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 @email@example.com. 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.
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, 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 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.
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.
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.
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. ↩
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. ↩
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.
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.
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:
If you’re a Pinboard user, nothing will change. Sad!
If you’re a Delicious user, you will have to find another place to save your bookmarks. The site will stay online. but on June 15, I will put Delicious into read-only mode. You won’t be able to save new bookmarks after that date, or use the API.
Users will have an opportunity to migrate their bookmarks to a Pinboard account, which costs $11/year. Those who prefer to bookmark elsewhere will be able to export their data once I fix the export link, which was disabled some months ago for peformance (sic) reasons.
Please note that there is no time pressure for moving off Delicious. You won’t be able to save new bookmarks after June 15, but everything else will continue to work, or break in familiar ways.
As for the ultimate fate of the site, I’ll have more to say about that soon. Delicious has over a billion bookmarks and is a fascinating piece of web history. Even Yahoo, for whom mismanagement is usually effortless, had to work hard to keep Delicious down. I bought it in part so it wouldn’t disappear from the web.
I used Delicious back in the day when it was del.icio.us (or something like that) and it was a great service then. I migrated to Pinboard a few years ago. It works well and I’m happy to pay the annual fee (currently $11 per year) to have a reliable bookmarking service.
Delicious didn’t seem to be going anywhere and if Maciej Ceglowski did, indeed, buy the service to preserve the bookmarks (particularly the public bookmarks) then that is a good thing for the open Web.
The one issue is that those bookmarks probably go back a decade or so and a good number of those bookmarks will point to sites that have since gone offline. It will certainly be interesting to see whether there is some sort of back-up similar to the Wayback Machine or Pinboard’s site backup service (for paid subscribers)?
As an aside and speaking of links … perhaps you could fix your RSS feed for your blog, Mr Ceglowski? The announcement post isn’t showing up on the main blog page or in your blog’s RSS feed. I still use RSS so that sort of thing is helpful.
The news that Instapaper sold to Pinterest shocked me from my early evening domestic routine. At first, it seemed like a mistake. It didn’t even seem like something that could happen but, sure enough, there was a tweet to confirm it:
The key paragraph was this one, the rest of the post was mostly filed for later analysis:
For you, the Instapaper end user and customer, nothing changes. The Instapaper team will be moving from betaworks in New York City to Pinterest’s headquarters in San Francisco, and we’ll continue to make Instapaper a great place to save and read articles.
Of course, Pinboard’s Maciej Ceglowski was in typical form with a series of sarcastic tweets about the sale that included a hefty dose of “I told you so” (as you would expect). He made a few good points that concerned me more than a little and prompted me to think more about my investment in Instapaper:
To Instapaper users who are sad to see their favorite product die and in no mood for my gloating, rest assured: I feel your hilarious pain
People use Pinterest and Instapaper for similar reasons. The similarity is almost too close for the deal to make sense. Pinterest started out as a way for people to collect content from around the web for themselves and others to check out later. At first, people were mainly saving images, but they’ve also started saving articles, to the point that Pinterest considers that “a core use case.” But saving articles is the same reason people use Instapaper — its “core use case,” if you will. So why would Pinterest buy a company whose product largely duplicates its own?
It’s a fair question and, as Peterson suggests, this could be more about putting two similar services together and using the Instapaper team’s know-how to improve Pinterest. For now, at least, Instapaper doesn’t seem to be at risk of vanishing. According to Peterson:
Instapaper’s service will remain available post-acquisition, and Pinterest has no plans to put ads in Instapaper, according to a Pinterest spokesperson.
Still, so soon after the news I panicked and downloaded Pocket to my iPad. I have an IFTTT recipe running that adds stories I save to Instapaper to my Pocket queue so I wouldn’t lose much if Instapaper inexplicably vanished.
I also created a series of IFTTT recipes that captured my Instapaper notes and highlights into MultiMarkdown-formatted notes after the Great Pinboard Shock of 2016 so I wouldn’t lose too much of that data either.
