Domains 2019 Reflections from Afar

My OPML Domains Project

Not being able to attend Domains 2019 in person, I was bound and determined to attend as much of it as I could manage remotely. A lot of this revolved around following the hashtag for the conference, watching the Virtually Connecting sessions, interacting online, and starting to watch the archived videos after-the-fact. Even with all of this, for a while I had been meaning to flesh out my ability to follow the domains (aka websites) of other attendees and people in the space. Currently the easiest way (for me) to do this is via RSS with a feed reader, so I began collecting feeds of those from the Twitter list of Domains ’17 and Domains ’19 attendees as well as others in the education-related space who tweet about A Domain of One’s Own or IndieWeb. In some sense, I would be doing some additional aggregation work on expanding my blogroll, or, as I call it now, my following page since it’s much too large and diverse to fit into a sidebar on my website.

For some brief background, my following page is built on some old functionality in WordPress core that has since been hidden. I’m using the old Links Manager for collecting links and feeds of people, projects, groups, and institutions. This link manager creates standard OPML files, which WordPress can break up by categories, that can easily be imported/exported into most standard feed readers. Even better, some feed readers like Inoreader, support OPML subscriptions, so one could subscribe to my OPML file, and any time I update it in the future with new subscriptions, your feed reader would automatically update to follow those as well. I use this functionality in my own Inoreader account, so that any new subscriptions I add to my own site are simply synced to my feed reader without needing to be separately added or updated.

The best part of creating such a list and publishing it in a standard format is that you, dear reader, don’t need to spend the several hours I did to find, curate, and compile the list to recreate it for yourself, but you can now download it, modify it if necessary, and have a copy for yourself in just a few minutes. (Toward that end, I’m also happy to update it or make additions if others think it’s missing anyone interesting in the space–feedback, questions, and comments are heartily encouraged.) You can see a human-readable version of the list at this link, or find the computer parse-able/feed reader subscribe-able link here.

To make it explicit, I’ll also note that these lists also help me to keep up with people and changes in the timeframe between conferences.

Anecdotal Domains observations

In executing this OPML project I noticed some interesting things about the Domains community at large (or at least those who are avid enough to travel and attend in person or actively engage online). I’ll lay these out below. Perhaps at a future date, I’ll do a more explicit capture of the data with some analysis.

The largest majority of sites I came across were, unsurprisingly, WordPress-based, which made it much easier to find RSS feeds to read/consume material. I could simply take a domain name and add /feed/ to the end of the URL, and voilà, a relatively quick follow!

There are a lot of people whose sites didn’t have obvious links to their feeds. To me this is a desperate tragedy for the open web. We’re already behind the eight ball compared to social media and corporate controlled sites, why make it harder for people to read/consume our content from our own domains? And as if to add insult to injury, the places on one’s website where an RSS feed link/icon would typically live were instead populated by links to corporate social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In a few cases I also saw legacy links to Google+ which ended service and disappeared from the web along with a tremendous number of online identities and personal data on April 2, 2019. (Here’s a reminder to remove those if you’ve forgotten.) For those who are also facing this problem, there’s a fantastic service called SubToMe that has a universal follow button that can be installed or which works well with a browser bookmarklet and a wide variety of feed readers.

I was thrilled to see a few people were using interesting alternate content management systems/site generators like WithKnown and Grav. There were  also several people who had branched out to static site generators (sites without a database). This sort of plurality is a great thing for the community and competition in the space for sites, design, user experience, etc. is awesome. It’s thrilling to see people in the Domains space taking advantage of alternate options, experimenting with them, and using them in the wild.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I’ll note that I did see a few poor souls who were using Wix. I know there was at least one warning about Wix at the conference, but in case it wasn’t stated explicitly, Wix does not support exporting data, which makes any potential future migration of sites difficult. Definitely don’t use it for any extended writing, as cutting and pasting more than a few simple static pages becomes onerous. To make matters worse, Wix doesn’t offer any sort of back up service, so if they chose to shut your site off for any reason, you’d be completely out of luck. No back up + no export = I couldn’t recommend using.

