I’ve been running this site as a “member” supported site since July of 2012. That’s what I call my subscription based, paywall model, a member-site. I’ve tried a lot of different methods to what I charge for, over the years, so I know a thing or two about subscriptions. I’m not selling software, but the consumer mindset on most any recurring payment is similar across the aisles. I’m sure Amazon could tell you some amazing stories about people being unwilling to use ‘Subscribe and Save’, but we are going to have to wait awhile for that TED talk.
Some interesting thoughts on diminishing returns and subscription pricing for personal blogs and related content.
We launched this blog less than three months ago to explore the latest in Open Web technologies. Things like the IndieWeb movement, blockchain apps, API platforms, Open AI, and more. AltPlatform has always been an experiment, as I made clear in our introductory post. However, from a publishing point of view the experiment hasn’t worked out as we had hoped. To put it plainly, the page views haven’t eventuated – at least in a sustained way. So it’s time to try something new. We’re going to pivot into something a bit different…soon.
I’m a bit saddened by this, but it’s always fun to try out new things. Can’t wait to see what comes next.
I love ricmac’s conceptualization of blogging and hope it comes back the way he–and I–envision it.
There has been an ongoing discussion as to whether or not blogs should always have comments enabled to allow its readers to be part of the conversation. I myself firmly believe that each blog post should be thought of as a starting point of, or a response to, a conversation.
Some deal with this issue from an ideological perspective in that they disable comments because they feel that people will behave differently when commenting than they would if they wrote from their own Web sites.
Written nearly a decade ago to the day, much of what this post has to say about blog comments is still roughly true. There are some interesting thoughts which inform a lot of what is going on in the IndieWeb community today.
In anecdotal conversations with some and certainly in my own personal experience, I’ve heard/seen that posting your own thoughts and replies on your own website encourages (perhaps forces?) you to do a bit more thinking and examination before replying. The fact that you’re not limited to a certain number of characters also helps to expound on your ideas/thoughts as well.
I’m curious, however, given the state of politics today, if it will scale? Perhaps if there’s still a technological or financial hurdle in which people have more invested in their web presences it will. Given the dumpster fire that some sectors of social media have become–in some part because of the lack of resistance as well as anonymity–it may not.
I still hope for the best, and am glad for the friends and colleagues I’ve met through doing all of this thus far.
Today I’m happy to announce I’ve added a discussions section to the website, directly below each article. Here you’ll be able to directly respond to what you’ve just read, share your thoughts, and have a discussion with other readers of my site. Today’s post is going to take a bit of a look inside why I’m doing this and how discussions work.
Jason your blogpost does a great job of laying out the values (and distractions) of comments on blogs and why someone would want to have them. I particularly like your choice to call this area of his personal site a “Discussion” area instead of the traditional “Comments” moniker most would give it.
While you use the oft-quoted statement (usually said in a dismissive tone in my experience):
If you want to respond, do so on your own website and tell me.
in the section espousing not allowing comments, I realize that this long-held concept of writing on your own website not only has significant value, but that the Indieweb way of replying and utilizing Webmentions (with moderation enabled if one prefers) for the notifications portion adds even more tremendous value.
Far too often, either in a blog’s comments section or even within social media, it’s all too easy to post an ill-conceived or hurtful drive-by response. It takes little time and thought to say “me too”, “I hate you”, “insert slur here”, or even click an innocuous “like” button many which do nothing for the conversation or discussion being proffered by the site owner. Worse, a very small portion of the world will see that a reader took these actions because they don’t really reflect heavily, if at all, within the reader’s own online presence–who searches for comments others have made online? How would you easily? It’s usually in these interactions that only the writer who spent some significant time trying to communicate can be crushed by overwhelming negativity rather than being showered with the intelligence, logic, or forethought they deserve for putting themselves out there, much less receiving praise for their work. It’s no wonder that people prefer to turn off comments.
