Receiving and Displaying Webmentions in Eleventy

Webmentions are the way people have conversations on the Indieweb, but integrating them - or, indeed, any kind of dynamic content - into a static site can be a little tricky. Luckily, many people have run into this issue before and so there wasn't much for me to do but steal.

To be clear, I'm talking about receiving and displaying webmentions here, not sending them. How I ended up sending them will be a separate topic, as it is tied into how I manage POSSE and backfeeding on my site.

The previous, pelican-based incarnation of my blog used a homegrown system involving a webmention listener that handed off data to a redis server and ultimately resulted in a new webmention being committed to my site's repo, causing the whole thing to be rebuilt. It certainly worked, but it required a fair bit of maintenance. It also failed to take into account certain edge cases that I hadn't previously considered (like a commentator's avatar image going missing).

This prompted me to follow Max Bock's lead and use to host all my webmentions. This has a couple of advantages:

  • The service is easy to use. You just need to sign up with IndieAuth, point your webmention endpoint at the site and you're good to go.
  • By default it will cache images from the webmention so that they won't break, a feature that I didn't fully understand I needed when I stated integrating webmentions into my site.

My webmention integration scheme is effectively almost a complete copy of Max Bock's, so it doesn't make sense to go into too much detail here - just read his article on the subject. I'm basically doing the same thing:

  • I load a webmention cache using Eleventy's global data feature.
  • I read all new webmentions from and merge them into the now in memory cache.
  • I save the cache to disk, but keep a copy in memory.
  • I use this cache to display webmentions for the posts of my blog.
  • I persist the cache between Netlify builds

There are a couple of things that I still have to do, if I ever get around to it:

  • Relationships between webmentions are not clear. For example, if one webmention is a reply to another one in the context of one of my blog posts, they both get displayed as independent mentions, with no indication that there's a connection between the two.
  • If I mention one of my own blog posts, I'll end up displaying a webmention for it. Probably not a great idea.

Displaying Webmentions

How one displays webmentions on one's site is probably a whole topic unto itself.

Some people don't bother differentiating and lump all types of webmentions into one big bucket. Others divide it up into different types.

I mostly fall into the latter category, though from a UI perspective I haven't fully settled on how to convey the information. In any case, for now, I've chosen to group my webmentions into:

  • Likes
  • Reposts
  • Bookmarks
  • Leftover mentions, which includes replies but also arbitrary mentions that aren't so easily classified.

More To Come

I mentioned before that receiving webmentions and sending webmentions were effectively two different problems, and there are some subtleties to the latter that really deserve their own article. I suspect that's going to be the next article in this series. Stay tuned.

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