If your account or any of your services are cancelled, it may result in loss of content and data. You are responsible to back up your data and materials. —Wix Terms of Use

I also noticed a few people had generic domain names that they didn’t really own (and not even in the sense of rental ownership). Here I’m talking about domain names of the form username.domainsproject.com. While I’m glad that they have a domain that they can use and generally control, it’s not one that they can truly exert full ownership over. (They just can’t pick it up and take it with them.) Even if they could export/import their data to another service or even a different content management system, all their old links would immediately disappear from the web. In the case of students, while it’s nice that their school may provide this space, it is more problematic for data portability and longevity on the web that they’ll eventually lose that institutional domain name when they graduate. On the other hand, if you have something like yourname.com as your digital home, you can export/import, change content management services, hosting companies, etc. and all your content will still resolve and you’ll be imminently more find-able by your friends and colleagues. This choice is essentially the internet equivalent of changing cellular providers from Sprint to AT&T but taking your phone number with you–you may change providers, but people will still know where to find you without being any the wiser about your service provider changes. I think that for allowing students and faculty the ability to more easily move their content and their sites, Domains projects should require individual custom domains.

If you don’t own/control your physical domain name, you’re prone to lose a lot of value built up in your permalinks. I’m also reminded of here of the situation encountered by faculty who move from one university to another. (Congratulations by the way to Martha Burtis on the pending move to Plymouth State. You’ll notice she won’t face this problem.)  There’s also the situation of Matthew Green, a security researcher at Johns Hopkins whose institutional website was taken down by his university when the National Security Agency flagged an apparent issue. Fortunately in his case, he had his own separate domain name and content on an external server and his institutional account was just a mirrored copy of his own domain.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
—Mel Brooks from The Producers (1968), obviously with the it being a referent to A Domain of One’s Own.

Also during my project, I noted that quite a lot of people don’t list their own personal/professional domains within their Twitter or other social media profiles. This seems a glaring omission particularly for at least one whose Twitter bio creatively and proactively claims that they’re an avid proponent of A Domain of One’s Own.

And finally there were a small–but still reasonable–number of people within the community for whom I couldn’t find their domain at all! A small number assuredly are new to the space or exploring it, and so I’d give a pass, but I was honestly shocked that some just didn’t.

(Caveat: I’ll freely admit that the value of Domains is that one has ultimate control including the right not to have or use one or even to have a private, hidden, and completely locked down one, just the way that Dalton chose not to walk in the conformity scene in The Dead Poet’s Society. But even with this in mind, how can we ethically recommend this pathway to students, friends, and colleagues if we’re not willing to participate ourselves?)

Too much Twitter & a challenge for the next Domains Conference

One of the things that shocked me most at a working conference about the idea of A Domain of One’s Own within education where there was more than significant time given to the ideas of privacy, tracking, and surveillance, was the extent that nearly everyone present gave up their identity, authority, and digital autonomy to Twitter, a company which actively represents almost every version of the poor ethics, surveillance, tracking, and design choices we all abhor within the edtech space.

Why weren’t people proactively using their own domains to communicate instead? Why weren’t their notes, observations, highlights, bookmarks, likes, reposts, etc. posted to their own websites? Isn’t that part of what we’re in all this for?!

One of the shining examples from Domains 2019 that I caught as it was occurring was John Stewart’s site where he was aggregating talk titles, abstracts, notes, and other details relevant to himself and his practice. He then published them in the open and syndicated the copies to Twitter where the rest of the conversation seemed to be happening. His living notebook– or digital commmonplace book if you will–is of immense value not only to him, but to all who are able to access it. But you may ask, “Chris, didn’t you notice them on Twitter first?” In fact, I did not! I caught them because I was following the live feed of some of the researchers, educators, and technologists I follow in my feed reader using the OPML files mentioned above. I would submit, especially as a remote participant/follower of the conversation, that his individual posts were worth 50 or more individual tweets. Just the additional context they contained made them proverbially worth their weight in gold.

Perhaps for the next conference, we might build a planet or site that could aggregate all the feeds of people’s domains using their categories/tags or other means to create our own version of the Twitter stream? Alternately, by that time, I suspect that work on some of the new IndieWeb readers will have solidified to allow people to read feeds and interact with that content directly and immediately in much the way Twitter works now except that all the interaction will occur on our own domains.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

As educators, one of the most valuable things we can and should do is model appropriate behavior for students. I think it’s high time that when attending a professional conference about A Domain of One’s Own that we all ought to be actively doing it using our own domains. Maybe we could even quit putting our Twitter handles on our slides, and just put our domain names on them instead?