Earlier this evening as I was reviewing the online discussion from the San Francisco Homebrew Website Club, I saw a comment from bdesham captured by Tantek Çelik, “I heard not having comments on Tumblr was a deliberate design, to avoid abuse, so to comment you have to reblog?” I recall having an HWC at Yahoo’s LA headquarters and hearing from someone within Yahoo that indeed this was exactly the reason that drove this piece of UX/UI. If you wanted to comment on Tumblr, you had to repost the content to your own front page along with the comment. This meant that you had to take true ownership of your words as they appeared front and center on your own site there. Who wants to publicly mark themselves with a proverbial Scarlet Letter just to be mean? (Some will, but increasingly many won’t because it redounds directly to their reputation.) Perhaps this is why some of the most marginalized people on the internet heavily use Tumblr and feel safe within their communities there?
As some will know, for the past few years I’ve been using the W3C’s recommended Webmention specification, a sort of cross-website universal @mention or @reply, which I’ve implemented on WordPress with the Webmention plugin and a few others, to accept replies/comments and other associated interactions on my blog in addition to the traditional comments box. While the traditional comment box has largely been unused on my site–making it often feel in the early days like I was “spewing words out into the void” as Jason describes–the Webmention piece seems to have made a far larger difference to me.
The majority of the interaction my site receives comes via Webmentions from Brid.gy in the form of short one-offs or simple “likes” which are backfed from Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. However a growing number of interactions are actually interesting and more substantive discussions. It’s these more “traditional” replies via Webmention that have the most value to me. They are better thought out replies and helpful commentary, which almost always appear front and center on the commenter’s own site (much the way Tumblr designed theirs) before they ever appear on my site as a comment. As Jason astutely points out, having comments that are longer than 140 characters can be very valuable as well; since my commenters are posting on their own sites where they have ultimate freedom, most of them aren’t constrained in any way except perhaps for the amount of time they wish to take.
So here you are Jason, I’ve commented by posting on my own site first and notifying you by manually copying it to your discussion section where others can participate as well. (If you supported receiving Webmentions, the interaction would be automatic and nearly seamless.) I’m curious if you’d consider implementing the Webmention spec (both sending and receiving) on your website and if you think it would have the same intended effect you mean when you enabled “Discussions” on yours?–I know it feels like it has on mine.
If you care to reply back, feel free to reply on your own site, include a permalink to my original and use the manual Webmention form (below the traditional comment box) and click “Ping Me!” Of course, if you’re old school, feel free to dust off the old comment box and give that a whirl too!
Some additional miscellaneous thoughts, highlights, and short comments on Jason’s post:
Comments sections often become shouting matches or spam-riddled.
They can also become filled with “me too” type of commentary which more than often doesn’t add anything substantive to the conversation.
One of my all-time favorite comment moderation notes comes from the FAQ section of Peter Woit’s blog under “Why Did you Delete my comment?” He writes:
I delete a lot of the comments submitted here. For some postings, the majority of submitted comments get deleted. I don’t delete comments because the commenter disagrees with me, actually comments agreeing with me are deleted far more often than ones that disagree with me. The overall goal is to try and maintain a comment section worth reading, so comments should ideally be well-informed and tell us something true that we didn’t already know. The most common reason for deleting a comment is that it’s off-topic. Often people are inspired by something in a posting to start discussing something else that interests them and that they feel is likely to interest others here. Unfortunately I have neither the time nor inclination to take on the thankless job of running a general discussion forum here.
I hope my thoughts pass the Woit-comment-test for Jason.
For a website the size and popularity of Daring Fireball, it’d probably be madness to foster any kind of coherent conversation.
Certainly to do it without a staff would be difficult… Again here, Audrey Watter’s post about turning off comments indicates to some extent that even though she views her site as her personal blog, it’s audience, like that of Daring Fireball, has gotten so large that it’s not just friends, family, and community, but something beyond “community” (beyond the pale) that changes the dynamic of accepting comments.
I never felt like I was talking with anyone or anyone’s website, but more like I was spewing words out into the void.
I often feel this way, but supporting Webmentions and backfeed has largely negated these feelings for me in the last few years. I can now communicate directly with websites (and their authors) that support these open protocols.
