Silos, Webmentions and the Challenge of Owning Your Own Content

For pretty much as long as there have been social networks I have strug­gled with how to main­tain my own content while simul­ta­ne­ously going where the audi­ence is. Expect­ing people to come to you is a fool­ish endeavor.

It’s not that what I post is inher­ently valu­able, it’s that it is mine and I would like to control it. So my default has been to post to my blog and then post versions to assorted networks. But unless you’re some sort of full time social media expert, that’s far too time consum­ing to be prac­ti­cal. Yes, in an ideal world each network gets its own hand crafted post, but really… I don’t have time for that.

So the fall­back has been to use vari­ous hacks to push the content to Twit­ter or Face­book etc. But those are hacks and open to frequent fail­ure. And it still left the prob­lem of responses, there was no good way to aggre­gate responses from all these differ­ent places G+, Insta­gram, Flickr, Tumblr... and on it goes.

For a while I just gave up on the blog comments completely and figured I’d see what I’d see, now, with Webmen­tions I’m trying a differ­ent tack which is to consol­i­date every­thing back to my blog again.

Social Networks Matter

I’m not a social person, I don’t actu­ally like people, and mostly I write for my own satis­fac­tion just to map out what I am think­ing. I don’t then go look­ing for friends on social networks. I do, however, go look­ing for ideas, for thoughts, concepts, infor­ma­tion.

You would not sit in your house and expect the people to contin­u­ally come by just to tell you things, simi­larly it’s unrea­son­able to post only to your blog and expect the entire world to make a special visit. Content needs to be share­able and acces­si­ble. Where the reader is shouldn’t matter.

Social networks do that, the prob­lem is they then contain the responses in a silo.

Owning Your Content Matters

It’s not about telling people where they have to read you, it’s about control­ling what you get to say. If you post on Face­book or Twit­ter or Medium or anywhere else you are at the mercy of their terms and condi­tions. They can block you. They can delete your post or your whole profile. That is their right, but I don’t want to be limited like that.

They can also get shut down and then what­ever you put on their, your photos, your reviews your random thoughts about toast, are locked away in their silo forever.

Publish Once, Syndicate Everywhere, Aggregate Responses

It’s a great concept and it, just about, works, but it’s clunky and spend­ing the week­end imple­ment­ing it shows just how far away from prime time it is.

The basic idea behind Webmen­tions is that you have a loca­tion on the web (a domain) which is desig­nated as you, as the origin of your content. When you post to other sites, you simply include a link back to the orig­i­nal post and with a little bit of magic (it may not actu­ally be magic) all the likes, favorites, replies and re-posts you receive can be added as comments to the right page on your blog.

In many ways it is the perfect solu­tion, or it will be, maybe.

The prob­lem is not the concept, it’s feder­ated, decen­tral­ized and flex­i­ble, the prob­lem is execu­tion.

Indie Web Camp is a collec­tion of tech­ni­cally minded people who believe quite strongly in owning your own content. Beyond that, they don’t really agree on very much. They do have a number of broad formats and proto­cols but there are numer­ous imple­men­ta­tions at vari­ous stages of half-baked comple­tion. They know this and acknowl­edge it on their website.

There’s no company behind them so no central­ized direc­tion. What’s good about that is you get a million differ­ent ideas shoot­ing out in all direc­tions. What’s bad is you get a million differ­ent ideas shoot­ing out in all direc­tions.

Some projects are well supported, others are just one guy. Some are frequently updated and some haven’t been touched in three years. It’s quite hard, until you go digging to figure out which is which.

And here we get to the heart of why Indie Web won’t catch on in its current form. It’s just too diffi­cult. The docu­men­ta­tion is sparse or incom­plete, the imple­men­ta­tions are often obscure and a lot of the time unless you find some­one to talk to you’ll never figure out what you need to do.

I’m a person of allegedly above aver­age intel­li­gence with a docu­mented above aver­age educa­tion who has special­ized in IT related things for the better part of 40 years and yet it took me two days of head scratch­ing to fully imple­ment Webmen­tions the way I wanted in Word­Press. And that was using their bundled plugin! There’s certainly no way I could expect anyone else in my family to use it.

This Needs to Work

I’m not going to go into detail about my speci­fic imple­men­ta­tion yet, not least because I’m not sure I fully under­stand it, but also because I’m still tweak­ing how I do things.

The thing is, this needs to work. We need to own our own content. We don’t want to go back to the days when a hand­ful of news­pa­per owners controlled every­thing and that’s where we’re headed we just have the Social Network silos to rely on.

Commu­nity projects have broken through to the main­stream before, but it rarely happens with­out some level of corpo­rate support and right now it’s not in Google or Face­book or Yahoo’s inter­est to back some­thing like this.

About Eoghann Irving

Overly opinionated owner and author of eoghann.com. You can get updated on his posts directly on the blog here or through the usual social networking suspects. What? You expected me to say something interesting here? That's what the blog posts are for. Eoghann has often wondered if people read these little bio things we have to fill out everywhere on the internet and, assuming they do, why?

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