Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Each episode features guests from around the community and discussions of the largest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
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Doc Pop: You’re listening to Press This, a WordPress Community Podcast on WMR. Each week we spotlight members of the WordPress community. I’m your host, Doc Pop. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and my contributions over on TorqueMag.Io where I get to do podcasts and draw cartoons and tutorial videos. Check that out.
Wherever you look online these days, it seems like the web is consolidating into fewer and fewer pillars. Now, on this podcast, we often focus on ways to optimize your WordPress website or improve your SEO ranking for Google. But on this episode, we’re going to just talk about a philosophy that celebrates individuality, a realm of freedom and expression that might challenge our perceptions of the WordPress user experience.
Today, we are going to be talking about the IndieWeb, which is a group of web designers and users who are creating the type of web that they’d like to see, a non corporate web. The existence of an IndieWeb, implies the existence of a dependent web. And so these are the folks that are trying to fix that.
So today, we are going to be talking to David Wolfpaw, a website mechanic for FixUpFox, as well as a theme and plugin developer and a contributor for the WordPress Community Team. David, how are you doing today?
David Wolfpaw: I’m doing very well, yourself?
Doc Pop: I’m doing great. I’d love to kick this off by just hearing about how you got into WordPress.
David Wolfpaw: Absolutely. I’ve been doing web development for over 20 years now, looking back before WordPress was around. But I didn’t actually get into WordPress until 2008. So I’d been around for about five years at that point. I’d been using other CMSs. I’d been doing a lot of PHP coding, you know, separate of using any CMS.
And quite honestly, I just wanted to try out a few different tools for managing my own personal website at the time. I was already blogging prior to that, but I was doing blogging in the manner of just writing new pieces of content at the start of an HTML page and uploading it to a server. So finding that there was a tool specifically built for that, it was pretty easy to get on. But I also found that when I started using WordPress, I brought a lot of my own existing habits to the WordPress space.
So for example, when I built my first WordPress website, I had no idea that there was a navigation system built into the dashboard. So I went in and edited the header.php file every time I wanted to change a link to a page or something. So, you know, not everything is immediately apparent to someone who’s not used the software.
Doc Pop: And WordPress is still your main CMS, or do you tend to kind of explore Joomla and other CMSs as well?
David Wolfpaw: No. WordPress is still my main CMS. I have worked on some Drupal sites before along with some other CMSs and other non-blogging non-site builder platforms. But I continue to return to WordPress time and time again.
Doc Pop: And let’s get into that main topic. What is the IndieWeb in your definition?
David Wolfpaw: Yeah, so I would first direct anybody to visit IndieWeb.org to find out information about a wide variety of IndieWeb related topics. There’s a whole section specifically devoted to WordPress there.
My personal definition of the IndieWeb is any site that the user is building for themselves for their own purposes, that doesn’t just mean like personal use, but it could also mean for business use, that is disconnected from a third party centralized service. What I mean by that is you are building your own website or using your own social media that is hosted elsewhere, then building a Facebook page to promote your business or using Squarespace to build a website for yourself. Those things have their own uses and their own values, but you have a lot less control over them.
Doc Pop: And what are some of the other CMSs that are part of the IndieWeb? If Squarespace would be a third party that you’re dependent on, what are some of the CMSs out there that are popular in the IndieWeb community?
David Wolfpaw: One big part of it, I guess one thing that I didn’t bring up is that, usually it’s things that you are self-hosting. But I do wanna make a distinction that you do not need to be self-hosting, to do something that you’d consider part of that or at least I don’t think so.
But that you have the opportunity to self-host. So you might use the Ghost CMS, for instance, or WordPress.com. And you may have, those companies host it for you, but when it comes to platforms like WordPress or Ghost, two that I would consider very popular in that realm, you have the opportunity to self host them if you want.
And also you have data portability. So if I start a website on WordPress.com, and I decide later that I want to self host that website, I can do so without losing any of my content, because WordPress has led the way in making data portability very important when it comes to your content online so I can easily take all of my content and move it to my own site.
Doc Pop: That rings true to me. I feel like I’ve talked to Tontek throughout the years about the IndieWeb and heard that self hosting was kind of a big part of it. I always thought it was like a requirement. But the way you just phrased it kind of makes me think the reason I don’t use Twitter anymore is maybe because I want to be able to own my content and move it around and not be dependent on someone.
And even though I’m not hosting my Mastodon instance, I could, and the same reason I have my personal website on WordPress instead of on some other places, I’m not dependent on that other place in terms if they make a policy change or break something, I can always have my website under my control, but beyond that, I also have the option.
