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.  ↩

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.

How to Indiewebify your site

The IndieWeb movement has seemed pretty geeky to me since I first heard about it (probably from Kevin Marks). I haven’t been sure what to make of it but the more I learn about it the more it interests me.

I’ve already installed a couple IndieWeb plugins in this blog and I like the benefits I’ve seen.

Richard MacManus (I mentioned him and his AltPlatform.org blog a couple days ago) published the first part of his guide to IndieWebifying his blog and I just started reading it.

I’ve decided to re-design my personal website, richardmacmanus.com. My primary reason is to become a full-fledged member of the IndieWeb community. If I’m writing about Open Web technologies here on AltPlatform, then I ought to be eating my own dog food. Another reason is to discover – likely by trial and error – how to route around Walled Gardens like Facebook and Twitter, which host so much of our content these days. In other words, my goal is to make my personal website the hub for my Web presence. Finally, I want to re-discover blogging in 2017 – what it can do in this era, who’s doing interesting things and how, and what opportunities there might be for the Open Web to cross into the mainstream.

I clicked across to the IndiWebify.me site he linked to and I think I have a new personal project to complete this site’s IndieWebification. Exciting!

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

The curious announcement that Pinboard has acquired Delicious

I’m not sure what to make of the announcement that Pinboard has acquired Delicious.

This is what is going to happen:

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.

Image credit: Sanwal Deen

The Pirate Bay is ruining BitTorrent for everyone

Sites like The Pirate Bay and other services that facilitate copyright infringement are ruining BitTorrent and the open Web for the rest of us, although not for the reason you may think. Sure, copyright infringement is a problem and it probably has a negative impact on many artists who rely on legitimate channels and royalty payments to earn an income off their work. That said, copyright infringement isn’t necessarily the Ultimate Evil that the entertainment industry would want you to think. There are many examples of artists who have thrived when their content was “pirated”, but that is another story.

This post is about a development that bothers me because I think it is ultimately harmful to the Web we would want to have. The Verge published a report today titled “The Pirate Bay now lets you stream torrents from your browser” which describes how the infamous torrent search engine/tracker has added support for the Torrents Time browser plugin that will enable users to stream content from TPB in their browser.

The best-known torrent site in the world now streams pirated content too. The Pirate Bay has added support for Torrents Time, a plugin that lets users stream torrents directly inside their browser. There’s no need to download the torrent itself, or a BitTorrent client, or even the actual content — then lets the whole process run inside Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Chrome, on either Windows or OS X. The system is currently in beta, and has all the usual problems of pirated torrents (namely bad image quality and the need to wait for peers to seed the content), but it’s still an extremely simple system.

BitTorrent is not inherently evil

The plugin itself isn’t a problem. Neither is the ability to stream content using the BitTorrent protocol in your browser. In fact, it is a very good thing. What is problematic is that this comes from TPB and “Pirate Bay” is synonymous with “piracy” (it isn’t an accident that it is called The Pirate Bay).

Torrents have become associated with content “theft” (a poor metaphor but it works for the entertainment industry). More people probably associate torrenting with “free” downloads than associate it with a legitimate and powerful peer-to-peer distribution protocol that can, and does, empower content creators. The tragic result of these associations includes instances like this:

Web_Page_Blocked
I was connected through public wifi on my train when I started writing this post and I couldn’t connect to the BitTorrent blog to reference an article I mention below because the url included the word “bittorrent” and the server blocked my access. The blog is perfectly legitimate but perceptions intervened.

In a recent blog post explaining what magnet links are, BitTorrent shares part of its vision for how its protocol could help power the Web in a very legitimate way:

As our beta users will know, our peer-to-peer browser supports this mission by making the opening of content published as torrents very simple. One of the ways that it does this is by treating the BitTorrent protocol just like HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), so that visiting a Torrent is just like visiting a webpage.

