Hi, my name is Manton Reece, and I’m writing a book called Indie Microblogging. I’m also launching a brand new platform for microblogs.
I want to encourage more independent writing. To do that, we need better tools that embrace microblogs and the advantages of the open web. We need to learn from the success and user experience of social networking, but applied to the full scope of the web.
I first set out to build a new service just for microblogs. It has a timeline experience like a social network, with replies and favorites, but it’s based on RSS, with the main posts pulled from independent sites.
I’m not sure if my Twitter account will still exist ten years from now. But I’m pretty certain that my website will still be around.
That last paragraph rings so true to me. I intend to live for at least fifty more years and I hope my blog will be with me all the way. How many huge companies have existed for fifty years? How many of those have not changed in significant ways in fifty years? Do we really think that the social media of today will preserve our ideas, our quips and snapshots, and our memories – happy and sad – for the foreseeable future? Or do we not care if they don’t?
At every turn, right from the beginning, [the modern journalist] made horrible websites, laden with ads, demonstrated no understanding of the medium, and then blamed the medium itself for their inadequacies. As an industry they have always done and said the wrong thing about the open web.
Stop listening to them. They aren’t here to help.
– The Tragedy/Farce of the Open Web according to journalists – Baldur Bjarnason
Baldur Bjarnason makes a compelling case for why we shouldn’t listen when journalists keep telling us that the open web is dead. The open web is very much alive, and very important.
I think Manton’s on to something big.
If that’s the case, you should check out Manton Reece’s snippets.today. This has the potential to be huge.
Every piece of the puzzle was there long before Twitter. For posting we had, and still have, blogs. For following we have things logs blogrolls, remember those? And the timeline is just a river style feed reader.
Today I learned more about an upcoming service that I’ve been keeping my eye on for some time, that will bring these pieces together in what looks like a great way. Exciting times!
- Twitter’s 140-character limit and easy retweeting encourage and amplify negative tweets. Sincerity is less common. Everything is an opportunity for a joke.
- Widely followed, long-time Twitter users don’t find the joy they used to when interacting with followers. Some have retreated to private Slack channels, at the cost of public discussion and approachability.
- Developers have never completely forgiven Twitter for crippling the API. This doesn’t directly impact most users anymore, but it’s a backdrop that gives every new Twitter feature a tone of distrust. Progress is slow.
Meanwhile, blog comments have slowly been killed off over that same period. The rise of social networks, combined with the technical problems of fighting blog comment spam, pushed most bloggers to prefer answering questions on Twitter.
Everyone: When you ask ”Isn’t that what Twitter already does?” the answer is no. Twitter does nothing well because of the 140-char limit.
You might even say Twitter does nothing. The Seinfeld of social networks.The province of snorts and gusts. Miscreant sarcasm and trollery.
At first this might sound like an oversimplification but it resonated with me. Twitter is making me increasingly frustrated these days. The 140 character limit might, might, have been a good thing to differentiate it at first but today I think that it’s one of the core problems of the service.
A hundred-and-forty character limit is actively harming nuanced discussions. Once you start tweeting directly to one person it gets even worse since precious characters are eaten up by the username of that person. So instead of discussion we get people screaming simplified messages into the void, we get Trump, we get people calling someone who tries to argue for something a racist, or a sexist, or a social justice warrior, a communist, a fascist, etc. Whatever name you find is properly insulting you use to smear the those who seems to not agree with you. When there’s not enough room to question or to debate you get name-calling.
I’m guilty of this as well. I’m also guilty of not speaking up and not questioning in a lot of cases. There have been so many times that I thought of something that I wanted to express, so many times that I wanted to ask follow-up questions to someone who wrote something that I didn’t agree with and so many of those times I chose not to. Because I couldn’t fit it within the limits of twitter without botching the message completely. So instead I kept shut.
So why do I keep using twitter? Probably because so many of my friends and people whose opinions I care about are there, and so much of the news that I read comes to me this way.
