PressForward as an IndieWeb WordPress-based RSS Feed Reader & Pocket/Instapaper Replacement

As many know, for the past 6 months or so, I’ve been slowly improving some of the IndieWeb tools and workflow I use to own what I’m reading both online and in physical print as well as status updates indicating those things. [1][2][3]

Since just before IndieWebCamp LA, I’ve been working on better ways to own the articles I’ve been reading and syndicate/share them out to other social platforms. The concept initially started out as a simple linkblog idea and has continually been growing, particularly with influence from my attendance of the Dodging the Memory Hole 2016: Saving Online News conference at UCLA in October. Around that same time, it was announced that Pinterest was purchasing Instapaper and they were shutting down some of Instapaper’s development and functionality. I’ve been primarily using Pocket for several years now and have desperately wanted to bring that functionality into my own site. I had also been looking at the self-hostable Wallabag alternative which is under heavy active development, but since most of my site is built on WordPress, I really preferred having a solution that integrated better into that as a workflow.

Enter PressForward

I’ve been looking closely at PressForward for the past week and change as a self-contained replacement for third party services like Pocket and Instapaper. I’ve been looking around for this type of self-hosted functionality for a while.

PressForward was originally intended for journalists and news organizations to aggregate new content, add it to their newsroom workflow, and then use it to publish new content. From what I can see it’s also got a nice following in academia as a tool for aggregating content for researchers focused on a particular area.

It only took a minute or two of looking at PressForward to realize that it had another off-label use case: as a spectacular replacement for read-later type apps!

In an IndieWeb fashion, this fantastic WordPress plugin allows me to easily own private bookmarks of things I’d like to read (PressForward calles these “Nominations” in keeping with its original use case). I can then later read them on my own website (with Mercury f.k.a Readability functionality built in), add commentary, and publish them as a read post. [Note: To my knowledge the creators of PressForward are unaware of the IndieWeb concept or philosophies.]

After some playing around for a bit and contemplating several variations, configurations, and options, I thought I’d share some thoughts about it for others considering using it in such an off-label manner. Hopefully these may also spur the developers to open up their initial concept to a broader audience as it seems very well designed and logically laid out.

Examples

The developers obviously know the value of dogfooding as at least two of them are using it in a Pocket-like fashion (as they many not have other direct use-cases).

Pros

PressForward includes a beautiful, full built-in RSS Feed Reader!

This feature alone is enough to recommend using it even without any other feature. I’ve tried Orbit Reader and WhisperFollow (among others) which are both interesting in their own rights but are somewhat limited and have relatively clunky interfaces. The best part of WhisperFollow’s premise is that it has webactions built in, but I suspect these could easily be added onto PressForward.

In fact, not just hours before I’d discovered PressFoward, I’d made this comment on the WordPress Reader Refresh post announcing the refresh of WordPress.com’s own (separate) reader:

Some nice visual changes in this iteration. Makes it one of the most visually pretty feed readers out there now while still maintaining a relatively light weight.

I still wish there were more functionality pieces built into it like the indie-reader Woodwind.xyz or even Feedly. While WordPress in some sense is more creator oriented than consumption oriented, I still think that not having a more closely integrated reader built into it is still a drawback to the overall WordPress platform.

Additionally,

  • It’s IndieWeb and POSSE friendly
  • It does automatic link forwarding in a flexible/responsible manner with canonical URLs
  • Allows for proper attributions for the original author and content source/news outlet
  • Keeps lots of metadata for analyzing reading behavior
  • Taggable and categorizable
  • Allows for comments/commenting
  • Could be used for creating a linkblog on steroids
  • Archives the original article on the day it was read.
  • Is searchable
  • Could be used for collaboration and curation
  • Has Mercury (formerly known as Readability) integrated for a cleaner reading interface
  • Has a pre-configured browser bookmarklet
  • Is open source and incredibly well documented
  • One can count clicks to ones’ own site as the referer while still pushing the reader to the original
  • Along with other plugins like JetPack’s Publicize or Social Networks Auto-Poster, one can automatically share their reads to Twitter, Facebook, or other social media silos. In this case, you own the link, but the original publisher also gets the traffic.

