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Applications Coding Entertainment Semantic Web

A curious sequence of events with Google and its YouTube recommendations

Well spotted there, Google! 🔭

I noticed a curious sequence of events this morning. I responded to a tweet about Donald Trump’s latest tweet where he referred to his “great and unmatched wisdom” using the Twitter app on my Android phone –

I then turned to our Android TV box where we were watching YouTube videos in the YouTube app, and I saw a recommendation for this Late Late Show video about Trump’s tweets:

That’s some pretty snappy algorithmic matching there, Google! 🤔

unsplash-logoCover image by Scott Webb
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Blogs and blogging Mindsets Semantic Web Social Web Web/Tech

Resisting closed platforms with the open Web

Simon commented on the state of the Web in a recent post:

Thanks to the open web it was possible to create massive platforms, which inevitably became closed.

He asks an important question:

Do we now abandon the open web or is it essential for keeping the closed platforms in check?

I think the only real answer to this question is not to abandon the open Web. The open Web remains essential, both in itself, and to offer a compelling alternative to closed platforms.

The open Web can offer a healthier, more sustainable alternative to closed platforms. What we need are services that are as good as, or better than, closed platforms. Perhaps more importantly, the open alternatives should be just as convenient to use. This is where open solutions seem to be lacking, for now at least.

unsplash-logoFeatured image by Tim Gouw
Categories
Blogs and blogging Publishing Semantic Web Tutorials Useful stuff

Post Kinds, in depth

If you’re looking for a detailed guide to Post Kinds, then read Chris Aldrich’s “Post Kinds Plugin for WordPress“. I’ve been meaning to read this article properly for a little while now to help me better understand how to use Post Kinds more effectively on my site.

Categories
Blogs and blogging Mindsets People Publishing Semantic Web

Rethinking Mastodon

I’ve been pretty interested in Mastodon as a Twitter alternative, at least until I noticed Brent Simmons’ post.

He linked to Wil Wheaton’s post titled “The world is a terrible place right now, and that’s largely because it is what we make it” in which Wheaton described a particularly unpleasant, and unexpected experience on Mastodon:

I thought that if I left Twitter, I could find a new social network that would give it some competition (Twitter’s monopoly on the social space is a big reason it can ignore people who are abused and harassed, while punishing people for reporting their attackers), so I fired up this account I made at Mastodon a long time ago.

I thought I’d find something different. I thought I’d find a smaller community that was more like Twitter was way back in 2008 or 2009. Cat pictures! Jokes! Links to interesting things that we found in the backwaters of the internet! Interaction with friends we just haven’t met, yet! What I found was … not that.

I’m sure that Wheaton’s experience of Mastodon doesn’t describe all Mastodon interactions. The same could be said of Twitter. In both cases, the trollish elements spoil the experience for everyone else.

His experience doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Mastodon as a more civil alternative to Twitter. This isn’t because Mastodon is fundamentally bad, it’s just being used by people who are behaving much the same as other people on Twitter who I’d prefer to avoid having to deal with.

I’ll just stick with my blog, and some sort of Micro.blog hook for now.

Categories
Blogs and blogging Semantic Web Social Web

The Mastodon in the room

I read Patrick Hogan’s post about Mastodon titled “Mastodon makes the internet feel like home again” last week. It prompted me to install a Mastodon app on my phone again, and take another look.

The Mastodon.social timeline
Find me on Mastodon, if you want

Like many people, I’m not exactly in love with Twitter lately (except when I am). I’ve been on the lookout for something better for years (remember Jaiku?). I really like the idea of a federated update/micro-blogging service, and Mastodon has all the features you’d want.

What about the network effect?

The one feature that’s missing is the one factor that either boosts or kills any social service (again, remember Jaiku?) is the all important network effect. As Richard MacManus put it in his post titled “How social media fits into the Open Web” in AltPlatform.org (I can’t seem to load the site and provide a link):

I dip into Mastodon from time to time, but it just hasn’t managed to become part of my daily Web routine. Perhaps it will in future, but the old ‘network effects’ rule applies here: the value of a tool is ultimately in the strength of the community it builds.

This probably isn’t the platform I’d expect to see my friends on (and I don’t expect to). Still, if Mastodon is to be a viable alternative to Twitter for me, I’d want to be able to join communities that feature the people who I follow on Twitter. At the moment, I’m not sure most of them are even aware of Mastodon.

More importantly, what about my blog?

As interested as I am in a federated alternative to Twitter, what I really want is to be able to use my blog as my starting point for everything. Why can’t my personal site be the focal point of my presence on the web (at least one of my primary expressions of my self online)?

This takes me back to the work the IndieWeb community is doing to link all these sites together into a federated identity, and content network. How about extending that work to the point where I can use this blog as my identity that reaches into these federated networks?

