One of the instigating factors in my recent migration from my original domain to, and in my attempts to collect and reinvigorate my online presence here, was a talk by Herbert van de Sompel at last December’s CNI meeting. In this talk, Van de Sompel explored a somewhat mind-blowing vision for a decentralized, distributed, but heavily interconnected future for scholarly communication. In this model, individual scholars maintain and publish on their own domains but are able to respond to and discuss with one another via a robust set of protocols for cross-domain communication.

Van de Sompel pointed to the work being done at MIT by Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid group, and this is where I started to get excited. As I understand it, the vision behind Solid — from “social linked data” — involves interoperable but modular applications, allowing both for private, individual data ownership and for interconnections across applications and domains, including rich notifications and conversations.

This vision, if it could be realized, seemed to me to present an exciting solution to a perennial complaint of mine: the degree to which the vibrant network of academic blogs of the early- to mid-aughts got derailed by the rise of social media, and particularly by Facebook and Twitter. Before these networks emerged into dominance, individual authors (and sometimes groups of authors) owned and controlled their own platforms and connected to one another through comments and links. We had our own spaces, and we used them to publish not just our own ideas but also our responses to one another.

Social media networks provided immediate solutions to a few problems with those early blogging networks: they relieved the moderately heavy lift in getting started and they created the possibility of connections that were immediate, dense, and growing. But as those networks expanded, they both pulled authors away from their own domains — so much quicker to tweet than to blog, and with a much speedier potential response — and they privatized and scattered conversations. An author might still blog, but (thanks to the post-Google-Reader decline in RSS use) ensuring that readers knew that she’d posted something required publicizing it on Twitter, and responses were far more likely to come as tweets. Even worse, readers might be inspired to share her blog post with their friends via Facebook, but any ensuing conversation about that post was entirely captured there, never reconnecting with the original post or its author. And without those connections and discussions and the energy and attention they inspired, blogs… became isolated. Slowed. Often stopped entirely.

I’ve hoped for years for a means of recapturing that early blogging energy, of returning to a distributed network of folks thinking in their own spaces and yet connecting across them. And van de Sompel’s talk pushed me to think about ways I might start.

Of course, I was trying to finish a book at the time, so it took a while to take the plunge. But I eventually started the migration to and began looking for ways to consolidate my network activity here. And it’s that desire to consolidate that immediately drew me to, which allows me to create very short posts here that can be republished on various social media channels.

But the essential problem of dispersion remained: I might capture all the content I create here, but responses on social media stayed on those channels. The connections remained incomplete — at least until Chris Aldrich pointed me toward Webmentions and Semantic Linkbacks. Chris published a great article exploring Webmentions yesterday at A List Apart, but the upshot is that this relatively new web standard allows for round-tripped connections among discrete domains, enabling the conversation about an individual post to be represented on that post, wherever it might actually take place.

There are still some wrinkles to be ironed out in getting the various platforms we use today to play well with Webmentions, but it’s a real step toward the goal of that decentralized, distributed, interconnected future for scholarly communication.

125 responses to “Connections”

  1. “I’ve hoped for years for a means of recapturing that early blogging energy, of returning to a distributed network of folks thinking in their own spaces and yet connecting across them”. @kfitz
    Yes. Me too.

  2. I’m with you. Hoping to jump in again in short, pointed writing mode on my blog in the Fall. But I want to do more than just that genre, and I think you & Van de Sompel are on the right track here. Imho.

  3. I’ll look forward to following!

  4. This is great. Thinking about how it is a little of what the Domains project tries to do (or at least encourage).

  5. Yes, exactly! And is Reclaim-hosted, so it’s very much of a piece.

  6. So this is the question I have been struggling with: how do we each have our own domains and yet still somehow have them in conversation and connected with each other in a meaningful way?

  7. And yes, we cite and link and (sigh) comment, but is there more to it? Is there something else?

  8. It’s an open question, but one that I think these protocols (Solid/Webmentions) are pointing toward: ways of building intentional online conversations and communities.

  9. What’s also been interesting to me is the idea of going small (tinyletter). Like, micro audiences.

  10. (Popping in just to mention I use TinyLetter and it’s a great feeling. Hadn’t thought of the term ‘micro audiences’ but I really like it.)

  11. Somewhere this all connects around to @dancohen’s post the other day on what email got right:…

  12. Thanks for this inspiring post and discussion – very timely as we are ramping up Drew Domains for fall semester

  13. Lots to consider in this great piece. I’ve got to come back to it.

  14. This is really important. I’ve been building a new website on the idea of returning to blogging as my home for informal & networked scholarly communication. This 2014 post by @nickmofo has prodded me for years to return to blogging.…

  15. You remind me that I could blog more, too…

  16. Of interest to #CityLIS students who took #INM380

  17. What makes you think scientistscwantvto communicate? This – multiple email opens & no reply from ‘ respected’ scientist

  18. I think ‘communication’ is what keeps the science system alive. Of course we’ve currently changed the means through which we communicate with each other, but communication in essence always remains there.

  19. Dear Kathleen

    If I may intrude on the party… and offer some disjointed observations.

    I see a telos in creating gateways for conversations. And I see some retrospective stances in a gluttony for connectivity and combatting ephemerality (wanting it all and wanting it all to be forever). Is there a role for forgetting and recovering the forgotten in the cultural practices of intellectual work?

    Blogging offered the permalink to assist in citational practice. And so addressed the connecting to. As well, the reader could see who had linked and thus revealing a web of relations. Plus one could search the blog … and find other connections.

    You may remember “web rings” as a collective attempt to deal with the short comings of search engines.

    Search engines … ah, the balancing act between precision and sensitivity … it would be great to be able to turn off and on the search algorithm’s use of one’s previously used keywords to have the option between “fresh” searches and “conditioned” searches.

    The problem may be twofold: how to tag and link in the vast sea of digital decay; how to trace tagging. Tools to make connections and tools to excavate them.

    Almost like documenting graffiti.

    Which we know from Pompeii can last.

    1. Ah, Francois, thanks as always for the questions. I do think there is a role for forgetting and — as we see in the post-GDPR web — a right to be forgotten to be contended with. And there are the unintended effects of too much connectivity as well: as Dorothea Salo pointed out on Twitter, the Trackbacks of the aughts produced a lot of spam and a lot of harassment.

      But web rings! One of the key aspects of those rings was exactly that they were collectives, communities built with intention and (at least sometimes) care.

      What I'm hoping is that we might find some way to combine and balance automation and care in the tagging and linking you describe…

  20. Here’s a fascinating observation about socially-linked blogs and commentaries, from (AHECTA member) MSU faculty Kathleen Fitzpatrick. via @kfitz


  • Mel Stanfill
  • KULA Knowledge
  • CLIR
  • Natalie Brown
  • Jason M Kelly
  • Rosario Rogel
  • Jennifer Hart
  • j#OAnne Paterson
  • Jeroen Sondervan
  • Open Access in Media Studies
  • James D. Gifford
  • Erin Templeton
  • Knowledge G.A.P.
  • Sharon Irish
  • Patricia Hswe
  • Lynn@GMU
  • Dr. Chris Bourg
  • James Baker
  • Shawn Graham
  • Dr. Bethan Tovey
  • Dan Cohen
  • Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette
  • Michael Piotrowski
  • René Audet
  • Michael E. Sinatra
  • Dr. Donna Lanclos


  • Francois LachanceFrancois Lachance
  • Feeds and Gardens
  • Chris Aldrich
  • CityLIS
  • Richard Newton
  • Cindy Jennings

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