How to follow the complete output of journalists and other writers?

In a digital era with a seemingly ever-decreasing number of larger news outlets paying journalists and other writers for their work, the number of working writers who find themselves working for one or more outlets is rapidly increasing. 

This is sure to leave journalists wondering how to better serve their own personal brand either when they leave a major publication for which they’ve long held an association (examples: Walt Mossberg leaving The New York Times or Leon Wieseltier leaving The New Republic)  or alternatively when they’re just starting out and writing for fifty publications and attempting to build a bigger personal following for their work which appears in many locations (examples include nearly everyone out there).

Increasingly I find myself doing insane things to try to follow the content of writers I love. The required gymnastics are increasingly complex to try to track writers across hundreds of different outlets and dozens of social media sites and other platforms (filtering out unwanted results is particularly irksome). One might think that in our current digital media society, it would be easy to find all the writing output of a professional writer like Ta-nehisi Coates, for example, in one centralized place.

I’m also far from the only one. In fact, I recently came across this note by Kevin:

I wish there was a way to subscribe to writers the same way you can use RSS. Obviously twitter gets you the closest, but usually a whole lot more than just the articles they’ve written. It would be awesome if every time Danny Chau or Wesley Morris published a piece I’d know.

The subsequent conversation in his comments or  on Micro.blog (a fairly digital savvy crowd) was less than heartening for further ideas.

As Kevin intimates, most writers and journalists are on Twitter because that’s where a lot of the attention is. But sadly Twitter can be a caustic and toxic place for many. It also means sifting through a lot of intermediary tweets to get to the few a week that are the actual work product articles that one wants to read. This also presumes that one’s favorite writer is on Twitter, still using Twitter, or hasn’t left because they feel it’s a time suck or because of abuse, threats, or other issues (examples: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lindy West, Sherman Alexie). 

What does the universe of potential solutions for this problem currently look like?

Potential Solutions

Aggregators

One might think that an aggregation platform like Muck Rack which is trying to get journalists to use their service and touts itself as “The easiest, unlimited way to build your portfolio, grow your following and quantify your impact—for free” might provide journalists the ability to easily import their content via RSS feeds and then provide those same feeds back out so that their readers/fans could subscribe to them easily. How exactly are they delivering on that promise to writers to “grow your following”?!

An illustrative example I’ve found on Muck Rack is Ryan O’Hanlon, a Los Angeles-based writer, who writes for  a variety of outlets including The Guardian, The New York Times, ESPN, BuzzFeed, ESPN Deportes, Salon, ESPN Brasil, FiveThirtyEight, The Ringer, and others. As of today they’ve got 410 of his articles archived and linked there. Sadly, there’s no way for a fan of his work to follow him there. Even if the site provided an RSS feed of titles and synopses that forced one to read his work on the original outlet, that would be a big win for readers, for Ryan, and for the outlets he’s writing for–not to mention a big win for Muck Rack and their promise.

I’m sure there have to be a dozen or so other aggregation sites like Muck Rack hiding out there doing something similar, but I’ve yet to find the real tool for which I’m looking. And if that tool exists, it’s poorly distributed and unlikely to help me for 80% of the writers I’m interested in following much less 5%.

Author Controlled Websites

Possibly the best choice for everyone involved would be for writers to have their own websites where they archive their own written work and provide a centralized portfolio for their fans and readers to follow them regardless of where they go or which outlet they’re writing for. They could keep their full pieces privately on the back end, but give titles, names of outlets, photos, and synopses on their sites with links back to the original as traditional blog posts. This pushes the eyeballs towards the outlets that are paying their bills while still allowing their fans to easily follow everything they’re writing. Best of all the writer could own and control it all from soup to nuts.

If I were a journalist doing this on the cheap and didn’t want it to become a timesuck, I’d probably spin up a simple WordPress website and use the excellent and well-documented PressForward project/plugin to completely archive and aggregate my published work, but use their awesome forwarding functionality so that those visiting the URLs of the individual pieces would be automatically redirected to the original outlet. This is a great benefit for writers many of whom know the pain of having written for outlets that have gone out of business, been bought out, or even completely disappeared from the web. 

