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A Social Web for Everyone

I share—and have been sharing online—many of Wouter’s concerns. Mastodon is a resource hog, moderating even a smallish instance is harder than you think, and some servers will fold eventually.

I also feared the nice and quiet space I’d carved out for myself would quickly be overrun by “clueless tourists”; in reality, it’s been fine. Guess it’s not my job to keep the Fediverse elite.

Still, I much prefer my “traditional” feed reader, a dead-simple PHP application that runs just about anywhere, and provides me with (only) a (much slower) timeline of the people I follow—and, if I want to share something with the world, there’s always this blog.

That said, getting a Mastodon server up and running is, in fact, surprisingly easy. (It obviously helps to know Linux, and NGINX, and Docker—or Ruby and PostgreSQL—but web hosts could easily “abstract away” that part, like they’ve done for PHP and MySQL.)

The actual “admin tax,” keeping your server and the Mastodon software up to date, is rather low for a single-user instance—sure, it’ll eat through your disk space in no time, but that’s another thing (and why object storage exists).

If anything, it’s easier than getting a somewhat full-featured “IndieWeb” site off the ground, which, to do well, requires a fairly deep understanding of HTML, and microformats, and, sometimes, the back-end side of things.

The great thing about the IndieWeb’s “building bricks” is exactly that: ultimate flexibility. You first start a website, and only then slowly add (and remove) whatever bits work for you (or don’t). It’s an ongoing process, of making what you need.

This freedom is also why an “IndieWeb” for everyone isn’t exactly in the stars, yet. (Unless, of course, that “IndieWeb” turns out to be … the Fediverse.) There’s but one place you can simply sign up and get going, and that’s (Tumblr may be next.)

WordPress-plus-plugins is way behind—the many incompatible themes don’t exactly help. (There’s hope, though, thanks to the Site Editor. But even then you’d need a separate reader, and IndieAuth, and Micropub—see what I’m getting at?—to tie your reading interface to WordPress.)

That said, WordPress may very well be our best bet at a widely supported, “easily” manageable basis for a self-hosted “social website.”

Ton’s presentation is what inspired the birth of IndieBlocks, yet another IndieWeb plugin for WordPress. (I was this close to ditching WordPress altogether and moving to a homebrewed CMS, one that would require, well, a fairly deep understanding of HTML, microformats, and Markdown. Guess I’ll stick around a bit longer.)

One of the things I’ve been struggling with is exactly which microformats IndieBlocks should support. Blocks can only do so much; how you use them is equally important. I think I’ve got it figured out, though: any “off-the-shelf” solution will have to be somewhat opinionated. As long as it sufficiently lowers to bar for entry, that’s okay. More advanced users can then extend or override its default behavior.

Mastodon, after all, also doesn’t support all of ActivityPub. But it is liberal in what it accepts.


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