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EH

My IndieWeb story, Part 1: Jumping in the Deep End

This is part 1 of at least a 4 part series about the IndieWeb and my involvement with it so far. I hope it presents both some technical aspects of the IndieWeb but more so introduces how the IndieWeb experience is personal and is shaped by each individual.

Over the last year and a half I’ve worked on building technology into my website that is “IndieWeb” compatible. What that means is it allows me to engage socially across the Internet with other websites similarly to how you can engage with someone on Facebook. The technology is there, and while it still has a little ways to go before it’s easy for just anyone to sign up for, every step forward counts.

However, as I mentioned on Micro Monday this week, I didn’t plan to build an IndieWeb website when I got into this. I wasn’t really trying to build a website at all. In fact, It all started when drama was building around what I consider to be the worst presidential election in my history. Not only because of the outcome (which in itself was horrible, in my opinion) but also because of how separated and hostile the battles lines became. Not to re-hash the past, but to say, in that context I wanted to write a blog post aimed at those who consider themselves Christians (of which, I am one) to consider the difference between political affiliation and faith. If you want to read the blog post that started the current incarnation of my website it’s here: Where Liberalism and Conservatism Meet the Bible.

Back to the topic at hand, I put together a quick and plain Jekyll site because it was a fast and hassle free way to put up my blog post. Jekyll, for those unfamiliar, is a static site generator, which means I can write in Markdown, and write a template in HTML, and Jekyll will output static HTML files for me to upload to my servers. It can be very quick and easy for those familiar with it and leads to very little maintenance to keep the website up. At that time I was also reading a LOT of books (for the past several years I’ve read around 52 books a year), so since I had a blog, I decided to post a couple of book reviews.

Then I remembered the IndieWeb. I had met Aaron Parecki and Amber Case in 2012 or 2013 at the Esri Developer Summit. I started following them on Twitter and soon learned about the IndieWeb, a group of people that were working to build technology that allowed cross-website communication that was focused more on the people and interactions than the technology behind it all. However at that early stage, although being a technical person, I didn’t see how it would fit into my life, so I shelved it in the back of my mind and moved on.

So about 4 years later, with a blog post and two book reviews, I thought I’d like to do more with my website, and I remembered the IndieWeb. I pulled up Aaron’s twitter and found a link to the IndieWeb’s website.

It was the right time in my life, and I started to integrate aspects of IndieWeb compatible technology into my website. First I started by adding Microformats. Those allowed other people using IndieWeb compatible technology to be able to understand my posts in a machine readable way. Next, I added a Webmention endpoint, which turned out to be really easy because I was able to use a free service provided by Aaron called Webmention.io. It handled receiving and processing the webmentions that my site received and I was able to just fetch the data from Webmention.io every time I rebuilt my site and display them beneath my posts

Then, I realized I wanted to post to my site more and having to write markdown posts on my computer, build the site and upload it to the internet was no longer feasible. Not wanting to rebuild my entire site, I built a node.js (server-side JavaScript) server that wrapped around my existing Jekyll website. What this did was two things: It allowed me to trigger a website rebuild on the server rather than having to do it on my computer and upload the html files, and it allowed me to add Micropub support to my site. What this means, is I could use any Micropub Client app (there are a lot available, but some of the most important ones: (Omnibear, OwnYourGram, OwnYourSwarm, Quill, Screech, Slater, Teacup, Indigenous for iOS and Indigenous for Android). This suddenly made it as easy to post to my website as to post to Twitter.

Over the past year and a half, I have added a variety of features that I don’t have the time to go into in this post.

It was a great start in the IndieWeb, but the easier it is to post things, the more you post. Soon, I found that my simple, easy to use static site generator just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I would post cool things or be holding a conversation and then I would have to wait 20 minutes while my entire website rebuilt the 10,824 posts that are contained within my website. For all the wonderful integrations the IndieWeb brought to my life, it couldn’t fix the fact that I had to wait 20 minutes for something to appear on my website. I knew it was time for a change.

Part 2 is coming soon…

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