This may be wishful thinking but I’d really like to see a future version of WordPress introduce this social connectivity that allows me to extend a unified personal presence to non-blog platforms.

On Mastodon, my identity is linked to the instance I am a part of. There, I am @pauljacobson@mastodon.social. I can use that identity to participate in other Mastodon instances (I think), so I have the beginnings of a distributed, social identity here. The challenge is that my nascent social identity is distinct from this site.

Update: I wrote too soon. Ryan Barrett pointed me to Bridgy Fed that seems to do what I was hoping I’d be able to do (pretty much). Barrett launched Bridgy Fed in October and it looks terrific:

Ryan Barrett's Bridgy Fed launch announcement.
Ryan Barrett’s Bridgy Fed launch announcement.

This is going to take a little time to configure but I’m looking forward to working through the process and connecting my site to the fediverse.

Categories
Semantic Web Social Web

My Feedly wishlist

Richard MacManus wrote about the state of feed readers as he saw it in his AltPlatform.org post titled “The state of feed readers”. He mentioned a couple things in his Feedly wishlist that prompted me to think more about what I’d like to see added to Feedly.

Feedly – ye olde feed reader for the Information Age

If you haven’t heard of Feedly, it is a feed reader. Yup, those old fashioned services that use RSS to subscribe to new blog posts and other content available through RSS and then present it to you to read through at your leisure.

Many people have announced that RSS died with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard or any number of other “Web 2.0” services. They are wrong.

While feed readers may not be as popular as they once were[1], they remain one of the best ways to receive the updates you care most about.

I loved using Google Reader back in the day and I switched to Feedly when Google killed Reader off. I still don’t understand why Google did that. Thankfully Feedly stepped into the void that Reader left behind.

It’s where my stuff is

I really like using Feedly. I think I’ve been using it since about 2008. Twitter is useful for breaking news but when I want to go through the content that matters most to me, I generally go to Feedly.

Like MacManus, I am a Feedly Pro user and it’s been worth it. I probably couldn’t tell you what all the Pro features are but I’m happy with the end result so I keep renewing my subscription.

I was meandering through some dusty directories on my Mac recently and I came across a Feedly benefit that I completely forgot about. It turns out that Feedly has been backing up my OPML files[2] to Dropbox since 2014 (possibly when I started paying for Pro).

Feedly has a “read later” feature but I haven’t really used it all that much. I have preferred using Instapaper or Pocket for that.

I also realised that I forgot that Feedly has also been saving articles I marked to “read later” using its native tool as PDFs in my Dropbox folder. This is a pretty useful feature and it probably would have been even more useful if I remembered that I had enabled it!

A more recent Feedly feature is the ability to highlight text in feed items rendered in Feedly itself. This only really works when you subscribe to full feeds and doesn’t extend to pages that open from Feedly.

I love this feature in Instapaper which I started using as a research tool because I could highlight text as well as annotate it with comments. Feedly doesn’t go quite that far but it has real potential.

My Feedly wishlist

As much as I enjoy using Feedly, I’d love to see a few more features added. For one thing, I’d really like text highlights to be made portable somehow.

I can definitely see myself using Feedly as the research tool I thought Instapaper may become (for me at least) but I’d need to be able to do more with those notations. Here are a few ideas that, if implemented, would make Feedly so much more useful to me.

More useful highlights

I’d like to have the ability to capture text highlights into some sort of text file that preserves the context/source of the highlights (in other words, the article title, source and perhaps even highlight timestamps). IFTTT doesn’t have access to highlights so that isn’t an option at the moment.

It would also be great to be able to share highlighted text coherently and contextually through 3rd party services including to blogs, perhaps using IndieWeb tools.

Better sharing options

On a related note, imagine if Feedly baked IndieWeb functionality such as Micropub that enables users to share highlights or some other form of marked up content outside Feedly?

In particular, I’d really like to be able to share a highlight or even just a post I like directly to my blog on my phone.

I can already do something like this in my desktop browser. Sharing to WordPress from my browser invokes the WordPress “Press This” functionality, which is great.

At the same time, I find that I use my phone more than my laptop and given how many people use their smartphones as their primary computers, it makes sense for Feedly to make mobile a first class citizen.

Perhaps this could take the form of a pre-formatted share directly through the WordPress app or an intermediary step with a text file.

Feedly doesn’t even seem to offer an option to see my highlights in one place like Instapaper does.

Instapaper notes
Instapaper highlights and notes view.

I’m not sure what is possible, technically. At the same time, I’d like to be able to select something I have highlighted and share it on my blog with the contextual data about that highlighted text preserved, much like you can see in this screenshot of some of my Instapaper notes.

You could even take that further and enable other Feedly users to highlight that text and capture it into their own profiles almost like Amazon enables people to see what other readers have highlighted in Kindle books and add those highlights to their own collections.