You see, HTTP is great if your web page is simple text and small images. But the volume and size of data is vastly larger on today’s Internet than when HTTP was first implemented in the 1990s. The key advantage that BitTorrent has over HTTP is that it handles the heavy lifting – moving large sets of data – without reliance on a central server. This provides faster data transfers, better network management, and no single choke points.

Unfortunately the range of legitimate uses for the BitTorrent protocol are largely ignored because of the protocol’s bad reputation. BitTorrent Sync, for example, is a terrific option for sharing files securely. It is a peer-to-peer service that bypasses the cloud and is pretty fast. It can be used to share infringing content, sure, but it works really well to just share files between devices; share photos with friends and transfer large files between production machines.

What are the legitimate uses for BitTorrent?

So what has been happening is that the entertainment industry has been making a lot of noise about all the “piracy” that is going on using BitTorrent and the inevitable conclusion the industry has been pushing is that BitTorrent is a bad technology. It’s a bit like the arguments that VHS was evil because it allowed people to record TV programs. It’s a convenient argument because people do use BitTorrent to download stuff they shouldn’t be downloading but there is more to it.

This is why honest users pirate music

The industry should recognise the role it has played in creating a marketplace that is fairly hostile to its consumers. It is changing, very slowly, but it still remains very much a balkanised marketplace where geographical restrictions limit what consumers can pay for, even when they pay. Look at the recent discussion about Netflix and its campaign against VPN services as it opens its service up to more countries. Ultimately, I think technology will render the current distribution models largely irrelevant and force a more sensible change.

BitTorrent is an amazing technology and can be used to really grow and maintain the open Web. As a decentralised and peer-to-peer technology, it is enormously empowering and flexible. Artists are already using BitTorrent Bundles as alternative content distribution options and offering fans direct access to the content they love. Fans, in turn, support these artists and the entertainment industry’s claims that it is slowly dying because of all of this “piracy” is shown to be a lie. Techdirt covers many of these sorts of stories, including this case study from almost 2 years ago titled “Artists Embracing, Rather Than Fighting, BitTorrent Seeing Amazing Results”.

The Pirate Bay is peeing on the Commons

So, back to The Pirate Bay. By enthusiastically embracing and bragging about how it is enabling users to download unlicensed content (what the entertainment industry prefers to call “pirate content”), it is reinforcing the very well-funded industry perception of technologies of BitTorrent as being metaphorical tools of the devil and a big target for law enforcement and legislators.

Sure, this is a business for TPB but they are basically peeing on the Commons and ruining BitTorrent for the rest of us. We need BitTorrent and other technologies because they help make the Web more open and connected. They keep the indie Web alive and a measure of control and privacy in users’ hands. BitTorrent also enables indie artists to create and share their content and earn a living from it. Sure, you can use it to “pirate” music, movies or other stuff but that isn’t all there is to BitTorrent.

The Pirate Bay and others like it are becoming just as much a threat to the open Web as poorly informed regulators and closed platforms.

The open Web is a “global public resource”

Mark Surman has published an important post on the Mozilla blog titled “The Internet is a Global Public Resource” that is worth reading:

We believe the health of the Internet is an important issue that has a huge impact on our society. An open Internet—one with no blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization—allows individuals to build and develop whatever they can dream up, without a huge amount of money or asking permission. It’s a safe place where people can learn, play and unlock new opportunities. These things are possible because the Internet is an open public resource that belongs to all of us.

The open Web is tremendously important and it’s something we should all do our part to protect, however small. I like Surman’s environmental movement analogy:

Consider the parallels with the environmental movement for a moment. In the 1950s, only a few outdoor enthusiasts and scientists were talking about the fragility of the environment. Most people took clean air and clean water for granted. Today, most of know we should recycle and turn out the lights. Our governments monitor and regulate polluters. And companies provide us with a myriad of green product offerings—from organic food to electric cars.

One way you can protect the open Web is to use it. Create a blog or personal space on the Web outside social networks. Something that is yours and that you can use with social networks, not sacrifice for social networks.

If you want to read a little more:

The Web we need to save

What is Twitter good for?