Of course, from a website, it’s relatively easy to automatically cross-post your work to any number of other social platforms to notify the masses if necessary, but at least there is one canonical and centralized place to find a writer’s proverbial “meat and potatoes”. If you’re not doing something like this at a minimum, you’re just making it hard for your fans and failing at the very basics of building your own brand, which in part is to get even more readers. (Hint, the more readers and fans you’ve got, the more eyeballs you bring to the outlets you’re writing for, and in a market economy built on clicks, more eyeballs means more traffic, which means more money in the writer’s pocket. Since a portion of the web traffic would be going through an author’s website, they’ll have at least a proportional idea of how many eyeballs they’re pushing.)

I can’t help but point out that even some who have set up their own websites aren’t quite doing any of this right or even well. We can look back at Ryan O’Hanlon above with a website at https://www.ryanwohanlon.com/. Sadly he’s obviously let the domain registration lapse, and it has been taken over by a company selling shoes. We can compare this with the slight step up that Mssr. Coates has made by not only owning his own domain and having an informative website featuring his books, but alas there’s not even a link to his work for The Atlantic or any other writing anywhere else. Devastatingly his RSS feed isn’t linked, but if you manage to find it on his website, you’ll be less-than-enthralled by three posts of Lorem ipsum from 2017. Ugh! What has the world devolved to? (I can only suspect that his website is run by his publisher who cares about the book revenue and can’t be bothered to update his homepage with events that are now long past.)

Examples of some journalists/writers who are doing some interesting work, experimentation, or making an effort in this area include: Richard MacManus,  Marina Gerner, Dan Gillmor, Jay RosenBill Bennett, Jeff JarvisAram Zucker-Scharff, and Tim Harford

One of my favorite examples is John Naughton who writes a regular column for the Guardian. He has his own site where he posts links, quotes, what he’s reading, his commentary, and quotes of his long form writing elsewhere along with links to full pieces on those sites. I have no problem following some or all of his output there since his (WordPress-based) site has individual feeds for either small portions or all of it. (I’ve also written a short case study on Ms. Gerner’s site in the past as well.)

Newsletters

Before anyone says, “What about their newsletters?” I’ll admit that both O’Hanlon and Coates both have newsletters, but what’s to guarantee that they’re doing a better job of pushing all of their content though those outlets? Most of my experience with newsletters would indicate that’s definitely not the case with most writers, and again, not all writers are going to have newsletters, which seem to be the flavor-of-the month in terms of media distribution. What are we to do when newsletters are passé in 6 months? (If you don’t believe me, just recall the parable of all the magazines and writers that moved from their own websites or Tumblr to Medium.com.)

Tangential projects

I’m aware of some one-off tools that come close to the sort of notifications of writers’ work that might be leveraged or modified into a bigger tool or stand alone platform. Still, most of these are simple uni-taskers and only fix small portions of the overall problem.

Extra Extra

Savemy.News

Ben Walsh of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk has created a simple web interface at www.SaveMy.News that journalists can use to quickly archive their stories to the Internet Archive and WebCite. One can log into the service via Twitter and later download a .csv file with a running list of all their works with links to the archived copies. Adding on some functionality to add feeds and make them discoverable to a tool like this could be a boon.

Granary

Ryan Barrett has a fantastic open source tool called Granary that “Fetches and converts data between social networks, HTML and JSON with microformats2, ActivityStreams 1 and 2, AtomRSSJSON Feed, and more.” This could be a solid piece of a bigger process that pulls from multiple sources, converts them into a common format, and outputs them in a single subscribe-able location.

Splash page image and social logos from Granary.io

SubToMe

A big problem that has pushed us away from RSS and other formatted feed readers is providing an easy method of subscribing to content. Want to follow someone on Twitter? Just click a button and go. Wishing it were similar for a variety of feed types, Julien Genestoux‘s SubToMe has created a universal follow button that allows a one-click subscription option (with lots of flexibility and even bookmarklets) for following content feeds on the open web.

Splash image on SubToMe's home page

Others?

Have you seen any other writers/technologists who have solved this problem? Are there aggregation platforms that solve the problem in reverse? Small pieces that could be loosely joined into a better solution? What else am I missing?

How can we encourage more writers to take this work into their own hands to provide a cleaner solution for their audiences? Isn’t it in their own best interest to help their readers find their work?

I’ve curated portions of a journalism page on  IndieWeb wiki to include some useful examples, pointers, and resources that may help in solving portions of this problem. Other ideas and solutions are most welcome!

Owning my RSVP’s from Meetup.com using IFTTT and Webhooks to a Micropub endpoint

It’s a slightly circuitous set up and I may find a better way to do it eventually, but last night I was tinkering at a way to better own my RSVPs from Meetup.com. Previously it has been a completely manual set up, but it’s something I do often enough that the hour long investment was more than worth it. (I specifically want to own my data here because I’m hedging my bets for what ends up happening with Meetup.com in a post-WeWork bankrupcy world.)

Since I’ve been adding PESOS workflows using the Micropub endpoint on my website lately, I tried setting up a direct ping using IFTTT.com from the RSS feed from Meetup. Sadly the timestamps on that feed are not of the time that I RSVP’d, but the time the event was published. As a result the trigger seems like it would never actually fire to make a post. I also thought about taking a feed of all the events of the groups I’m a member of and feed that in, but alas, that feed doesn’t seem to exist. If that were possible, then I could create drafts of the data and then RSVP as yes, no, maybe, etc. for each of them in a slightly more manual (and thoughtful) way, but I’d also have the benefit of seeing all the notifications for everything pop up in my own website.

Since I always immediately add my RSVP’s from Meetup.com directly to my Google Calendar anyway, I thought I’d use that as the data source and trigger mechanism instead, and lo and behold! It works!

Now I can quickly RSVP via Meetup.com, use their interface to add the event to my Google Calendar, leverage IFTTT.com’s Webhook to send a Micropub request to my endpoint, and I’ve got an RSVP post with all the details on my website! It also cleverly creates syndication links on my posts as well.

Perhaps I could now use some of the infrastructure to create an upcoming events widget in a sidebar, to the home page of my site, or even on my neglected /Now page?

Since this Webhook to Micropub process is something I’ve been working on a bit, I’ll soon have a post with a step-by-step set up and an example or two of how it works, so that others can implement it too. I’ve been using it for read posts, listen posts, watches, and even for creating annotation posts on my site. Depending on the data source, some of the process can still have some manual portions, but at least I’m getting all the data I’d like to have.

Home

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Annotation posts >> Highlight posts

Because they’re so similar, I’ve decided to discontinue the custom highlight posts my site had in lieu of the more prevalent annotation post kind. The layout and format of both as highlighted text quoted from another site was almost exactly the same with the primary difference being my additional commentary added to the highlighted text to call it an annotation. Conceptually I considered “highlight + commentary/reply = annotation”. The difference is marginal at best–pun intended.

Since I only had 13 highlight posts versus 121 annotation posts (plus various additional annotations and highlights which I’ve rolled up into the body of some of my read posts) over the last year and a half, I felt it seemed redundant and bothersome to maintain two separate, but nearly identical post kinds. Semantically one may think of a highlight on some text as an annotation anyway, thus the idea of annotation subsumes that of a simple highlight.

As of this evening, I’ve changed all the custom highlight posts to be of the annotation kind. Other than the one word visual difference of the post kind text changing from “highlight” to “annotation” this change won’t affect much except for those who may have been subscribed to the highlight feed. Going forward you may consider subscribing to my annotation feed instead.

I had created highlight posts first, but in the end annotation posts have won the day. And for those that don’t have them, fear not, because honestly annotation posts are really just glorified bookmarks with custom text in the context. (The glorification only entails a highligher icon instead of a bookmark icon and a bit of CSS to color the text yellow.) I do find having them delineated for my personal research purposes useful though.

