On planets and reading lists

By Malcolm Blaney on
This is going to be a long one, so the short version is summed up in this screenshot:

That's from the top of this page: unicyclic.com/indieweb, which is a feed combined from different sources, commonly referred to as a planet. Up until now I've been adding new feeds to that page as people join the IndieWeb community, but I've now automated that process using follow webmentions.

What is a follow webmention? Well you start by writing a post on your own website containing a link to someone you've started following in your reader, with an extra bit of microformats in the markup of the link: class="u-follow-of". Then you would send webmentions for the post, so that the recipient can check your content and discover that you have indeed started following them.

That is what the indieweb account on unicyclic.com is now looking for, but with one extra step. When it receives a follow webmention, it will follow you back by adding you to the planet it manages. It does this by looking at the author of the post, and then doing feed discovery based on that URL. If it all works out you will be notified in the response to your webmention.

If you don't want to be listed in the planet you can unfollow the indieweb account too, no hard feelings! This is done by removing your follow post and re-sending webmentions, which should result in a 410 Gone status code from your site.

So that's how this planet now works, but what is really fun is connecting this to reading lists. I'm not sure what the right terminology is here... reading lists are also known as subscriptions lists, or dynamic OPML files. Whatever they are Dobrado now supports them, so you can subscribe to unicyclic.com/indieweb and stay up to date with the feeds of whoever happens to have joined.

Both OPML and microformats versions are available to subscribe to and are linked from that page for discovery. Since microformats is just HTML it is also a nice web page to browse, and adds to the growing list of directories in a year that is widely regarded as the year of the indieweb directory. If you parse the microformats on that page you will notice the reading list is an h-feed of h-cards. Whichever version you subscribe to, if your reader supports this type of subscription it should add feeds to your reader when they are added to the list, and remove the feed when they are taken off.

When thinking about implementing this I realised I didn't always want to stop following people just because they were removed from a reading list, so I added an extra option to manually add feeds that you're automatically subscribed to. Dobrado now provides a dialog that looks like this when viewing a reading list:

Every feed allows setting a channel, the new bit here is the description at the bottom of the dialog that mentions manually adding the feeds below. Scrolling down allows you to go through the feeds you've been subscribed to and manually add them, which just means they won't be removed from your reader if they are removed from the reading list or if you unsubscribe from that list completely. If you're already following a feed that just happens to be on a reading list you subscribe to, this also means your original subscription will be kept.

Up until now I've been reading feeds from some indieweb members in my own reader, and then also visiting the indieweb page to check out the rest, which of course meant reading things twice! Pretty happy that I can now just set a channel for it and also provide a version for others to check out or subscribe to themselves.
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