(written by hand on July 16th, in the French country side, typed out and edited on the laptop after returning home)
Some notes on my experience with mobile blogging in the past few weeks that we spent in France. Normally I don’t post at all during our holidays. However it usually is a time I write a lot (because I usually read a lot), and my blog is the logical place for that writing to end up. As an experiment I wanted to see if current devices, tools and IndieWeb components might add up to a frictionless workflow. Results were mixed as you can see from the very first sentence above.
- I didn’t have my regular laptop with me this summer, but did have my phone and had a small 2013 Samsung Tablet (which means it has an old Android version that no longer supports a wide range of Android apps. It didn’t run Indigenous for instance, see below. Oddly my Opera browser also couldn’t do the current Captcha / I’m not a robot thingies, so had to use Chrome to log into my site, and then go back to my preferred browser).
- The tablet was intended to write on the go more, as it had a bigger interface, and I dislike tapping out texts on my phone. Such writing took place in the webbrowser, being logged into my WordPress website’s console.
- The phone runs Indigenous for Android, which is a Microsub client, which means it serves as a (RSS-) reader. I had it connected to my Aperture account as the Microsub server, and before leaving loaded it by hand with 41 feeds from sites I follow (which is about a fifth of what I normally follow).
- The same Indigenous app also serves as a Micropub client, meaning I can use it to directly respond to something in the reader section of the app, e.g. to like, bookmark, or reply to a posting, as well as initiate a posting from the app.
- I also have the ability to send a new posting by e-mail from a specific sender address, which I have enabled on my phone, to a specific receiver address that my blog can read, using the Postie plugin
- Posting images is something I had envisioned doing easily. Snapping a picture, add a remark and have it online before you know it. Reality was different.
- Using Indigenous to upload a photo to the Media section of WordPress wasn’t useful. Indigenous uploads it, and comes back with a URL for it. What it can’t do is come back with the correctly sized and WordPress optimised version of the upload. This is logical because the Indigenous doesn’t know it’s talking to a WordPress site. Writing a HTML image statement by hand using that returned URL can be done, but means an uploaded photo will be shown using the largest file size available (and that you’ll be coding html by hand on a tiny screen).
- What does work well in Indigenous is posting a photo as the posting type ‘photo’, and add a few remarks to it. This is different from using a photo inside a posting as illustration, because in such a case the photo is the posting.
- So in two instances (e.g. 1, 2) I uploaded the photo from my phone to my WordPress back-end, and then created the posting directly in WordPress using the slightly larger keyboard interface of the tablet.
- In one instance I created an image on my phone and posted it as the posting type of an image using Indigenous and adding some remarks.
- I automatically upload images to Flickr from my phone, and I often embed photos from Flickr into my postings. Oddly that didn’t work on the phone nor tablet, as Flickr apparently doesn’t show the embed code button on mobile versions of their site, nor in their app. So no embedding was possible during our trip.
- I haven’t posted as many images I would have, had it been a smoother experience. Also because proper 4G coverage in the French country side turned out to be spotty, making ‘quickly upload something without it disturbing the flow of things’ impossible. Which is likely just as well, being in the moment etc, but unexpected.
- Writing postings was a mixed experience.
- The keyboard on the tablet I brought was still way too small for my liking. I also have an Android tablet that has an attachable keyboard which would work much better. I didn’t bring that one, as it has a very weak battery, meaning you really should keep it connected to a power plug continuously during use.
- It wasn’t possible to select a piece of text while in the editing screen of WordPress. This was unhelpful while adding links. Normally I write a posting, and then add the links in later. Now I needed to use the link button in the interface and write the linked text in the link form, where normally I’d select the text to link after which hitting the link button would pre-fill the form. On my laptop I have keyboard shortcuts as well for this type of flow, and they of course weren’t available to me on the tablet.
- Initiating a posting in Indigenous worked fine, except for the disruptive interplay between my network provider and my hosting provider. My hosting provider shields the login screens of WordPress sites with a captcha to battle automated login attempts. It does this once a month for an IP address, so for me normally it’s not something I come across often. However when roaming in an area with very spotty coverage you end up having different IP addresses multiple times per day. This would break me being logged into both my site and my MicroPub end-point, as my hoster would force the captcha on me again. It meant almost any time I opened up Indigenous it would have lost my connection to my site for publishing (not for reading, as that part resides on a different server). Normally getting it to work again would be one flow, with Indigenous showing me the WordPress login, and then automatically returning to Indigenous. Now it was two flows as the captcha broke the return to Indigenous. So I logged into WordPress by doing the Captcha and then login to WP, and then being already logged into WP had no issue connecting from Indigenous to WP.