Of course, I wouldn’t and couldn’t suggest or even ask others to do this if I weren’t willing and able to do it myself.  So as a trial and proof of concept, I’ve actively posted all my interactions related to Domains 2019 that I was interested in to my own website using the tag Domains 2019.  At that URL, you’ll find all the things I liked and bookmarked, as well as the bits of conversation on Twitter and others’ sites that I’ve commented on or replied to. All of it originated on my own domain, and, when it appeared on Twitter, it was syndicated only secondarily so that others would see it since that was where the conversation was generally being aggregated. You can almost go back and recreate my entire Domains 2019 experience in real time by following my posts, notes, and details on my personal website.

So, next time around can we make an attempt to dump Twitter!? The technology for pulling it off certainly already exists, and is reasonably well-supported by WordPress, WithKnown, Grav, and even some of the static site generators I noticed in my brief survey above. (Wix obviously doesn’t even come close…)

I’m more than happy to help people build and flesh out the infrastructure necessary to try to make the jump. Even if just a few of us began doing it, we could serve as that all-important model for others as well as for our students and other constituencies. With a bit of help and effort before the next Domains Conference, I’ll bet we could collectively pull it off. I think many of us are either well- or even over-versed in the toxicities and surveillance underpinnings of social media, learning management systems, and other digital products in the edtech space, but now we ought to attempt a move away from it with an infrastructure that is our own–our Domains.

Domains 2019 Reflections from Afar was originally published on Chris Aldrich

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🔖 Ethical alternatives to popular sites and apps | switching.social

This looks interesting… Sadly a lot of their options seem to be very ActivityPub-centric, despite the fact that the site itself is run on WordPress (and they neglect to list it as an option as far as I can tell). Admittedly they do seem to be directed toward the non-technical user, but there are lots of options they’re also not listing here too. They’re also not mentioning the potential for abuse that some of these software present, particularly when they’re run by other people, or collectives of other people. While switching from Twitter to Mastodon may be a short term solution, your choice of particular instance could end you right back where you came from if you’re not careful or not running your own personal instance.

Missing from many of these lists are things like micro.blog and a plethora of IndieWeb-related projects.

With that said, it’s at least a start on overcoming some of the hurdles that exist for finding alternatives.

hat tip: Ryan Barrett

🔖 Ethical alternatives to popular sites and apps | switching.social was originally published on Chris Aldrich

An IndieWeb talk at WordCamp Riverside in November 2018

An IndieWeb talk at WordCamp Riverside in November 2018

I’ve submitted a talk for WordCamp Riverside 2018; it has been accepted.

My talk will help to kick off the day at 10am on Saturday morning in the “John Hughes High” room. The details for the camp and a link to purchase tickets can be found below.

WordCamp Riverside 2018

&
hosted at SolarMax, 3080 12th St., Riverside, CA 92507
Tickets are available now

Given that “Looking back to go forward” is the theme of the camp this year, I think I may have chosen the perfect topic. To some extent I’m going to look at how the nascent web has recently continued evolving from where it left off around 2006 before everyone abandoned it to let corporate silo services like Facebook and Twitter become responsible for how we use the web. We’ll talk about how WordPress can be leveraged to do a better job than “traditional” social media with much greater flexibility.

Here’s the outline:

The web is my social network: How I use WordPress to create the social platform I want (and you can too!)

Synopsis: Growing toxicity on Twitter, Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, algorithmic feeds, and a myriad of other problems have opened our eyes to the ever-growing costs of social media. Walled gardens have trapped us with the promise of “free” while addicting us to their products at the cost of our happiness, sense of self, sanity, and privacy. Can we take back our fractured online identities, data, and privacy to regain what we’ve lost?

I’ll talk about how I’ve used IndieWeb philosophies and related technologies in conjunction with WordPress as a replacement for my social presence while still allowing easy interaction with friends, family, and colleagues online. I’ll show how everyone can easily use simple web standards to make WordPress a user-controlled, first-class social platform that works across domains and even other CMSes.

Let’s democratize social media using WordPress and the open web, the last social network you’ll ever need to join.