It has the added benefit of making one-word smart-ass posts impossible.
I do remember the days of old, when people would comment “First!”, but beyond that #OneWordSmartAss is usually overrated unless you’re a professional comedian like Jon Stewart.
It may be perverse, but in this age of Facebook (now 2 billion strong) I’ve decided to rededicate myself to RSS reading. That’s right: old school, Web 2.0 style.
A big reason is that Facebook’s front page is so, so massively unreliable. Despite having huge numbers of people that are my friends, clients, and contacts, it’s just not a good reading and writing service. Facebook’s black box algorithm(s) may or may not present a given’s user’s post for reasons generally inscrutable. I’ve missed friends’ news about new jobs, divorces, and deaths because the Zuckerbergmachine deems them unworthy of inclusion in my personalized river of news. In turn, I have little sense of who will see my posts, so it’s hard to get responses and very hard to pitch my writing for an intended audience. Together, this makes the FB experience sketchy at best. To improve our use of it we have to turn to experiments and research that remind me of Cold War Kremlinology.
Bryan, so much of what you’re saying is not only not backwards, but truly awesome and inspiring, and not just with respect to RSS.
I’ve lately become more enamored of not only RSS, but new methods for feeds including lighter weight versions like microformats h-feeds. A few months ago I was inspired to embed the awesome PressForward plugin for WordPress into my site, so I could have an integrated feed reader built right in. This makes it far easier to not only quickly share the content from my site, but it means I can also own archival copies of what I’m reading and consuming for later reference, some of which I store privately on the back end of my site as a sort of online commonplace book.
There also seems to be a recent renaissance with the revival of blogrolls. I’ve even recently revived my own to provide subscribe-able OPML lists that others can take advantage of as well. Like your reading list, it’s a work in progress.
On the subject of blogs not being dead and decrying the abuses of the social silos, you might be interested to hear about the Indieweb movement which is helping to both decentralize and re-democratize the web in useful and intelligent ways. They’re helping people to take back their identities online and let them own their own content again. They’re also using open protocols like Webmention (a platform agnostic and universal @mention) and Micropub or syndication methods like POSSE to make it easier to publish, share, and interact with people online anywhere, regardless of the platform(s) on which they’re publishing.
As an example of what they’re doing, I’m publishing this comment on my own site first, and only then sending it as a comment to your post. If you supported Webmention, this would have happened seamlessly and automatically. I’ll also syndicate it as a reply to your tweet, and if you reply on twitter, the comment will be pulled back into my comment stream at the original.
On the anniversary of the death of FriendFeed, I update Louis Gray's flawed social media diagram.
I was reminded this morning that two years ago yesterday FriendFeed, one of my favorite social media sites, was finally shut down after years of flagging support (outright neglect?) after it was purchased by Facebook.
This reminded me of something which I can only call one of the most hurtful diagrams I saw in the early days Web 2.0 and the so-called social web. It was from an article from May 16, 2009, entitled Know and Master Your Social Media Flow by Louis Gray, a well-known blogger who later joined Google almost two years later to promote Google+.
Here’s a rough facsimile of the diagram as it appeared on his blog (and on several syndicated copies around the web):
His post and this particular diagram were what many were experimenting with at the time, and certainly inspired others to do the same. I know it influenced me a bit, though I always felt it wasn’t quite doing the right thing.
Sadly these diagrams all managed to completely miss the mark. Perhaps it was because everyone was so focused on the shiny new idea of “social” or that toys like Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, and thousands of others which have now died and gone away were so engaging.
The sad part in searching for new ways to interact was that the most important piece of the puzzle is right there in his original diagram. No, it’s not the sorely missed FriendFeed service represented by the logo in the middle, which has the largest number of arrows pointing into or out of it. It’s not Facebook or Twitter, the companies which now have multi-billion dollar valuations. It’s not even the bright orange icon representing RSS, which many say has been killed–in part because Facebook and Twitter don’t support it anymore. The answer: It’s the two letters LG which represent Louis Gray’s own personal website/blog.
