Category Archives: metablogging

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?

On Attention

“The medium was no longer the message, it was just an asshole.
I want my attention back.

Attention is a muscle. It must be exercised.
We deserve our attention.”

Craig Mod on attention in January 2017. In his case he got his attention back by disconnecting, which for all intents and purposes isn’t a viable option. Completely disconnecting in our networked societies is just a reactionary exercise in privilege. But it does sum up my current sentiment, e.g. concerning Facebook, quite nicely.

Revisiting the Personal Presence Portal

With my increased blogging in the past 6-7 months, I’ve been thinking again about the role this blog is serving and has served since 2002.

A long time ago, in the spring of 2004, when the likes of Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist, I wrote about that richer representation as ‘a personal presence portal‘ and I came across that posting again in the past days.

In recent weeks I’ve added some functionality (a short posting stream, a wiki-section, and a tweet like micro-posting stream) which is an expression of both my more intensive usage of my own blog, as well as removing myself from social media silo’s such as Facebook. These additions were all rather spontaneous, but together constitute a wish to have this blog be a richer public representation of me and my activities, a richer online presence.

In that old posting from 2004 I mention several dimensions of presence, as formulated in an article by Matthew Lombard and Theresa Ditton from Temple University. (The link to the article no longer works, so can’t reference it here.)

  • Presence as Social Richness
  • Presence as Realism
  • Presence as Transportation
  • Presence as Immersion
  • Presence as Social Actor within Medium
  • Presence as Medium as Social Actor

I find these six are still interesting angles to look at the role of this blog as a space, as an entry point, place of interaction, as repository and more.

Adding a Wiki-like Section

I added a page-based section to this blog, to serve as a wiki-like extension. Where blogs are a stream of content, I find I have need of a more static part of the site, with content that can serve as reference, as a jump-off page to blog content, or to document things.

In the 00’s I used to have a wiki living alongside this blog, and think of ways of connecting my blog to a wiki (in 2004 I wrote a WordPress and a Movable Type plugin to let blogposts and wiki-pages synchronise). The wiki I ran was wikkawiki, which based on functionality would still be my goto choice for an open source self hosted wiki.
The issue with running a wiki exposed to the public was that it attracted loads of spam attacks, something that in practice never was outweighed by the use bona fide visitors made of the wiki to alter or add content.

In short to add wiki-style functionality to my blog, the only functionality that is really needed is that 1) I myself have a edit button on static items, 2) the ability to categorise and tag those items, and 3) keep those items outside of the blog posting stream on the front page, and outside of the RSS feed. WordPress pages fit that description, when I’m logged in, and after adding a plugin to allow categories and tags on pages. So a page based section it is, or rather, will be over time.

Jetpack and XML-RPC

Following up on yesterday’s posting on blogging more, I looked at using the WordPress desktop and Android apps. This to see if using those apps makes it easier to blog something on the go (triggered by Peter’s comment that enabling mailing entries to his blog helped his workflow.)

It turns out that I can’t connect to this blog from those apps. WordPress is designed to build the connection using its own plugin Jetpack. I’ve been using Jetpack for visitor statistics already, and previously noticed how the statistics function was the only bit that ever worked. Jetpack needs the xmlrpc file that allows remote access to work. While that file exists in my install and responds as if its active when accessed (“XML-RPC server accepts POST requests only”), in practice it does not seem to be functional. Running the Jetpack debugger to test xmlrpc returns an error message.

None of the suggested fixes by Jetpack help, like disabling all plugins to see if there’s a conflict with Jetpack, and I already am running a default theme. As a final measure they suggest to disconnect Jetpack from the Jetpack settings, but that does not work…..as Jetpack says it can’t save settings. Which was the issue I started with, so I’ve come full circle without a solution.

How to Blog More?

I backed away from Facebook (not entirely though) a few months ago, and as a result my volume of new blog postings increased. I want to take it a step further. A step to revisit and tackle the question how to blog more. The main bottleneck is that I usually end up creating long posts, providing context which sometimes evolve into essay like things. That is not a bad thing, my blog is a space to think aloud, but it means long gaps between those type of postings. There are many smaller things I could blog about just, but I usually don’t, as I am worried it will end up as a long time-intensive posting. Setting targets of x blogpostings per week never worked in the past of course. The material then stays in my Evernote (yeah, still found no alternative).

