Title-less Status Updates for Micro.blog

Micro.blog just launched in beta recently and one of the biggest things burning up the airwaves there is how to easily post content from one’s own site as notes without including titles. Why? If a post has a title, then micro.blog thinks it’s an article and just posts the title along with a permalink to it rather than the desired content of the status update.

In the long run and for easier mass adoption, I’m hoping Manton can figure out how to parse RSS feeds in a simpler way so that users don’t need to do serious gymnastics to import their microblog posts from other sources. I’d imagine it’s far easier for him to adapt to the masses than for the masses to adapt to micro.blog. At the very worst, he could create a checkbox on the RSS import feeds to indicate which feeds are status updates and which aren’t and this would quickly solve the problem for the average user as most CMSes allow users to define custom feeds based on content type.

While there are a number of people doing things from simply adding date/time stamps (which micro.blog ignores) to functions.php tweaks to to custom plugins, some of which I’ve tried, I thought I’d come up with my own solution which has helped to kill two proverbial birds with one stone. (Note: I’ve listed some of these others on the Indieweb wiki page for micro.blog.)

The other day, I’d had a short conversation about the issue in the Indieweb chat with several people and decided I’d just give up on having titles in notes altogether. Most people contemplating the problem have an issue doing this because it makes it more difficult to sort and find their content within their admin UI dashboard which is primarily keyed off of the_title() within WordPress. I share their pain in this regard, but I’ve also been experiencing another admin UI issue because I’ve got a handful of plugins which have added a dozen or so additional columns to my posts list. As a result the titles in my list are literally about four characters wide and stretch down the page while knucklehead metadata like categories needlessly eat up massively wide columns just for fun. Apparently plugins aren’t very mindful of how much space they decide to take up in the UI, and WordPress core doesn’t enforce reasonable limits on these things.

So my solution to both problems? If found a handly little plugin called Admin Columns with over 80,000 users and which seems to be frequently updated that allows one to have greater simple control over all of the columnar UI interfaces within their sites.

In just a few minutes, I was able to quickly get rid of several columns of data I’ve never cared about, expand the title column to a reasonable percentage of the space so it’s readable, and tweak all the other columns to better values. Even better, I was able to add the slug name of posts into the UI just after the title columns, so I can leave status update titles empty, but still have a field by which I can see at least some idea of what a particular post was about.

My first title-less status update with a descriptive slug
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I’m curious if I can post to my hosted blog and my own site simultaneously with micro.blog?

I’m curious if I can post to my hosted blog and my own site simultaneously with micro.blog?

(Update: It turns out you can’t, you can do either one or the other, but not both.)

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Today is My Third Indieweb Anniversary

I suppose I’ve had a few dozen domains and sites at earlier points, but three years ago today was when I began conglomerating it all here at boffosocko.com. It’s amazing to see the changes (big and small) I’ve been able to effect since I celebrated last year. It’s had a profound effect at how I interact on the internet and consume content.

For those who aren’t aware of the broader concept of Indieweb, here is a great introduction with some history by Tantek Çelik entitled The Once and Future IndieWeb

IndieWeb Summit

This is also a good time to remind those who are interested, that the annual IndieWebSummit is coming up soon and RSVP’s are now open:

June 24-25, 2017
Portland, Oregon
The seventh annual gathering for independent web creators of all kinds, from graphic artists, to designers, UX engineers, coders, hackers, to share ideas, actively work on creating for their own personal websites, and build upon each others creations.

I hope to see people there in person, though I’ll note that remote attendance is possible as well.

A Brief Look Back

This post started out initially as a brief status update and I extended it with the video and notice about the upcoming Summit.

Now that I’m past what I would consider “note” length, and since it’s a milestone of sorts, I thought it would be interesting to take a nostalgic look back at my last year of Indieweb. I didn’t think it would be quite so much, but it’s really amazing what you can do if you take things in small steps over time. So here’s a quick review of some of the things I’ve done in the last year on my site. (Thank goodness for documentation!)

Other Indieweb activities, which don’t necessarily appear on my site:

As a separate statistic I made approximately 1,071 posts to my (main) site in the last year compared to 136 in the same time frame the year prior. There are over 2,400 posts on my social stream site this past year. It’s great owning it all here now instead of having it spread out all over hundreds of other sites and thousands of URLs over which I have no control.

To my recollection I’ve only joined 6 new silos in the past year (to which I really only syndicate into). In that same time frame at least 15 services of which I was a member or used at one time or another have shut down and disappeared. Entertainingly (and perhaps miraculously) one which had previously disappeared came back to life: Upcoming.org!