Sadly bloggers, and thousands upon thousands of developers, lost their focus in the years between 2007 and 2009 and the world is much worse off as a result. Instead of focusing on some of the great groundwork that already existed at the time in the blogging space, developers built separate stand-alone massive walled gardens, which while seemingly democratizing the world, also locked their users into silos of content and turned those users into the actual product to monetize them. (Perhaps this is the real version of Soylent Green?) Most people on the internet are now sharecropping for one or more multi-billion dollar companies without thinking about it. Our constant social media addiction now has us catering to the least common denominator, unwittingly promoting “fake news”, making us slower and less thoughtful, and it’s also managing to slowly murder thoughtful and well-researched journalism. Like sugar, fat, and salt, we’re genetically programmed to be addicted, and just like the effect they have on us, we’re slowly dying as a result.
The new diagram for 2017
Fortunately, unlike for salt, fat, and sugar, we don’t need to rely on simple restraint, the diet of the week, or snakeoil to fix the problem. We can do what Louis Gray should have done long ago: put ourselves, our identities, and our web presences at the center of the diagram and, if necessary, draw any and ALL of the arrows pointing out of our own sites. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, FourSquare/Swarm, etc. can all still be there on our diagrams, but the arrows pointing to them should all originate from our own site. Any arrows starting with those same social networks should ALL point (only) back to our sites.
This is how I always wanted my online diagram to look:
How can I do this?
In the past few years, slowly, but surely, I’ve managed to use my own website to create my diagram just like this. Now you can too.
A handful of bright engineers have created some open standards that more easily allow for any website to talk to or reply to any other website. Back in January a new W3C recommendation was made for a specification called Webmention. By supporting outgoing webmentions, one’s website can put a link to another site’s page or post in it and that URL serves the same function as an @mention on services like Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Google+, Instagram, etc. The difference here is that these mentions aren’t stuck inside a walled garden anymore, they can reach outside and notify anyone anywhere on the web that they’ve been mentioned. Further, it’s easy for these mentions to be received by a site and be posted as comments on that mentioned page. Because the spec is open and not controlled by a third party corporation, anyone anywhere can use it.
What does this mean? It means I can post to my own site and if you want to write a comment, bookmark it, like it, or almost anything else, you post that to your own website and mine has the option of receiving it and displaying it. Why write your well thought out reply on my blog in hopes that it always lives there when you can own your own copy that, though I can delete from my site, doesn’t make it go away from yours. This gives me control and agency over my own platform and it gives you ownership and agency over yours.
More and more platforms are beginning to support this open protocol, so chances are it may already be available to you. If you’re using an open source platform like WordPress.org, you can download a plugin and click “activate”. If you want to take few additional steps to customize it there’s some additional documentation and help. Other CMSes like Known have it built in right out of the box. Check here to see if your CMS or platform is supported. Don’t see your platform listed? Reach out to the developers or company and ask them to support it.
If you’re a developer and have the ability, you can easily build it right into your own CMS or platform of choice (with many pre-existing examples to model off if you need them) and there are lots of tools and test suites built which will let you test your set up.
Let’s go back to Louis Gray’s blog and check on something. (Note that my intention isn’t to pick on or shame Mr. Gray at all as he’s done some excellent work over the years and I admire it a lot, he just serves as a good public example, particularly as he was recruited into Google to promote and launch G+.)
If you look at his number of posts over time (in the right sidebar of his homepage), you’ll see he was averaging about 500+ posts a year until about the time of his diagram. That number then drops off precipitously to 7 and 5 in 2015 and 2016 respectively!! While life has its vagaries and he’s changed jobs and got kids, I seriously doubt the massive fall off in posts to his blog was because he quit interacting online. I’ll bet he just moved all of that content and all of his value into other services which he doesn’t really own and doesn’t have direct control over.
