The most powerful aspect of the Internet is the open web. From the very beginning, there has been a conflict with on one side walled gardens and closed networks with open standards and interoperability on the other.
My first experience with an online world was dial-up into AOL and exploring their internal experiences. Only rarely did I click the button to go into the unknown and wild internet. AOL controlled everything within their experiences.
For awhile, we had a golden age of blogging. People would comment on each other’s blogs. If you wanted to write a novel in response to someone, you did–on your site. When you did, a trackback or, later on, a pingback would automatically alert the original post and a little ad-hoc social network between two sites was created.
Feed readers provided a place for people to aggregate their blogging experience. From there, easy publishing and content aggregation fell in love and gave birth to social networks. This path wasn’t intended or necessarily in mind when Facebook or Twitter started, but nevertheless.
In all of this, having your home belong to you is important. A business whose online presence is their social media page is placing all of their eggs in one basket hoping that it isn’t in the platform’s business interests to change the system to your detriment. Even on site-builder platforms, which do give you your own website, do not give you any means to take that content with you whenever their platform or your needs change.
Having a home that you control is important, but now you have to maintain your main online presence and your Facebook page and your Instagram account and your Twitter feed and maybe blog on Medium too and so on and so on. The open web is being lost.
I want to see the WordPress ecosystem do more toward building up the new open web. Whether it is directly in Core or experimented with via Jetpack, there is a large user base who would benefit by modern and advanced open web technologies. There is a solid group of folks who believe in an open and independent web who have helped create standards and systems to interoperate, but it’s hard to gain adoption without the baking of something with the heft of Facebook or Twitter.
micro.blog is what turned me on to the modern standards. Micro.blog aims to be, more or less, an open Twitter. You can pay them to run your microblog or it’ll pull in your WordPress site (a special site just for your microblog or, in my case, just a category). Reading more about the tech behind it, such as webmentions–which I had heard of before but never took the time to read up on it–gave me a new excitement for the future of the web that I haven’t had in awhile.
What can we do to help continue this excitement? WordPress has considerable pull. When it supports something, it gets noticed. If we can figure out how many make webmentions work well, would Facebook or Twitter begin to support them in some way?
To this end, I would like to dedicate some of my free time toward exploring this more. Specifically:
- Update the PuSHPress plugin. It is currently on WP.com and available for self-hosted sites using an older version of the now-called WebSub W3C candidate recommendation. Automattic already has that much and it gives me a good place to start.
- Find small places in Jetpack that we can work toward supporting these efforts in a frictionless way. One example is storing Publicize URLs locally so plugins like Syndicated Links can use that information. In this case, with a Facebook or Twitter link stored in Syndicated Links, a service like brid.gy can better get webmentions sent to your site. It isn’t required, since they’ll likely have links back to your site already, but again, small things to close the gap.
- Determine what could webmentions support in WordPress naively look like. What makes sense to be added to Core and how to make it expandable in a way that doesn’t tie our hands down the road. (Post formats, anyone? Pretty soon after they launched, the issue of not enough structure on how they worked ended up resulting in a pretty random experience. 3.6 tried to fix it, but, in many respects, it was too late.)
- More broadly, think through how else we can positively include ripe standards. Like a recent Jetpack fix to make our recipe shortcode compatible with Schema.org.
The hard part is keeping the end user in mind. I’ve recently setup a few pieces of indieweb concepts on my site, but it isn’t something that I would expect my wife or a random end user to do. It isn’t obvious why one would do this, it is a bit clunky, the workflows aren’t straight-forward yet. I think they can get there.
The dream isn’t to return to the past before social media, but help make social media part of the web in an organic way. For this post, you can like it or comment it on via this site, WordPress.com, Twitter, or Facebook, but all of the comments will appear here using Webmentions. The closed gardens will still exist, but it’ll make it easier for people to reach out between them.
I know I’m very late to the party after a tiny bit of research I’ve done so far. I’ve seen the same names pop up all over the place. These folks have worked very hard to get where it is now and I’m sure they know of dozens of roadblocks I couldn’t imagine today. But, I hope that, even if I’m late, there’s still room at the table.
How about you? What would you like to see move forward in the evolving open web?