Create a Social Network Using Feed Readers and the IndieWeb Concepts

created Jun 12, 2017

The open web can be the social network. This article hosted at the new website altplatform.org may be the best thing that I have read thus far in 2017. It's titled Feed reader revolution: it’s time to embrace open & disrupt social media.

It's a long article. Here are a lot of excerpts.

First let’s look at the primary competition of feed readers. Their direct competition is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, and nearly every other social service out there.

Built into the core and at their very hearts, each of these social silos are primarily feed readers! They’re just feed readers which are proprietary to their own platforms and only allow their users to read feeds from their services to the exclusion of others.

Making matters worse, these social silo readers have typically, if not uniformly, turned off all external access to their own RSS feeds long ago. If you want to read content in Facebook, you have to log in and have an account and participate there directly, you cannot just subscribe to five peoples’ content via RSS and read it anywhere you want.

This monopolistic behavior is exactly the reason we call them silos. Content goes in, but doesn’t come back out. Once you’re inside and using their system, they literally do everything they can to keep you from escaping including framing external content within their app so that you can more easily go straight back to their addictive Facebook stream.

How can we reverse this model? And even better, how might we do it while simultaneously creating a more free, democratic, and open web?

We need to build for it! And fortunately a bunch of new pieces have been developed and matured in the past several years which can help drastically push the envelope to make this happen.

Aside from the power of the tightly integrated CMS and reader functionalities, their real “secret sauce”, so to speak, is that they make it incredibly easy to interact with others. And it’s here that they win out and own the market. It’s also here where innovation within the blogosphere fell down on the job between 2005-2007 and nearly died out altogether.

I would argue that there are hundreds if not thousands of fantastic and even open source content management systems which, in flexibility and ease of use, could put each and every one of the social silos to shame. But what are these hundreds of content management systems all missing?

You guessed it:

  • An integrated reader
  • the incredibly easy ability to interact with others

The talented and dedicated developers of the Indieweb have already delivered all of the remaining pieces of the puzzle to allow us to recreate the model of the closed source social silos in an open and democratic way.

The ubiquity of the concept of @mentions (or @replies), which was initially popularized by Twitter has spread across the social sphere. On nearly every popular social platform one can mention another user (typically with and @ symbol followed by their username, or some other similar pattern) and know that they will get a notification of the message. This feature is incredibly useful for carrying on conversations and interacting. The primarily problem with these @mentions is that they only work within their own siloed platform.

The interesting thing is that cross-site @mentions already exist! Thousands of websites are already using the open standard called Webmentions, which is already a W3C recommended specification to do just this. Instead of using a username as the “key” for sending them, Webmentions use permalink URLs to send these simple notifications.

What does this mean? It means that I can write something on my site, and you can write a reply on a totally separate site (even using a different platform/CMS) and if both sites support the Webmention spec, I’ll receive a ping from your server to notify me of your response! I can then choose to display it on my site as a comment in a natural and even beautiful way. It’s all done so naturally that it appears as if people who have replied to my own posts have logged in on my site and written their comments here rather than somewhere else.

The Micropub specification, on the other hand, does get right to the heart of the traditional feed reader piece of the communication problem.

All these Twitter clients used a simple API to allow them to publish to Twitter. Why not learn from that debacle and have an open spec that allows one to publish to almost any website on the web?

This is just what the developers of the Micropub open spec had in mind. Why not create a simple endpoint that any website can support to allow third party applications to publish almost any type of content to any platform on the internet? It shouldn’t matter what content management system you use, there should be a simple and direct method of posting to it. If we open things up in this way, then perhaps all these old Twitter applications could be dusted off to support the Micropub spec and they could be used to publish content of any flavor almost anywhere?

First users should be able to log into their feed reader accounts with some sort of authentication that allows them to lay claim to their own websites. This will allow the feed reader to publish to the user’s site on their behalf using Micropub. This can be done using a variation of oAuth or perhaps more simply using IndieAuth.