One might think that after the demise of FriendFeed (the cog at the center of his online presence) not to mention all the other services that have also disappeared, he would have learned his lesson. Even browsing back into his Twitter archive becomes a useless exercise because the vast majority of the links on his tweets are dead and no longer resolve because the services that made them died ignominious deaths. If he had done it all on his own website, I almost guarantee they’d still resolve today and all of that time he spent making them would be making the world a richer and brighter place today. I spent more than twenty minutes or so doing a variety of complicated searches to even dig up the original post (whose original URL had moved in the erstwhile) much less the original diagram which isn’t even linked to the new URL’s post.
Not a day goes by that I don’t run across a fantastic blog built or hosted on WordPress that looks gorgeous–they do an excellent job of making this pretty easy to accomplish.
Invariably the blog’s author has a generic avatar (blech!) instead of a nice, warm and humanizing photo of their lovely face.
Or, perhaps, as a user, you’ve always wondered how some people qualified to have their photo included with their comment while you were left as an anonymous looking “mystery person” or a randomized identicon, monster, or even an 8-bit pixelated blob? The secret the others know will be revealed momentarily.
Which would you prefer?
Somehow, knowing how to replace that dreadful randomized block with an actual photo is too hard or too complicated. Why? In part, it’s because WordPress separated out this functionality as a decentralized service called Gravatar, which stands for Globally Recognized Avatar. In some sense this is an awesome idea because then people everywhere (and not just on WordPress) can use the Gravatar service to change their photo across thousands of websites at once. Unfortunately it’s not always clear that one needs to add their name, email address, and photo to Gravatar in order for the avatars to be populated properly on WordPress related sites.
(Suggestion for WordPress: Maybe the UI within the user account section could include a line about Gravatars?)
So instead of trying to write out the details for the third time this week, I thought I’d write it once here with a bit more detail and then point people to it for the future.
Another quick example
Can you guess which user is the blog’s author in the screencapture?
The correct answer is Anand Sarwate, the second commenter in the list. While Anand’s avatar seems almost custom made for a blog on randomness and information theory, it would be more inviting if he used a photo instead.
How to fix the default avatar problem
What is Gravatar?
Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums, so why not on any site?
Need some additional motivation? Watch this short video:
Step 1: Get a Gravatar Account
If you’ve already got a WordPress.com account, this step is easy. Because the same corporate parent built both WordPress and Gravatar, if you have an account on one, you automattically have an account on the other which uses the same login information. You just need to log into Gravatar.com with your WordPress username and password.
If you don’t have a WordPress.com account or even a blog, but just want your photo to show up when you comment on WordPress and other Gravatar enabled blogs, then just sign up for an account at Gravatar.com. When you comment on a blog, it’ll ask for your email address and it will use that to pull in the photo to which it’s linked.
Step 2: Add an email address
Log into your Gravatar account. Choose an email address you want to modify: you’ll have at least the default you signed up with or you can add additional email addresses.
Step 3: Add a photo to go with that email address
Upload as many photos as you’d like into the account. Then for each of the email addresses you’ve got, associate each one with at least one of your photos.
Example: In the commenters’ avatars shown above, Anand was almost there. He already had a Gravatar account, he just hadn’t added any photos.
Step 4: Fill out the rest of your social profile
Optionally you can additional social details like a short bio, your other social media presences, and even one or more websites or blogs that you own.
Step 5: Repeat
You can add as many emails and photos as you’d like. By linking different photos to different email addresses, you’ll be able to change your photo identity based on the email “key” you plug into sites later.
If you get tired of one photo, just upload another and make it the default photo for the email addresses you want it to change for. All sites using Gravatar will update your avatar for use in the future.
Step 6: Use your email address on your WordPress account
In the field for the email, input (one of) the email(s) you used in Gravatar that’s linked to a photo.
Don’t worry, the system won’t show your email and it will remain private–WordPress and Gravatar simply use it as a common “key” to serve up the right photo and metadata from Gravatar to the WordPress site.
Once you’ve clicked save, your new avatar should show up in the list of users. More importantly it’ll now show up in all of the WordPress elements (like most author bio blocks and in comments) that appear on your site.