Intended Audience: The material is introductory in nature and targeted at beginner and intermediate WordPressers, but will provide a crash course on a variety of bleeding edge W3C specs and tools for developers and designers who want to delve into them at a deeper level. Applications for the concepts can be of valuable to bloggers, content creators, businesses, and those who are looking to better own their online content and identities online without allowing corporate interests out-sized influence of their online presence.

I look forward to seeing everyone there!

An IndieWeb talk at WordCamp Riverside in November 2018 was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Extending a User Interface Idea for Social Reading Online

This morning I was reading an article online and I bookmarked it as “read” using the Reading.am browser extension which I use as part of my workflow of capturing all the things I’ve been reading on the internet. (You can find a feed of these posts here if you’d like to cyber-stalk most of my reading–I don’t post 100% of it publicly.)

I mention it because I was specifically intrigued by a small piece of excellent user interface and social graph data that Reading.am unearths for me. I’m including a quick screen capture to better illustrate the point. While the UI allows me to click yes/no (i.e. did I like it or not) or even share it to other networks, the thing I found most interesting was that it lists the other people using the service who have read the article as well. In this case it told me that my friend Jeremy Cherfas had read the article.1

Reading.am user interface indicating who else on the service has read an article.

In addition to having the immediate feedback that he’d read it, which is useful and thrilling in itself, it gives me the chance to search to see if he’s written any thoughts about it himself, and it also gives me the chance to tag him in a post about my own thoughts to start a direct conversation around a topic which I now know we’re both interested in at least reading about.2

The tougher follow up is: how could we create a decentralized method of doing this sort of workflow in a more IndieWeb way? It would be nice if my read posts on my site (and those of others) could be overlain on websites via a bookmarklet or other means as a social layer to create engaged discussion. Better would have been the ability to quickly surface his commentary, if any, on the piece as well–functionality which I think Reading.am also does, though I rarely ever see it. In some sense I would have come across Jeremy’s read post in his feed later this weekend, but it doesn’t provide the immediacy that this method did. I’ll also admit that I prefer having found out about his reading it only after I’d read it myself, but having his and others’ recommendations on a piece (by their explicit read posts) is a useful and worthwhile piece of data, particularly for pieces I might have otherwise passed over.

In some sense, some of this functionality isn’t too different from that provided by Hypothes.is, though that is hidden away within another browser extension layer and requires not only direct examination, but scanning for those whose identities I might recognize because Hypothes.is doesn’t have a specific following/follower social model to make my friends and colleagues a part of my social graph in that instance. The nice part of Hypothes.is’ browser extension is that it does add a small visual indicator to show that others have in fact read/annotated a particular site using the service.

A UI example of Hypothes.is functionality within the Chrome browser. The yellow highlighted browser extension bug indicates that others have annotated a document. Clicking the image will take one to the annotations in situ.

I’ve also previously documented on the IndieWeb wiki how WordPress.com (and WordPress.org with JetPack functionality) facepiles likes on content (typically underneath the content itself). This method doesn’t take things as far as the Reading.am case because it only shows a small fraction of the data, is much less useful, and is far less likely to unearth those in your social graph to make it useful to you, the reader.

WordPress.com facepiles likes on content which could surface some of this social reading data.

I seem to recall that Facebook has some similar functionality that is dependent upon how (and if) the publisher embeds Facebook into their site. I don’t think I’ve seen this sort of interface built into another service this way and certainly not front and center the way that Reading.am does it.

The closest thing I can think of to this type of functionality in the analog world was in my childhood when library card slips in books had the names of prior patrons on them when you signed your own name when checking out a book, though this also had the large world problem that WordPress likes have in that one typically wouldn’t have know many of the names of prior patrons necessarily. I suspect that the Robert Bork privacy incident along with the evolution of library databases and bar codes have caused this older system to disappear.

This general idea might make an interesting topic to explore at an upcoming IndieWebCamp if not before. The question is: how to add in the social graph aspect of reading to uncover this data? I’m also curious how it might or might not be worked into a feed reader or into microsub related technologies as well. Microsub clients or related browser extensions might make a great place to add this functionality as they would have the data about whom you’re already following (aka your social graph data) as well as access to their read/like/favorite posts. I know that some users have reported consuming feeds of friends’ reads, likes, favorites, and bookmarks as potential recommendations of things they might be interested in reading as well, so perhaps this would be an additional extension of that as well?


