have any questions.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

SIX

WordPress can use this new standard with the Webmention plugin. (Surprise!) I also highly recommend the Semantic Linkbacks plugin which upgrades the presentation of these notifications (like Trackback, Pingback, or Webmention) to more user-friendly display so they appear in comments sections much like they do in corporate social media as commentsrepostslikes, and favorites, detected using microformats2 markup from the source of the linkback.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Next we’ll want the Webmention Plugin (+Semantic Linkbacks) which will let our site communicate with other websites as well as to receive replies and reactions on Twitter with the help of Brid.gy. Install and activate both.

(Want to go deeper into the idea of what Webmention is and how one could use it?  I wrote an article for A List Apart that goes into details.)

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Reads, Listens, Watches, and Editable Webmention Types and Avatars in the IndieWeb WordPress Suite

I’ve been meaning to write regular updates to highlight some of the useful changes in the functionality of the IndieWeb suite of WordPress plugins, but never gotten around to it. There’s been a few really interesting ones lately, so I thought I’d start. Observant watchers who read through either the code or even the scant change logs before they update their code may catch some of these features, but sometimes interesting tidbits can slip by the most vigilant. Here are some interesting recent ones:

Display of Reads, Listens, and Watches in comments sections

David Shanske’s excellent Post Kinds Plugin allows one to post what they’re reading, listening to, or watching in simple IndieWeb fashion. (Examples of these on my site: read posts, listen posts, watch posts.) These posts types automatically include the appropriate microformats classes so the user doesn’t need to bother doing them manually. For a long time when replying to another’s site, bookmarking it, or even mentioning it when also using the Webmentions plugin would send the site a Webmention that would generally cause it to show up as a native comment, bookmark or mention. With an update late last year, from within the Discussion settings in WordPress, one could set toggles so that many of these webmentions could be displayed as facepiles. Other broadly unsupported post types would typically default to a simple mention.

Recently David Shanske and I started a podcast, and he thought it would be useful if his site could accept listen posts and show them visually within his comments section just like these replies, bookmarks, and mentions. Thus over the past month he’s added code to the Semantic Linkbacks Plugin to add the functionality for these types of posts to properly render showing facepiles for listens, reads, and watches.

This is what webmentions of listen posts  look like on his site in his comments section:

User Interface example of how listen posts on David Shanske’s podcast appear on his site

What’s happening

Listen (or scrobble) posts can send webmentions (or notifications) to the original content potentially with the experimental listen-of microformat. In the case of scrobbles of podcasts, these webmentions could be displayed as “Listens” which would provide the canonical copy of the podcast some indicator of its popularity and actual audience. It is tremendously difficult to obtain data on the actual number of listens within most of the podcast community and typically a fraction of the number of downloads must be used as an indicator of the actual reach. Being able to display listens could potentially be a boon to the podcasting market, particularly with respect to advertising as this type of open social web functionality spreads.

Similarly read posts with the read-of microformat and watches with watch-of will be accepted and show up within the comments section. Like the previous types, they can be set to display as facepiles within the user interface.

From the Discussion options settings page (typically at: /wp-admin/options-discussion.php#semantic_linkbacks) one can choose the mention types one wants to have appear as facepiles within their comments section.

Knowing that this read functionality would be available, this week I helped ColoradoBoulevard.net set up their site to be able to accept and display reads of their articles. Here’s an example from their site:

The display of a read post on ColoradoBoulevard.net

I haven’t yet seen one for watches in the wild yet, but maybe you’ll be either the first  to send or receive one?

The microformats on these posts is generally considered to be experimental, but with the ~500+ users of this suite of tools as well as others who are already using them on other sites, they’ve now taken a dramatic step into the open internet and more widespread use and potential official adoption.

Editable Webmention Types and Avatars

Webmention Types

Just yesterday, I spent a few minutes in the IndieWeb chat helping someone to laboriously delve into their mySQL databaset and find a particular snippet of data so they could manually change a received webmention from being a simple mention to being a reply so that it would display as a native comment on their website. I’ve often done this to take what sometimes seem like simple mentions and change them to replies to reveal the richer content they often contain for the broader conversation. Sadly the process is boring, laborious, and fraught with potential ways to mess things up.

As of this weekend, this process is no longer necessary. One can now go to the admin interface for their comments and webmentions (found at the path /wp-admin/edit-comments.php), click on edit for the particular comment they’re changing and then scroll down to reveal a droplist interface to be able to manually change the webmention type.

Samantic Linkbacks Data metabox within the comment editing interface on WordPress. One can use the dropbox to change the webmention type as well as manually update the commenter’s avatar.

As another example of a use for this functionality, perhaps you’ve received a listen mention on one of your podcast episodes that has a lot of useful notes or commentary germane to your episode? Instead of hiding it as a simple listen, why not change the type to reply to allow a richer conversation around your content? After all, with a reasonable reply it will be implicit that the commenter actually listened to the episode, right?

Avatars

Because there is currently no functionality in WordPress for saving or caching the avatars of commenters via webmention, when users change their profile images on siloed services like Facebook, Twitter, et al. the link to their old avatars quits working and they were displaying blank spaces. This is an unfortunate form of linkrot, but one that can become more visually apparent over time.

Likes and Reposts concatenated on my site now after converting them into facepiles. They still give the social “proof” and indicate the interaction, but don’t interfere in the conversation now–especially when there are hundreds of them.

As one can see in the image for the commenting edit box above, the field for the Avatar is now editable. This means one can update out-of-date or blank avatars. One now also has the ability to moderate/edit or easily remove/switch avatars if users are sending inappropriate photos for one’s site’s audience.​​​​​​​​​

Reads, Listens, Watches, and Editable Webmention Types and Avatars in the IndieWeb WordPress Suite was originally published on Chris Aldrich