Favorited The Small and Starting Community Tool Gap on In Full Flow

Good questions I don’t know the current answer to either.

What tools are there if you want to provide a small, still forming group, an appropriate space for online interaction? Tools that are either very easy to self host, or cheap enough at the start to allow quick experimentation. Tools that don’t require a lot of skill to self host, tools that don’t throw up a (cost) threshold that surpasses the energy and will of a just budding group. There’s this precious moment in the evolution of a group, where there’s intention to constitute itself, but uncertainty about whether it will happen, whether those involved will indeed commit. Where commitment is slowly forming tit-for-tat. Where the group is still more network than group, but already in need of secluded space for their interaction, and not yet set firmly enough so that applying fixed costs would immediately make it collapse again.

What tools are there that allow you to interact online in multiple small groups? We all tend to be part of multiple groups, and e.g. if a fixed monthly cost would apply to all of them, that accumulates quickly. I already see that in my own ‘subscriptions’, which take constant pruning and balancing to justify their total cost to myself and our household. I very much dislike SaaS as a result.

…in the past few months I’ve had several moments that I wanted to bring people together outside certain social silo’s… It feels like there is a tool gap, or a price gap, for bringing small communities (or temporary project groups!) together.

As the web is so big, there are probably solutions out there that I don’t know of. Please share them with me

In Full Flow

I’ve started creating my own feed reader. Which I find is a pretty wild thing to say for me, given my limited coding skills.

Last month I created my own Micropub client. Micropub allows me to post directly to this site, without using the WordPress admin back-end for it. In fact I’m writing this as plain text, and at the end will hit a keyboard short cut for it to appear on my site. Part of the things I post to this site however are responses to posts by other people. I follow those people through their RSS feeds. Using Micropub I could post my responses directly while I’m reading the post I’m responding to, provided there’s a ‘reply’ button in my feed reader.

Feed readers usually don’t have such reply options. In fact, feed readers don’t have a whole range of functionality I’d like them to have. Building my own feed reader as a generic application probably would be hard. But as personal software tool, a ‘narrow band‘ tool that caters just to me it becomes easier to do. I’m pretty predictable to myself, and my workflows are known to me, so there are not many ‘what-ifs’ to cater for. My preferences are the default. As a result such a local tool could be more versatile, and much smarter in responding to my wishes than any fancy application, because I know what I want.

I said at the start I don’t know much about coding, but with some effort I can find my way in PHP well enough, and have been hand coding web pages ever since 1993.
Microsub is a web standard that makes a key difference: it splits the part where feeds are retrieved from other websites and stored in a database, from the part that presents the contents of the database. The retrieving and storing part is the Microsub server, for which I use a WordPress plugin called Yarns, but there are various others (and you could also build your own). The server has an API that allows you to query the content it stores. The presentation and reading part is the Microsub client. The client sends queries to the server and shows the results on screen. And that’s the part I’m building. Because building that part is basically like building a website, that every now and then requests something from a database.

The first step has been taken. I run a php script locally that shows me a webpage like in the image.

Screenshot of my feed reader to be, channels on the left, fetched feed items on the right.

It correctly grabs the groups of feeds and feed content from the Microsub server, and shows them on screen. It can of course be made to look nicer, but the basic concept works.
To this, unlike other feed reading apps, I can add my own response buttons. As links, buttons, or a form below each post. For that I already have scripts I can reuse, from when I was making my Micropub client, the bit that does the posting to my site.

Then I will be able to write my reactions directly underneath the bit I’m reading. Strengthening how my blog allows me to have distributed conversations. Getting that bit closer to the read/write web as it was envisioned.

For many of the other elements on my list of ideal feed reader features, I probably have to do some local storage. Specifically for things like visualising the activity of a feed, or doing things like showing me the topics people in a specific community are talking about this week, local storage might be needed.
I have a basic roadmap of steps to take, more or less following my post about this from last year around this time. For now this first step, a proof of concept that allows me to read feeds, is done.

In het past weeks I struggled to get to action. I didn’t have the sense that I was in the pilot seat. Too many little things budding in, not being able to get started on bigger things, and no sense of overview. Or rather, a too overwhelming overview, and no easy way for myself to bring the scope of that view down to something manageable for the day.

I have about 35 areas of activity, this includes projects, general tasks, both business, volunteer work and personal. For each of those 35 or so activities I keep a running list of things to do. Some lists have a few items, others have a few dozen. If on average they hold 10 tasks each, it means a tasklist of 300 to 400 items to choose from. That makes for an overwhelming overview. It gets better if I dive into the scope of a specific project or activity area, but then I don’t see the small things I can do to keep the other activities rolling. When I was still using Things I had the same effect, so this isn’t something particular to my current use of Obsidian for tasks.

The result has been that, because the overall list is too overwhelming, I haven’t been using it much. Which means I have even less sense of overview or being on top of my stuff.

In an attempt to regain that sense, I’m now trying to each morning go through the entire list and pick a handful of things for the day. That small curated list has a more manageable scope, without being limited to a single activity.

I don’t want to copy tasks from one place to another. I want them to stay on their respective project or activity list, but marked and summarised on my daily list. I’m aware there are various task oriented plugins for Obsidian, but they will prescribe me a certain mode of working, and it isn’t certain that in their absence the same information will be as usable / findable (a type of functional lock-in or dependency I always want to avoid)

What I came up with is I mark every task I choose for the day with ‘t::’, in whichever line of whichever file I want. This can be an existing tasklist, but I can do the same while making meeting notes, to quickly mark something as a task resulting from the meeting. The Dataview plugin I already use sees ‘t::’ as an inline datafield and is able to extract them into a list using the following brief piece of code:

TABLE t as Vandaag
SORT File asc

I display that at the top of my daily note. It allows me to quickly jump into a task list or other note to delete it when done, and to copy it over into my daily note in the ‘done’ list.

In the coming days I will test if this improves my days and activities.

A brief list of selected tasks from other files. Also note that at the top t:: is mentioned inline twice, and both show up as task items in the list.

Bookmarked Research Rabbit

Research Rabbit is a tool that, when provided with some academic paper you already are familiar with, can suggest other related material as well as provide that material. By looking for material from the same authors, by following the references, and by looking at the topics. This can speed up the discovery phase quite a lot I think. (And potentially also further increases the amount of stuff you haven’t looked at but which sounds relevant, thus feeding the collector’s fallacy.).

I’ve created an account. It can connect to Zotero where you already have your library of papers you are interested in (if you use Zotero with an account. I use Zotero standalone at the moment I added a Zotero account and storage subscription to sync with Research Rabbit).

Looks very useful. HT to Chris Aldrich for in Hypothesis pointing to a blogpost by Dan Alloso which mentioned Research Rabbit.

Yesterday I had a conversation with Andy Sylvester about the tools I use for my personal process for taking in information, learning and working. He posted our conversation today, as episode 8 in his ‘thinking about tools for thought‘ podcast series. In the ‘show notes’ he links to my series on how I use Obsidian that I wrote a year ago. This is still a good overview of how I use mark down files for pkm and work, even if some details have changed in the year since I wrote it. I also mentioned Respec, which is how I directly publish a client website on a series of EU laws from my notes through GitHub. And not in Andy’s show notes but definitely worth a mention is Eastgate’s Tinderbox.

This is a handy little webclipper that grabs a page and downloads it in markdown. Just yesterday evening I thought about making something that simply grabs the content of a page and stores it to an inbox folder on my laptop. So I don’t have to copy paste things myself. But it already exists. The clipper has settings so you can add things like the URL you clip from is incorporated in the saved markdown file.