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Quote from Mastodon, Twitter and publics 2017-04-24

Mastodon, Twitter and publics 2017-04-24 by Kevin Marks (kevinmarks.com)
The furore over Fake News is really about the seizures caused by overactivity in these synapses - confabulation and hallucination in the global brain of mutual media. With popularity always following a power law, runaway memetic outbreaks can become endemic, especially when the platform is doing what it can to accelerate them without any sense of their context or meaning.

One might think that Facebook (and others) could easily analyze the things within their network that are getting above average reach and filter out or tamp down the network effects of the most damaging things which in the long run I suspect are going to damage their network overall.

Our synapses have the ability to minimize feedback loops and incoming signals which have deleterious effects–certainly our social networks could (and should) have these features as well.

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@Mentions from Twitter to My Website

An outline of how I used Indieweb technology to let Twitter users send @mentions to me on my own website.

You can tweet to my website.

One of my favorite things about the indieweb is how much less time I spend on silo sites like Facebook and Twitter. In particular, one of my favorite things is not only having the ability to receive comments from many of these sites back on the original post on my own site, but to have the ability for people to @mention me from Twitter to my own site.

Yes, you heard that right: if you @mention me in a tweet, I’ll receive it on my own website. And my site will also send me the notification, so I can turn off all the silly and distracting notifications Twitter had been sending me.

Below, I’ll detail how I set it up using WordPress, though the details below can certainly be done using other CMSes and platforms.

rel=”me”

The rel=”me” is put on the link that wraps this Twitter icon in my h-card on my homepage.

On my homepage, using a text widget, I’ve got an h-card with my photo, some basic information about me, and links to various other sites that relate to me and what I’m doing online.

One of these is a link to my Twitter account (see screenshot). On that link I’m using the XFN’s rel=”me” on the link to indicate that this particular link is a profile equivalence of my identity on the web. It essentially says, “this Twitter account is mine and also represents me on the web.”

Here’s a simplified version of what my code looks like:

<a href="https://twitter.com/chrisaldrich" rel="me">@chrisaldrich</a>

If you prefer to have an invisible link on your site that does the same thing you could alternately use:

<link href="https://twitter.com/twitterhandle" rel="me">

Similarly Twitter also supports rel=”me”, so all I need to do there is to edit my profile and enter my website www.boffosocko.com into the “website” field and save it. Now my Twitter profile page indicates, this website belongs to this Twitter account. If you look at the source of the page when it’s done, you’ll see the following:

<a class="u-textUserColor" title="http://www.boffosocko.com" href="https://t.co/AbnYvNUOcy" target="_blank" rel="me nofollow noopener">boffosocko.com</a>

Though it’s a bit more complicated than what’s on my site, it’s the rel=”me” that’s the important part for our purposes.

Now there are links on both sites that indicate reciprocally that each is related to the other as versions of me on the internet. The only way they could point at each other this way is because I have some degree of ownership of both pages. I own my own website outright, and I have access to my profile page on Twitter because I have an account there. (Incidentally, Kevin Marks has built a tool for distributed identity verification based on the reciprocal rel=”me” concept.)

Webmention Plugin

Next I downloaded and installed the Webmention plugin for WordPress. From the plugin interface, I just did a quick search, clicked install, then clicked “activate.” It’s really that easy.

It’s easy, but what does it do?

Webmention is an open internet protocol (recommended by the W3C) that allows any website to send and receive the equivalent of @mentions on the internet. Unlike sites like Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Google+, Instagram, etc. these mentions aren’t stuck within their own ecosystems, but actually work across website borders anywhere on the web that supports them.

I use the domain name BoffoSocko as my online identity.

The other small difference with webmention is instead of using one’s username (like @chrisaldrich in my case on Twitter) as a trigger, the trigger becomes the permalink URL you’re mentioning. In my case you can webmention either my domain name http://www.boffosocko.com or any other URL on my site. If you really wanted to, you could target even some of the smallest pieces of content on my website–including individual paragraphs, sentences, or even small sentence fragments–using fragmentions, but that’s something for another time.

Don’t use WordPress?

See if there’s webmention support for your CMS, or ask your CMS provider or community, system administrator, or favorite web developer to add it to your site based on the specification. While it’s nice to support both outgoing and incoming webmentions, for the use we’re outlining here, we only need to support incoming webmentions.

Connect Brid.gy

Sadly, I’ll report that Twitter does not support webmentions (yet?!) otherwise we could probably stop here and everything would work like magic. But they do have an open API right? “But wait a second now…” you say, “I don’t know code. I’m not a developer.”

Worry not, some brilliant engineers have created a bootstrap called Brid.gy that (among many other useful and brilliant things) forces silos like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, and Flickr to send webmentions for you until they decide to support them natively. Better, it’s a free service, though you could donate to the ASPCA or EFF in their name to pay it forward.

