IndieWeb manifesto

A call for individuals to take back rights and control from the corporate web

The internet was not always as it is now. Things were better in its heyday, and not just in hindsight. Like with a lot of other things in life, corporations monopolised the internet when they realised it presented new opprtunities to make money. Unlike a lot of other things, this monopoly was only in perception: the corporate web of today has not fundamentally altered the foundations of the internet, merely drawn our attention away from it and to that flashy portion of the Web where corporations weild control over visuals, narratives and monies.

In effect, even if not by rule, the web has been centralised around the whims of corporations. It is high time we decentralised it and brought it back to what it was, to that property of the web that made it work so well and gave it so much potential. But this was never the vision for the Web, and it is important that individuals take back control of the internet to have it work the way we desire; to create on the web an atmosphere that resonates with us as individuals in which large, faceless corporations are merely participants no different from us. The indie web is poised to play a huge, impactful role in bringing about this shift in the power structure.

On this pageThe IndieWeb movementAbout this websiteThe trouble with POSSEThe importance of a blogWe need simpler webmentionsAvoid distractible practicesGive and takeOn e-mail

The IndieWeb movement

What it stands for

Founded as series of conferences (the still active IndieWebCamp) by Tantek Çelik, Amber Case, Aaron Parecki, Crystal Beasley and Kevin Marks, the IndieWeb movement is centred around ten principles:

  1. Own your data
  2. Use and publish visible data for humans first, machines second
  3. Make what you need
  4. Use what you make
  5. Document your stuff
  6. Open source your stuff
  7. UX and design is more important than protocols, formats, data models, schema etc.
  8. Modularity
  9. Longevity
  10. Plurality

This author neither believes in nor follows all of these but backs the IndieWeb movement as a whole.

About this website

How we keep pace

On this website I believe in certain aspects of the IndieWeb movement but question others. Work has been done to realise some aspects while it remains to be done for some others. I stand by the three basic statements of the movement viz. “Your content is yours”, “You(r works) are better connected”, and “You are in control.”

The IndieWeb movement relies on the basic structure of the web: that content can be put up in one place and linked to that place from everywhere else. This works because simple hyperlinks are the threads that make this ‘web’. I have always referred to this website as my corner of the Web and that is precisely what this movement embraces. It also rightly means I am in control of my works, the way they are seen, how people consume them and how I can answer for them.

The trouble is in the POSSE aspects of the IndieWeb—an idea that stands for “Publish On Site, Syndicate Elsewhere”—that requires us to publish everything, even a tweet, on our own site first and then ‘syndicate’ that (link to it legitimately as non-duplicate content) everywher else, such as on Twitter itself. This is a great idea on paper, at least for now, because we lack the Web infrastructure to make this a frictionless process (see below).

I absolutely back the IndieWeb movement but it is important to strengthen the movement by recognising where it is currently lacking. For example, I outline below why I disagree with the current state of POSSE, the IndieWeb stance on e-mail and the current state of webmentions. We have, for example, normalised the idea that some idea or text we put out on, say, Twitter, is “my” tweet. But in reality Twitter owns that piece of content now. Should we not be the cotinued owners of it instead? Shoul “my” tweet not remain mine regardless of its merit? Only if it first gets published on my website can it forever be recognised as “my” content rather than a morsel on an enormous plate handled by a corporation.

The idea of content ownership returning to individuals threatens corporations and their current, beneficial status quo. This is why most large websites have checks in place that drown or otherwise discourage content syndication. They want your content and ideas directly on their platform under their ownership.

The trouble with POSSE

Not a bunch of cowboys

Simply put, there is currently no frictionless method of running POSSE that can compete with the ease of firing away a tweet or Mastodon post or something like that. Part of the reason is that Twitter, Instagram or some other big corporation does not want it to be easy to link away from them and that is the central idea of POSSE. While Twitter ranks external links lower, Instagram simply prohibits external links on posts.

