Webmentions and Campfires
Last updated on Wednesday 6th May, 2020.
I grew up in a family with a number of blind relatives. My Mum's siblings all had sight problems and so did some of my cousins. As a child, I took it for granted that each of those aunts, uncles and cousins knew when I was talking to them. After all, I was looking at them, that's how people know, right?
In most cases, that was enough. We can develop attunement and strategies that let us flourish when we are differently abled. Each of my relatives did this, in very different ways, and so I assumed everyone did.
I've been thinking about this a bit with blogging and writing on the internet. Seeing that as I'm engaging with the thinking of others, I'm metaphorically looking towards them. The problem is, how do they know I'm talking about and to them? Or, how do I know if someone is talking to me?
In my world, this primarily happens on Twitter. I'll tweet about a post and those who see will maybe look and tweet back. Equally, when I've read a post that Twitter alerts me to, I might like, retweet or reply to the tweet. But Twitter is a stream and this continuing conversation is ephemeral - while it might add lots to the thinking of the post, it flows away.
It used to be this was solved by having a comments section on a blog. If you were really fancy, this accepted ping backs when that post was mentioned somewhere else on the internet. This is a form of bi-directional linking. Managing comment sections, however, could be frustrating, though there are some solutions available (Discus is still around). In my experience, comments sections were not great and were primarily where trolls and spammers went to hang out. There were exceptions, for sure, but not enough to make it seem worthwhile.
A W3C standard was released in 2017 for webmentions. This is a protocol that can send callbacks when one configured URL mentions another. A way to let the text know that other people are talking about it, engaging with it, continuing the conversation.
I recently enabled webmentions on this blog. You can see the outcome below - counting the likes and reposts but, more importantly, recognising that this writing is part of a wider conversation. That's the desire, right? That we create points of connection to gather round - campfires to warm ourselves and share experience.
Over in the garden, I've started a section on webmentions - including how Lauro (@laurosilvacom) and I got them up and running on our Gatsby blogs. We streamed that and I'll link to the video when it's available. Equally, I've linked to some excellent examples and posts over there.
I want these posts to be part of a conversation rather than a one-sided proclamation from the roof-tops. Using webmentions to poll for replies on Twitter and other blogs seems like a good start.
What other ways can we stop ourselves standing in dark rooms and shouting into the void? How can we light campfires and create spaces for conversation that are welcoming and mutually beneficial?