Dear IndieWeb, it may be time to start considering the user, not just the technical spec.

I’ve been working on a series of walkthrough posts that outline how to IndieWebify a Wordpress site. I presumed the initial setup would be fairly straightforward because a) I have a vague idea of what I’m doing, and b) a suite of plugins already exists. Boy-howdy, was I wrong.

(ಥ﹏ಥ)

I’ve been through speed-dating hell — I’ve met a heap of difficult to parse, technical error messages. I’ve been able to figure out the issue in most cases, but totally understand why the IndieWeb isn’t ready for primetime.

The IndieWeb isn’t ready for primetime, at least in part, because of these terrible, bordering on user-hostile, error messages.

I by no means mean this as a criticism. These error messages are helpful if you have a clear understanding of the spec, and how it is implemented. If, however, you aren’t a technical-user (which is to say a programmer who has read the spec. document) the error messages aren’t all that helpful.

From my experience, error messages of the sort found across the IndieWeb are symptomatic of early-stage, in development platforms, e.g. those platforms that are still being debugged.

I think that if the IndieWeb is aiming for wide adoption it is time to start designing for the user, not the spec.

What do I mean by this?

For one, folks building IndieWeb tech can’t assume that their users care about the technical implementation of their project. The vast majority of users aren’t going to read the spec., nor care to ever do so. The vast majority of users will care, first and foremost, about themselves and their content. They will, most likely, already know enough to care about owning their content. This means their content is important to them. This also probably means that they’re itching to create content. To write.

This should be our (the IndieWeb’s) holy mission — empowering all sorts of folks to post content that they get to control.

The future!

The IndieWeb wiki has a groovy page all about generations. There, you’ll find this graphic.

That page opens:

Generations in the context of the IndieWeb refer to clusters of potential IndieWeb adopters in a series of waves that are expected to naturally adopt the IndieWeb for themselves and then help inform the next generation. Each generation is expected to lower barriers for adoption successively for the next generation.

I think the IndieWeb is at an exciting inflection point. A bunch of things are happening right now, among all the happenings are a few key events: the public at large is growing frustrated with traditional social media, the birth and (hopeful!) growth of micro.blog, and an uptick in the micropub client ecosystem.

I don’t know if everyone will agree with this — but I think micro.blog exists across both generation 3 and 4.

The hiccup, at least as I see it, is that the majority of existing IndieWeb tech is squarely rooted in generation 1…and sometimes, barely, generation 2.

SO, whereas “[e]ach generation is expected to lower barriers for adoption successively for the next generation” I wonder if it is maybe time to update some of the tooling from generation 1 and 2 to be more compatible with generations 3 and 4?

Anyone with me? Am I totes off base? Thank you kindly,

Eli

#indienews

Post a response on your own site? Send me a webmention!


Jonathan LaCour

👍

Jonathan LaCour

JohnPhilpin

💬

@PhoneBoy and there is the question.

Grant Richmond

👍

Grant Richmond

Jeremy Cherfas

💬

I really enjoyed reading Eli Mellen's post of a couple of days ago: Dear IndieWeb, it may be time to start considering the user, not just the technical spec.

It really struck a chord with me because I have so often felt exactly the same frustrations, but my moaning comes from a position of considerable ignorance. I am, after all, only a user, even though I am probably more able than most to do a little bit of tinkering. Eli knows the technology, and so has been able to figure out how to fix the "terrible, bordering on user-hostile, error messages" for himself. I had a lot of help figuring out the ones I came across, and others were just deal-breakers. For example, I never did discover how to persuade WithKnown to share my syndication targets with Quill, and as a result I often find myself replying in a silo without bothering to bring my reply home. And I'm OK with that. For now.

There's a strain of thought going around that the IndieWeb is deliberately exclusionary. I don't know why, and I've tried to counter that kind of message when I see it, but it is only the deliberately part that I feel I can counter. With a couple of little exceptions, I see no evidence that barriers are being erected intentionally. I just see that the people who create the building blocks sometimes forget to put themselves in a less-knowledgeable user's shoes. Once that has been pointed out, as Eli did, they're quick to fix things.

I have some sympathy with Peter Molnar's reply to Eli, where he points out that "people should care [about the technology] they should be at least be aware of what's happening when they press a publish button.1 They needn't have to be capable of doing it from scratch, but providing the tools only is not a goal I can align with."

As it happens, I have a very long history with what is now known as blogging, and perhaps because I went through the early stages of owning a domain, finding a host and a CMS and all that, I never really got into the silo scene. But I can quite see why the ease of the silos made them so attractive to so many people, and I am with Peter to the extent that people have only themselves to blame if they don't like what's being done with their data. With what we now know about how cavalier the big silos have been (and I bet there's more to come) I can't think why anyone would still want to be there, except to find a larger audience.