The big loss, to me, would be the loss of an app that I use daily and really enjoy using. Pocket could be an acceptable replacement (I used Pocket regularly for a while before I decided to switch back to Instapaper). While I’d lose some functionality if I had to switch, switching would be more a matter of installing the various Pocket extensions and apps.
Will Pinterest be a good steward for Instapaper and give the team the tools it needs to keep making Instapaper better? I hope so. Ultimately, if it all goes badly, there are other options. If Pocket doesn’t capture my affection, I could always switch to Evernote even though the reading experience isn’t even close. I’m getting ahead of myself.
For the time being, I don’t need to (or want to) change anything. I pay for my Instapaper subscription for a year at a time and, assuming the service will continue operating as promised, I can keep doing what I’ve been doing (after a quick backup of my links).
Never mind Batman v Superman. Now it’s IFTTT v Pinboard and I’m caught in the cross-fire.
I use Pinboard daily in some form or another. I also use the great “connector” service, IFTTT, daily to automate a host of little tasks like adding Instapaper highlights to a text file in Dropbox and many more.
In particular, I use a number of IFTTT recipes that include Pinboard in various little workflows that make my life easier and now it seems that is going to come to an end in just a week or two. I received this alarming email from IFTTT:
I rushed over to the Pinboard blog to see what Pinboard’s creator, Maciej Cegłowski, has to say about the matter. It turns out, he has quite a bit to say in his blog post titled “My Heroic and Lazy Stand Against IFTTT”. He cited two reasons for this little impasse:
Because many of you rely on IFTTT, and because this email makes it sound like I’m the asshole, I feel I should explain myself.
In a nutshell:
IFTTT wants me to do their job for them for free
They have really squirrely terms of service
It’s entirely IFTTT’s decision to drop support for Pinboard (along with a bunch of other sites). They are the ones who are going to flip the switch on working code on April 4, and they could just as easily flip the switch back on (or even write an IFTTT recipe that does it for them). Weigh their claims about Pinboard being a beloved service accordingly.
I understand his concerns and I agree with him that he shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel at his cost to satisfy IFTTT’s requirements to remain connected to the service. Surely IFTTT could have come up with a more developer-friendly way to migrate to their new platform and help developers make the transition at a lower cost?
The fundamental issue: IFTTT is a roll of duct tape that has decided to no longer be sticky, and instead license its recipe for glue
I would also have reservations about the contract they want developers to agree to as part of their transition to the new platform. Requiring developers to agree to the sorts of terms Cegłowski quote seems pretty unreasonable given what the clauses would seem to be saying.
At the same time, I’m caught between these two providers I rely on for various tasks. I don’t like the approach IFTTT seems to be taking but I love the service they provide. It literally makes my life easier in so many ways. I have also been using Pinboard for a while now as my personal bookmarking service and I even pay for the archival service. It is a simple and effective service.
This IFTTT v Pinboard impasse between the two companies just hurts people like me who either have to switch to some IFTTT competitor to address the soon-to-be introduced gaps in my workflows or just abandon those workflows altogether. The effect of that is to diminish the value of both services for me, just enough to leave me with that sick, disappointed feeling you get in times like these.
I hope this situation is resolved in some form or another but, if it isn’t … well, that just sucks.
Voice recognition on mobile devices has the potential to be revolutionary. I (mostly) love my iPhone but Siri isn’t particularly effective as a voice-based personal assistant. Google’s voice recognition, on the other hand, is easily better than Siri in every way.
Google’s voice recognition is more accurate and consistently gives me better results and doesn’t give me Siri’s common “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that right now” error. I would love to have Google voice search my default on my iPhone but I suppose that is why you might be persuaded to switch to an Android phone.
I just watched this great video from Google about voice recognition technology and where it could all be going in the next few years. Neural nets seem especially exciting.