A brief year in review of my website, domain, online identity, commonplace book, journal, diary, etc.

With this post I will have posted to my personal website every day this past year. #​​AMA

This may seem incredibly impressive in a post-blog era when some people think it’s an achievement to have written on their personal site even once this year. When the average person thinks about how they use social media in our all-new, shiny, surveillance capitalism era they’ll possibly realize that they may actually post far more. They’re just doing it in dozens or more different places generally for the financial benefit of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, LinkedIn, Amazon, Medium, Goodreads, Swarm, Youtube, Reddit, Flickr, Yelp, Pinterest, Meetup, Kickstarter, Patreon, Nextdoor, Tumblr, Mastodon, Periscope, 500px, Pocket, Flipboard, SlideShare, Disqus, FitBit, Strava, Reading.am, GitHub, BitBucket, GitLab, Last.fm, Soundcloud, Vimeo, Telfie, Letterboxd, Trakt, Soundtracking, Tripit, Conferize, Upcoming.org, Colloq.io, Noti.st, Peach, Kinja, Plurk, TinyLetter, Venmo, Beeminder, Everyday Carry, and many, many, many others.

If anything, I suspect that I may be at the low end of writers and social posters. The major difference is that I own all of my data and have it in a single place where it’s more useful and searchable for me.

It turns out I made over 7,300 posts to my personal website this year. (For comparison, just the other day, I made my 10,000th tweet–after almost 11 years on Twitter.) This year’s output averages out to about 20 posts a day and includes at least one day with 53 public posts. (Many of my posts are private, where even Facebook is unaware of them. In fact, for large portions of July-October this year I only posted privately as a personal experiment.) These posts include nearly everything I’ve read, watched, listened to, bookmarked, replied to online, and otherwise written about this year. It also includes almost all of my checkins, RSVPs, and bookmarks as well as many of the more memorable things I’ve eaten or drank and most of my major acquisitions. It’s certainly a heck of a multi-media version of how I spent 2019. Better, it hasn’t taken a lot of work to do, it’s relatively easy to use, and I refer back to a lot of it–often. As a result, I also use it dramatically differently than I do traditional social media.

Of course my site is never exactly like I’d like it to be (I’d like to have more photo collections), but it’s finally getting somewhere closer to the sort of commonplace book I’ve always wanted. I’ll keep hacking away at posting things more easily and collecting what I think are some of the more interesting data I come across on a daily basis. Fortunately while most social media platforms have broadly quit innovating to make new and interesting features, I have the ability to change things to make them the way I want them to be. This sort of agency and flexibility is incredibly invaluable.

The best part is that it’s all on a website I control, and all the data is mine in a way that a traditional social media experience has never come close to. If you have the same wish for yourself or your friends in the coming new year, do let me know –I and many others are around to help you make it a reality for yourself

Improving the WordPress documentation on the IndieWeb Wiki

I had started it in November 2018, but today I spent a several hours to do some additional documentation and finally migrate the changes and updates to the WordPress pages on the IndieWeb wiki.

The biggest set of changes is for the Getting Started on WordPress page which is hopefully simpler and clearer for the IndieWeb beginner. It was previously arranged around the somewhat jargon-y idea of IndieMark which is a much more developer-centric presentation and much more useful for developers building an IndieWeb site from scratch. This was fine for an earlier generation of IndieWeb adopter.

Now that many of the WordPress plugins have aggregated and become much more mature and robust, many thought we needed a simplified way of approaching things for people who can at least manage a WordPress install in terms of installing and updating themes and plugins. This update to the getting started page is meant to reflect this so that those with either a new site or converting a pre-existing site can get up and going as quickly as possible. As a result this page is very opinionated toward the simplest paths available for the broadest number of people. Naturally once one has a few of the bigger building blocks working and wants to delve in further, there are other pieces of the wiki that can help, and the getting started page has links to many of these.

