Jeremy Felt

Notes on IndieWebCamp East Online 2020, day 1

I woke up at 5am—on a Saturday—to participate in my first IndieWebCamp, IndieWebCamp 2020 East, which also happened to be my first online conference ever. As much as it’s fun to joke about getting up so early on a weekend, the schedule worked out really nice. I was able to eat a good breakfast, get the coffee going, and enjoy a full day of tech before the WSU game at 4pm.

Many of the notes here were written during sessions. I’ve now parsed through them a couple times to editorialize, likely mangle direct quotes I don’t remember, and build out some other thoughts I think I had at the time. I’ve allowed myself full editorial rights throughout, so there’s a chance some of it is my brain talking and not even what happened in the session.

Hopefully I haven’t mangled intent!

If you’d like to see the sessions, they’ll be posted on the IndieWebCamp site in the near future.

Intro and lightning keynotes

First up was an intro session and a couple of lightning keynotes. The conference as a whole is BarCamp style, so much of the agenda is created on the fly once everyone has had a chance to discuss what they want to talk about. Everyone who attends is also encouraged to propose a session.

During the intro, Chris mentioned that “getting something out of the camp means putting something into it”, a statement so undeniably accurate that it finally prodded me into proposing a session myself. I’ll expand on that further down.

I’m not sure what this is in reference to, or who said it, but I like the idea:

One objective of IndieWeb is to “bring the bar of connectability down to make it easier for people to own their own place on the web.”

That’s a mission I can get behind!

David Dylan Thomas

The first lightning keynote was from David Dylan Thomas, the author of Design for Cognitive Bias, which I happen to have on my desk right now. After watching the talk, I’m looking even more forward to reading his book.

I captured a handful of thoughts/quotes during his talk and in the discussion afterward:

  • If something gets easier to read, we generally think it’s true.
  • If something rhymes, we generally think it’s true.
  • “plain language, pictogram-based intervention” can help communicate a message (hello, could have been pandemic response!) more than dense material.
  • Our jobs (as designers, developers, etc…) are harder than we think. It’s not just “design cool shit”. The things we do have impact on others.
  • I want this Twitter/Facebook feature without knowing why they built it in the first place. Think: Why should you try to reproduce it? Why not do something entirely different.
  • When we assume that human beings are horrible and that if we were to gather them all in a room there will be fighting, “we discount how much design will inform discussion”. Design spaces for communication / conversation.
  • Medium says to “publish” rather than comment. What would it be like to replace “commenting” with a different word? Converse / conversation? I’ve chatted about this somewhere else recently, but I’m not recalling.
  • Gender equality by design” – talk by Iris Bohnet, also in book form.
  • “Curate a culture of curiosity and challenge your own assumptions”.
  • The (dangerous, flawed) concept of “Internalized capitalism” – if you’re not doing anything right now, then you’re not worth anything.
  • David has a proposed SXSW session titled “Content strategy hacks to save civil discourse“.

And then! David shared a fantastic list of resources on designing with cognitive bias that I’ll have to parse through at another time.

One of David’s slides included a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. that stood out as prescient enough to call out in more detail:

“We must rapidly begin—we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Martin Luther King Jr., in his Beyond Vietnam speech, April 4, 1967

Sarah Hibner

The second lightning keynote was from Sarah Hibner, who gave a great Intro to Variable Fonts. The slides from the presentation make for an excellent sheet to share with others and link off to a series of codepens that show variable fonts in actions. I took many fewer notes because I was busy playing with the codepens during the talk! I also like the domain.

Lightning intros

Everybody says things! We went around the Zoom room doing introductions and showing off personal sites or projects. I forgot to show off my personal site, but that’s okay. 🙂

Creative Blocks in WordPress

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about elements of IndieWeb can be used at the block level rather than the full page view level and figured that this weekend would be a good time to explore that a bit more. I proposed a brainstorming session of sorts.

Overall the session was fun and there was a lot of good discussion. In hindsight, I might have proposed a slightly broader session topic as I still have a lot of catch-up to do in the current support for IndieWeb concepts in WordPress and the existing road blocks.

I will also admit in hindsight that I should not have chosen the first time slot as a first time facilitator. I was much more familiar with the ins and outs of a collaborative video chat discussion at the end of the day and would have probably been better prepared. Next time!


The future of WordPress is built on the new block editor, Gutenberg, and an entirely different editing experience than the one we’ve used for years. The next several releases will continue to introduce changes, including some form of full site editing through blocks. What are some creative ways the block editor can be used to create an indie web presence?

My editorialized discussion notes and takeaways

Most of our time was spent talking about microformats and the general lack of support or mis-support in WordPress. Many legacy themes use microformat version 1 properties and it is difficult to find general support for microformats 2.

In general, a question seems to be: How do microformat properties work with how WordPress outputs markup?

This may be an easier problem to solve as time goes on in the block editor. Themes of the future (this is me editorializing) are ideally less likely to include as much markup as they are required to now. Instead, the majority of the markup will be managed by the block editor itself. Microformat friendly blocks can be created to control the output.

One major issue now is the way a theme must assume everything output with a post or page is “content” and must be wrapped in a content section. What do we expect, when it is literally output with the_content(). 😁

The block editor makes it much easier to add a bunch of non-traditionally-recognized-as-content data to a page or a post. One way to approach this is through the grouping of content in the block editor. Unfortunately, the UI for this is a bit clunky, but it is possible to group the majority of your post with a content group and then add additional data in another group below. This would semantically communicate the content to readers.

