Indie Web

While being a designer/developer still feels like the most fulfilling thing I can currently imagine as a job, the last 14 years of being a freelancer in this industry brought quite some low times in which I wasn't sure if this is something I could do forever.

Especially the last two years threw up a lots of doubts mostly connected to the miserable state of the web.

But this weekend brought a new motivational high that I didn't expect to go that far. I attended the Indie Web Camp in Düsseldorf, Germany and I'm simply blown away. Actually so blown away that I had to return to the hotel pretty early and write this article.

I know about the indie web movement for quite some time, but never really had a chance to dive deeper. So this weekend was the perfect occasion to learn about all the concepts and possibilities that the indie web group is working on for more than four years now.

It's a movement that looks interesting but at the same time kind of geeky from the outside and unfortunately not too many people in our industry really seem to know what's behind it.

At the core of the indie web is the frustration of big silos taking control of each and every aspect of our digital lives and the wish to get back control again. It's all about practical methods to run your own site and publish your content there in the first place.

What I love most about it is, that it's not dogmatic but pragmatic. Indie web camps are not endless theoretical discussions but actually about building solutions and solving problems together. The concepts circle around the idea of how to keep control of our content while still being able to stay connected with people on Facebook, Twitter and Co.

One of the core principal is called POSSE – Publish on your own site, syndicate elsewhere.

The basic idea is to post articles, images, check-ins or similar typical updates on your own site first and then from there on let your site share it for you on all kinds of social networks and platforms. So while you keep control of your original content you can still benefit from being better connected on those platforms or by the reach that you create with such posts there.

While this is the most pure indie web approach it can also work the other way around. Post an update on Twitter first – because Tweetbot is a really nice app for example – but then make sure it gets pulled back to your server and stored there as well. It's basically all about making yourself independent from those services while you still use them. Whenever they should change in a way you don't like or even shut down entirely, you would not be affected by it, as all your content would still be available on your site.

Around those principles there are a couple of very nice building blocks that you can already use in order to get this working.

One of the more known concepts are webmentions. The success of social networks is all about communication and interaction. When you share something on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram you get an instant effect out of it. You can see how people pay attention and that's what makes it worth it. With our own sites there's hardly anything comparable other than comments. While a like or a retweet is a very short and instant form of acknoledgement, comments have moved further and further into the off for taking too much effort and often being abused for spamming or really low quality conversations. Additionally comments and posts on different sites are entirely disconnected from each other, while everything on social networks is tightly interweaved.

This is where webmentions shine. They bring all the benefits of a central feed of likes and responses in a very decentralized and even more global way.

I've written a webmentions plugin for Kirby over the weekend and so whenever I write an article here, Kirby will check for links in my post, try to find out if the linked sites support webmentions and if yes let them know that I've mentioned them. They can then show my mention below their article or post. It's basically like the old trackback/pingback system, but much more flexible and modern. So this system can be used for all kinds of mentions. A mention can be a like, a full reply or a retweet/repost and with tools like bridgy it's already pretty easy to hook this up to mentions, favorites and retweets on Twitter or Likes and comments on Facebook, Google+ or Instagram.

Of course I've also added a webmention endpoint to the plugin so my site can receive webmentions as well and display them below my posts. You can find a pretty extensive example on the webmention test article and hopefully soon below this article when someone likes it.

Similar plugins are available or in the making for Wordpress, ProcessWire, Drupal, Typo3 and other content management systems. There's even a solution for static site generators and static sites in general.

What I love so much about this is the potential. With just a bit of polish, pretty much any public web page can feel as fully connected and vibrant as a post on a walled social network and people can instantly react on it on their own site or on Twitter, Facebook and Co.

That connection between both worlds is simply brilliant and in my opinion makes it worth investing more time and thought. It's not just another concept that tries to replace existing platforms, which is supposed to fail anyway.

I could go on four hours about the other great indie web concepts, such as IndieAuth to simplify authentication, micropub to standardize publishing endpoints, services like OwnYourGram which sends your Instagram photos to your site in realtime and more.

The camp has opened up an entire new world to me and I can't wait to spend more time on integrating indie web components into Kirby.

I really hope that more people start to follow the ideas and help to make it grow and polish the user experience around it. The indie web group could definitely need more interaction designers to make it shine equally on a visual level (hint, hint)

I'm super thankful for the new motivational kick in the ass after this weekend and I can't wait for the next camp!

I will update the docs for the plugin in the next days and hope you will have fun with it. Make sure to let me know if you got any questions: