Category Archives: metablogging

Distributed Conversations In Second Person

Earlier this month I asked Frank Meeuwsen a question, about his rss feeds, and he responded (in Dutch). He did so as a direct response (hey Ton!). He referenced a posting by James Shelley who suggests writing postings in the second person, as open correspondence really.

I definitely see blogs as distributed conversations. You write something, I may respond on my own blog, such as now. That response may either directly engage your post or may go off on a tangent, or weaves it into a broader conversation by pointing to other blog posts from other authors. It’s not the original use case why I started blogging, that was ‘thinking out loud’, but conversations definitely is the use case why I kept doing it for over 15 years now.

I also always treat blogs as the personal voices of their authors. Unless it’s an online magazine format, like Ars Technica for instance. In my feed reader I therefore always add the name of the author first. I’m not following publications or channels, I am reading what individual people write. Over time from that reading interaction and then connection may well flow. That’s also why I order my feeds roughly on social distance. Those closest to me I will check daily, those further away I may check less, depending on time or on having a specific question where I’m curious what others may write about that.


part of my reading lists: persons not publications

James’ suggestion I both like and feel slightly uncomfortable with. Like, because it is aimed at making blogs distributed conversations, which is a core purpose of my blog. Getting away from feeling like you’re writing a news article, striking a more informal tone, definitely helps. It likely is also a good way to blog more. A while ago when I asked my network what to write about more, one of the suggestions (by Georges Labreche) was to write an epistolary travel log novella. This, as my blog would actually provide all the material, with all the links to other blogs and authors in my postings. In James’ suggestion the blog itself would already be that epistolary travel log. My blog in that sense is too, just the form of address is different.

The discomfort is probably caused by also wanting to maintain a permanent open invitation to others to join in. To not exclusively address something to someone, and not discourage others lurking from contributing. Usually I am aware of others that are likely to have a perspective to add.
Another factor is supplying enough context. I agree that the first paragraph which allows you to follow the context of this posting as part of a conversation feels contrived and is ‘dry’ to read. Yet, I feel it is necessary to convey in some form. In a second person form this context would likely be left out completely as the counterpart already knows the context. That makes it harder to follow for those who have just one side of the conversations as their window on it.

But yes, let’s build more conversations, James and Frank. I’m definitely with you both on that.

This Blog Is Now GDPR Compliant

At least I think it is…. Personal blogs don’t need to comply with the new European personal data protection regulations (already in force but enforceable from next week May 25th), says Article 2.2.c. However my blog does have a link with my professional activities, as I blog here about professional interests. One of those interests is data protection (the more you’re active in transparency and open data, the more you also start caring about data protection).

In the past few weeks Frank Meeuwsen has been writing about how to get his blog GDPR compliant (GDPR and the IndieWeb 1, 2 and 3, all in Dutch), and Peter Rukavina has been following suit. Like yours, my e-mail inbox is overflowing with GDPR related messages and requests from all the various web services and mailing lists I’m using. I had been thinking about adding a GDPR statement to this blog, but clearly needed a final nudge.

That nudge came this morning as I updated the Jetpack plugin of my WordPress blog. WordPress is the software I use to create this website, and Jetpack is a module for it, made by the same company that makes WordPress itself, Automattic. After the update, I got a pop-up stating that in my settings a new option now exists called “Privacy Policy”, which comes with a guide and suggested texts to be GDPR compliant. I was pleasantly surprised by this step by Automattic.

So I used that to write a data protection policy for this site. It is rather trivial in the sense that this website doesn’t do much, yet it is also surprisingly complicated as there are many different potential rabbit holes to go down. As it concerns not just comments or webmentions but also server logs my web hoster makes, statistics tools (some of which I don’t use but cannot switch off either), third party plugins for WordPress, embedded material from data hungry platforms like Youtube etc. I have a relatively bare bones blog (over the years I made it ever more minimalistic, stripping out things like sharing buttons most recently), and still as I’m asking myself questions that normally only legal departments would ask themselves, there are many aspects to consider. That is of course the whole point, that we ask these types of questions more often, not just of ourselves, but of every service provider we engage with.