So I am strivng for a more light-weight and unhurried way of creating blogposts of the non-essay variety. Short references with just a short observation, and/or a minimum of context. Over time it could be a more established routine, but for now I’m just looking at possible ingredients of such a light routine.

Ingredients that are involved I think:

  • Don’t write postings in WordPress, but as notes in Evernote. This keeps the ‘publish’ button out of view, which to me seems to signal I can only log out of WordPress if I finish the posting.
  • Write more about what I do, re-use material I use for my work
  • Allow multiple notes in different stages of construction to exist simultaneously. What gets finished gets posted.
  • Listen to feedback, use it.
  • Look through the stuff I bookmarked a few times a week, to either blog a few links on a topic, or jot down a few thoughts.
  • Use small chunks of time to write a few lines, 10 minutes on the train will do and will add up.
  • Link back to more of my existing postings if I want to add context and let the reader decide to go down the rabbithole of my musings.
  • Delete sidepaths, associations, contextual stuff while writing something (I deleted at least half a page of additional stuff while writing this posting)
  • Create and use ‘templates’ or repeating styles for certain types of postings, so as not to start from scratch. E.g. I’ve been posting some week notes recently and I use an empty template for it, which speeds up the writing, as it provides a clear path, where a blank screen allows me to go down all kinds of other paths.
  • Stop trying to be complete or exhaustive with linking to other sources, a few links suffice to weave the web as it is meant to be after all.
  • No need for pictures in every post, let alone the ‘perfect’ image to illustrate something.
  • Allow imperfection and unfinishedness. It doesn’t matter, if the purpose is to keep a log, or trigger interaction.
  • Writing is its own purpose. Produce first, improve later.
  • Stop.

15 Years of Blogging

Fifteen years ago (on 4 November) I started blogging. This as a result of a discussion with and encouragement from David Gurteen, Lilia Efimova and Seb Paquet. First using Blogger, but quickly self-hosted on my own domain, using Movable Type for a long time before switching to WordPress.
My blogging frequency has been much lower in recent years, than at the start, also because of additional channels that became available, such as Facebook and Twitter in 2006.

The web has changed mightily in those 15 years, as is clearly visible to those who were away for a number of years, such as Hoder in an Iranian jail. It hasn’t changed for the better in my view. By design and definition the internet is distributed, but for most everyday usage it is anything but. It could be, but it would mean many more people taking the tools into their own hands. Until then ease of use has huge silos and you and your data being the product as a consequence.

Every now and then there’s been a call to go ‘back to the blog’, e.g. in discussion with Stephanie Booth and others. Fact is I never stopped blogging, just that over time more and more postings became longer texts, and that meant the frequency of postings diminished as writing time increased. Now that my own unease with what Facebook et al are doing to my information diet has become increasingly unbearable, I started following the example of Peter Rukavina and Elmine to bring back more of the casual sharing of small observations to this site, foregoing the likes of Facebook as primary channel. Peter has left Facebook entirely, I’m not nearly at that point.

When I started blogging it was the source of a tremendous proliferation of new connections, a whole new peer network emerged practically overnight. Distributed conversations became face to face meetings and brought us to places like the Blogtalk and Reboot conferences. Many of the people I regard as a major source of learning, inspiration I met because of this blog. Many over time have become dear friends. That alone is enough to keep blogging.

Running a Diaspora Pod

I’m planning to start running a Diaspora pod on one of my VPSs, with an aim to provide a communal space for some of our longtime friends getting more frustrated with FB but dreading the cost of leaving (such as rushing to some other platform to find no-one is there.) Diaspora is similar to Facebook and/or Twitter, is open source and set up in a fully distributed way.

Friend and fellow tinkerer Peter Rukavina and I plan to work together on this.

(btw I already have a Diaspora profile on Joindiaspora.com, so if you already use Diaspora you can find me there. Ultimately I will replace that profile and host my own.)