What am I hoping to do with writing on the web? Well, for one, it’s an outlet for my thoughts that I want to remember and return to. But that alone is a diary or a journal. These are also thoughts that I hope others will read and engage with in some form or fashion. These are ideas that are satisfying to me because sometimes whispering our thoughts quietly to ourselves is important and sometimes shouting them into the void is important and sometimes we hope the void shouts back.

For years, I had Google Analytics on my personal websites because it was free and worked fine. But for various reasons, I got turned off by the service and the idea of analytics for a bit. So I turned everything off. And being hosted on Micro.blog, despite crossposting to Twitter (when it was available) and Mastodon and just about wherever else, I broadly didn’t know about readership, followers, etc. Interactions were my main measure of reach– do people choose to reply to my posts on their platform of choice?

I think that’s largely my goal– I want to know if people are responding to my writing on their platform of choice.

But there’s a huge problem with this idea today– webmentions. Webmentions is a shit show of a standard. It seems to only kind of work. It definitely confuses and perplexes many writers who are bought into the IndieWeb in spirit but are not writing their own (seemingly always PHP) CMS to implement standards. Folks who are writers first and non-developer tinkerers are met with bad plug-ins, inconsistent behavior, poorly documented inconsistencies, and a whole manner of things that cause them to give up 1. Still, others have decided the very idea of a webmention, especially extended to social posts, and specifically displaying that others have linked (publicly) to your blog post is a privacy concern.

Why are webmentions a problem? Because if I want to know that people are responding to my writing on their platform of choice, I want to know when people write on their blogs and link to my content. Of course I do… my own blog is my personal platform of choice for commenting on the web! Webmentions was supposed to solve this– when someone links to my site, they add the right classes to that link and their server lets my server know that they’ve linked to my site or a specific post. Brilliant– pingbacks/trackbacks for the open web. But it’s just not working and it’s not complete enough. Adoption is low and horribly inconsistent. I’m glad I receive webmentions, but they are exceedingly rare.

Which brings me to my defense of analytics and my own use of tinylytics.app. I don’t care about the number of “hits” my blog gets. Considering how many places I post my content and my own hope that RSS is how most people read my site, hits are almost certainly no more than directionally accurate about readership. What I do care about are referrers. Without webmentions proactively telling me when folks on the web mention my content, I can see if anyone who read that post clicked on the link to my site and ended up here. I have discovered at least three blogs in the last year that linked to me that I now follow through this method. Somehow they found what I wrote. They linked to it, either with short commentary or even a fully on response, and then, because at least one person clicked the link over to my site, I learned about their blog post.

Without analytics on referrers, I’d never know these people were a part of my small circle of the internet in conversation with my writing. So for now, I’m all in on having analytics. It’s one of the few reliable ways to know that someone had written about your content. I still want people to respond on their platform of choice, and I don’t want to lose their voice or conversation.

  1. A more dedicated blogger would have linked each of these to examples, but I am not that kind of blogger most days. I’d rather actually publish this post. Suffice to say, if you’re reading this as an IndieWeb person and you think this stuff just works and isn’t confusing, I promise that you are wrong. I’m quite technical and have a strong understanding of what’s going on, and even I can’t be bothered. I see folks struggling and I feel bad for them. I know what they want and why webmentions is supposed to precisely deliver that, but it just fails today for a host of reasons. It’s solvable, but remains unsolved. ↩︎