WordPress themes need to be Gravatar enabled to be able to use this functionality, but in practice, most of them do, particularly for comments sections. If yours isn’t, then you can usually add it with some simple code.
In the WordPress admin interface one can go to Settings>>Discussion and enable View people's profiles when you mouse over their Gravatars under the heading “Gravatar Hovercards” to enable people to see more information about you and the commenters on your blog (presuming the comment section of your theme is Gravatar enabled.)
Some WordPress users often have several user accounts that they use to administer their site. One might have a secure administrator account they only use for updates and upgrades, another personal account (author/editor admin level account which uses their name) for authoring posts, and another (author/editor admin level) account for making admin notice posts or commenting as a generic moderator. In these cases, you need to make sure that each of these accounts has an email address with an an associated Gravatar account with the same email and the desired photo linked to it. (One Gravatar account with multiple emails/photos will usually suffice, though they could be different.)
Example: In Nate’s case above, we showed that his photo didn’t show in the author bio box, and it doesn’t show up in some comments, but it does show up in other comments on his blog. This is because he uses at least two different user accounts: one for authoring posts and another for commenting. The user account he uses for some commenting has a linked Gravatar account with email and photo and the other does not.
Want more information on how you can better own and manage your online identity? Visit IndieWeb.org: “A people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’.”
To help beautify your web presence a bit, if you notice that your photo doesn’t show up in the author block or comments in your theme, you can (create and) use your WordPress.com username/password in an account on their sister site Gravatar.com. Uploading your preferred photo on Gravatar and linking it to an email will help to automatically populate your photo in both your site and other WordPress sites (in comments) across the web. To make it work on your site, just go to your user profile in your WordPress install and use the same email address in your user profile as your Gravatar account and the decentralized system will port your picture across automatically. If necessary, you can use multiple photos and multiple linked email addresses in your Gravatar account to vary your photos.
I think the role of the blog is different than it was even just a couple of years ago. It’s not the sole outpost of an online life, although it can be an anchor, holding it in place.
Does blogging need to be different than it was?
agree with John that blogs seemingly occupy a different space in online life today than they did a decade ago, but I won’t concede that, for me at least, most of it has moved to the social media silos.
I think the role of the blog is different than it was even just a couple of years ago. It’s not the sole outpost of an online life, although it can be an anchor, holding it in place. — John Scalzi
Why? About two years ago I began delving into the evolving movement known as IndieWeb, which has re-empowered me to take back my web presence and use my own blog/website as my primary online hub and identity. The tools I’ve found there allow me to not only post everything to my own site first and then syndicate it out to the social circles and sites I feel it might resonate with, but best of all, the majority of the activity (comments, likes, shares, etc.) on those sites boomerangs back to the comments on my own site! This gives me a better grasp on where others are interacting with my content, and I can interact along with them on the platforms that they choose to use.
Some of the benefit is certainly a data ownership question — for who is left holding the bag if a major site like Twitter or Facebook is bought out or shut down? This has happened to me in dozens of cases over the past decade where I’ve put lots of content and thought into a site only to see it shuttered and have all of my data and community disappear with it.
Other benefits include: cutting down on notification clutter, more enriching interactions, and less time wasted scrolling through social sites.
Reply from my own site
Now I’m able to use my own site to write a comment on John’s post (where the comments are currently technically closed), and keep it for myself, even if his blog should go down one day. I can alternately ping his presence on other social media (say, by means of Twitter) so he’ll be aware of the continued conversational ripples he’s caused.
Social media has become ubiquitous in large part because those corporate sites are dead simple for Harry and Mary Beercan to use. Even my own mother’s primary online presence begins with http://facebook.com/. But not so for me. I’ve taken the reigns of my online life back.
My Own Hub
My blog remains my primary online hub, and some very simple IndieWeb tools enable it by bringing all the conversation back to me. I joined Facebook over a decade ago, and you’ll notice by the date on the photo that it didn’t take me long to complain about the growing and overwhelming social media problem I had.