Fortunately the latter obstacle is not that much of a problem. I’m still an avid RSS user and I could replace a lot of my news sources on Twitter with various RSS feeds and readers. In part I am doing that already since I’ve more or less unfollowed every single account tweeting about Swedish politics or Swedish news. Instead I keep the RSS feed of some Swedish newspapers in my river of news.
Same thing goes for a lot of tech news as well.
The first problem, that so many of my friends and people who’s voices I care about is on Twitter is a bigger issue. I am actually after all these years contemplating joining Facebook. Maybe that would help me to keep up with my friends. In a way, I think it would be better for this than Twitter is.
As for the people who I’m not a real-life friend, who might not even follow and/or be interested in me, with but whose opinions matter to me, I think all of us – everyone who’s expressing strong opinions on the internet – should be better at expressing us on our own publishing space as well. More blogs, more of the indieweb.
This post got a lot more rambly than I planned. I’d actually only planned to quote Dave and to leave a sentence or two as a comment but things doesn’t always turn out the way we’ve planned.
So I have no great way of ending the post. No call to action for you, the reader or for myself. I guess I’ll get back on this topic.
Here’s what’s needed to make that work and then why it’s important.
- Styling — bold, italic, lists, subheads.
- Enclosures — for podcasting.
- Titles — lots of blog posts have them.
With these four features, we’d have a baseline, and I think some very cool stuff would happen both inside Facebook and on the open web.
(This is part of my microcast feed so you can subscribe to it in your podcatcher of choice.)
Two thoughts on that:
Built for Publishers
Instant Articles keeps publishers in control. Publishers decide what to share on Facebook, with article templates that mirror the look and feel of their brands. Publishers can even automate their workflow by using RSS to publish Instant Articles directly from their existing content management systems.
Yes, this is the way to do it. If you want people to add stuff to your silo, make it easy for them to do it using their existing infrastructure, and thereby enabling them to cross-post to the silo, as opposed to exclusively create and post there.
And yes, using a tried and tested technology like RSS is a smart move. No, it’s not the latest hotness. Yes, XML feels clunky. But it’s a frozen format. It’s widely understood, easy to implement and most publishers already have it implemented.
The setup procedure in the app was simple and as far as I know there are no easier way of recording a piece of audio and broadcasting it ”to the people”. (Note the quotes.)
However, there are quite enough silos around already and I really don’t like to lock myself into yet another one. I want to own the data – or content if you prefer – that I create. Therefore I’d like the following:
I also want to mix and match sources. I want to be able to consume similar content in one app, not having to constantly switch from one app to the other just because people lock their content in various silos.
As I said in the beginning, what Anchor does is provide a way to easily record short-form podcasts and publishing them to the people following you. There is nothing about this that is new from a podcasting perspective. What is new, is how easy they’ve made it. I love that! But since they are podcasts I want to treat them as such. I want people to be able to listen to the things I publish even if they don’t have, never have had, nor ever will get, an account on Anchor.
So I would like Anchor to provide a way for its users to use the content they – the users that is – create outside of the Anchor. The simplest way to do this, that almost certainly would require very little effort on Anchor’s part, is to have some sort of feed for each user of the service. Making those feeds RSS feeds with <enclosure> elements would make them compatible with pretty much all podcatchers that are currently in use.
That would make the service so much less of a silo. It would mean that other people could listen to my stuff outside of Anchor and I could interleave the ”Waves”1 of people on Anchor with other short- or long-form podcasts that I listen to. It would also mean that I could set up automation to cross-post my waves to my own site.
And it wouldn’t even have to be RSS/XML. Any kind of easily parseable feed available without authentication would do for me. Once upon a time even Twitter provided this function for its users tweets and it was great.
Sure, it would be nice to have a posting API for Anchor and it would be equally nice to have a way of using their app to post directly to another service, or to my own blog, but the simple act of adding feeds would take them so far along the way of becoming good citizens of the open web. And I want them to be that since I thought the app and service was great, but I don’t want to lock up my content.
One good thing about it is that there are more or less easily accessible URLs for each Wave. Unfortunately, those URLs are not easily crawlable for the media they are meant to display.
