What is IndieWeb & why should you care?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog and my social feeds, you’ve noticed the topic of the “IndieWeb” showing up quite a bit.

Chris Aldrich has an excellent post defining the IndieWeb that I recommend you checking out if you really want to understand what this all means. Aldrich indicates:

In broadest terms I would define being part of the IndieWeb as owning your own domain name and hosting some sort of website as a means of identifying yourself and attempting to communicate with others on the internet.

Put simply, it could be the knowledge, skills, and dispositions (attitudes/aptitudes) necessary to build and maintain your own presence online. It could also be the digital texts, tools, and interconnections that are used to keep you in control of your stuff online. It could also be the people, the community that makes all of this possible, and spurs each other to push the boundaries and identify new possibilities to decentralize social communication and distribution of content.

How/why am I IndieWeb?

I’m IndieWeb because I build and maintain my own spaces online. I spend a lot of time building and tweaking my own domain to serve as one canonical URL for my digital identity. That is to say that I want to build up a space that documents, archives, and explains as much about myself as I deem appropriate for this identity. As my thinking about my digital identity changes…I continue to tweak and modify the content that I share in this space.

I believe that this is related to having a “domain of one’s own” but I think it goes beyond that. To me, domain of one’s own (DoOO) is a step up from digital portfolios. Digital portfolios can be personalized, active, web-based collections of work and reflections used to demonstrate key skills and accomplishments for a variety of contexts and time periods. I think DoOO builds on the individual’s sense of agency, helps develop your digital identity, and codifies your content on one website or space. To put a finer point on it, a digital portfolio could be a series of documents, folders, and apps containing your work strewn across a number of silos (i.e., different learning management systems, tools, apps). DoOO tries to pull these together into one space by having the individual copy and archive this content on a website that you own. IndieWeb goes beyond that by actively constructing your own personal cyberinfrastructure and creating connections, texts, and spaces where previously there were none.

I think this mindset or philosophy doesn’t start or end with what I do online. I endless tinker, hack, and build in all of my work. I brew my own beer, make my own jellies, take things apart to try and improve them. I once re-purposed a fish tank filter to build a recirculating water bowl for my dogs and cat so they would always have fresh water to drink. (As a note, pets don’t like to drink from contraptions that are endlessly humming.)

I’m IndieWeb because I want to make information about my digital identity, work, and interests available for others. I don’t want this information to automatically owned by developers and corporations (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIN, Google, Twitter) simply because they built me a place to share and connect. I also don’t think that they (developers & corporations) did a good job in building these spaces. Yes, they roll out new updates and shiny videos to keep me happy and docile, yet, I think there are better ways that these texts, tools, and networks could intersect. As as example, a friend on Twitter should be able to leave me a comment, and then a follower on Facebook should be able to pick up the discussion from that part of the web.

Why is this important?

I’m a researcher and educator in the intersection between education, literacy, and technology. As such, my framing of this is primarily informed by those perspectives. I believe literacy and education, in all of its forms, are essential human rights. I also believe that the Internet is the dominant text of our generation. As such, it is imperative that we help all individual build and utilize the competencies required to not only survive, but be successful online.

When I talk to my pre-service teachers, I boil down literacy and education to the systems and processes that help students become functioning, literate members of society. We teach children to read so they cannot speed down the street, and later tell the police officer that they didn’t stop because they couldn’t read. Of course this is a ridiculous analogy…and there are many other reasons why education is important, but hopefully you get my point. The challenge is that for much of this, educators and researchers are making this up as we go along. Technology is advancing quickly, and individuals straddle the chasm between disruption and dislocation as they strive to remain current when the one constant is change. Put simply, we’re not preparing individuals for their present and future literacy practices.

This is also very important as these practices and tools impact our digital identities. The usernames and profile images we select, the content we share, and the digital breadcrumbs we leave behind are all markers of our digital identity. Currently, individuals are socialized and trained from an early age that their digital identity should look and act in a certain way, defined by the affordances of specific tools and platforms. We have individuals that believe that they are what their LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram feed says that they are. Their life and existence gets better (or worse) when they’re given an update in the feeds or filters for the tool. We also have businesses, governments, and other entities rapidly vacuuming up all of these details and piecing together portfolios and finely tuned algorithms for us. Once again, we’re not preparing our youth (and current adults) to safely engage, connect, and participate in digital spaces.

I believe individuals need online opportunities where they can create, build, and modify digital artifacts that represent their identities as learners. In our schools (yes, in early and elementary edu), students need opportunities to comprehensively read and write using digital tools and to participate in digital environments. As adults, they need to continue to refine the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to utilize sophisticated online social networks and the identity work that is done as they read, write and collaborate online. Currently, some of this is happening in snapshots which are scattered and sporadic incidents across online and offline spaces.

Individuals that leave K-12 and higher education need to be prepared lifelong learners that have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to build and maintain their own presence online. They need to be able to control the digital texts, tools, and interconnections across these digital spaces to weave together the identities they want to project. They need to also not only push back against the boundaries established by these silos and digital spaces, but also advocate for new possibilities to decentralize social communication and distribute content.

What do I want it to be?

Chris’s post ends by asking readers what they want IndieWeb to be. To that end, I have certain things I want to learn, and ultimately build online. But, the truth is that I have most of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to get involved and build. I also know how and where to connect to learn what I don’t know. My focus, and “wish list” for IndieWeb is to be more approachable and accessible.

I’d like to help make IndieWeb principles and philosophies more user friendly for “normal” people to use. I’ve used this framing of “normal” people a lot in most of views of technology. I’ve worked to try and demystify the uses of technology when I was conducting research and teaching in different areas (i.e., digital portfolios, digital badges, web literacy, blockchain). I’d like to help do the same with IndieWeb. I’d like to make it easier for the average person to understand why this is important, and how to make it happen. This involves looking at discourse (the words we use), tools, on-boarding, teaching, outreach, etc.

In this push to be more approachable and accessible, I recognize that IndieWeb isn’t a template, or a “push button install.” I also don’t think that it should be. Just as I think you need to have a certain amount of knowledge and guidance to install a WordPress site, you should also do much of the work to IndieWebify yourself. You should have to build, tweak, and understand what you’re doing along the way. I believe I can help make this a reality by working to revise the introductions and instructions. I can also start IndieWeb movements in my research and educational contexts.

Finally, and probably most important to me, IndieWeb needs to be more inclusive. Much of the work on the Internet, and in the tech sector that are recreating barriers to inclusivity that have existed over time. As I stated earlier in this post, I believe that (for the most part) I can go online and read/write/share whatever I’d like. In this, I need to problematize my own privilege and recognize that I am a white male. There are many other individuals that cannot enjoy these same rights and privileges due to their age, race, ability/disability, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. There are also whole countries of individuals that cannot IndieWeb themselves because of their country of origin. If IndieWeb is about knowledge, tools, and community…the community should be supportive and encouraging of social diversity and inclusive settings.

We should educate, empower, and advocate for others. Education defined as the identification of clear learning objectives and pathways, while providing scaffolds to help others get involved. Empowerment defined as the time, materials, and mentorship necessary to help others help themselves as they get involved in the community. Advocacy defined as speaking out against initiatives that would seek to push back against community philosophies and amplify the communication of the group as we press toward common goals.

Are you IndieWeb?

I’ll close this piece in the same way that Chris closed his post. Ultimately, IndieWeb is what you want it to be. There is, or at least should be a fiercely independent spirit to this initiative. Ultimately, IndieWeb is not about me at all.

What do you want the IndieWeb to be? Come and help define it.


Originally published at W. Ian O’Byrne.