[1] I’ve certainly seen this functionality before, but most often the other readers are people I don’t know or know that well because the service isn’t huge and I’m not using it to follow a large number of other people.
[2] I knew he was generally interested already as I happen to be following this particular site at his prior recommendation, but the idea still illustrates the broader point.

Extending a User Interface Idea for Social Reading Online was originally published on Chris Aldrich

A pencast overview (with audio and recorded visual diagrams) of IndieWeb technologies

A pencast overview (with audio and recorded visual diagrams) of IndieWeb technologies

I’ve seen a bunch of new folks coming into the IndieWeb community recently who are a bit overwhelmed with the somewhat steep learning curve of both new jargon as well as new ideas and philosophies of what it means to have one’s own domain and presence on the internet.

While parts of the IndieWeb’s overall idea are quite simple, where the actual rubber meets the road things can be a bit overwhelming, and more so if you’re a non-technical person. This doesn’t have to be the case. Generally I’d recommend to people to begin attending local Homebrew Website Clubs or, even better, to attend an IndieWebCamp in person to get a one day crash course followed by a day of building and help. Sadly, life can intervene making these not as quick and immediate a reality as one might otherwise like.

So toward the end of making the crash course to explain in relatively broad terms some of the basic terminology as well as some of the bigger individual pieces and what’s happening when using an IndieWeb site with most of the major new functionality built in, I’ve made a short pencast of what is going on. Naturally there’s still a tremendous amount to learn and do, and a million things which could always be better or improved, but if you’re setting up a site using WordPress this overview will hopefully get you a lot further a lot faster. (It may also be useful for those setting up Known or even something for micro.blog, though those will have different plugins and other small quirks that aren’t covered here.)

What is a Pencast?

Pencast?! What is that? It’s a technology that has been around for a while courtesy of Livescribe.com digital pens which not only record an audio file of what is being said, but also record penstroke by penstroke what is being written. Even better the audio and the penstrokes are crosslinked, so you can more easily jump around within a lecture or talk.

To do this you should download the version of the notes in Livescribe’s custom Pencast .pdf format. This seems like a standard .pdf file but it’s a bit larger in size because it has an embedded audio file in it that is playable with the free Adobe Reader X (or above) installed. With this version of the notes, you should be able to toggle the settings in the file (see below) to read and listen to the notes almost as if you were sitting with me in person and I was drawing it out in front of you as I spoke. You can also use your mouse to jump around within the pencast by touching/mousing to particular areas or by jumping forward and back by means of the audio bar. If you need to, also feel free to zoom in on the page to have a closer look.

Pencast version

An IndieWeb Crash Course [14.9MB .pdf with embedded audio]

Viewing and Playing a Pencast PDF

Pencast PDF is a new format of notes and audio that can play in Adobe Reader X or above.

You can open a Pencast PDF as you would other PDF files in Adobe Reader X. The main difference is that a Pencast PDF can contain ink that has associated audio—called “active ink”. Click active ink to play its audio. This is just like playing a Pencast from Livescribe Online or in Livescribe Desktop. When you first view a notebook page, active ink appears in green type. When you click active ink, it turns gray and the audio starts playing. As audio playback continues, the gray ink turns green in synchronization with the audio. Non-active ink (ink without audio) is black and does not change appearance.

Audio Control Bar

Pencast PDFs have an audio control bar for playing, pausing, and stopping audio playback. The control bar also has jump controls, bookmarks (stars), and an audio timeline control.

Active Ink View Button

There is also an active ink view button. Click this button to toggle the “unwritten” color of active ink from gray to invisible. In the default (gray) setting, the gray words turn green as the audio plays. In the invisible setting, green words seem to write themselves on blank paper as the audio plays.

 
If you have comments or feedback, I’m thrilled to receive it. Feel free to comment below, or if you’ve already IndieWebified your site, write your comment there and send it to me via webmention, or add your permalink to the box below. Ideally this version of the pencast is a first draft and I’ll put something more polished together at a later date, but I wanted to get this out there to have a few people test-drive it to get some feedback.

Thanks!​​​​​​​​​

A pencast overview (with audio and recorded visual diagrams) of IndieWeb technologies was originally published on Chris Aldrich