The state-of-the-art in feed readers was frozen in place sometime around 2010, if not before. By that time most of the format wars between RSS and Atom had long since died down and were all generally supported. The only new features to be added were simple functionalities like sharing out links from readers to social services like Facebook and Twitter. For fancier readers they also added the ability to share out to services like Evernote, OneNote, Pocket, Instapaper and other social silos or silo related services.
Google+ is sliding downhill. A couple years ago my posts would garner comments from lots of smart people, leading to long and deep discussions. These days only a few stalwarts remain — a skeleton crew. I've copied most of my posts here to my website and blog. I mainly post here out of inertia: for certain purposes, I haven't found anything better yet.
As for the reasons, I agree with +Gideon Rosenblatt's analysis. Also read the many comments on his post! But the more important question is: what to do now?
Instead of whining about our masters, we should be our own masters — and unleash our creative energies! A bottom-up approach, run by all of us, could be better than top-down corporate control. A diverse, flexible federation could be better than a single unified platform.
I’ve been watching or on Mastodon since about October of last year. While it does have some interesting/useful features that differentiate it from the rest of the corporate silos, in some senses it’s got worse problems.
Average users are still putting blind trust in the (mostly/completely anonymous) administrators of the individual federated versions–and these are even more likely than well financed corporations, which have some reputation to maintain, to do questionable things with your data. These individuals are also taking on the financial burden of hosting and storing all their users’ data in addition to continually building and maintaining the platform itself. As a result, you’re setting yourself up for potential disappointment yet again, unless you’re going to set up and run your own Mastodon instance. (Especially since there’s no contract for them to maintain their instance on your behalf–they could literally turn it off tomorrow if they liked. Here’s link to a great article comparing and contrasting how well or poorly some communities are run to give you an idea of how drastically different they can be.)
Since January I’ve also been following a project called Micro.blog which is expected to be released in Beta next Monday, April 24th to its Kickstarter backers. It’s an inexpensive paid service that will provide a domain and hosting to those who don’t want to manage those things themselves. Most importantly, it is built on open protocols with a decentralized architecture which will give you greater control of both your identity online, but also ownership of your data. Because of its structure, it’ll also be inter-operable with other platforms like WordPress. In some senses, it takes the Mastodon federation structure and flattens it down an addition level to the point that it’s much easier for the average user to have their own personal version of the service so they’re more self-reliant in many respects and far less reliant on corporate entities. Since it’s a paid service, the level of service will likely be better than the free services offered by silos like G+ where the user (and their data) ultimately become the product.
This said, I still believe a more future-proof long-term alternative is to have your own domain and post your content on it first. This will still allow you to syndicate it out to one or more social media silos to reach individual audiences who still choose to use them. Because it’s your own site, you’re far less constrained by what an outside corporation might dictate, and you have a lot more freedom and control.
John, since I’d mentioned the indieweb movement to you last, it’s come a long way, particularly on CMS platforms like WordPress and Known which both support the W3C spec for webmentions (you can now use your own website to @mention people all across the web who also support the spec), and can use Brid.gy to backfeed all the interactions (comments, likes) you have on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, and Flickr back to your original post so it appears the entire conversation around your content is on your own site. Last week I actually wrote a small piece about setting up functionality for having @mentions from Twitter come back to my own website, which is just a small piece of this type of functionality.
When you (or others) have time to chat about potentially implementing something like this, I’m happy to walk you though a few demos and help you set things up to better support all this new open technology.
If anyone wants to test-drive WithKnown, I’ve set up an open instance at http://known.boffosocko.com where you can register and try out some of the basic functionality. I haven’t completely finished setting up all the configuration options for the major social media sites including a new one for Mastodon, but the settings should allow one to OAuth with Twitter to cross-post content there and then one can register (in the settings) with Brid.gy to backfeed replies and likes. I’ll also recommend installing the browser bookmarklet to make interacting with it easier for bookmarking and replying to things.
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.
“Hi. My name is Chris and I’m a web browser bookmarklet junkie.”
Accelerated Mobile Pages
I’ve been following most of the (Google) Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) discussion (most would say debate) through episodes of This Week in Google where Leo Laporte plays an interesting foil to Jeff Jarvis over the issue. The other day I came across a bookmark from Jeremy Keith entitled Need to Catch Up on the AMP Debate? which is a good catch up by CSS-Tricks. It got me thinking about creating a bookmarklet to strip out the canonical URL for AMP pages (the spec requires them to exist in markup) to make them easier to bookmark and share across social media. In addition to social sites wrapping their URLs with short URLs (which often die or disappear as the result of linkrot) or needing to physically exit platforms (I’m looking at you Facebook with your three extra life-sucking clicks meant to protect your walled garden) to properly bookmark canonical URLs for later consumption, I’ve run across several Google prepended URLs which I’d rather not share in lieu of the real ones.
Clean and Simple URLs
As an example, his canonical bookmarklet will take something ugly like http://mashable.com/2017/03/26/dog-chasing-hockey-puck-joy/?utm_cid=mash-com-Tw-main-link#xvCRlgf_vsqY
and strip it down to its most basic http://mashable.com/2017/03/26/dog-chasing-hockey-puck-joy
so that if you want to share it, it will remove all of the tracking cruft that comes along for the ride.
Even worse offenders like https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/opinion/sunday/chinas-communists-embrace-religion.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region®ion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=0
suddenly become cleaner and clearer https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/24/opinion/sunday/chinas-communists-embrace-religion.html
These examples almost remind me of the days of forwarding chain letter emails where friends couldn’t be bothered to cut out the 10 pages of all the blockquoted portions of forwards or the annoying
> > >> >>
> > >> >>
> > >> >>
nonesense before they sent it to you… The only person who gets a pass on this anymore is Grandpa, and even he’s skating on thin ice.
Remember, friends don’t let friends share ridiculous URLs…
So in that spirit, here are the three bookmarklets that you can easily drag and drop into the bookmark bar on your browser:
The code for the three follow respectively for those who prefer to view the code prior to use, or who wish to fashion their own bookmarklets:
As a bonus tip, Kevin Marks’ post briefly describes how one can use their Chrome browser on mobile to utilize these synced bookmarklets more readily.
Of course, if you want the AMP version of pages just for their clean appearance, then perhaps you may appreciate the Mercury Reader for Chrome. There isn’t a bookmarklet for it (yet?), but it’ll do roughly the same job, but without the mobile view sizing on desktop. And then while looking that link up, I also notice Mercury also has a one line of code AMP solution too, though I recommend you brush up on what AMP is, what it does, and do you really want it before adding it.