The resulting Data Protection Policy is now available from the menu above.

AppleScript Tinkering Pt 2

I’ve finished building an AppleScript for automatically creating a Suggested Reading blogpost from my Evernote bookmarks quicker than I thought.

Mostly because in my previous posting on this I, in an example of blogging as thinking out loud, had already created a list of steps I wanted to take. That made it easier to build the step by step solution in AppleScript and find online examples where needed.

Other key ingredients were the AppleScript Language Guide, the Evernote dictionary for AppleScript (which contains the objects from Evernote available to AppleScript), the Evernote query language (for retrieving material from Evernote), and the Postie plugin documentation (which I use to mail to WordPress).

In the end I spent most time on getting the syntax right of talking to the WordPress plugin Postie. By testing it multiple times I ultimately got the sequence of elements right.

The resulting script is on duty from now on. I automatically call the script every Monday afternoon. The result is automatically mailed to my WordPress installation which saves it as a posting with a publication date set for Tuesday afternoon. This allows me time to review or edit the posting if I want, but if I don’t WordPress will go ahead and post it.

There is still some room for improvement. First, I currently use Apple Mail to send the posting to WordPress. My default mail tool is Thunderbird, so I had to configure Mail for this, which I had rather not. Second, the tags from Evernote that I use in the title of the posting aren’t capitalised yet, which I would prefer. Good enough for now though.

I’ve posted the code to my GitHub account, where it is available under an open license. For my own reference I also posted it in the wiki pages of this blog.

The bookmarks to use as listed in Evernote..


…and the resulting posting scheduled in WordPress

(Re-)Learning Apple Script to Automate Some Work

For a few things I use Apple Script to automate tasks. For instance if I start a new project, I run a script that creates basic things like folders, standard to-do’s and notes on my hard drive and in my Things and Evernote applications. They save me time and let me avoid a lot of repetitive work. I wrote those scripts years ago, and meanwhile I have forgotten what little I knew about Apple Script.

Now I’m trying to build a new script. I had thought about this already, then Frank Meeuwsen’s similar steps (in Dutch) triggered me to start.

During my reading online I save articles and documents into Evernote, which I tag and store.
I’d like to automatically create a Suggested Reading posting weekly based on what I save in Evernote. I imagine adding a specific tag for this to the things I save, so I can also save things without them showing up in such a posting. The articles I save usually have a short sentence about why it’s relevant to me.

This means:

  • Running the script automatically weekly
  • Selecting Evernote notes from the last 7 days with the right tag
  • From each Evernote extract the short descriptive sentence I added, the associated weblink, as well as other tags I added when saving.
  • Then build a bullet list, with the descriptive sentences as text, and the link embedded either at the end, with its title as text, or maybe embedded in the description, based on some sort of indication.
  • Select three random tags that occur at least twice in the list of links
  • Add those three tags as part of the title of the blog post
  • Add all tags used to the tags for the blogpost
  • Set Linklog as the Category
  • Save as draft in my WordPress blog, with a scheduled post date of 16 hours.
  • Send me a message inviting me to review the draft and post. (If I don’t review, the posting will thus automatically appear)

I used to use a bookmarking service like Delicious or Diigo, and there used to be ways, or maybe still are, to blog automatically from their service. However it would necessitate me to save everything twice: As a bookmark and as a full article in Evernote. (Saving the entire article circumvents issues with link rot and paywalls, and allows me local full text search in all my notes)

I’ll likely suffer hours of frustration trying to find out how to do things correctly in AppleScript. Any pointers to useful resources (example libraries for instance) are therefore welcome.

(And yes, I understand the discrepancy between wanting to write a script to work with Evernote, while simultaneously wanting to leave Evernote)

Ton Zijlstra

30 April, 2018

Updating the plugin that adds categories and tags to pages, resulted in an error which made my entire blog inaccessible. The developer is responding fast luckily, so should be sorted soon. Meanwhile disabled the plugin, to keep the site online.

Reweaving the Social Net, Finding Ambient Humanity

Following digital breadcrumbs over the past 45 minutes in an order I can’t remember but that started with Peter’s blogrolling and included Frank Meeuwsen’s microblog (his regular one‘s here), saw me end up with Jason Kottke’s news letter, whose site’s rss I already track.

