Summary: With the GDPR regulations coming into effect in Europe on May 25th, privacy seems to be on everyone’s mind. This week, we tackle what webmentions are, using them for backfeed, and the privacy implications.
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 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.
I spent some time this morning doing a dry run through setting up a suite of IndieWeb plugins on a fresh WordPress installation. Going off of a scant outline I talked for almost two hours describing IndieWeb functionality as I set it all up. Hopefully it will provide a useful guide to newcomers to the space until I can write up a more solid outline and take a more polished approach. Apologies in advance for the roughness of the audio, lack of quality, and even live mistakes. Hopefully folks won’t mind suffering through until we can come up with some better tutorials.
As prerequisites, I assume you’ve already got your own domain and have installed WordPress on a server or other host. I actually finish setting up the WordPress install as I start the video and then sign in for the first time as we begin.
While many of the core plugins are straightforward, there is a huge amount of leeway in how folks can choose (or not) to syndicate to sites like Twitter, Facebook, and others. Here I make the choice to use the Bridgy Publish plugin and only demonstrate it with Twitter. With one example shown, hopefully other silos can be set up with Brid.gy as well. The IndieWeb wiki details other options for those who want other methods.
At the end I walk through creating and syndicating a post to Twitter. Then I demonstrate commenting on that post using another CMS (WithKnown) from a separate domain.
I do my best to provide verbal descriptions and visual examples, but these can certainly be supplemented with further detail on the IndieWeb wiki. I hope to come back and add some diagrams at a later date, but this will have to suffice for now.
This week, using the magic of open web standards, I was able to write an issue post on my own website, automatically syndicate a copy of it to GitHub, and later automatically receive a reply to the copy on GitHub back to my original post as a comment there. This gives my personal website a means of doing two way communication with GitHub.
This functionality is another in a long line of content types my website is able to support so that I’m able to own my own content, yet still be able to interact with people on other websites and social media services. Given the number of social sites I’ve seen disappear over the years (often taking my content with them), this functionality gives me a tremendously larger amount of control and ownership over my web presence and identity while still allowing me to easily communicate with others.
In this post I wanted to briefly sketch what I’ve done to enable this functionality, so others who are so inclined can follow along to do the same thing.
Setting up WordPress to syndicate to GitHub
I’ll presume as a first step that one has both a GitHub account and a self-hosted WordPress website, though the details will also broadly apply to just about any content management system out there that supports the web standards mentioned.
Register your GitHub account and your website with Bridgy
Ryan Barrett runs a fantastic free open sourced service called Bridgy. To use it you’ll need the microformat rel=“me” links on both your GitHub account and your website’s homepage that point at each other. GitHub will do most of the work on its side for you simply by adding the URL of your website to the URL field for your GitHub account at https://github.com/settings/profile. Next on your website’s homepage, you’ll want to add a corresponding rel=“me” link from your website to your GitHub account.
In my case, I have a simple widget on my homepage with roughly the following link: <a href="https://github.com/username">GitHub</a>
in which I’ve replaced ‘username’ with my own GitHub username. There are a variety of other ways to add a rel=“me” link to your webpage, some of which are documented on the IndieWeb wiki.
Now you can go to Brid.gy and under “Connect your accounts” click on the GitHub button. This will prompt you to sign into GitHub via oAuth if you’re not already logged into the site. If you are already signed in, Brid.gy will check that the rel=“me” links on both your site and your GitHub account reciprocally point at each other and allow you to begin using the service to pull replies to your posts on GitHub back to your website.
To allow Brid.gy to publish to GitHub on your behalf (via webmention, which we’ll set up shortly), click on the “Publish” button.
Install the Webmention Plugin
The underlying technology that allows the Bridgy service to both publish on one’s behalf as well as for the replies from GitHub to come back to one’s site is an open web standard known as Webmention. WordPress can quickly and easily support this standard with the simple Webmention plugin that can be downloaded and activated on one’s site without any additional configuration.
For replies coming back from GitHub to one’s site it’s also recommended that one also install and activate the Semantic Linkbacks Plugin which also doesn’t require any configuration. This plugin provides better integration and UI features in the comments section of one’s website.
Install Post Kinds Plugin
The Post Kinds Plugin is somewhat similar to WordPress’s Post Formats core functionality, it just goes the extra mile to support a broader array of post types with the appropriate meta data and semantic markup for interacting with Bridgy, other web parsers, and readers.