POSSE currently has some help in the form of services like which connect to and crawl websites to variously format tweets or toots, as appropriate, and syndicate website posts on linked social media platforms (mainly Mastodon and BlueSky in my case). But the trouble remains that popular platforms also happen to be run by large corporations and they are conspicuously absent here. There is no Twitter or Instagram, but—probably because the fediverse is in the roadmap of Threads—we surprisingly have Facebook.

The POSSE model cannot hope to succeed on demands of substantial shifts in usage pattern from the public. Such models rarely work in practice. As Mickey Mellen puts it, “Continuing to share on social media ... helps keep things easier on your readers. While I’d love to see a world where everyone uses RSS to handle their media consumption, I realize that isn’t going to happen.” It is clear, in other words, that the responsibility of seeing POSSE through should fall entirely on the indie website owner.

For now, no matter how huge a role POSSE plays in the IndieWeb, I cannot justify implementing it in any form in my workflow.

The importance of a blog

Or as I like to call them, marginalia for the web

“Welcome to my collection of notes, thoughts and bookmarks of news, interesting links and stuff from around the web.” These were the words which adorned the masthead of my blog back in 2008, four years after I had built my first website and one year after I started this one.

Margin notes as an exercise in community-building

Around 2010 my writing branched into two distinct sections: I continued publishing essays as I had since 2007, and around 2010 I started a Tumblr with margin notes for everything I came across online. The latter died out sometime after 2016. As of 2024 I wiped the slate clean and resurrected my marginalia here, right next to my longer essays, because I think this habit is critical to building a healthy, fun community on the web (more on this below).

Think of this as a Daring Fireball for my fields of interest and expertise viz. science, technology, history and culture. The purpose of these notes is threefold:

  1. To catalogue my thoughts on various issues going on around the world that concern my fields of interest and expertise (see above);
  2. To be a public list of bookmarks of things I come across that I think will be of general public interest based mostly around my own interests but by not means limited to them;
  3. To serve as fodder for my main website where I publish essays so that I can put out briefer thoughts here while those that incubate and get fleshed out into deeper ideas become essays on my main site

In addition, I plan to note down a few lines of thoughts on various books I read that do not make it to a full book review on my main site.

Why this is important

Daniel AKA Melon King puts it curtly but honestly when he says “ [a] website a dead end? If it is; its dead weight for the web!”

The web thrives on all of us linking to each other’s websites, thoughts, comments and more, to have an ongoing but implicit conversation that, from time to time, sparks proper, open conversations about important ideas that can shape our world. Or Super Mario—it’s a toss-up.

Links are the life blood of the internet and the more freely we link the better it is and the more control is taken away from the CorpoWeb because the IndieWeb can overwhelm it. In the end, individuals control the web and corporations can come to us; not the other way round.

How you can use this

In the broadest sense, simply follow along (see below). More specifically, you can search for things from the menu to see what I have or have not talked about, and what I have or have not discussed my views about. If you are interested in my area of academic expertise viz. issues at the interconnections of science, technology, history and society, and would prefer fortnightly insights instead, subscribe to my newsletter or view past issues before you subscribe.

If you like these notes, bookmark this website with + D or just subscribe to the free RSS feed. You can also feel free to get in touch with me anytime and let me know if you’d be interested in hopping onto a plaintext mailing list to receive updates at longer intervals such as weekly or fortnightly.

We need simpler webmentions

If the IndieWeb must survive, we must stop thinking like developers

The idea of webmentions is central to the IndieWeb. It is how websites “talk” to one another and with social media platforms. In its simplest form, a webmention is a listing of every “like”, “boost” or comment a webpage has received (ideally) anywhere on the web. It is a one-stop shop for everything everyone is talking about this piece of content, presented in the context of the content itself.

There are two problems I see with webmentions and why I do not implement them on this website.

  1. Webmentions are too technical. I enjoy the occasional coding challenge and I routinely dabble in HTML, CSS, JS, and am familiar with JSON, YML etc. I list these not as an exhaustive list of my skills but because these are what you need to be able to display webmentions on your site. I will not even get started with sending webmentions manually because you need a curl command to do that.
  2. Webmentions are out of context. Webmentions are about discussing something, yet they are taken out of the context of the original discussion. If I link to my article in the context of an adjacent idea being discussed elsewhere on the web, the mention is still placed under my original article, taking the mention out of its context elsewhere.

