An aerial photograph of snow-capped Mount Hood near Portland, Oregon.
“Mt. Hood” by Peter Roome (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Against all good sense, I planned practically back-to-back trips for this month to London, England and then Portland, Oregon. The latter location — my first visit to a Pacific city since the early Obama administration — saw me attend the 2018 IndieWeb Summit, the core annual gathering for the eponymous movement striving to return the long-lost ideal of individually owned and deeply interconnected personal websites to the modern internet.

Spread over two calendar days, this eighth Summit presented its fifty or so attendees with a one-day conference/unconference hybrid followed by a hackathon. On that second day, I spent a little while kicking some of my own code around, chasing down a known bug. But I ended up too distracted by the day’s news to dive in too deeply. I instead used the last hours of the hackathon to gather my notes and thoughts about the first day, and that work became this blog post.

That first morning included keynotes from two of IndieWeb’s founding members, the operator and community manager of the commercial Micro.blog service, and the author of a science fiction novel that features a protagonist fighting global corruption and conspiracy using IndieWeb standards. There then followed a spate of lightning-talk presentations where attendees could share their own recent IndieWeb-based sites and contributions, and I ran through my own work.

In one keynote, Aaron Parecki declared 2018 as IndieWeb’s year of the reader, as he and Jonathan LaCour listed and demonstrated several projects seeking to reimagine and reinvigorate the idea of the news-reader app using web standards and IndieWeb concepts. I was especially struck by the notion of an interactive reader that invites and enables public inline responses to articles, using Micropub to post them to one’s own website and then Microsub to share them with other readers. I hadn’t before this presentation really understood the purpose of Micro[ps]ub, and this potential and powerful use of it struck me like a thunderbolt. I intend to have a look at Aaron’s own realization of these concepts, the now-in-beta Aperture, presently.

From there, I gave myself further homework to once again try grokking Micro.blog. I still don’t really get it, even though I have an account there which dutifully rebroadcasts all my Fogknife posts (and kindly passes replies back to Fogknife as webmentions that it can syndicate locally). My heart forever broken by social-media silos, I’m not really interested in using Micro.blog as yet another “Okay, I’m over here now” social network. I get the impression that it has potential for much deeper use than that, if I can only get my head around it.

On Tuesday afternoon I attended these unconference sessions:

Library implementations for IndieWeb. Jacky Alciné led an effort to check what open-source libraries (and free services with public APIs) exist that already implement various IndieWeb building blocks. You can see the resulting outline and whiteboard grid on the talk’s permanent wiki page.

I loved starting out the afternoon feeling like I’d helped build something useful — not at all my usual feeling when wrapping up an unconference session! Cheers to Jacky for setting up a simple group-task goal that a roomful of hackers could all fill in together.

Improving diversity of the IndieWeb. The demographic mix of IWS was not especially better than typical for an American tech conference, which is to say that more than half the attendees were like me: mid-career white guys with professional technology backgrounds. And so this inescapable round-table topic appeared, and I took a seat at it probably as much out of a sense of personal penance as a desire to help change anything.

Surprisingly, it felt like a productive meeting, and I (along with everyone else who showed up) left with at least one actionable item, as proposed by session organizer Jean MacDonald: this being to challenge myself to bring someone dwelling within a different demographic slot than myself to the next tech thing I attend.

The excellent and thorough notes on the meeting’s wiki page include my recommendation of VM Brasseur’s recent keynote to the 2018 Perl Conference, “The Importance of an Ecosystem”. This presentation uses an ecological metaphor to describe how a technological project’s community cannot just computer away all its problems: it must involve the focused and entirely human-driven work of community management.

At risk of jumping ahead a bit, I should note here that after the IWS sessions ended for the day, I continued on to Donut.js’s monthly meeting just a couple of blocks away. There I found a big, rowdy crowd of technically apt folks with an obviously younger average age than that found at IWS, with lots of women and people of color in attendance.

I don’t necessarily read this as evidence that IndieWeb is doing something wrong that Donut.js does better; I reckon that a lot of the difference comes down to topic. Younger hackers, I expect, tend not to share the same pangs for the re-Berners-Lee-ification of the web as a typical IndieWeb convert. They didn’t live the dream of the 90’s in the same way as one already an adult when the web first appeared, so they have less reason to hear IndieWeb’s call to remix the good parts of the early web back into the modern one by way of contemporary and standardized technologies.

As I would also expect that a younger tech-savvy audience would almost necessarily show more diversity along various axes than a middle-aged one, it does make me think about how much potential community growth exists by making more direct appeals to the younger cohort in one’s field, and how easily a roomful of graybeards can overlook that fact.

A Nonprofit for IndieWeb?! I pitched this session with something like an AMA in mind, where I’d bring in my experience co-founding IFTF and make my argument why I think that IndieWeb could benefit from a dedicated non-profit corporation. I babbled on this topic for a while before Aaron politely and astutely interrupted to suggest that we go around the room for introductions instead. This revealed that everyone present knew more about this topic than me, and I faded into the back row to let everyone else drive. The session ended up going in a direction rather different than the one I’d imagined, but also far from the argument for status-quo that I received in May from my blog post on this topic.

A pleasantly oblique success, really!

IndieWeb for Comics. Jamey Sharp, who co-created the webcomics reader/aggregator service Comic Rocket, wished to think out loud about creating a webcomics reader built entirely on web standards (including but not limited to good old RSS). I took notes for the wiki. And that was pretty much it!

Today I have set aside to explore Portland, and tomorrow I fly home clutching my laptop whose Omnifocus inbox overflows with lists of technologies to read more about. With luck and clear skies, I can make a dent in those while hunched in seat 19A, and I look forward to it.


One final note: as I continue to get more involved with IndieWeb, I really need to hash out my domain situation! IndieWeb encourages its memership to claim a single domain and use it as their personal stamp for everything they do on the internet. I, though, have two domains: my long-held personal catch-all domain of jmac.org, and fogknife.com, which I use exclusively for blogging. My use of both predates my involvement with IndieWeb.

I have noticed that, while I identified myself with jmac.org from the get-go, various other voices within IndieWeb have named my personal domain as fogknife.com when citing my work. And why wouldn’t they? It’s the domain I invite everyone to come look at and subscribe to, after all — the jmac.org website is mostly a static link-brochure and personal archive.

None of this matters a great deal; both domains clearly belong to me, with no confusion, should you land at either one. But I have never intended to present a split persona to the online world, so I should put some thought and muscle in the near future into resolving this.

This was also posted to IndieNews.

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