Robin Sloan has proposed a protocol, Spring ’83, that serves publisher’s content like a magazine stand. You see a board of cards, where cards get replaced whenever its publisher releases a new one. He aims to ditch the timeline experience it seems, partly considering form and content as pieces of the same expression, as well as a way to maintain space for voices that do not express themselves every other minute but way more infrequently.

A Beijing news stand with spread out mags competing for your attention. Image by Peter Ashlock, license CC BY

Others in my feedreader have commented on it in the past days and it gets me thinking. Not in any structured way yet. No idea yet therefore what I think about this in a form I can narrate, but some associations come to mind.

I do like the notion of small cards. Makes me think of Hugh’s Gaping Void back-of-a-business-card drawings, and of tiny zines made as a folded single sheet chapbook. The set limit creates friction for creativity to feed on. Yet, the built in size limit, when putting more of them together on a ‘board’ may well mean the same drawbacks as in Twitter, aiming for the highest attention grabbing value. Magazines in a kiosk do the same thing after all, using the cover to try and lure you into reading them. Look at that image above. Does that make a board of cards just a collection of adverts for your attention? Reading Maya’s annotations, there too the scarcity mindset a board of such cards might introduce is raised. Are there other ways to thread such cards?

The focus on p2p distribution, and on making it easy to put out there, chimes with me in terms of networked agency and in terms of low thresholds for such agency.

The notion where softer voices have the same claim to space as louder ones (i.e. more frequently posting ones) I appreciate a lot. Kicks Condor in his Fraidycat feedreader provides neat sparklines indicating frequency of posting, and allocates every single author the same space by displaying their last few postings regardless of timelines. That points back as well to my use of social distance (not the pandemic kind!) as a method to order presentation of feeds I follow, in a person focused way, and less a timeline. I follow people’s expressions, not blogs as publications. It also makes me cringe at the use of the word publisher in Robin Sloan’s explanation.

À propos following people, Maya also mentions how she likes to see friction between different strands of her online expression (e.g. blogposts, and Mastodon messages). Such different strands have different qualities to them, and having them in one place, like an IndieWeb enabled site may put them too closely or too obviously together. The notion of friction is important I think when getting to know someone online in more detail by following more of their online traces. I follow people, and for a good number I follow multiple traces (photos, posts, tweets e.g.). Combining those traces needs friction I feel, getting to know someone better from their expressions needs a certain effort. That’s about me having something at stake in building interaction. Blogs are distributed conversations to me and you need to invest your presence in such conversations. Connecting with others should be extremely easy in terms of being able to connect, but certainly not effortless in terms of time spent on the actual connecting. Way back when (2006), Lilia and I had conversations about this, and it’s still relevant now. My site purposefully introduces friction to readers: casual visitors see only a fraction of the postings, some content is only shared through RSS and not findable in the site, some content is both not listed nor shared through feeds etc. All the fragments are still in the same place, mine, though, and not farmed out to various silos to create the same effect of deliberate fragmentation. It means I’ve greatly reduced the friction for me as author using IndieWeb, not eroded the needed friction for readers. Someone who puts in the effort will be able to gather all my traces in their reader.

Tracy Durnell has some remarks, and compares Spring ’83 to IndieWeb efforts and discusses the visual aspects. Her suggestion showing a blogroll as cards, not as a list, is a good one I think, perhaps showing the last three postings the Fraidycat way? I’ve seen others do it as a river of news, but that once more provides additional amplification to the loudest authors.
Louis Potok takes a first look under the hood.

I’ve been musing about the use and value of a shared annotation tool like Hypothes.is. Chris Aldrich kindly responded in detail on my earlier questions about Hypothes.is. Those questions, about silo-effects, performativity if the audience for annotations isn’t just me, and what group forming occurs, are I think the key issues in judging its use to me. Circumventing the silo, integration with my own internal workflows and preventing performativity so fragile explorative learning may take place are the key concerns, where the potential of interaction and group forming in stimulating learning are the value it may yield.

I don’t yet readily see how I can use hypothes.is for annotation, as I think it would largely mean a switch away from annotating locally to doing so in-browser or rather in Chrome which is less a browser and more an adtech delivery vehicle. In general the browser is not a helpful environment for me when it comes to making notes. I now close a browser tab after clipping a web text to markdown which I then annotate locally later.