I’m not self hosting. I can’t imagine self hosting my site, but I have that option. So I think the data portability and all that kind of goes together. And just because I’m not hosting my own site doesn’t mean that maybe I’m not still following some of the principles that are building philosophies of the IndieWeb.
David Wolfpaw: Absolutely, I would agree with that. One example, earlier this year, Automatic hired Matthias, I don’t think I’ve heard his last name out loud, Pfefferle, and if I’m mispronouncing it, Matthias, I’m sorry. Specifically to work on ActivityPub related plugins for WordPress, both for WordPress.org users, but also for people on WordPress.com.
And I’m highlighting that as the larger, what I would consider a more centralized company in terms of if you’re hosting on WordPress.com, you are bound to they’re decision making about the hosting platform, but you still have that ability to do some of the more IndieWeb things such as communicate cross platform.
The real reason I want to make that distinction that I don’t think hosting is the only thing is it has a lot more in my mind to do with what you can do with the things that you have. A good example is that without using a third party tool that’s just double posting things, and I’m just going to say this is notwithstanding any of the weird confusion going on with centralized social media right now, which, I’m sure all the listeners know, you can’t just make an Instagram post and have that show up as a Twitter post as well.
You can’t post a story on Snapchat and have that also be available for people on Facebook. But when it comes to the IndieWeb, you can do things like that. I can use my Mastodon account to listen to music from a FunkWale instance, which is a decentralized music platform. There’s things like Peertube, so I can I use my account on my Mastodon instance to comment on people’s YouTube channels, for instance, using Peertube, and I don’t need to maintain a separate account somewhere.
Right now, a lot of the different platforms are seen as clones, I would say, like PixelFed is what a lot of people call an Instagram clone, which is a fair assessment, but I think it’s less, we’re just trying to copy what this platform has done, and more of a these are the ways people have decided to share themselves online the tools that we have, photo, video, text, audio, and there just happens to be a centralized company that’s done that first.
Doc Pop: You mentioned the idea of how we would’ve done that before would’ve been like cross posting or double posting I think is a better way to put it. Where if you want something to go out to all the different places, you literally post it on Twitter and then you copy paste and you post it to Facebook or whatever.
And I like how you’re talking about this positive feature of the IndieWeb through the ActivityPub is how you don’t have to double posts. You can just choose how you follow things and choose how you share things. You could share on Pixel Fed and somebody following on Mastodon could interact with it.
And we are going to bring this back into WordPress because ActivityPub has great integrations with WordPress and there’s a lot of crossover and a lot of potential for how we’ll be able to share and comment. And do all sorts of powerful things from WordPress while still having something that feels like the web we know today.
Just a decentralized version of it, and we’re gonna get back to that after this short break. So stay tuned for more with our conversation with David Wolfpaw, right after this.
Doc Pop: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress community podcast. I’m your host, Doc Pop. Today, I’m talking to David Wolfpaw, a website mechanic for FixUpFox, and we are talking about the IndieWeb, and we’re gonna talk about how the IndieWeb can help keep the web weird and how WordPress can be part of that. Right before the break, we talked about plugins that are available and the potential for WordPress to kind of crossover with things outside of WordPress.
David, let’s get into that. What sort of tools are there to help WordPress users join the IndieWeb?
David Wolfpaw: The first thing that I would clarify is I think that if you are hosting your own WordPress site, you are already de facto part of the IndieWeb. You are doing all of the things that I would consider core to the IndieWeb ethos. But you probably want to go beyond that. You probably want to discuss ways that you can interact elsewhere or that you can do more with your own site.
The first plugin that I would suggest is the IndieWeb plugin itself, just because it’s an easy name to remember. And the IndieWeb plugin doesn’t do anything on its own, so much as wrap together a lot of functionality of various other plugins. I would compare it kind of to Jetpack in that way, in that you’re installing one tool that helps you manage a variety of different tools.
So some of the things that the IndieWeb plugin itself provides is a way to do web mentions. So when you use a Webmention, you are notifying another website that some activity has taken place on your website. So an example of how I use the Webmention plugin on my personal site is that I can write a post on my site and then I can copy the link to that post and I can write my own post on Mastodon, being like, hey, blah blah blah, I wrote this article, take a look.
When somebody responds via Mastodon, that will show up on my personal website. So no longer does somebody have to go to your website and go fill out the comment form down there and wait for your approval there. Although I’ll specify, you can still set comments to require approval on your site. So it’s a lot easier way to get engagement and more interaction on your content, which I found that it leads to more engagement because it’s a lot easier for you to see a link and make a comment about it where you’ve seen the link, as opposed to having to follow it elsewhere.
Another tool that I want to highlight within that plugin is the syndication links. Think about it kind of like canonical links. Basically, if you are cross posting to other places, you have a way to indicate where it’s been cross posted, where people can get other copies, and vice versa, if those sites support syndication links back, you’ll be able to, again, get more traffic to your own site. So one example that I use here is Medium.