Because WordPress gives people so much functionality out of the box, the getting started page is now focused on adding bigger building blocks of IndieWeb functionality like IndieAuth, Webmention, Micropub, WebSub, and Microsub. 

Many of the pieces of the older page have been updated and migrated to the Advanced WordPress Set Up page or to other relevant pages within the broader WordPress heirarchy.

Special thanks to Michael Beckwith, Greg McVerry, and many others in the IndieWeb chat for their work and contributions toward this effort as well!

We all look forward to everyone’s thoughts, comments, and further contributions to the wiki as the suite of IndieWeb-related WordPress plugins and tools continue to improve and evolve.

Home

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Cleaning up feeds, easier social following, and feed readers

I’ve been doing a bit of clean up in my feed reader(s)–cleaning out dead feeds, fixing broken ones, etc. I thought I’d take a quick peek at some of the feeds I’m pushing out as well. I remember doing some serious updates on the feeds my site advertises three years ago this week, but it’s been a while since I’ve revisited it. While every post kind/type, category, and tag on my site has a feed (often found by simply adding /feed/ to the end of those URLs), I’ve made a few custom feeds for aggregated content.

However, knowing that some feeds are broadly available from my site isn’t always either obvious or the same as being able to use them easily–one might think of it as a(n) (technical) accessibility problem. I thought I’d make a few tweaks to smooth out that user interface and hopefully provide a better user experience–especially since I’m publishing everything from my website first rather than in 30 different places online (which is a whole other UI problem for those wishing to follow me and my content). Since most pages on my site have a “Follow Me” button (courtesy of SubToMe), I just needed to have a list of generally useful feeds to provide it. While SubToMe has some instructions for suggesting lists of feeds, I’ve never gotten it to work the way I expected (or feed readers didn’t respect it, I’m not sure which?) But since most feed readers have feed discovery built in as a feature, I thought I’d leverage that aspect. Thus I threw into the <head> of my website a dozen or so links from some of the most typical feeds people may be most interested in from my site. Now you can click on the follow button, choose your favorite feed reader, and then your reader should provide you with a large list of feeds which you might want to subscribe. These now broadly include the full feed, a comments feed, feeds for all the individual kinds (bookmarks, likes, favorites, replies, listens, etc.) but potentially more useful: a “microblog feed” of all my status-related updates and a “linkblog feed” for all my link-related updates (generally favorites, likes, reads, and bookmarks).

Some of these sub-feeds may be useful in some feed readers which don’t yet have the ability for you to choose within the reader what you’d like to see. I suspect that in the future social readers will allow you to subscribe to my primary firehose or comments feeds, which are putting out about 85 and 125 posts a week right now, and you’ll be able to subscribe to those, but then within their interface be able to choose individual types by means of filters to more quickly see what I’ve been bookmarking, reading, listening to or watching. Then if you want to curl up with some longer reads, filter by articles; or if you just want some quick hits, filter by notes. And of course naturally you’ll be able to do this sort of filtering across your network too. I also suspect some of them will build in velocity filters and friend-proximity filters so that you’ll be able to see material from people who don’t post as often highlighted or to see people’s content based on your personal rankings or categories (math friends, knitting circle, family, reading group, IndieWeb community, book club, etc.). I’ve recently been enjoying Kicks Condor’s FraidyCat reader which touches on some of this work though it’s not what most people would consider a full-featured feed reader but might think of as a filter/reader dashboard sort of product.

Perhaps sometime in the future I’ll write a bit of code so that each individual page on my site that you visit will provide feeds in the header for all the particular categories, tags, and post kinds that appear on that page?That might make a clever, and simple little plugin, though honestly that’s the sort of code I would expect CMSes like WordPress to provide out of the box. Of course, perhaps broader adoption of microformats and clever readers will obviate the need for all these bits?

 

The importance of bread in society: the etymology of Lord

In listening to The History of the English Language, 2nd Edition by Seth Lerer (Lecture 8), I came across an interesting word etymology which foodies and particularly bread fans will appreciate.