A first useful step I do see is bringing how others annotate my postings back to my own notes. Currently there are 66 annotations on my blogposts, stretching back three and a half years (mostly by the same person). I should be able to pull those in periodically through Hypothes.is’ API, or from an RSS feed, and integrate them into my local notes or perhaps show them alongside my blogposts (maybe by generating WebMentions about them, as I did here manually). As I have stated often, blogging means having distributed conversations and if Hypothes.is is where some of those conversations originate it is worthwile to make them visible.

I’m taking the liberty to put three questions before Chris Aldrich about his Hypothes.is experiences, after reading Annotation by Remi Kalir and Antero Garcia. Kalir and Garcia make much of the social affordances that annotation can provide. Where annotation is not an individual activity, jotting down marginalia in solitude, but a dialogue between multiple annotators in the now, or incrementally adding to annotators from the past. Like my blogposts are an ongoing conversation with the world as well. Hypothes.is is one of the mentioned tools that make such social annotating possible. I am much more used to individually annotating (except for shared work documents), where my notes are my own and for my own learning. Yet, I follow Chris Aldrich’s use of Hypothes.is with interest, his RSS feed of annotations is highly interesting, so there’s a clear sign that there can be benefit in social annotation. In order to better understand Chris’s experience I have three questions:

1. How do you beat the silo?

Annotations are anchored to the annotated text. Yet in my own note making flow, I lift them away from the source text to my networked set of notions and notes in which emergent structures produce my personal learning. I do maintain a link to the right spot in the source text. Tools like Hypothes.is are designed as silos to ensure that its social features work. How do you get your annotations into the rest of your workflow for notes and learning? How do you prevent that your social annotation tool is yet another separate place where one keeps stuff, cutting off the connections to the rest of one’s work and learning that would make it valuable?

2. What influence does annotating with an audience have on how you annotate?

My annotations and notes generally are fragile things, tentative formulations, or shortened formulations that have meaning because of what they point to (in my network of notes and thoughts), not so much because of their wording. Likewise my notes and notions read differently than my blog posts. Because my blog posts have an audience, my notes/notions are half of the internal dialogue with myself. Were I to annotate in the knowledge that it would be public, I would write very differently, it would be more a performance, less probing forwards in my thoughts. I remember that publicly shared bookmarks with notes in Delicious already had that effect for me. Do you annotate differently in public view, self censoring or self editing?

3. Who are you annotating with?

Learning usually needs a certain degree of protection, a safe space. Groups can provide that, but public space often less so. In Hypothes.is who are you annotating with? Everybody? Specific groups of learners? Just yourself and one or two others? All of that, depending on the text you’re annotating? How granular is your control over the sharing with groups, so that you can choose your level of learning safety?

Not just Chris is invited to comment on these questions obviously. You’re all invited.


Opticks, with marginalia, image by Open Library, license CC BY

Yesterday a pop-up IndieWeb meet-up (event page) took place on Personal Libraries / distributed libraries.

It was a nice group of people, and I was able to put some faces to names of people I’ve had in my feedreader for a good while. I had to miss the start, which was family dinner / putting our 5yo to bed time in our timezone, but was able to join three sessions afterwards. The conversations were interesting and gently paced. Thank you to Chris Aldrich for organising, and to all participants for their contributions to worthwile conversations.

The videos and notes are / will be linked to on the event page (see link in first sentence).

The sessions were:

  • Ad hoc book discussion clubs and sessions (how to use personal libraries to facilitate ad-hoc discussion of a book with other current active readers of the same book?) Moderated by Maggie Appleton
  • Decentralised bookshelves (What conventions do we need to reach a useful level of interoperability between the different ways people and platforms make such data available) Moderated by Manton Reece
  • Book Identifiers (There are multiple identifiers in use for books, ISBN, OLID, ASIN, WorldCat etc. How can we interact with them, how are we supposed to, how is it useful?) Moderated by Tom MacWright.