So swing your way over to http://brid.gy and under “Get started” click on the Twitter logo. Use OAuth to log into Twitter and authorize the app. You’ll be redirected back to Brid.gy which will then ensure that your website and Twitter each have appropriate and requisite rel=”me”s on your links. You can then enable Brid.gy to “listen for responses.”

Now whenever anyone @mentions you (public tweets only) on Twitter, Brid.gy will be watching your account and will automatically format and send a webmention to your website on Twitter’s behalf.

On WordPress your site can send you simple email notifications by changing your settings in the Settings >> Discussion dashboard, typically at http://www.exampl.com/wp-admin/options-discussion.php. One can certainly use other plugins to arrange for different types of notifications as well.

Exotic Webmentions

A bonus step for those who want more control!

In the grand scheme of things webmentions are typically targeted at specific pages or posts on your site. General @mentions on Twitter not related to specific content on your site will usually be sent to your homepage. Over time, this may begin to get a bit overwhelming and may take your page longer to load as a result. An example of this is Kevin Marks’ site which has hundreds and hundreds of webmentions on it. What to do if this isn’t your preference?

In my case, I thought it would be wise to collect all these unspecific or general mentions on a special page on my site. I decided to call it “Mentions” and created a page at http://boffosocko.com/mentions/.

Then I inserted a small piece of custom code in the functions.php file of my site’s (child) theme like the following:

// For allowing exotic webmentions on homepages and archive pages

function handle_exotic_webmentions($id, $target) {
// If $id is homepage, reset to mentions page
if ($id == 55669927) {
return 55672667;
}

// do nothing if id is set
if ($id) {
return $id;
}

// return "default" id if plugin can't find a post/page
return 55672667;
}

add_filter("webmention_post_id", "handle_exotic_webmentions", 10, 2);

This simple filter for the WordPress Webmention plugin essentially looks at incoming webmentions and if they’re for a specific page/post, they get sent to that page/post. If they’re sent to either my homepage or aren’t directed to a particular page, then they get redirected to my /mentions/ page.

In my case above, my homepage has an id of 55669927 and my mentions page has an id of 55672667, you should change your numbers to the appropriate ids on your own site when using the code above. (Hint: these id numbers can usually be quickly found by hovering over the “edit” links typically found on such pages and posts and relying on the browser to show where they resolve.)

Tip of the Iceberg

Naturally this is only the tip of the indieweb iceberg. The indieweb movement is MUCH more than just this tiny, but useful, piece of functionality. There’s so much more you can do with not only Webmentions and even Brid.gy functionality. If you’ve come this far and are interested in more of how you can better own your online identity, connect to others, and own your data. Visit the Indieweb.org wiki homepage or try out their getting started page.

If you’re on WordPress, there’s some additional step-by-step instructions: Getting Started on WordPress.

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🔖 Closing Communities: FFFFOUND! vs MLKSHK | Waxy.org

Closing Communities: FFFFOUND! vs MLKSHK by Andy Baio (Waxy.org)
Next month, two seminal image-sharing communities, FFFFOUND! and MLKSHK, will close their doors within a week of each other. There's a profound difference in how they're doing it as noted by someone who's previously sold off a community.

This is a great little piece comparing and contrasting how to relatively similar online communities and social silos are shutting down their services. One is going a much better route than the other and providing export tools and archive ability to preserve the years of work and effort.

For more about social media sites, communities, and online silos that have shut down before, see site-deaths on the Indieweb wiki.​​​

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My First Internet Meme! 🍍

A short story about how I was involved in the birth of the Mastodon 🍍 meme

Joining Mastodon.social

A few months ago, I was reading Hacker News and saw a note about the new social media platform Mastodon built on top of GNU Social. Then, through the #Indieweb IRC chat logs, I came across another mention of the platform by Kevin Marks. Shortly thereafter, he appeared on This Week in Google talking about it, an episode which I listened to on December 7. Two days later I finally joined Mastodon to see what was going on, though I’d been on GNU Social sites Quitter.se and Quitter.no much earlier.

An early Mastodon experience

I lurked around on the platform for a bit to check it out and then promptly walked away with the determination that it was “just another silo” and I’d prefer to keep posting on my own site and syndicating out if necessary. It wasn’t until ADN (a Twitter-like social media platform that was previously at app.net) was shutting down on March 15th and people were leaving there to find other communities that I was reminded of Mastodon as I was also looking at platforms like 10 Centuries and pnut.io. Others were obviously doing the same thing and it was then that articles began popping up in the more mainstream tech media. I thought I’d give Mastodon another try and popped into my account to see what had changed, how, and importantly could I build any of the functionality into my own site?