Doing more with Feedly Boards

Feedly has something called “Boards” which are basically lists of articles you save to pre-defined lists. I’d really like to be able to share an RSS feed of my boards on my blog, for example.

Feedly board example
An example of a Feedly board.

Fortunately, I can use IFTTT to capture the articles I save. Still, I’d like to be able to create a sort of link roll based on my Feedly boards as an option from within Feedly.

I imagine I can do something similar to this through IFTTT but this is something that would probably work better as a native Feedly feature.

Just putting the thought out there

As I watch this IndieWeb thing gather steam, I’m hopeful that the ethos spreads not just throughout the online publishing world (aka the Blogosphere vx.0) but also to services like Feedly.

There is a lot to say for social media services. In many ways they have connected the online world in a way that Humanity hasn’t experienced. At the same time, we desperately need independent services like Feedly that empower us to consume the information we choose the way we prefer to do it.

My suggestions may not be even remotely on Feedly’s roadmap so I’m not expecting them to be implemented. At the same time, if they are, the result could be an even better service that we have at the moment.

Featured image credit: rawpixel.com


  1. Thinking back, I don’t think feed readers ever actually had mass appeal, just a dedicated core group of users who saw the value in customisable content streams.  ↩
  2. OPML stands for “Outline Processor Markup Language”. My OPML files are basically lists or indices of my RSS subscriptions. They are a great example of data portability in action because you can usually import OPML files into new feed readers and retain all your content sources.  ↩
Categories
Blogs and blogging Semantic Web Social Web

The Open Web fosters opportunities

Emre Sokullu has a terrific post title “Why we should all care about the Open Web“. It’s probably aimed more at people who are curious or on the fence about the Open Web.

He deals with a couple core themes which are well worth reading about. Much of the Open Web’s value comes down to this statement for me:

Open web is equal to open data. And data fosters innovation and creates new opportunities.

The Open Web is not a hot topic for most people. It’s pretty esoteric and it will probably remain the domain of a pretty small group of people for years to come.

Still, it’s a drum worth beating.

As dismissive as many people are about maintaining a blog or site of their own (I have a half-written post about this somewhere), the time for indie sites isn’t over yet.

Categories
Blogs and blogging Policy issues Semantic Web Social Web

AltPlatform and a conversation about the Open Web

There is a new conversation about the Open Web and it’s called AltPlatform.org.

The Open Web is increasingly important as the major silos online attract more users and become more insular to maintain their dominance. A prominent example of a silo is Facebook and its service ecosystem.

The Open Web stands as an important counterpoint to the siloed Web. In a sense, it’s a lot like the contrast between open source software and proprietary systems. Proprietary services tend to be easier to use, even if they are harmful on the long run.

As important as it is, the Open Web also a largely invisible theme because the vast majority of the Web’s denizens are happy to use siloed services without much thought about the implications of investing so much in them.

The open Web is a “global public resource”

I’ve been a big believer in the Open Web for some time and I was pretty excited to discover that Richard MacManus and a few other writers have launched AltPlatform.org, a non-profit publication focused on the Open Web:

What do we mean by “Open Web”? Firstly, we want to experiment with open source (like this WordPress.org blog) and open standards (like RSS). We’re also using the word open to signify a wider, boundary-less view of the Web. In other words, we want to look for opportunities beyond the Walled Gardens – proprietary platforms like Facebook and Twitter where you don’t own your own data, you have little control over your news feeds, and you have to live by certain rules.

Our desire to explore the Open Web explains why we’ve created a new blog, rather than simply start a Facebook Page or sign up to Medium. We’re a group blog because we want to create thoughtful, inspiring posts that link liberally to others. We want a proper archive of content, which isn’t possible on Facebook or Medium. We want our feed of content to flow across the Web using RSS. Heck, we might even resurrect trackbacks.

The chances are that the Open Web, as a theme and as a call to action, will have relatively limited appeal to people, generally speaking.

Most people want to share stuff and check their news. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other similar services make this really easy and you don’t need to build a site and maintain it to do that.

Open Web technologies also tend not to pass the “my Mom uses it” test. This is an adoption killer unless you’re sharing with communities who are already using alternative platforms.

Still, the Open Web is worth protecting and talking more about. It’s pretty encouraging to read about how Open Web technologies can be used for the type of sharing we have come to expect in more closed services, even if it requires a bit of tinkering at the moment.

AltPlatform.org looks like an important part of that conversation and I’m pretty excited to participate in that conversation going forward. If this appeals to you too, you should definitely read the Open Web Manifesto:

http://altplatform.org/2017/05/30/open-web-manifesto/

One suggestion I’d make is that MacManus and Co. license their work under a CC license that fosters sharing and reuse. It sort of goes with the territory.

Image credit: Toa Heftiba