My post about my little family project attracted some attention after Ory Okolloh Mwangi retweeted it and it got me thinking about what Twitter is good for as a promotional and distribution tool. I wrote about Twitter engagement in May 2015 after reading Anil Dash’s post titled “Nobody Famous” and although I have a much smaller Twitter following, I had noticed similar trends.

Twitter engagement – much ado about nothing much

The tweet attracted a fair amount of attention for my tweets (my “routine” tweets attract about 10% to 25% of these impressions) and yet the actual click-through rate was about 1.2% with a total “engagement rate” of 3.5%. Remember that the “engagement rate” includes –

  • Media engagements;
  • Link clicks;
  • Detail expands;
  • Profile clicks;
  • Retweets; and
  • Likes.

Of those, the link clicks and retweets probably offer the most direct value (a single retweet was why the tweet attracted so much attention in the first place). The other forms of engagement are focused on the tweet itself and attached media, not the blog post I shared.

Some stats to illustrate a point.
Some stats to illustrate a point.

So what is Twitter good for given the relatively low, meaningful engagement? By “meaningful engagement” I mean engagement that leads people to the blog post I shared. That, after all, is how I have chosen to share my content – on my blog. The answer is probably “not much” if Twitter’s value is the extent to which it sends traffic to what you tweet about as opposed to focusing attention on itself.

The rumour that Twitter is going to expand tweets to 10,000 characters and discard its vaunted 140 character limit casts a different light on the relatively low, meaningful engagement rates you see on Twitter. What it means is that the impressions a tweet receives and the tweet-related engagement rates will become far more significant than the forms of engagement the lead users outside the Twitter ecosystem. It sounds obvious when you think about it but the implications are pretty profound. As Mathew Ingram pointed out in his article on Fortune titled “Here’s Why Twitter Wants to Expand to 10,000 Characters” –

If and when Twitter does roll out its 10,000-character feature, in other words, expect that to be quickly followed by a pitch to publishers like the Post and others to host their content entirely on Twitter, in return for a share of the advertising revenue and a commitment to help those articles go “viral.” Another step in the death of the link.

10,000 characters is quite a lot. It is enough space to write a short story and if Twitter provides sufficient text formatting options for publishers, Twitter could well become another walled garden fuelled by the amount of impressions its various promotional and distribution options can offer. It will become another closed ecosystem to tempt publishers increasingly threatened by the growing ad blocker phenomenon and a shift of content to Facebook and even Medium. I agree with Ingram that this sort of move really erodes the link, the basic currency of the open Web.

Hey IOL, it’s ok to link to Gareth Cliff’s blog post

What’s going to happen, then, is that the content landscape will be divided between the gleaming, closed cities of Facebook, Twitter, Medium and others and the vast wilderness populated by blogs, independent publishers and others who either go it alone or form alliances to survive. For those whose content lives in the new gleaming cities, life may seem pretty good but there will always be the lingering fear that comes with knowing that they’re just tenants and their new patrons make all the rules.

Speaking of the wilderness, I have noticed what seems to be a resurgence of interest in blogging and running independent platforms. I’m not sure if this is just confirmation bias but it almost feels as if the blogosphere is making a comeback. I really hope it is because this the blogosphere is going to be the only environment where engagement translates into actual views of your content, not just some distributed flyer advertising your content. It could also become the only environment where you will have an opportunity to see all the content you want to see, how you want to see it (remember RSS?) and not the content someone else’s algorithm thinks you should see.

So, if I am right about all of this, what is Twitter good for? For that matter, what are Facebook, Medium, Snapchat and other social services good for? They have to attract publishers or they’ll have nothing to offer users but their primary focus isn’t publishers, it’s whatever it takes to keep users coming back and that will be at the expense of publishers who want pretty much the same thing, although ideally using good quality content. This doesn’t mean that publishers and social networks are aligned, at least not in the medium to long term. At some point their interests will clash and those walled gardens will start to feel like prisons.

Image source: Pexels, released under a CC0 Dedication