Within a few minutes of rejoining and following a few people in the local stream, I was greeted with this:

My immediate thought, having grown up in the South, was “How welcoming–A pineapple!”

A quick comment later and I realized that it was just coincidence.

A flurry of articles about Mastodon

Fast forward about a week, dozens of Mastodon articles later, and last night I’m reading (courtesy of yet another link posted in the #Indieweb chat–hint: if you want to know where the bleeding edge of the social web is, you should be either lurking or participating there) the article What I wish I knew before joining Mastodon: Where I attempt to explain Mastodon through Harry Potter gifs by Qina Liu, the Digital Engagement Editor at The Buffalo News (on Medium for some odd reason rather than The Buffalo News itself).

The article is well written and is a pretty good tutorial on what Mastodon is, how it works, and how to begin participating. Toward the end it also gets into some of the Mastodon culture. Like a great reporter, Liu obviously spent some time to get to know the natives. She finishes off the story with a short vignette on pineapples which I found eerily familiar. Hey, it’s my friend @acw! As the article wears on, I begin to think, “Oh dear, what have I done?!”

I’m excerpting the tail end of the article for more context about the pineapple meme:

Why am I seeing pineapples all over Mastodon?

Alright, so I’m no P.J. Vogt, Alex Goldman or any of the other awesome producers at the podcast “Reply All,” but I’m going to attempt to “Yes, Yes, No” this for you guys.

🍍🍍🍍 on Mastodon got started by Alex Weiner (@acw@mastodon.social), a software developer who uses APL. Since APL sounds like 🍎, he really likes 🍎 and any words including 🍎 like 🎄🍎.

So he started tooting 🍍 to new people as a form of “hello,” “welcome,” “aloha” — and you get the idea.

And he also started boosting toots with 🍍.

So 🍍 became the emoji shorthand for boost.

And 🍍ing also became Internet slang for when your Mastodon follower count surpasses your Twitter follower count.

But pineapple appreciation didn’t end there. Other people started posting 🍍 in their display name.

And even Rochko made a pineapple joke.

So to recap, if you get a 🍍 on Mastodon, it’s…

Plus, pineapples are awesome.

Except if you’re the president of Iceland, who doesn’t like 🍍🍕.

So was that a “Yes, Yes, Yes”?

So apparently my short note about the “meaning” behind the pineapple has helped to turn it into a “thing” on the internet.

For the historians, here’s the thread of the original conversation:

Ultimately, because the pineapple is such a long-standing symbol of welcoming, it has to be a good thing. Right?

So if you were lucky enough to get into Mastodon.social before registration was turned off (maybe they’ll turn it back on one day, or you can get into one of the many other instances), feel free to give me a follow there and enjoy the pineapples.

You’re Welcome! 🍍

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A New Way to “Know and Master Your Social Media Flow”

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):

Louis Gray’s Social Media Flow Diagram from 2009

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:

This is how I always thought that the diagram should have been drawn since before 2009. Now it can be a reality. POSSE definition. Backfeed definition.

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.

Where can I get it?

Impatient and can’t wait? Get started here.

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.

If you need help, there are people all over the world who have already implemented it who can help you out. Just join the indieweb in your favorite chat client option.

Some parting thoughts

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+.)

Number of posts by year on Louis Gray’s personal blog.

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.

 

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Reading my Facebook and Instagram Streams again via RSS

I’ve really been loving reading my Facebook and Instagram streams on my own website using Ryan Barrett’s versions of Facebook Atom and Instagram Atom webapps.

Twitter is coming next, but I need to tweak some lists to pare things down.

This feels so 2008, and I mean that in the best way.

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App.net archive

App.net archive by Manton Reece (manton.org)
Linkrot and the lack of permanence on the web is a recurring theme for this blog. In the final days as App.net was winding down, I wanted to put my money where my mouth was. I spun up a couple new servers and wrote a set of scripts to essentially download every post on App.net. It feels like a fragile archive, put together hastily, but I believe it’s mostly complete. I’ve also downloaded thumbnail versions of some of the public photos hosted on App.net.

Interesting to see that Manton Reece created an impromptu archive of all of App.net before it shut down.​​

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Social games: Turning an insight on its head: social as play | Jeremy Cherfas

Social games | Turning an insight on its head: social as play by Jeremy Cherfas (jeremycherfas.net)
Stewart Butterfield is the chap who accidentally invented Flickr and then Slack. That alone makes him a pretty smart person. He also studied philosophy before deciding to get into software development. I know this because Jeremy Keith in my Huffduffer network liberated the audio of an interview with Ezra Klein from SoundCloud's silo and shared it.

Continue reading “Social games: Turning an insight on its head: social as play | Jeremy Cherfas”

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