Is the IndieWeb ready for the people quitting Facebook? Probably not for most of them, although I am a bit optimistic that if they really are ready to leave, they are also ready to make a bit of an effort to do so. On the other hand, I honestly don't think the IndieWeb will ever be the kind of mass phenomenon that the big silos have become, and I'm OK with that too. For now.

I suppose what I really want to see is a return to the good old days of blogging, but better. The connectivity of the IndieWeb is its biggest selling point, for me, even if I'm not making full use of it yet myself. I see things going on with the development of new kinds of readers, for example, that thrill me, even though I know that if I were to try and use them now, I would be up against the difficulties Eli faced. I know I'd get good help surmounting those difficulties, but the truth is, I don't have the time or the chops. So I'll be patient (and work on my chops).

Here's a case in point. Yesterday, my current reader showed me that John Gordon, someone I knew and appreciated back in the days of ADN, had posted How to build a safe and sane social network. It's brief, fun and interesting, although I'm not myself sure that a 25:1 ratio of freeloaders to supporters would work. The bigger point, I think, is that he says nothing there about the underpinning technology. For me, that's the direction IndieWeb building blocks need to go.

ADN had a really interesting revenue-sharing model for the developers who built things that used the platform. Hosting companies have tried to offer one-click installs for various things. If someone were able to create a kind of umbrella that took your money, made IndieWeb tools available and shared your money with the people who built the tools you chose to use, I do believe that could provide a home for the people who want out from the silos, but do not want to decipher terrible, bordering on user-hostile, error messages, and in any case can't fix them.

Unfortunately, that will take more than enthusiasm and commitment. It will also take cash even to begin. Micro.blog pulled that off on the strength of a book, which still hasn't appeared. ADN did it on a promise too. I wonder if there's room for another iteration.

This might also be a good place to note that after drafting this article I listened to An Indieweb Podcast Episode 0, which seems to have been provoked by Eli's article. It was fun and informative and also -- a meta criticism if ever there was one -- sometimes failed, despite Chris Aldrich's valiant attempts, to make things accessible to anyone not already at least partly in the IndieWeb community. I suspect it might also have been a bit long and a bit meandering for anyone not already persuaded, but it was a great first attempt and can only get better. I hope it continues and stand ready to assist if needed.

  1. And note, of course, that part of the genius of some silos is that there isn't even a Publish button.

Geeky IndieWeb

Khürt Williams

💬

I recently wrote a post similar to this one.

I appreciate the work of the people behind the IndieWeb. I love what the IndieWeb plugins, especially Webmentions, have done for my WordPress blog.

But the startup process was a bit bumpy and somewhat frustrating and distracted me from focusing on the content.

All of this is a work in progress.

Jay Robinson

👍

Jay Robinson

Jj

💬

Completely agree. I do want to add that big part of the Indieweb compromise is people owning a domain and URLs. That critical bit is still fairly technical and requires yearly payment compromise (since you always "rent" a domain). A big evangelization on why it's important to own your URLs need to happen so people appreciate the value of the effort it takes.

👍

simonmumbles

💬

@eli First, that's another great post. 👏 It's quite obvious from the comments that you have struck a chord within MB and I am no different; I wonder if getting involved in the IndieWeb community is better than trying to do something separate, or if being separate is in fact just fine due to the nature of the IW community?

Either way, I think it would be good to see MB users (including those in this thread) getting involved with trying to move the IW into the third and fourth generations especially. I have spent the past two months moving but things are settling down now and I will deifnitely be doing somehting of my own, at least to begin with.

matigo

💬

@simonmumbles what sort of thing are you planning on building? An IndieWeb-first CMS that you host and provide open-source?

simonmumbles

💬

@matigo Ah, I would support such a thing as much as possible but I'm not currently capable of building it. From even the small exposure I've had I have noticed that a number of people are building tools of that kind, whilst my goals are in the region of communicating to, and connecting people with the best efforts of the IndieWeb.

matigo

💬

@simonmumbles ah, I see. Well, there's 10Centuries.org, a little thing I've been working on since 2010. The next major update is being written now, and it'll be 100% IndieWeb-friendly. Some bits of the current version already follow the principles, and you can even hook it up to micro.blog and have status posts you write to nice.social come over here.

It's not a perfect system, but I'd really like to make it easy and fun for people to use.

eli

💬

@simonmumbles thanks! I'm of the opinion that getting involved with the IndieWeb community is where it is at, and, you nailed it, the trick is helping the community move from spec to user, from 1st and 2nd gen, to 3rd and 4th. Micro.blog is a great leap in that direction, but there is yet more to be done! ONWARD!

simonmumbles

💬

@matigo Ooh so you're behind 10Centuries. Cool! I'll give it a whirl and definitely include it in the thing I'm working on.

Content: CC BY-SA 4.0