Cons

No clear path for nominating articles on mobile.

This can be a dealbreaker for some, so I’ve outlined a pretty quick and simple solution below.

No direct statistics

Statistics for gauging ones’ reading aren’t built in directly (yet?), but some scripts are available. [4][5][6]

No larger data aggregation

Services like Pocket are able to aggregate the data of thousands of users to recommend and reveal articles I might also like. Sadly this self-hosted concept makes it difficult (or impossible) do have this type of functionality. However, I usually have far too much good stuff to read anyway, so maybe this isn’t such a loss.

Suggested Improvements

Adding the ability to do webactions directly from the “Nominated” screen would be fantastic, particularly for the RSS reader portion.

Default to an unread view of the current “All Content” page. I find that I have to filter the view every time I visit the page to make it usable. I suspect this would be a better default for most newsrooms too.

It would be nice to have a pre-configured archive template page in a simple linkblog format that filters posts that were nominated/drafted/published via the Plugin. This will prevent users from needing to create one that’s compatible with their current theme. Something with a date read, Title linked to the original, Author, and Source attribution could be useful for many users.

A PressForward Nomination “Bookmarklet” for Mobile

One of the big issues I came up against immediately with PressForward is ease of use on mobile. A lot of the content I read is on mobile, so being able to bookmark (nominate) articles via mobile or apps like Nuzzel or Twitter is very important. I suspect this may also be the case for many of their current user base.

Earlier this year I came across a great little Android mobile app called URL Forwarder which can be used to share things with the ubiquitous mobile sharing icons. Essentially one can use it to share the URL of the mobile page one is on to a mobile Nomination form within PressForward.

I’d suspect that there’s also a similar app for iOS, but I haven’t checked. If not available, URL Forwarder is open source on Github and could potentially be ported. There’s also a similar Android app called Bookmarklet Free which could be used instead of URL Forwarder.

PressForward’s built in bookmarklet kindly has a pre-configured URL for creating nominations, so it’s a simple case of configuring it. These details follow below for those interested.

Configuring URL Forwarder for PressForward

  1. Open URL Forwarder
  2. Click the “+” icon to create a filter.
  3. Give the filter a name, “Nominate This” is a reasonable suggestion. (See photo below.)
  4. Use the following entry for the “Filter URL” replacing example.com with your site’s domain name: http://example.com/wp-content/plugins/pressforward/includes/nomthis/nominate-this.php?u=@url
  5. Leave the “Replaceable text” as “@url”
  6. Finish by clicking on the checkmark in the top right corner.

Simple right?

Nominating a post via mobile

With the configuration above set up, do the following:

  1. On the mobile page one wants to nominate, click the ubiquitous “share this” mobile icon (or share via a pull down menu, depending on your mobile browser or other app.)
  2. Choose to share through URL Forwarder
  3. Click on the “Nominate” option just created above.
  4. Change/modify any data within your website administrative interface and either nominate or post as a draft. (This part is the same as one would experience using the desktop bookmarklet.)

What’s next?

Given the data intensity of both the feed reader and what portends to be years of article data, I’m left with the question of hosting it within my primary site or putting it on a subdomain?

I desperately want to keep it on the main site, but perhaps hosting it on a subdomain, similar to how both Aram Zucker-Scharff and James Digioia do it may be better advised?

I’ve also run across an issue with the automatic redirect which needs some troubleshooting as well. Hopefully this will be cleared up quickly and we’ll be off to the races.