If anyone regularly uses Medium to blog, you do have the ability to post to your own website, post the same content to Medium, and then use syndication links to ensure that people are going back to your own website.
Doc Pop: I wanted to just kind of mention, first off, for anyone listening, the IndieWeb plugin that we’re talking about, and probably the others that we’re talking about, these are all available in the WordPress repository, wordpress.org, and the IndieWeb. I love that description of it as sort of like the Jetpack for this, because it is a package of plugins, right?
It’s like a suite of plugins, or am I wrong on that?
David Wolfpaw: So basically it lets you use that as a way to install other plugins. And you can also deactivate them from there. So it’s not saying that Post Kinds or IndieAuth or Micropub are built into this plugin so much as it’s a portal for you to get them, more readily. But it does have its own settings and options that allow you to connect to other plugins.
So what I mean to say is if you, let’s say, have the syndication links active, you can choose which providers you have set up. You can choose how it’s going to look on your website. and you can set up specific API keys to use it for other websites, but you can, you can go in there and say, I specifically want to activate GitHub so that if somebody interacts with something via GitHub, it will come back to my site.
And for developers that can be very useful depending on what kind of project they’re working on. I mean, there’s a variety of different things. There’s also a tool that’s heavily integrated called Bridgy, which is another way that it’s external of WordPress itself, but it can be integrated with this plugin to allow people to do cross posting between websites that allow it.
Doc Pop: That’s cool. You mentioned one of my favorite use cases that I’ve experienced. We haven’t talked about the ActivityPub plugin yet, but I’ve got the ActivityPub plugin. And when I post from my personal blog, it goes up to its own feed, sort of independent of my Mastodon feed. It goes up as a different feed.
And if people leave comments on it if they see it as a post and they’re like, oh, here’s my comment, it shows up on my blog post. And so I go to my blog and there’s this natural feeling. It’s a comment to the post and it’s so cool as a writer to just make that ease where, you know, someone could post on one place and it shows up on another and it just feels seamless and natural.
It’s super cool.
David Wolfpaw: Oh, absolutely. If you were tolook at the back end of my site, and look at posts and look at the comments on posts. I could probably identify the day that I activated that plugin because suddenly there’s so much more engagement and to be clear that engagement is always there or presumably it’s there if you are sharing things elsewhere, but the problem is it’s all siloed in other places.
And I’m not just saying this in terms, like when I’m saying engagement, I don’t just mean like it’s good for the SEO and everything, although I think that it is, I also think that it’s good to be able to as much as we talk about decentralization in the IndieWeb, it’s good to be able to centralize the conversation a bit in a place that you have more control over.
So again, you both have that decentralized aspect of people can respond on whatever platform they’re most comfortable on or wherever they see it, but you have that ability to combine everything together in a place that it’s useful to me to be able to see it all there.
Doc Pop: We’re running low on time, but I do want to talk about two things: rel= me and ActivityPub. First let’s start off with, can you tell us the significance for WordPress users of “REL=me” on Mastodon and sites like that?
David Wolfpaw: Yes, so rel=me that is an attribute for link elements. Basically, you would post an HTML link element or an anchor element, either or, and you can use that to indicate that you have to verify. So I can go to my Mastodon account. And put in my account, I have DavidWolfPaw.com. And then on my website, on my personal site, I can put a link to my Mastodon account.
Being able to put those links on both directions using that rel=me attribute. is a good enough indicator that I’m an owner of that. So it’s a way to verify yourself on those platforms. When a lot of people moved over from Twitter, they wanted to know, like, you know, how do you verify? How are people having checkmarks in their bio when they’re not verified?
The answer is it doesn’t really work the same, but you can verify in a more I’m proving that I am who I say I am kind of way. And you can do the same with other platforms that are built in, such as GitHub has it built in, and I believe Tumblr does as well, there’s a few others.
Doc Pop: Yeah. Everybody should have it built in. It’s inexcusable that they don’t.
David Wolfpaw: Well they want to keep their walled gardens, but yes, I agree. Everyone should have it.
And then the other thing is the ActivityPub extension. If you look at my Learn WordPress Webinar concerning the IndieWeb. I didn’t really address that plugin quite as much because while it existed at the time, even though that was only a few months ago, it was not nearly as fully fledged as it is now.
And I think that speaks volumes to, one, how much more work a developer can do when they have the support of a large company like Automattic, and two, how much more focus there is on this. I’ve been on Mastodon for, you know, almost seven years now, but only in the past year or so for various reasons has it really taken off.
