Experiments in social self-hosting

My recent return to Facebook has prompted me to reconsider how I share things online.

I don’t want to entrust the publication of my stuff solely to private corporations with problematic terms of service. Instead I want to retain control by self-hosting what I publish, pushing posts into walled gardens if and when I think that’s appropriate.

I see a couple of advantages to this approach: my content can’t be vanished arbitrarily by a gatekeeper, and people don’t have to subject themselves to the laws of some digital dictatorship in order to see it.

So, inspired by the kind of blogging pulled off with aplomb across multiple platforms by people like Alec Muffett and Doug Belshaw, I’ve been experimenting a little with social self-hosting.

First I dreamed up some acceptance criteria. These are quite loose and arbitrary, and I may change them, but I found them useful to think about as a starting point:

  • I want to share content publicly without registration being required to access it
  • I want conversations around anything I publish to be public too
  • I want to do different things with different types of content
  • I want to cross-post content to social-networks selectively

This blog is a self-hosted instance of WordPress so I thought I’d start by experimenting with it.

Post Formats seemed like an ideal tool for the job, however I’ve made a few posts testing out different formats over the last 24 hours, and my experience has shown them to be less than perfect.

WordPress seems to support 10 post formats as standard. I think they fall into a couple of groups, though of course, it depends on how you choose to use them.

  • Group 1: “Blog posts” (Standard, Audio, Gallery, Video). These seem like substantial contributions that might take a bit of time to consume and could stay relevant for a long time.
  • Group 2: “Ephemera” (Aside, Chat, Image, Link, Quote, Status). These feel like transient, of-the-moment, less substantial posts the frequency of which might be higher than group 1.

I’m currently using the Twenty Thirteen theme. It has support for presenting different post formats in different ways however I don’t think some of them work particularly well. All post formats consume (quite a lot of) space in the “main content” area of the site – even if they’re just a link. If I post a substantial article followed by a hand-full of links, the article is quickly pushed off the front page, which then resembles a spam blog full of click-bait. I share ephemera much more often than I write blog posts, so for most of the time, visitors to my homepage wouldn’t realise immediately that there was anything substantial to be seen.

Perhaps I should seek out another theme, however the post formats feature doesn’t seem to be popular with theme developers, so I suspect it would be hard to find a good one.

I think there are some inherent problems with how post formats work too. For example, all posts need a title, even if they’re just a status update or a quote. These are used in permalinks even if they’re hidden by the theme (Twenty Twelve hides titles for at least the quote and status formats). Apart from the difficulty of thinking up titles, and the fact that they are often unnecessary, the available namespace for posts is consumed much more quickly if you want to post lots of ephemeral content. Permalink structures of the form domain.tld/year/month/day/title-of-post would solve this – but I am already using a structure of domain.tld/title-of-post. I don’t want to have to think about 301 redirecting all my old posts into a new format.

Another issue is that there don’t seem to be separate RSS feeds for each format, so I can’t use something like IFTTT or Buffer to post a subset of formats to a subset of networks, such as only posting links to Twitter.

I use the Jetpack Publicize feature to send blog posts to Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. I’ve found it doesn’t work very well with post formats though:

  • Publicize defaults to sending every post to every network. If I want to send “ephemeral” content only to Twitter, for example, I have to remember to change the setting manually for each post. I can’t configure it on a per-format basis.
  • The Publicize UI appears in neither the Press This bookmarklet nor the WordPress android app. Anything published using these methods will be spammed out to every network automatically.
  • A post in link format is shared as a link to my blog not straight to the site in question. This is blog spam! To mitigate the impact, I started trying to add commentary to the links I was sharing, but what I want is for the interesting link to be passed out to my networks directly.

The workflow I’m using to post updates right now is quite messy and laborious. Let’s say I see an article on Twitter, and I want to share it with my followers there, and with my LinkedIn connections:

  1. Click the link to visit the site
  2. Use the Press This bookmarklet – it opens in a new browser window
  3. Edit the title a bit (maybe trim the site title, leaving just the post title, for example)
  4. Remember to set the post options: tags, category, format
  5. Save the post as a draft
  6. Open the draft in the full WordPress edit-post screen
  7. Clear the Publicize options for posting to Facebook and Google+, leaving just Twitter and LinkedIn active
  8. Edit the post to include a hat-tip for the person who shared it with me originally (perhaps)
  9. Preview the post, as I can’t remember how this format looks, and want to make sure I haven’t left anything dangling (Publicize is a one-shot process)
  10. Publish the post

This is even more involved if I’m using the WordPress app on a mobile device. Plus anyone clicking the link will end up on my blog, at a post containing just a single link, which they then have to click to read what I was sharing. Annoying!

This is as far as I’ve got with my experiments to date. I’m keen to hear suggestions on how to proceed from here. If you’ve solved a similar problem in a different way, if you know of a killer theme or plugin that can make WordPress work better for this sort of thing or you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear about them.

Meanwhile I think I’ll keep playing ๐Ÿ™‚

2 thoughts on “Experiments in social self-hosting

  1. Have you considered Friendica? It aims to federate with as many services as possible and is big on data privacy management.

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