I’ve asked Anchor, both on Anchor and on Twitter, whether they are going to add feeds or not. So far I’ve not gotten a respons. If you who read this also finds this important, please ask them about it you too. (They are @anchor on Twitter.)
So please Anchor, please, be a part of the open web. In your Medium posts you claim to be ”the world’s first true public radio”. Make this real by actually making the content created by your users public. Embrace feeds, embrace the open web.
In reality this is so not true. For the last five weeks I’ve been on vacation and most of that time have been spent raising my baby daughter. Before that I worked and raised my baby daughter. So off course I’ve accomplished something. I’m in the middle of raising a human being!
But that doesn’t make the feeling of needing to accomplish something less urgent. What I mean in this case is that I feel that I should create something, something that is visible online.
I have a lot of ideas of things to do and a lot of started projects that doesn’t seem to ever go anywhere. Here are some of the things I want to do/have begun doing:
Last summer I finally managed to carve out the time to learn how to use Objective-C and how to code iOS apps.
I’ve made two apps that kind of works that’s only been used by me and my girlfriend.1 However I’ve not managed to get them polished up to the point where I’ve felt comfortable posting them to the App Store.
This is very common for me. I start something and it gets ”good enough” for me to use it, but then I never make it good enough for others to use.#
The apps are a photo app to create time-lapse photos of something that slowly changes (like a pregnant woman’s belly) and a private photo sharing app that uses WordPress as a backend.
I also have an idea for a River of News based RSS reader.
Lately I’ve been really interested in the idea of owning your content, in ”POSSE” and the whole indie web, or silo-less web or whatever you want to call it. That has gotten me to start changing things around on this blog to accommodate ”microblog”, ”link blogs” etc. etc. (I’m also highly anticipating Manton Reece’s upcoming microblogging service.)
This has led to some progress but also to a cluttered site, both in terms of the content but mostly in terms of the underlying code and the services I use (for instance IFTTT and Radio3) to make this happen.
At the moment it seems like it would be faster to actually start creating a new theme from scratch (although with the same basic look) rather than refactoring the one I’m using. But it also feels like a drag to do that. It feels like I once again start over in something rather then polishing something up. (Do you see a pattern here?)
On the other hand, working on the theme might result in some open source code and that would really be me making something.
A couple of days ago I installed a River of News aggregator on my computer and I got blown away by it. Unlike other forms of RSS aggregation this seems like the perfect way to consume a large number of current topics via RSS. I also have a strong feeling that rivers of news will be important in a possible future with a more open web. Hell, Twitter is basically a bunch of rivers of news!
Today I also read a post that, among other things, requested a better way for blogs to recommend each other to readers and to curate content from each others blogs. This is likely accomplished by rivers and the OPML files that are the foundations of the rivers.
So I have multiple ideas of things to do involving rivers.
Or, I could just continue to Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D. Sometimes playing a video game can feel like I’m accomplishing things.
I really, really, love to read but I read way to seldom. So maybe I should just continue reading Spook Country.
I don’t know. Hopefully something productive. I guess time will tell.
Almost a year ago I wrote about how it was time for me to take back my data. In that post I announced that I planned to switch most of my search engine use from Google to DuckDuck Go. That has worked out fine and DuckDuck Go is still my main search engine. Yay! (I also said I planned to switch away from Dropbox as well. That has not happened, thus far.)
Now it is time to start doing the same conscious effort to take back my content!
What do I mean by that? Well, if you follow this blog you know I very rarely post to it. However if you also follow me on Twitter you know that I post short status updates and links there quite often. I also occasionally post to my Instagram account. Lately I’ve started questioning why I spend so much time and energy creating content for other peoples website instead of my own. At the same time I’ve seen Dave Winer, the father of RSS and so many other great things, launch his new project Radio3.
Radio3 is a web app that lets the user post status updates or link blog style posts to Facebook, Twitter and an RSS feed.
The idea is to start a great flow of news to these services, while enabling new networks to boot up on the open web, building on the RSS support. So when you post using Radio3, you’re helping the web news system reboot. It’s like using solar or wind energy, or riding a bike instead of driving. It’s good for the environment. 😉
– Dave Winer, Radio3 mail list
I love this philosophy! The idea that I don’t have to chose between Twitter and my blog and that both will still be ”first class citizens” of my digital presence is really compelling.