Doc Pop: I think that’s a good spot for us to take another final break. And when we come back, we’ll wrap up our conversation with David Wolfpaw about how we can go back to the web’s weird roots. So stay tuned for more after this short break.
Doc Pop: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress community podcast. I’m your host, Doc Pop, and we have talked about the IndieWeb, its philosophy, how you can apply it practically to your WordPress usage, and also how you use other social media sites and integrate it all together.
And on this final thing at the beginning of the show, I talked about how it feels like the web is consolidating into fewer and fewer silos. And I kind of hope to see those shaken up, but that may or may not happen. And it seems so different than the early days of the web, which wasn’t just about weird. I mean, it was definitely weird, but it wasn’t just weird. It was experimental. It was fun. It was creative. It was so expressive.
And I feel like we’ve certainly lost something there. And so, David, just kind of at the end, I wanted to hear your thoughts about how the IndieWeb can help keep the web weird and why that’s important.
David Wolfpaw: Yeah. I’ll just say for myself personally, I am a bingo card of intersectional different marginalized groups. I’m a queer person who is Hispanic and I’m neurodivergent and et cetera, et cetera. I can go on and on about all the different things that the centralized web does not treat too kindly, is probably the most polite way I can put it. So there are a lot of places where I have not felt very welcome online, but a lot of the IndieWeb spaces that I’ve found have really been a much better, healthier, stronger community than I ever had on any other platform.
So I think that’s really important because it allows people who might not otherwise be heard or who might be silenced on a platform because they might make a dangerous suggestion like we shouldn’t be killing trans people, and allow them to say that without being banned. I also think it’s just better when you have a bit more control over the things you’re posting and the things you share online.
You don’t know what’s going to happen to these platforms over time. I think even a year ago, August 2022, if you asked people what Twitter would be like today, they probably wouldn’t be picturing the reality of Twitter in August 2023. Because it hasn’t even been a year since that sale was made final.
But it’s completely different. I’m completely off that platform after over a decade of using it. And I still keep going with the self hosted Mastodon, and since I have, I just find it’s a better community.
I’m trying to think of a good way to put this. I think that an important part of keeping the web weird is that it makes it antithetical to advertising. So, while I don’t consider advertising itself a bad thing, obviously we all are doing it for our businesses, for our own sites the people listening to this probably do a lot as well. I think you can understand that the ad industry on the web right now is broken, and it’s been called the original sin of the web.
I don’t disagree with that, and I think that having more personal control means that you don’t have to rely on that quite as much to share what you want to share. I’m not thinking about the economics of posting tutorials to my website to share with others. I’m not thinking of how many impressions I’m going to get on a photo that I take. Because that’s going to lead to a brand deal or something.
It can sound a bit counter to how a lot of people view being online. But also, all of us are just trying to live our own lives online in some way. And it’s just a lot more enjoyable when we have a bit more control and when we don’t feel that we’re beholden to what someone else thinks is brand safe or appropriate.
Doc Pop: I have to say, I have benefited greatly through the work that people have done to make these IndieWeb tools and to make the web more open, and I just think it’s so much better. Things aren’t necessarily free ’cause they’re not paid for by your attention and advertising and stuff like that.
There’s a little bit more of a learning curve, usability, sometimes it can feel different than these other things. But these are tools that have been made that I benefit from. I’m so glad for the work that’s been done, and I totally acknowledge that these tools are created by marginalized people who didn’t feel safe on other spaces and they built all of the groundwork that now I just get to come in and, you know, see this beautiful like Pixel Fed and Mastodon and all sorts of things that have been built by people who needed to create a space for their own, but it’s so inclusive and such a great features to them because of whatever reasons that they had in their philosophies.
That I just think the web is so much better if we can kind of bump off the corporate web. And as WordPress users, we’re already halfway there. So David, I really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much for joining us and for telling us about the IndieWeb and the different tools that are available.
If people want to follow you online, where do you recommend sending them?
Doc Pop: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, and thanks to everyone who’s listened to this episode of Press This, a WordPress Community Podcast on WMR. We have lots of great episodes in the can as well. We’re a weekly podcast. Check out last week’s episode with Rogier Lankhorst from Really Simple Plugins about SSL and Really Simple SSL.
Doc Pop: Thanks for listening to Press This, a WordPress community podcast on WMR. Once again, my name’s Doc and you can follow my adventures with Torque magazine over on Twitter @thetorquemag or you can go to torquemag.io where we contribute tutorials and videos and interviews like this every day. So check out torquemag.io or follow us on Twitter. You can subscribe to Press This on Red Circle, iTunes, Spotify, or you can download it directly at wmr.fm each week. I’m your host Doctor Popular I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to spotlight members of the community each and every week on Press This.