Dr. Lerer was talking about the compression of syllables at the border of Old English and Middle English circa 1100 which occurred in such terms as hlaf weard, the warden (or guardian) of the loaf.

Who is the guardian of the loaf? The hlfaf weard << The hlaweard << the laweard << the lord. This is the etymology of the word 'lord'. Lord is the guardian of the bread, the mete-er out of bread in a cereal society.

An interesting linguistic change that tells us a lot about power, structure, religion, and society surrounding bread of the time. I suppose one could also look at Christian traditions of the time which looked at the transubstantiation of the symbolic bread of the Last Supper which is ritually turned into the body of Christ–Christ, our lord.

One can’t help noting the slang use of the word “bread” to mean “money”. Perhaps it’s time to go back and re-visit Jeremy Cherfas’ excellent podcast series Our Daily Bread?

Featured image: Bread flickr photo by adactio shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Dr. Lynne Kelly’s research on history, indigenous people, and memory, and a dovetail with Big History

David Christian, Fred Spier, Bill Gates, Big History Institute, and other Big History researchers and thinkers, if you’re not already aware of her, allow me to introduce you to researcher Dr. Lynne Kelly. Her work dramatically expands our understanding of pre-literate societies’ learning, memory, and particularly collective learning. Further, it makes for a strong and fascinating story that could not only be integrated into Big History; it provides links between modern and pre-modern humans and ties deeply into ideas of origin stories, mythology, and early religion; and it provides actual methods for improving student’s memories and particularly that for history.

I think her work has some profound impact on the arc of Big History, particularly with respect to Threshold 6, well into Threshold 7, and continuing into the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. In true big history fashion, her thesis also touches heavily on a broad array of topics including anthropology, archaeology, psychology, neuroscience, history, and education.

A broad, reasonable introduction to her work can be had in CalTech physicist Sean Carroll’s  recent podcast interview.

Another short introduction is her TEDx Melbourne talk:

A solid popular science encapsulation of her work can be found in her book The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments (Pegasus Books, 2017).

A more thorough academic treatment of her work can naturally be found in:

With some work, I think her research could become a better foundational basis for a stronger bridge from threshold 6 into threshold 7 with dramatic impact on how we view origin stories, mythology, religion. It also has some spectacular implications for improving pedagogy and memory within our educational systems and how we view and use collective memory and even innovation in the modern world.

Alternate formats of An Urgency of Teachers by Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris

I’m gearing up my reading list for the holidays. I wanted to add An Urgency of Teachers: the Work of Critical Digital Pedagogy by Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris. Seemingly I can only find .html, .azw3, and .pdf copies of the book, and I’d far prefer an .epub version. Fortunately the book has a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC 4.0), so I’ve spent some time this morning to convert an original and made myself an .epub version for my Android devices.

I’m happy to share it if others are looking for the same and don’t have the ability (or frankly the time) to make the conversion. I also have a .mobi version (for Kindle) of the text as well since it didn’t require much additional work. These are exact replicas with no changes and come with the same CC BY-NC 4.0 license. If Jesse or Sean want copies to make available on their site, I’m happy to send them along. 

If you have the means, please be sure to make a donation to help support the book and Sean and Jesse’s work.

Book cover of An Urgency of Teachers

The Nieman Lab has an awesome and invaluable “Reading Page”

Usually I’m reading their content via a feed reader, but last night I visited their actual site and I noticed that the Nieman Lab has a reading page!

Since they’re unlikely to report on the mechanics of some of their own website and journalistic output, I’ll take a moment to highlight it on their behalf.

Reading pages or Linkblogs

Traditionally known as linkblogs back in the old blogosphere days, this sort of web pattern is probably better and more specifically called a “reading page” now. (Even Nieman titles the page “What We’re Reading” and uses /reading/ in the URL path to the page itself.) Many people still maintain linkblogs or bookmark pages (often on social silos like Pinboard, Pinterest, Twitter, Pocket, Instapaper, et al.), but generally the semantic name there implies articles or pages that were found to be of general interest or that one wanted to keep to read or consume later. On today’s more advanced web, there’s actually more value in naming it a reading page as it indicates a more proactive interest in the bookmarked content–namely having spent the time, effort, and energy to have actually read the thing being bookmarked. This additional indication of having more skin in the game provides a lot of additional value of a read post over a simpler bookmark post in my mind. It’s also part of the reason my website sends and receives read-specific webmentions.

