Some blog housekeeping

· geekery · blogging ·

I’ve been doing a bit of housekeeping around here to fix a couple of minor issues, and hopefully add some new features.

I have used Bigfoot.js to style footnotes nicely for a while, but I noticed after publishing the last post that the styling didn’t work well for the dark mode styling I had set up. I had it on my todo list for the blog to try to make the footnotes more accessible, and found some good instructions to do that, but it turned out to be tricky to implement them because — in Hugo — you have little control over the footnote code because it is part of the Goldmark Markdown processor, not the templating system to structure the web pages.

There are probably ways to get around that, but it was beyond me. However, I stumbled across Littlefoot.js, which is a slimmed down version of Bigfoot.js. One big advantage of it is that it doesn’t require jQuery which reduces the page load time a bit more: I was only loading jQuery for Bigfoot. I tried it out, tweaked the styling a bit so that it works better with both the light and dark theme, et voilá!1. It’s simpler to manage, but has some nice features, like shifting the position of the popover appropriately when the footnote marker is near the bottom of the page, and if the contents are too long to reasonably fit in the popover, it shows a scroll marker. I think it’s quite neat and works well on desktop and mobile.

The other thing I have been playing with is something I have been wanting to try out for a long time, and which reading Manton Reece’s Indie Microblogging spurred me on to try: Webmentions. Back in the dim and distant past of this blog, I used ‘Trackbacks’ to pull in mentions of this blog from other blogs. It was a great idea: instead of having to sign up on yet another comment system to comment on an article, you comment on your own blog, and your comment can be pulled in and displayed below the article if the owner of that blog so chooses. Trackbacks worked, but eventually became horrible spam vectors, so I stopped using them. I have always liked giving people some way to comment on articles, because I find that my readers2 are almost universally kind, intelligent and interesting people, and I learn a lot from comments they make.

Again, in the more than 21 years that I have had this blog, I have used a number of different commenting systems. The one I use at the moment (Commento) is good, but has some drawbacks. It enables users to log in to comment using a variety of other services, but I also set it to enable people to just comment anonymously, given that it would be hypocritical of me to forbid it! That’s fine, and works, but if people forget (or don’t want to) enter what I have recently learned is called a ‘stable pseudonym3 (like my ‘bsag’ handle) in the name field, lots of the comments are just from Anonymous, with no sense of whether that person is an old friend of the blog or a new reader. I miss that. I should say that this is all for my own curiosity and enjoyment. I have never had any interest in monetising any aspect of the blog. I just like the network of connections you make with online friends, and finding out about their interests and experiences. Another recent problem is that I have had a lot of spam comments which are simply a big chunk of my own writing from an article pasted into the comment, which is a bit baffling. Commento has controls for deleting comments, so it isn’t too much of a bother, but it has made me think again about whether there is a better way.

Webmentions are better, modernised versions of Trackbacks which enable people to mention or comment on an article on their own blog. If the site they mention has Webmentions available, the commented-upon site gets notified, and can display the incoming comment in context. It connects all our little blogs and independent sites together and makes us feel more of a connected community.

However, setting up Webmentions — while not difficult — has a lot of moving parts. I found Jessica’s post on the steps needed to set it up on Hugo very easy to follow, and those by Jan and Sebastian had some good detail on taking it a bit further and actually creating JSON files for the mentions which live alongside your article posts and get rendered into the HTML when the site is built. That appeals to me, because then I have both the articles and the mentions/comments on my own hard drive as backups, and will not be left trying to resurrect them if any third party service goes away.

I have followed the steps to add IndieAuthentication (very neat!) and Microformats to my posts, so that parts of the site that are article titles, time stamps, contents and so on can be programmatically identified and parsed. I have checked with a validator, and that seems to be in the correct format. I have also made an account on Webmentions.io with the aforementioned IndieAuthentication, and added the link to my site so that the whole system should work properly. I haven’t yet wired up a way to show any mentions under the article, as I wanted to check that it was working first by viewing them on the Webmentions dashboard.

So watch this space I guess? I have no idea if this all works, but if it does, I’ll connect it up and show mentions here. If you have the ability, please webmention away 😉.


  1. Well, there was a bit more to it than that, and it took some time to figure out how to change the styling for light and dark mode, but it seems to work. ↩︎

  2. That sounds overly grand, as if I am some kind of bestselling author… ↩︎

  3. I felt very smug when I came across this research recently. I have long felt that use of real names online as a way of making conversation more civil is not the panacea it has suggested to be, and that investing time and energy in a stable online pseudonymous persona encourages you to behave well, but also enables a degree of online privacy which using your real name does not. It seems that I was right. ↩︎


Webmentions