As Mario Hamann put it, “Posts live in the context of their platform, and even if it's public, that context always matters.”

Rarely do things written for programmers by programmers make it in the real world without substantial modification. Webmentions in thier current state are not user-friendly. If they intend to be a tool to enhance the IndieWeb, they must be simpler to implement even for programmers who know the language because webmentions are not a coding challenge but a tool designed for end-users. There are, for example, third-party solutions to simplify webmentions to some extent, like bridgy; but as Bryce Wray points out they come with privacy and data permanence concerns.

We need an IndieWeb that is not all tech but also human, which shows greater understanding of human interactions with the web and with one another. Webmentions are a promising concept in the IndieWeb, but they need a lot of work to become a lot less convuluted and much more convincing—at least for me.

Avoid distractible practices

Respect the reader

The web is increasingly rewarding the implementation of distracting design practices. At the fundamental level these include such things as infinite scrolling, non-contextual links to next and previous posts, in-the-face elements like popups etc. At a higher level these websites beckon you to them through notifications and unnecessary e-mails. For a more detailed look at such practices, consider reading Nir Eyal’s redemptive book Indistractible or its unmentionable but critical predecessor.

What all such practices have in common, besides being questionable, is that they rely on unintentional, subconscious decision making on the part of the user. The next and previous links found at the bottom of several blogs are the least culpable of this lot—possibly even forgivable—but the only one of its kind. Besides these, other forms of design intended to “retain” users did not exist in the early days of the internet and that is a higher ideal to which the IndieWeb must also subscribe if it chooses to subscribe to other practices like blogrolls.

For this reason this website allows the user to make conscious choices. There is no infinite scroll. Every page turned is an act of intent. Further reading is suggested contextually, such as with individual notes, or as part of a flow, such as with newsletter issues. Other forms of content, like essays and book reviews, offer simple links back to their respective collections. Once the reader has read a piece, they should consciously choose to read more or leave. This is respectful of the reader, their time and their commitment.

Give and take

Participation builds a community

You cannot expect to take without giving—at least not until you make it big in life, and even then gratitude goes a long way. Likewise you can write your heart out and will be left with the age-old problem of nobody reading what you write if you only ever write. If you write for yourself, stick with it. But if you hope to be read, you also have to read.

Get out there, join meaningful social networks—I mean the likes of Mastodon where real community participation takes place, not Instagram or Threads—and talk to people. The great thing about this is you do not have to introduce yourself a hundred times, you do not have to know the person; you can gently enter any public conversation.

By joining a conversation you are already contributing and it quickly becomes its own reward. But over time you grow your network of followers who will remember you even if they do not know you and will read what you share. You will gain readers for what you write. But remember to continue reading what others write too.

I have made a promise to read what you write for example, as have several other people led by Manuel Moreale. As a community, the IndieWeb will thrive only if we all consume and create; balanced well, they will both enrich us. This might be half-and-half but it can change; sometimes you will have to create more than you consume and other times vice-versa. You will know your balance when you start doing them both in earnest. Create an imbalance and the community will implode.

On e-mail

Unnecessary overheads

I never understood why the IndieWeb community is opposed to e-mail as a matter of principle. I understand their argument, which they base on a fun little 16-year-old video that e-mail threads can get complicated if too many people are involved and conversations go on for too long. But e-mail is elegant in its simplicity and for it to scale, the receivers and senders all need to do their parts. This is just the same as in using any tool. Reply properly, quote e-mails in your responses, and keep threads intact and e-mail will be a simple but powerful tool for collaboration.

I think IRC has its place, as does Wiki, but so also does e-mail. At least in how helpful technology has become e-mail has remained more user-friendly than either Wiki or IRC—just ask the average person to write a Wiki and even [[wikilinks]] can stump them. Moreover, with robust Wiki-compatible writing formats in use—like markdown extra—why has the IndieWeb wiki not kept pace?

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