Thoughts about TT, Discussion Sites, and the IndieWeb

created Mar 29, 2019

The following post contains excerpts from an email I sent today to a toledotalk.com user. After 16-plus years, I closed down Toledo Talk on March 12, 2019.

For the email text below, I rearranged paragraphs, and I added headings, but I did not edit the text.


Custom email address

I rarely log into my gmail account. I use jr@sawv.org as my main email address. And I consider sawv.org to be my online identity. I will never use a social media silo as my online identity. More on this later.

The lo-fi way of receiving comments is through email.

Slow decay of TT

Closing TT the way that I did, abruptly, might have angered some people, but no official method exists for shutting down an old community website. This was the way that I chose. I did not want to announce that TT would close in a week or a month and then possibly experience so-called "drama" about the site ending.

For the past few years, I have considered shutting down TT. Personally, I grew less interested in TT and in message boards or community sites in general. Last year, I went months without logging into TT.

And over the past few years, it was obvious that other users had grown less interested in posting to TT. The site had slowly been fading away for years. I did not want the site to become a home for only a handful of posters.

In a way, the TT users helped to decide the fate of the site, in my opinion. The lack of interest by most users mirrored my own lack of interest. And the lack of activity seemed to increase significantly over the past few months.

That's okay. Tastes change. New websites consume time.

Transfer TT ownership

At the moment, I'm disinterested in transferring ownership of the site to someone else. Transferring TT to someone else is not as easy as transferring ownership of an automobile.

The current code that powers TT dates back to 2005 when I built the wiki code that ran alongside the first version of TT for a couple years. In August 2007, I switched the main discussion of TT to the 2005 codebase.

The 2005 code is not structured as well as it would be if I built the site today.

I would have to transfer ownership of the domain name and ownership of the web hosting account.

TT is hosted on a shared server, which means no root access and limitations on what can be installed.

Over the past six years, I have mostly built websites on virtual private servers at Digital Ocean and Amazon Web Services. On these virtual machines, I have root access, and I can install anything I desire.

I would transfer TT only if I had known the person personally for many years, and I understood their technical capabilities and their philosophy toward community sites. It would help if the person had experience running a community site or at least a Facebook group. I don't want to be on the hook for technical support.

If I transferred TT to another person, I would expect the site to exist for many more years. My fear is that the new person would decide after 6 to 12 months that managing a message board is a pain in the ass, or the person simply loses interest.

Running a community site

Starting a community site is easy. Even building custom code to power the community site is easy. The hard part is having the endurance to nurture the site for many years.

The Toledo subreddit has grown more active over the years, and it's probably the best place to go for a public message board-like space in this area.

I think that someone should start a new community website that is hosted on its own unique domain name. This setup provides more freedom for features and customization. But from a technical perspective, it's easier to create a subreddit.

IndieWeb

In the summer of 2013, I learned about https://indieweb.org

When you have the time, check out the IndieWeb. They have a lot of content on their wiki, and many of their ideas are quite technical. View their IRC chat log, listed on the homepage.

I would prefer to spend my time explaining the IndieWeb to many people than explain how to manage TT to one person.

Here's the main gist of the IndieWeb - https://indieweb.org/IndieWeb

The IndieWeb is a community of individual personal websites, connected by simple standards, based on the principles of owning your domain, using it as your primary identity, to publish on your own site (optionally syndicate elsewhere), and own your data.

In way, it's the blogosphere that was popular back in the early to mid aughts combined with newer tech today and optionally interoperating with social media silos.

I like IndieAuth. For sites that support IndieAuth, such as the IndieWeb wiki, I log into the site using my domain name. The IndieAuth process emails me a code that I enter into the site to complete the login process. With IndieAuth, I don't need to create an account nor do I need to remember a password.

Webmention

For comments, I like the IndieWeb's idea called the Webmention.

https://indieweb.org/Webmention

If you wanted to reply to a post on my website, you would create your reply on your website, and either your CMS would automatically send your Webmention to my site, or you can place the URL to your reply into a form on my website.

This might be a "slower" way to post comments, but the discourse could be more meaningful.

Unfortunately, Blogger does not support sending and receiving Webmentions, but some IndieWeb users display a text input field where you can drop in the URL to your reply.