His April 13 newsletter is about going back to blogging, in it a range of suggested blogs to follow, and at the bottom a list of links showing the small rise in blogging I’m part of as well, and how we are rediscovering and renewing old habits. Reading a random one of them, down in the comments I find people like Johannes Kleske, who I used to have in my feed reader and thought to have gone silent, but who is still blogging, so now got re-added to the feedreader.

The crumbs are turning into strands, and those strands get rewoven to form the fabric of the social net. Dan Cohen calls it ambient humanity, providing psychological gravity, the notion that you’re hanging out with others, that others are HERE.

We’ve been here before of course, this weaving links as relationship building, and how I think it should take a bit of effort (both those links point back to 2006 postings).

So I’ll add the same photo I used in 2006 as illustration.

What a tangled web we weave.....What a tangled web we weave….. (photo Pandiyan V, cc by nc)

Time for an RSS Revival

Wired is calling for an RSS revival.

RSS is the most important piece of internet plumbing for following new content from a wide range of sources. It allows you to download new updates from your favourite sites automatically and read them at your leisure. Dave Winer, forever dedicated to the open web, created it.

I used to be a very heavy RSS user. I tracked hundreds of sources on a daily basis. Not as news but as a way to stay informed about the activities and thoughts of people I was interested in. At some point, that stopped working. Popular RSS readers were discontinued, most notably Google’s RSS reader, many people migrated to the Facebook timeline, platforms like Twitter stopped providing RSS feeds to make you visit their platform, and many people stopped blogging. But with FB in the spotlight, there is some interest in refocusing on the open web, and with it on RSS.

Currently I am repopulating from scratch my RSS reading ‘antenna’, following around 100 people again.

Wired in its call for an RSS revival suggests a few RSS readers. I, as I always have, use a desktop RSS reader, which currently is ReadKit. The FB timeline presents stuff to you based on their algorithmic decisions. As mentioned I definitely would like to have smarter ways of shaping my own information diet, but then with me in control and not the one being commoditised.

So it’s good to read that RSS Reader builders are looking at precisely that.
“Machines can have a big role in helping understand the information, so algorithms can be very useful, but for that they have to be transparent and the user has to feel in control. What’s missing today with the black-box algorithms is where they look over your shoulder, and don’t trust you to be able to tell what’s right.”,says Edwin Khodabakchian cofounder and CEO of RSS reader Feedly (which currently has 14 million users). That is more or less precisely my reasoning as well.

Reinventing Distributed Conversations

Peter Rukavina picks up on my recent blogging about blogging, and my looking back on some of the things I wrote 10 to 15 years ago about it (before the whole commercial web started treating social interaction as a adverts targeting vehicle).

In his blogpost in response he talks about putting back the inter in internet, inter as the between, and as exchanges.

… all the ideas and tools and debates and challenges we hashed out 20 years ago on this front are as relevant today as they were then; indeed they are more vital now that we’ve seen what the alternatives are.

And he asks “how can we continue to evolve it“?

That indeed is an important question, and one that is being asked in multiple corners. By those who were isolated from the web for years and then shocked by what they found upon their return. But also by others, repeatedly, such as Anil Dash and Mike Loukides of O’Reilly Media, when they talk about rebuilding or retaking the web.

Part of it is getting back to seeing blogging as conversations, conversations that are distributed across your and my blogs. This is what made my early blog bloom into a full-blown professional community and network for me. That relationships emerge out of content sharing, which then become more important and more persistent than the content, was an important driver for me to keep blogging after I started. These distributed conversations we had back then and the resulting community forming were even a key building block of my friend Lilia’s PhD a decade ago.

So I’m pleased that Peter responds to my blogging with a blogpost, creating a distributed conversation again, and like him I wonder what we can do to augment it. Things we had ideas about in the 00’s but which then weren’t possible, and maybe now are. Can we make our blogs smarter, in ways that makes the connections that get woven more tangible, discoverable and followable, so that it can become an enriching and integral part of our interaction?