Download the plugin, activate it, and in the plugin’s settings page enable the “Issue” kind. For more details on using it, I’ve written about this plugin in relative detail in the past.
Install Bridgy Publish Plugin
One can just as easily install the Bridgy Publish Plugin for WordPress and activate it. This will add a meta box to one’s publishing dashboard that, after a quick configuration of which social media silos one wishes to support, will allow one to click a quick checkbox to automatically syndicate their posts.
Install the Syndication Links Plugin
The Syndication Links plugin is also a quick install and activate process. You can modify the settings to allow a variety of ways to display your syndication links (or not) on your website if you wish.
This plugin will provide the Bridgy Publish Plugin a place to indicate the permalink of where your syndicated content lives on GitHub. The Bridgy service will use this permalink to match up the original content on your website and the copy on GitHub so that when there are replies, it will know which post to send those replies to as comments which will then live on your own website.
You should now be ready to write your first issue on your website, cross post it to GitHub (a process known in IndieWeb parlance as POSSE), and receive any replies to your GitHub issue as comments back to your own website.
Create a new post.
In the “Kinds” meta box, choose the “Issue” option.
Type in a title for the issue in the “Title” field.
In the “Response Properties” meta box, put the permalink URL of the Github repopository for which you’re creating an issue. The plugin should automatically process the URL and import the repository name and details.
In the primary editor, type up any details for the issue as you would on GitHub in their comment box. You can include a relatively wide variety of custom symbols and raw html including
and with code samples which will cross-post and render properly.
In the GitHub meta box, select the GitHub option. You can optionally select other boxes if you’re also syndicating your content to other services as well. See the documentation for Bridgy and the plugin for how to do this.
Optionally set any additional metadata for your post (tags, categories, etc.) as necessary.
Publish your post.
On publication, your issue should be automatically filed to the issue queue of the appropriate GitHub repo and include a link back to your original (if selected). Your post should receive the syndicated permalink of the issue on GitHub and be displayed (depending on your settings) at the bottom of your post.
When Bridgy detects future interactions with the copy of your post on GitHub, it will copy them and send them to your original post as a webmention so that they can be displayed as comments there.
If you frequently create issues on GitHub like this you might want a slightly faster way of posting. Toward that end, I’ve previously sketched out how to create browser bookmarklets that will allow you one click post creation from a particular GitHub repo to speed things along. Be sure to change the base URL of your website and include the correct bookmarklet type of “issue” in the code.
The Post Kinds plugin will also conveniently provide you with an archive of all your past Issue posts at the URL http://example.com/kind/issue/, where you can replace example.com with your own website. Adding feed/ to the end of that URL provides an RSS feed link as well. Post Kinds will also let you choose the “Reply” option instead of “Issue” to create and own your own replies to GitHub issues while still syndicating them in a similar manner and receive replies back.
Given the general set up of the variety of IndieWeb-based tools, there are a multitude of other ways one can also accomplish this workflow (both on WordPress as well as with an infinity of other CMSes). The outline I’ve provided here is one of the quickest methods for beginners that will allow a relatively high level of automation and almost no manual work.
One doesn’t necessarily need to use the Post Kinds Plugin, but could manually insert all the requisite HTML into their post editor to accomplish the post side of things via webmention. (One also has the option to manually syndicate the content to GitHub by cutting and pasting it as well.) If doing things manually this way is desired, then one will need to also manually provide a link to the syndicated post on GitHub into their original so that Bridgy can match up the copy and the original to send the replies via webmention.
If you’ve followed many of these broad steps, you’ve given already given yourself an incredibly strong IndieWeb-based WordPress installation. With a minimal amount of small modifications you can also use it to dovetail your website with other social services like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Google+ and many others. Why not take a quick look around on the IndieWeb wiki to see what other magic you can perform with your website!
I’ve documented many of my experiments, including this one, in a collection of posts for reference.
If you have questions or problems, feel free to comment below or via webmention using your own website. You can also find a broad array of help with these plugins, services, and many other pieces of IndieWeb technology in their online chat rooms.
Given Livefyre‘s origin as a commenting platform along the lines of Disqus and Intense Debate, this photo of their current offerings from Adobe makes it sound a lot like what the Webmention Open Spec does for my WordPress-based website.