While these were three distinct sessions, to me it felt like basically the same ongoing conversation, so my impressions aren’t tied to specific sessions as such.
Elements that stood out for me, or that I realised listening to the other participants:

  • OpenLibrary is a good neutral way to link to a book (I avoid Amazon as well as Amazon’s GoodReads links, and publisher’s or author’s links aren’t always available), and they have an API. Missing books can be added, as OpenLibrary is a wiki. They also make a useful difference between the work (the book written) and the editions (the book version you’ve read) that they list for the work. I may want to check out their API and see if I can use that for my internal book notes and/or public book postings.
  • Calibre, an app to manage e-book collections I use for my non-Kindle books, has an API as well. It makes me wonder the same about Delicious Library, of which I have a 2012 database somewhere, from the 500 or so physical books we did away with that year.
  • Discovery to me requires both information about the book and about the readers, so I can navigate triangles, the key element in social media. To evaluate recommendations they require information about the person making the recommendation more than about the book being recommended.
  • I’m not interested in pretend-social information around books that really are masked statistics. They may seem to provide what I seek in the previous point, but actually provide a meaningless regression to the mean. Things like ‘others who bought this book also bought’ don’t increase the space of discovery but will eventually always limit the space of discovery to the fat head of the long tail. The stuff far down the long tail sees too little interaction for such ‘also bought’ algorithms to aggregate.
  • Whatever you want to do with book information, you need to first publish data about your reading in each case. So that is the focus. I’ve been collecting a list of some URLs where people share book lists they’ve read. They are all different it seems to me, but at least the data is out there to try and consume in a personally meaningful way.
  • Whatever is consuming book related data or posts, needs to take on the burden of figuring out what identifiers are used, or what other meaning can be gleaned from it. A to me key remark made by Jacky Alciné. The flip side for me is, I only need to concern myself first with publishing information that is meaningful and useful to myself.
  • It is possible to help others though by providing multiple formats. Specifically now that I have automated generating OPML from my booknotes for my booklists. Creating the same lists in CSV, in RSS, or JSON for instance is easy enough to do now. This I added to my list of small side projects.
  • Book lists are basically just spreadsheets Drini Cami of the Open Library / Internet Archive remarked. This ties into the above. I also realised it’s true for pulling together the data about books I bought and read from the various platforms I use. So this morning I pulled the information about the 800 or so books I bought with Amazon over the past 15 years into a spreadsheet. This is a first step to backfilling my book notes and reading lists, as well as my anti-library, using a script.
  • I’m not very interested in algorithms across the reading patterns of the general population of readers. This is another statistic basically, not a socially meaningful thing. I would be very interested in running algorithms or analysis across the information about other people reading, who are within my scope. E.g. the bloggers I follow in my feed reader, or the bloggers they follow. An algorithm that serves me, not describes or commodifies me, an algorithm as personal assistant. That way my own preferences can be its default.
  • We talked about ad-hoc book clubs, both where a book is the key point, as well as where the socialising is more important. I’m on Bookwyrm.social which aims to be a federated GoodReads, something that is in itself not appealing to me as just a means of replicating the same data as on my site. But I have seen instance form around an established group or niche themes. That is a more appealing usage. Only afterwards I thought of how this ties into the Micro.blog Readers Republic we recently formed. A next meeting is in 2 weeks, I’ll think about how to feed some of these discussion back to that group.
  • Amazon with their ASIN numbers is messing up the discovery value of ISBN numbers, by deliberately removing the relation between the two. That frustrates interoperability with other platforms and resources, which is their point I’m sure.

That’s a good list of take-aways from a few hours of conversation!

(also posted to Indienews)

In reply to Social Readers by James G

Over the years I’ve blogged about what would be an ideal feed reader to me, and also mapped it to how IndieWeb standards might help realise it. In the end it all goes back to how I in 2005 described using feed reading as information filtering, and the inputs, reading and resulting actions it is built out of. That is still my approach, and it is as high friction as it was back then in terms of how well existing readers and tools cater to those needs. Plenty of space for feed reader evolution as you mention!

I would particularly love to hear parts of web readers you like and dislike. If you could build a social reader tomorrow, what features would it have?

James G

In reply to Collective Creativity by Wouter Groeneveld

Interestingly this came up yesterday at the FOSS4G-NL conference I visited, where Amélie A Gagnon talked about scenius as communal genius, a scene that jams together and creates results no single genius could. She also mentioned Austin Kleon’s quote ‘don’t be a genius, create a scenius’ (see his post on scenius, and about mapping a scenius, something I’ve elsewhere seen done based on LinkedIn profiles to see what is missing in terms of capabilities, roles and skills, to make a scene somewhere ‘explode’)

…and call it collective creativity: without a collective, the creativity of each genius partaking in the above meetings would never have reached that far.

Wouter Groeneveld