Like a particular article? Why not have a one click button to indicate your intent within the the feed reader? This then uses Micropub to publish the like to the user’s personal website! Combine this with the fact that one’s personal website supports Webmention and suddenly this posted like is turned into a like on the original website! Now the user owns the fact that they liked something (and can keep that even if the original disappears from the web), and the original website can own this same data as well. And guess what, the reader could keep its own copy as well to provide better meta-data to potentially benefit their other users as well. Win, win, win!

Micropub

Briefly discussed above, this open standard is already in use in many places on the web, from desktop clients, to browser add-ons, and even CMS plugins. If traditional feed readers allow their users to publish content from within the feed reader to their own personal website, there could be simple one click commenting and publishing.

A day or two’s worth of engineering work should quickly allow feed readers to quickly and easily publish directly to any CMS/platform that also supports the open Micropub spec.

Woodwind.xyz

Right now, the Indie reader Woodwind.xyz (code available on Github) is the gold standard of what modern feed reader functionality should be. Admittedly it’s missing some niceties that some feed readers have, but what it lacks in some traditional functionalities, it more than makes up for with more modern and forward facing functionality including the ability to send reactions and comments on articles directly to the reader’s personal website and then propagate those reactions to other sites across the open web. I’ll highlight some of these below along with screenshots and examples.

IndieAuth

Some users will be stuck simply logging into this uber-modern feed reader because it has an interesting prerequisite for membership. The user must have their own website with rel=”me” links on their homepage that match the corresponding rel=”me” links from a Twitter, GitHub, or Flicker account. (There are other authentication avenues, but these are the most straightforward for our current purposes.)

After entering their personal website URL, Woodwind relegates sign-in to the IndieAuth site which then parses the user’s homepage to look for links to their social media profiles. It then checks those profiles to see if they link back to the users personal homepage–this can only be the case if the user has physical control of both websites. If they do, then, and only then, IndieAuth will let one of those social silos authenticate by standard oAuth to sign the user into their Woodwind account. Doing this also simultaneously gives Woodwind the ability to publish content (via the Micropub protocol) to the reader’s personal website.

This also means that the reader isn’t just a reader, it’s also a publishing interface! Is this starting to sound like a dis-aggregated social media service? You bet it does.

Woodwind has a built in Micropub client that allows the user to like, repost, or reply to posts within the reader. One can authenticate their Micropub endpoint with the reader which then stores the publishing credentials and allows the user to react to any posts within the reader with these actions. The reader then posts to the user’s personal website with the intended actions. It’s then up to the user’s personal website to send Webmentions to the original post to notify them of the comment, repost, or like intents, which that site can then choose to display.

By supporting Micropub, indie-config, and/or action URLs, current feed readers can make it far easier for people on the open web to not only read content the way they currently do on siloed social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. Increased ease-of-use to allow these functionalities with beautiful user interface will help to move users out of walled-gardens where they’re trapped into the larger universe of the free and open internet.

All of these pieces combined make for a more open and democratic web. Ideally the increased competition will prod current social silos to open up and compete on a more even playing field in which they’re supporting these open protocols as well. Then anyone with a web presence can use it to communicate from one website to another (or one permalink URL to any other permalink URL) on the internet, in a way that’s as simple and easy as any of the methods that’s currently available in the closed social spectrum.

Etc.

https://cleverdevil.io/2017/user-experience-and-the-indieweb

Late June 2017 updates

http://sawv.org/2017/06/22/rebooting-the-blogroll-or-something-similar.html

Others have mentioned implementing blogrolls and webrings.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webring

http://webringo.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_blogging

Blogroll

A list of other blogs that a blogger might recommend by providing links to them (usually in a sidebar list).

And maybe the Guestbook, which would be easy to implement via webmentions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guestbook

November 2017 post
http://boffosocko.com/2017/11/10/a-following-page

June 2018 indiewebring

https://indieweb.org/indiewebring

At IndieWeb Summit 2018, Marty McGuire built the IndieWebRing which is available on Glitch at https://xn--sr8hvo.ws/ or https://🕸💍.ws. The code can be found at https://glitch.com/~steady-sundial.

https://indieweb.org/2018/webring

IndieWeb Ring; Users Group was a session at IndieWeb Summit 2018.