There is likely an opportunity to create a series of custom blocks that apply the proper microformat properties. It may be that block patterns can be used to post various types of content, something that is handled now through things like the Post Kinds plugin, which uses a custom taxonomy to separate types of content.

I have ideas to work on!

Personal Data Warehouse

Simon Willison gave a demo of Dogsheep, a tool to track and query basically everything about you that has been collected through a number of online services and stored in a SQLite database. Simon was inspired to build Dogsheep by a Stephen Wolfram essay.

  • How to democratize something like Dogsheep to make it more approachable for anyone to fire up their own instance.
  • A previous talk and write-up by Simon. I kind of like this as a nice way to import a bunch of data locally and may give a shot in the near term
  • Gyuri Lajos gave an overview of Fission, which is described as “Next-gen serverless apps with user controlled data & great DX”.
  • Some conversation around IPFS as a data store for something built with Fission and the possibilities around searching the IPFS. IPFS Search was mentioned, and I was surprised to see it in my browser history because this is all way above my head right now.
  • Topic 3 is about the “why” of personal data storage.
  • Simon – it’s a bit of a super power.
  • People don’t necessarily want to store everything they’ve done in their head. Having a log ensures that it’s out of their head and opens up what they can do. Via BBC research – Ian Forrester
  • Tantek Çelik mentioned memories that you may not be ready for. Eric Meyer’s (very excellent) book, Design for Real Life.
  • Angelo Gladding gave an example of a (Maybe Aaron’s?) site when sending a comment with a sad emoji, the profile changes to display an avatar with a more somber face rather than the happy avatar. Very interesting idea.

Domain of One’s Own LMS

  • Chris – we went from slowly putting educational resources online over 20 years to all of a sudden putting everything online.
  • Odd ethical things happening in education space
  • DS106
  • An LMS in the indie web may mean using your own website as a lifelong learner’s LMS

Chris walked through an open course he had been involved with that was able to use things like webmentions to mark things as read and to comment or annotate them. Question posed at the beginning of the class: what do you want to get out of this, what do you want to learn? Maybe use a unique hashtag to create a feed of public stuff from the class.

If Moodle had a webmention endpoint, it may be able to exist as a platform but with some IndieWeb building blocks it becomes a hub where everyone can read the conversation in one spot. It could send webmentions back.

Internal wondering by me: Could a “private” webmention be sent with WordPress? Less discoverable permalink to serve a private post from WordPress. Similar to Public Post Preview.

Start a class by outlining the syllabus or the chapters of the textbook. Professors who decide to write their text books as they go with the students. Publish the result as OER. It’d be fun to see some examples of that.

h0p3: peer to peer sharing – resiliosync, hyper, ipfs – students create objects of knowledge on their own devices and transferring to a teacher. Sits on their own hard drives from the beginning, not on a central server somewhere.

I shared Commons in a Box and my general perspective that faculty are often creatively finding ways around the centrally dictated LMS. Jake’s HYPER Lab is a good example of a show your work textbook in progress, but I forgot to bring it up.

Chris brings up a good point that even with centralized open source systems, there are ways where the university can remove content or otherwise censor it. Tenure works most ways, but maybe not all ways.

Drupal’s OpenScholar came up, which I hadn’t seen before.

Note: My notes are getting sparser as the day went on! 😂

Discovery: A Trek Through the Indieweb

Now that we have social readers, how can we discover new sites and feeds to subscriber to in our readers?

  • Bring back blogrolls? How do we give blogroll concept more life? – David
  • Angelo – one failure with blogrolls was that it wasn’t descriptive enough.
  • Example of formatted OPML:
  • Categorized following lists – A friend maintains a list, I follow that, so I follow everyone that is on the list. When they update the list, I now follow everyone on that list.
  • How do we create public parks on the web to gather?
  • There are probably some opportunities via aggregator or “temporarily centralized” area which accepts contributions from a certain group of people.
  • mini communities via emoji / discovery as an organic community.
  • How do you provide value signals within a discovery system? – Chris

“As soon as you try to make it global rather than local, it becomes an attack mechanism” – Kevin Marks, discussing starting with something that seems like a social network at first, but then introduces trending topics, algorithms to feed content to people. Good indicator that local (smaller) communities are better? Split at certain points?

What is “local”? Curated community. Local to a topic can work, but armies of people can take system over. Brigading rather than spam now. Physical proximity is another option for “local”.

Chris mentioned the term “tummeling”, which I hadn’t heard of: “the art of creating active social spaces“.

Whew. I can tell from my notes that my brain was getting a bit overloaded with fun ideas. I may come back and clean some of this up some more in the future.

Topics to explore

A general list of things that I need to look into, among others:

Things to work on for day 2 / hack day

I’m wrapping this post up as part of my hack/create day work on Sunday morning. These are the things I think I’m going to be working on:

  • Wrapping up a day 1 blog post
  • Thinking about having an actual home page instead of an archive of posts
  • Taking a look at some theme markup, how it aligns (or doesn’t) with block editor markup
  • Start poking at some ideas for block specific web mentions

Of course, now that I’ve finished the first item on the list, my brain is already wandering to other unfinished projects, so we’ll see. Time to dive in!

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