References

[1]
C. Aldrich, “A New Reading Post-type for Bookmarking and Reading Workflow,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 22-Aug-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/08/22/a-new-reading-post-type-for-bookmarking-and-reading-workflow/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[2]
C. Aldrich, “Owning my Online Reading Status Updates,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 20-Nov-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/11/20/owning-my-online-reading-status-updates/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[3]
C. Aldrich, “Notes, Highlights, and Marginalia from E-books to Online,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 24-Oct-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/10/24/notes-highlights-and-marginalia/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[4]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “Personal Statistics from 3 Months of Internet Reading,” Medium, 05-Sep-2015. [Online]. Available: https://medium.com/@aramzs/3-month-internet-reading-stats-f41fa15d63f0#.dez80up7y. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[5]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “Test functions based on PF stats for collecting data,” Gist. [Online]. Available: https://gist.github.com/AramZS/d10fe64dc33fc9ffc2d8. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[6]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “PressForward/pf_stats,” GitHub. [Online]. Available: https://github.com/PressForward/pf_stats. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
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How to Own & Display Your Twitter Archive on Your Website in Under 10 Minutes

As part of my evolving IndieWeb experience of owning all of my own internet-based social data, last year I wanted a “quick and dirty” method for owning and displaying all of my Twitter activity before embarking on a more comprehensive method of owning all of my past tweets in a much more comprehensive way. I expected even a quick method to be far harder than the ten minute operation it turned out to be.

Back in early October, I had also replied to a great post by Jay Rosen when he redesigned his own blog PressThink. I saw a brief response from him on Twitter at the time, but didn’t get a notification from him about his slightly longer reply, which I just saw over the weekend:

I don’t like the way tweets displayed on a blog look. I am fussy about that. Would I like to have a searchable archive in my possession so I don’t lose it all when Twitter goes under? I would.

Jay Rosen, journalism professor NYU,
in reply to my comment on PressThink’s new design and third space

 

So, for his benefit as well as others who are interested in the ability to do something like this quickly and easily, I thought I’d write up a short outline of what I’d originally done so that  without spending all the time I did, others can do the same or something similar depending on their needs.

If part of Mr. Rosen’s reply doesn’t give you enough motivation for why one would want to do this, IndieWeb.org has a laundry list of motivations along with a list of dead and defunct sites and social media silos that have taken pedabytes of data with them when they died.

How to (Quickly) Own and Display Your Tweets on Your Own Site

Download all your tweets

  1. Go to: https://twitter.com/settings/account
  2. Near the bottom of the page you should see a “Your Twitter archive” section
  3. See the Request your archive button? Click it.
  4. After a (hopefully) short wait, a link to your archive should show up in your email associated with the account. Download it.
  5. Congratulations, you now own all of your tweets to date!
  6. You can open the index.html file in the downloaded folder to view all of your tweets locally on your own computer with your browser.
Click the button to request your Twitter archive be emailed to your account email address.
Click the button to request your Twitter archive be emailed to your account email address.

Display your Twitter archive

The best part is now that you’ve got all your tweets downloaded, you can almost immediately serve them from your own server without any real modification.

Simply create an (accessible–use the same permissions as other equivalent files) folder named twitter on your server and upload all the files from your download into it. You’re done. It’s really that simple!

In my case I created a subfolder within my WordPress installation, named it “twitter”, and uploaded the files. Once this is done, you should be able to go to the URL http://example.com/twitter and view them.

The twitter folder in my WordPress directory with all of the downloaded files.
The twitter folder in my WordPress directory with all of the downloaded files.

As an example and to see what my archive looks like, visit http://boffosocko.com/twitter.

Alternately one could set up a subdomain (eg. http://twitter.example.com) and serve them from there as well. You can change the URL by changing the name of the folder. As an alternate example, Kevin Marks uses the following: http://www.kevinmarks.com/tweets/.

When you’re done, don’t forget to set up a link from your website (perhaps in the main menu?) so that others can benefit from your public archive. Mine is tucked in under the “Blog” heading in my main menu.

The user interface of your Twitter archive.
The user interface of your Twitter archive.

Caveats

Unfortunately, while you’ve now got a great little archive with some reasonable UI and even some very powerful search capabilities, most of the links on the archive direct back to the originals on Twitter and don’t provide direct permalinks within the archive. It’s also a static archive, so you’ve periodically got to re-download and upload to keep your archive current.  I currently only update mine on a quarterly basis, at least until I build a more comprehensive set up.