Owning our content

I've always been interested in personal websites. I created my first blog in 2001. I have copied nearly ALL of my content that I have posted all over the web over the years to sawv.org, including all of my TT posts.

I've been interested in message boards since the 1990s, but today, I'm more interested in personal websites and less interested in discussion sites. I prefer the discussions to occur via Webmention and email.

Interoperating with Twitter

I have a test Twitter account that I use only for IndieWeb testing. I don't remember the password for this Twitter account, but I don't need it. I use my own website to post to my test Twitter account. I rely on an intermediary called brid.gy, which was created by an IndieWeb user.

To post to Twitter from my own website, my code sends a Webmention to brid.gy, and then brid.gy posts it to my Twitter account. And if a Twitter user replies or likes or shares my tweet, brid.gy grabs that interaction from Twitter and sends it to my website as a Webmention.

Example: In August of 2017, my wife and I took a Jet Express sunset cruise out around West Sister Island. A few days later, I created a small post on my website that described the experience. For the heck of it, I used my website to syndicate my post to my test Twitter account. A few days later, I noticed that I had a "comment" on my website from the Jet Express.

The Jet Express Twitter account saw my tweet, and the Jet Express Twitter account liked my tweet. That Twitter interaction came back to my website as a Webmention.

This experience is interesting for people who use social media, which I don't.

Occasionally, I receive webmention comments from people who create their replies and likes on their personal websites. This part interests me.

I'm less interested in connecting with social media silos and more interested in connecting individual websites. But with the IndieWeb, both options can exist.

I like the fact that the Webmention is a cross-site commenting system. It might remind you of the old trackback or pingback that some blogs used in the aught years.

Local blogosphere

What would be great is if all the TT users and all of the Toledo subreddit users also managed their own personal websites that they updated at least once a week. Then we would have an interesting social web that would exist on the open web away from the silos.

In the comments to your blog post about TT closing down, I noticed that some people have their own personal sites. In my opinion, that's what I would like to see.

In the mid-aughts, the Toledo area had an active blogosphere, but I guess that Twitter, Facebook, etc. cabbaged their time.

I will admit that the social media silos built better mousetraps. For content creators, it's easier to attract an audience and to be discovered and to discover new content by using silos, such as Facebook and Medium.

The IndieWeb (managing personal websites) is a bit harder to use and "slower" and more organic. People had the patience 15 years ago to find new content but not today.

The IndieWeb even has their own webring. Remember webrings? That's one way that I discover more personal websites. I show the webring at the bottom of sawv.org.

Silos

Regarding the silos, I don't understand surrendering content to other platforms. At the minimum, users should at least copy-and-paste their public content made on the silos to their own domain names.

The other issue that I cannot tolerate with the silos is the way they display content through their algorithms. When I follow someone, I expect to see all of their content and not what the silo thinks that I should see.

Feeds

I come from the old school of using feed readers to subscribe to RSS and Atom feeds. I still use a feed reader called TheOldReader.com. I like the fact that it's web-based. It's simple to use. It does not contain obnoxious features.

I even created my own simple web-based feed reader. I have your feed in it. I don't check a feed reader daily, but I don't have too.

What I like about feeds is that if the content is in the feed, then I see it. The feed reader does not use an algorithm to show only a few items from the feed.

Next steps

You should get a domain name and point it to your Blogger account. Boom. You are a part of the IndieWeb.

It's not required that a personal website owner implement IndieWeb tech, such as Webmention, Micropub, Microsub, IndieAuth, etc. Owning your content on your own domain name is the IndieWeb.

micro.blog

Something else to check out is micro.blog which launched about two years ago. I used it some last year. I still have an account. It's sort of like Twitter, except that it supports IndieWeb tech.

I had my micro.blog account scarf my RSS or JSON feed at sawv.org. When I created a new post at sawv.org, it appeared in my micro.blog account. If someone used their micro.blog account to reply to one of my posts, that reply appeared on my sawv.org website because micro.blog sent a webmention to my site.

Etc.

Discussion sites will continue to exist even if they exist on platforms, such as Facebook and Reddit.

I'm not interested in transferring TT. I think that the site should end. I'm disinterested in discussion sites. I'm more interested in personal websites, the open web, the IndieWeb, and a decentralized web.

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