- Initiating a posting from Indigenous does mean it gets posted in ‘visual’ mode rather than in ‘text’ mode. This way HTML I added to a posting, to link or show a photo, would end-up as is on my blog and not be interpreted as HTML. So I opted to write on my tablet in WP’s back-end more.
- Writing in the back-end of WP itself, which I often do on my regular laptop, was an unpleasant experience on the tablet. Mostly because the interface was still tiny, and kept jumping around to accommodate for the on-screen keyboard. I installed a text editor on my tablet to write locally, and not connected to the internet. A finished text I would then copy over to the posting form WP.
- After trying the text editor however, I started writing material on paper (like this posting), and only then started typing it into the tablet. Normally, with a full keyboard I prefer typing, as it is faster than my handwriting. With the still too small interface on my tablet, typing was a two-fingers affair and hand writing was a much better experience in comparison. When you already know what you want to type the two finger typing style is less of a burden. Writing as thinking out loud I therefore did on paper first.
- The fact that I could only use Indigenous on my mobile and not on my tablet meant that I had to cross the divide between two devices if I wanted to write something based on what I had come across in my feed reader. This as URLs and sources weren’t easily shared between devices. This divide was rather cumbersome, and the only way I could really cross it was by sending an e-mail from my mobile containing the links, to the mail address attached to Android tablet.Or type over URLs by hand.
In practice it meant I didn’t really do that other than a few times. Upon my return my mobile browser had about 70 open tabs, of things I’d like to have shared or used in some form but didn’t.
- I did not try to post via e-mail, which would likely have worked well. To use it well you have to add short codes to the title and content of the e-mail, adding categories and tags etc. It can’t be used for different post kinds other than regular articles either. I didn’t remember to bring notes on how to do that with me however. My wife did use e-mail to post, and did so exclusively. When posting photos it would often not correctly adjust the orientation, posting photos on its side or upside-down, depending on the position the phone camera was used in.
In 2004 I organised a BlogWalk session in Umeå, in the north of Sweden, which focused on mobile blogging. My recap from 15 years ago still seems relevant now, given my experiences the past weeks. One quote definitely still stands out as true “I’m not a moblogger, I’m a travelling blogger having trouble getting connected.“. Mobile blogging needs to reduce friction, not introduce it. My experiment these weeks surfaced several sources of friction that combined into not finding a comfortable flow.
- Spotty internet connection was the key frustrating element. I am very much a ‘offline first’ type of person, but mobile blogging depends on connectivity in more ways than regular blogging on my laptop. Spotty internet connection easily turned a normally five minute task of pasting some text into WordPress, adding a link and ticking the boxes for categories into a 45 minute source of irritation. I adapted by doing the connectivity part on moments when I knew it would be more reliable, further fragmenting the flow.
- Using two devices is inconvenient, if there’s a divide between them.
- The tablet didn’t provide the bigger keyboard / screen I intended, or at least not big enough. On a future occasion I’d need a more recent tablet with attachable keyboard, so it can run both Indigenous and provide access to my WP back-end. This prevents the divide between two devices, and let’s both devices server their own use case.
- The phone can be used as a stand alone device to blog photos and short notes that do not need additional linking to sources or associated postings. (Ignoring for now the frequent logging in, because of my hoster’s preventative measures)
- I like an offline writing process. Writing by hand is a good way, especially when typing isn’t faster anyway. It does introduce the step to digitise it later. Transcribing could be seen as editing though. OCR’ing my handwriting is unlikely to be successful. Maybe writing by hand on a tablet works. I’ve seen others do it, but haven’t tried my hand on it. Or pens that digitise while you write, but that usually creates image files, not text files I think.
- It’s useful to in more detail sketch out a mobile blogging flow for various types of use, and then test that over a longer period of time during regular working weeks. To land on a ‘settled’ mode for mobile blogging.