Current Set Up

At the moment, I’m directly owning all of my Twitter activity on my social stream site, which is powered by Known, using the POSSE philosophy (Post on your Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere). There I compose and publish all of my Tweets and re-Tweets (and even some likes) directly and then I syndicate them to Twitter in real-time. I’ve also built and documented a workflow for more quickly tweeting using my cell phone in combination with either the Twitter mobile app or their mobile site.  (Longer posts here on BoffoSocko are also automatically syndicated (originally with JetPack and currently with Social Network Auto-Poster, which provides a lot more customization) to Twitter, so I also own all of that content directly too.)

You’ll notice that on both sites, when content has been syndicated, there’s a section at the bottom of the original posts that indicates to which services the content was syndicated along with permalinks to those posts. I’m using David Shanske’s excellent Syndication Links plugin to do this.

The syndication block that follows posts on my site so one can easily/quickly see alternate versions in other social silos.
The syndication block that follows posts on my site so one can easily/quickly see alternate versions in other social silos.

Ultimately, I’d like to polish the workflow a bit and post all of my shorter Twitter-like status updates from BoffoSocko.com, but I still have some work to do to better differentiate content so that my shorter form content doesn’t muddy up or distract from the people who prefer to follow my longer-form content. Based on his comment, I also suspect that this is the same semantic issue/problem that Jay Rosen has. I’d also like to provide separate feeds/subscription options so that people can more easily consume as much or as little content from my site as they’d like.

Next steps

For those who are interested in more comprehensive solutions for owning and displaying their Tweets, I’ve looked into a few WordPress-based possibilities and like the following two which could also be potentially modified for custom display:

Both of these not only allow you to own and display your tweets, but they also automatically import new Tweets using the current API. Keep in mind that they use the PESOS philosophy (Post Elsewhere, Syndicate to your Own Site) which is less robust than POSSE, mentioned above.

I’ll note that a tremendous number of WordPress-based plugins within the plugin repository that are Twitter related predate some of the major changes in Twitter’s API in the last year or two and thus no longer work and are no longer supported, so keep this in mind if you attempt to explore other solutions.

Those with more coding ability or wokring on other CMS platforms may appreciate a larger collection of thought and notes on the Twitter wiki page created by the IndieWeb Community. [3]

Thoughts?

Do you own your own Tweets (either before or after-the-fact)? How did you do it? Feel free to tell others about your methods in the comments, or better yet, write them on your own site and send this post a webmention (see details below).

The IndieWeb movement is coding, collecting, and disseminating UI, UX, methods, and opensource code to help all netizens to better control their online identities, communicate, and connect themselves to others at IndieWeb.org. We warmly invite you to join us.

References

[1]
O. Richard, “ Ozh’ Tweet Archiver (Backup Twitter With WordPress) « planetOzh,” Planet Ozh, 21-Sep-2010. [Online]. Available: http://planetozh.com/blog/my-projects/ozh-tweet-archiver-backup-twitter-with-wordpress/. [Accessed: 05-Dec-2016]
[2]
J. Reifman, “Import and Archive Your Tweets With WordPress,” Envato Tuts+, 28-Jan-2015. [Online]. Available: http://code.tutsplus.com/tutorials/import-and-archive-your-tweets-with-wordpress–cms-22656. [Accessed: 05-Dec-2016]
[3]
“Twitter,” IndieWeb.org. [Online]. Available: http://indieweb.org/twitter. [Accessed: 05-Dec-2016]

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Chris Aldrich is reading “An important announcement for all Readability API users”

An important announcement for all Readability API users by Readability (Medium)
This is a message to all Readability API key-holders. Here’s what’s happening:
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Chris Aldrich is reading “The Readability bookmarking service will shut down on September 30, 2016.”

The Readability bookmarking service will shut down on September 30, 2016 by Readability (Medium)
After more than five years of operation, the Readability article bookmarking/read-it-later service will be shutting down after September 30…

I really wish I’d heard about this before September! And certainly before today… I know I used it fairly frequently in the early days of the service. I do remember that they did have a some nice functionality for sending articles to the Amazon Kindle too. Not sure how much data I may have lost in this particular shutdown, but I do wish I’d had a chance to back it up.