So I started playing around with Radio3 yesterday. My initial idea was the use its RSS feed to post to my blog via IFTTT. For some reason that did not work out at all. Instead of investing a lot of time into trying to find out why I reached out to Dave on Twitter and asked if he had any plans to add support for WordPress in Radio3. The answer was that it was coming the very same day.
So I waited for a couple of hours and then it arrived. When I tried it out I realized it worked, but not in the way I wanted to. As of today (and yesterday) Radio3 doesn’t give me the ability to chose what post type or post format the post will be posted as on my blog and since I’d like any link post to be of the post format link and any short text post to be of the post format status that’s a problem. It’s a small problem that I could possibly overlook but then there was another thing: The text of my Radio3 post was posted on my blog as title of a blog post, not as a posts content. This is not the way I want it.
Both of these ”problems” are small problems that I could live with, but combined they really bugged me.
However I had invested to much time1 into Radio3 to give up that easily so I picked up my hammer, my screwdriver and a whole lot of duct tape and started cobbling something together. After a lot of frustration with WordPress’ XMLRPC-API i finally managed to hack a solution where I post in Radio3. That gets published on Twitter and in my Radio3 RSS feed. That feed is then fetched and parsed every five minutes by a script on one of my servers. If that script finds any new items in the feed they will be posted to my blog as the correct post format and with the text as post content, not post title.
This way it works the way I want and I’ve used it a couple of times today and I’m very pleased with the result.
So this is my long-winding way of saying that I am going to post here a lot more often since everything that in the past just became a tweet will now be a tweet and a tweet-length blog post.2
So thank you Dave Winer, for giving me the necessary kick in the butt to actually revise the way I post to social networks.
The word ”open” is often used by Google, and even more often by Google’s proponents, as an argument for why Google and their products are better than others (especially better than Apple, but occasionally Microsoft). In my opinion though that has always been about business strategy and marketing, not ideology (and that’s fine). Google is a company that wants to make money and there is nothing wrong with that. This is not going to be an Apple fanboy’s assault on Google. It’s going to be reflecting on the not so open world of Google+ and a concerned look at some of the not-so-great-in-fact-really-bad things about Google+ and it’s lack of ”openness”.
The HTML of Google+ is an absolute nightmare. It’s <div> in <div> in <div> in <div> (repeat indefinitely). And the class names makes no semantic sense what so ever. On episode #32 of Build and Analyze Marco Arment speculates that this could be because the code itself is actually written in a higher level language and compiled into the HTML that makes up the page. That may be the case, but it’s still a complete disregard of everything that the Web Standards-people and the Microformats community (and others) have fought for over the years.
Semantics and well-structured HTML that validates can easily become a religion. Breaking these dogmas is not a problem for the sake of it. It’s a problem because it partially locks down the content on Google+ and makes it harder for parsers and crawlers to do something meaningful with it. Instapaper for instance had to have a completely specialized parsing algorithm written for it (again Build and Analyze #32). One of the main purposes of the new elements in HTML5 was to give developers simpler tool to mark up content in a way that makes sense semantically. Google has previously made a big deal about HTML5 so why not follow its semantics as well?
The urls for peoples pages on Google+ is horrible. People are identified by a long string of digits, not by a username or anything that’s easily rememberable. In practice this means that the most popular way to find people’s Google+ sites is likely to use Google Search to find them. Thereby Google, who makes its money from advertising, gets yet another chance to show you its ads.
With a bit of a tin-foil hat-mind this could be seen as a slightly anticompetitive move, but there are other search engines too, right?
So how many people does this really affect?
Now this point means the tin-foil hat does not need to be that big to suspect that Google is using + to promote its own services by making it harder for their competitors.
I want to once again state that this is not an Apple Fanboy’s rant against a threat to the all mighty fruit, it’s a web developer who’s concerned about some of the directions being taken by one of the largest web companies in the world, and one that explicitly uses the word open time after time to tout its own greatness.