Suppose you could write in your personal blog and have a summary of your post show up on popular social-media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook – and then have responses on those sites show up as comments in your blog? You can, and if some talented programmers have their way you’ll soon be able to do so easily. In fact, it’s what I’m doing right now with this post, which is also running at Slate Magazine.

Why would you or I want to do this? Simple: We’re in danger of losing what’s made the Internet the most important medium in history – a decentralized platform where the people at the edges of the networks – that would be you and me – don’t need permission to communicate, create and innovate.

This isn’t a knock on social networks’ legitimacy, or their considerable utility. But when we use centralized services like social media sites, however helpful and convenient they may be, we are handing over ultimate control to third parties that profit from our work, material that exists on their sites only as long as they allow.

Even if most people don’t recognize what’s at stake – yet – I’m happy to say that a small but growing group of technologists does. And they’ve created what they call the “Indie Web” movement to do something about it, in an extended online conversation and at periodic in-person meetings. The latter are IndieWebCamps, where they gather to hack together tools aimed at liberating us, to the extent possible, from centralized control – what the Web’s key inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, has called “re-decentralization” of the Net. In their early work they’re taking advantage of the good things the social network “silos,” as they call them, can offer, while ensuring that the data we create, and as much of the conversation it engenders, lives in our own home-base sites.

They’re creating what the call an alternative to the “corporate-owned” Internet. And do we ever need it. The principles, as they say on their website:

  • Your content is yours. When you post something on the web, it should belong to you, not a corporation. Too many companies have gone out of business and lost all of their users’ data. By joining the IndieWeb, your content stays yours and in your control.

  • You are better connected. Your articles and status messages can go to all services, not just one, allowing you to engage with everyone. Even replies and likes on other services can come back to your site so they’re all in one place.

  • You are in control. You can post anything you want, in any format you want, with no one monitoring you. In addition, you share simple readable links such as These links are permanent and will always work.

Amber Case, one of the Indie Web creators, was drawn to it because the Web had become “a claustrophobic space where all I could do was consume, with barriers to building and owning.” She saw a new generation of Internet users who’d never registered a domain name, and weren’t even aware of what was possible.

That happened, in part, because “Twitter and Facebook showed an easier path to creating online,” says Aaron Pareki, another Indie Web organizer. “The original vision was everyone has their own space and made things . Then the silos formed and attracted people because it was easier.”

I spent two days with them and others in the movement at their recent San Francisco camp (there’s another camp being held this weekend in New York City), and came away dazzled by the vision of what they intend. I learned more about a variety of technologies they’re creating to make it happen, including things called “webmention” and “microformats,” among the underpinnings of the move toward re-decentralization.

I also came away with the open-source tools, which are still rudimentary, that have enabled me to move in a more independent direction. In my case, because I use WordPress for my personal blogging, I’ve installed several software modules that extend the WordPress software’s basic functionality. One is “Jetpack,” which lets me create posts that show up on on social network sites; another is “IndieWeb” to get the replies back to my own site.

The outbound piece depends on Tantek Çelik‘s “POSSE,” which stands for “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. Getting the comments, likes, favorites and other responses back depends on Ryan Barrett‘s Bridgy. I won’t go into the technical details, but this stuff is close to magical even in its currently early-days form – and far advanced from when I first heard about it, in a post last fall at Wired News.

This is also classic Internet innovation: created and deployed at the edge, not the center; rough, and constantly being improved. And if we’re lucky, and help these folks by testing it out on our own devices, it’s a vital part of the future.

110 thoughts on “Why the Indie Web movement is so important

    • Not exactly syndicated — but they don’t support this stuff so I posted in both places, linking back to each.

  1. Yes to this idea. Comment systems such as Livefyre do a bit of the gathering for you if you follow all the rules, e.g. short link URLs, that don’t always work with services such as JetPack. Any system that can gather up the conversation that people have related to your piece would be absolutely invaluable. (I’m installing IndieWeb as I write this.)

    I love JetPack, but increasingly I’ve found myself submitting my own sites manually to Twitter, G+, and such because I want the summaries and headlines to be slightly different (or hashtagged in different ways) for each individual network.

  2. +Dan Gillmor, this is very good stuff… There are so many fronts to fight on that it can all get dizzy-making…  If ownership (or lack of it) doesn’t keep me awake at night, it’s mostly because there are other bills to pay…  Have you got any examples to hand of POSSE, IndyWeb and Bridgy where they work well?


  3. Good story, will definitely follow up on your links. Also am a big fan of standard HTML and CSS for navigation on websites. I keep JavaScript protection fully engaged unless absolutely necessary, e.g. for online banking: So I was surprised +Dan Gillmor, to see how many features on your blog require enabling JavaScript. Many other WordPress templates are available which provide full access with JS disabled.


  4. Left a comment on the G+ post about this article, and am looking forward to seeing that turn up here. Meanwhile am checking to see whether comments can be posted here with JavaScript protection engaged.

  5. I was actually able to submit a comment directly on your blog +Dan Gillmor, with NoScript engaged. Very impressive, as accepting comments is the sine qua non of a JavaScript-agnostic WordPress template: Initially it appeared that the POST COMMENT button required JS because, when hovering a mouse over that button, no link appears. So I’ll backtrack, apologize, and just mention the feature which does require JavaScript there: The three glyphs at the top center of the blog page. Since comments are already working, best solution would be to contact about their Ryu theme, to see if those glyphs can be converted to links. Or perhaps those glyphs were an extra feature which you added to the basic template?


  6. Interesting to see Tantek and POSSE (Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.) mentioned. I’ve long suggested a similar approach of (POSE) publish once syndicate everywhere. Irritatingly though, G+ has no write API so it has to be the primary source. And it has no RSS-Atom out which makes it slightly harder to syndicate, but does a passable job of copy-posting to Twitter and Facebook and there’s a plugin or two for G+ > WordPress blogs as well.If everyone supported RSS-Atom out and a logical way of coping with RSS-Atom (and the attendant spam) in then all this would be a great deal easier.Linking, tracking and merging the comment streams on the related posts is a harder problem. I’m glad solutions are finally appearing.


  7. Thank you very much for sharing this +Dan Gillmor, installed Indieweb on one of my sites as well now. Works quite well, only problem I have is that I seem to have to approve every single one of them. Haven’t figured out yet which settings I need to adjust to allow repeat commenters/plussers to go through “auto-approved”. But I’m sure I’ll get there.


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