I am glad that bookmarks are one of the post types that I’m now saving by posting on my own site first though. For more of my thoughts on these post types, take a look at:

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Downloaded My TwitPic Archive

While I was updating Indieweb/site-deaths, I was reminded to download my TwitPic archive. It sold to Twitter almost two years ago this week and has been largely inactive since.

It includes some of the earliest photos I ever took and posted online via mobile phone. Looking at the quality, it’s interesting to see how far we’ve come. It’s also obvious why photo filters became so popular.

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My first pull request

My first pull request by Clint LalondeClint Lalonde (ClintLalonde.net)
Crazy to think that, even though I have had a GitHub account for 5 years and have poked, played and forked things, I have never made a pull request and contributed something to another project unti…

Clint, first, congratulations on your first PR!

Oddly, I had seen the VERY same post/repo a few weeks back and meant to add a readme too! (You’ll notice I got too wrapped up in reading through the code and creating some usability issues after installing the plugin instead.)

Given that you’ve got your own domain and website (and playing in ed/tech like many of us are), and you’re syndicating your blog posts out to Medium for additional reach, I feel compelled to mention some interesting web tech and philosophy in the #IndieWeb movement. You can find some great resources and tools at their website.

In particular, you might take a look at their WordPress pages which includes some plugins and resources you’ll be sure to appreciate. One of their sets of resources is allowing you to not only syndicate your WP posts (what they call POSSE), but by using the new W3C webmention spec, you can connect many of your social media resources to brid.gy and have services like twitter, facebook, G+, instagram and others send the comments and likes on your posts there back to your blog directly, thereby allowing you to own all of your data (as well as the commentary that occurs elsewhere). I can see a lot of use for education in some of the infrastructure they’re building and aggregating there. (If you’re familiar with Known, they bake a lot of Indieweb goodness into their system from the start, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t have it for your WordPress site as well.)

If you need any help/guidance in following/installing anything there, I’m happy to help.

Congratulations again. Keep on pullin’!

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New York Times will you be my brother on Facebook?

Changes in the Facebook algorithm are about to hit major publishers pretty hard.

Should I be adding major media outlets to my Facebook feed as family members? Changes by Facebook, which are highlighted in this New York Times article, may mean this is coming: The Atlantic can be my twin brother, and Foreign Affairs could be my other sister.

“News content posted by publishers will show up less prominently, resulting in less traffic to companies that have come to rely on Facebook audiences.” — Facebook to Change News Feed to Focus on Friends and Family in New York Times 

After reading this article, I can only think that Facebook wrongly thinks that my family is so interesting (and believe me, I don’t think I’m any better, most of my posts–much like my face–are ones which only a mother could “like”/”love” and my feed will bear that out! BTW I love you mom.) The majority of posts I see there are rehashes of so-called “news” sites I really don’t care about or invitations to participate in games like Candy Crush Saga.

While I love keeping up with friends and family on Facebook, I’ve had to very heavily modify how I organize my Facebook feed to get what I want out of it because the algorithms don’t always do a very good job. Sadly, I’m probably in the top 0.0001% of people who take advantage of any of these features.

It really kills me that although publishers see quite a lot of traffic from social media silos (and particularly Facebook), they’re still losing some sight of the power of owning your own website and posting there directly. Apparently the past history littered with examples like Zynga and social reader tools hasn’t taught them the lesson to continue to iterate on their own platforms. One day the rug will be completely pulled out from underneath them and real trouble will result. They’ll wish they’d put all their work and effort into improving their own product rather than allowing Facebook, Twitter, et al. to siphon off a lot of their resources. If there’s one lesson that we’ve learned from media over the years, it’s that owning your own means of distribution is a major key to success. Sharecropping one’s content out to social platforms is probably not a good idea while under pressure to change for the future.


Psst… With all this in mind, if you’re a family member or close friend who wants to

  • have your own website;
  • own your own personal data (which you can automatically syndicate to most of the common social media sites); and
  • be in better control of your online identity,

I’ll offer to build you a simple one and host it at cost.

 

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