This pattern of providing links of read material is pretty cool for a variety of reasons.

Discovery

First, if you’re following and reading the Nieman Lab, you’re very likely going to be interested in many of the things that they’re reading, researching, and covering. By providing a reading page they’re giving their readers a trove of useful data to discover articles and material in similar and tangential spaces that the lab may not be able to actively cover or engage in at the time. 

Context

By knowing what the Lab is reading, you’re provided with a broader perspective of the things they’re actively interested in. By reading those things yourself, you’ll have increased context into what they’re doing, what those areas look like, and what they are adding to the conversation in their research and work.

Added value to their site

Linkblogging has long been a thing, and, in part, is what a large number of Twitter users are typically doing. In Nieman Lab’s case, they’re just doing it on their own website, which adds tremendous value to it. By smartly hosting it on their own site they’re also guarding against the built value of their read archive disappearing if they were hosted on a social silo (remember Delicious? CiteULike?). Also by keeping it on their site, it has more long-tail value than if it were to all disappear into the new-content-wins attention machine that Twitter has become.

Of course I’d personally find it a lot more beneficial if they provided or advertised a linkblog feed for their reading page. Sadly they don’t. However, if you’re as interested as I am, you’ll dig under the hood a bit to discover that Nieman Lab’s site is built on WordPress and they’re using that page likely with a category, tag, or other taxonomy. So with a short bit of intuitive guessing about how WordPress is structured, we happily discover there is a feed of their reads at https://www.niemanlab.org/reading/feed/. (I suspect this feed exists as a design choice by WordPress than by the design or will of the Nieman Lab.) If you prefer a faster, one button subscribe option:

If Nieman would like their own universal follow button like this, take a peek at what SubToMe has to offer on this front.

Value to research

By accumulating a trove of links and summaries, which they’re hopefully keeping, they’re creating a huge relevant database for future research on the topics in which they have interest. The small pieces that may not make sense today may potentially be woven into future narratives and pieces of research later, but this sort of thing is vastly harder to do without reading and making note of it. In a sense, they’re creating a corporate or research lab-based commonplace book for their own use.

Other Examples

While I’ve seen many people (generally individuals and not magazines, companies, or other bigger outlets) regularly publish newsletters or weekly posts on what they’ve found on the web that is interesting, I haven’t seen as many who publish specific pages or archives of what they’re reading. Even fewer provide RSS or other feeds of this content.

The IndieWeb wiki read page has some useful and interesting examples of this behavior, but they’re almost all individuals. 

One other example I can think of in the journalism space, mostly because it’s getting to that end-of-the-year recap time is Bloomberg’s Jealousy List, which this year incidentally has some fun little drolleries that move as you scroll the page. This subset of reading lists is interesting as a group of articles Bloomberg wished they’d written and published themselves. This may indicate that they’re keeping a reading list internally, but just not publishing it regularly like Nieman is.

I can’t help thinking if Nieman Lab’s OpenFuego bot is a part of their workflow in creating their reading page as well?

And finally, since I also have a similar behavior, I’ll mention that you can find my reads on my reading page (sometimes with commentary) or follow it all via RSS if you like.

Are you aware of other people or organizations publishing lists of what they’re actively reading online? Do they provide feeds? How can we make this feature more prevalent on the open web?

Syndication Links now supports per-post syndication to Micro.blog from WordPress

The inimitable David Shanske released the 4.2.0 version of the Syndication Links plugin for WordPress this evening.

In addition to some other useful upgrades and bug fixes, the big new feature this release adds is excellent syndication support for Micro.blog.

While many people use RSS feeds, JSONfeed, or other plugin methods for syndicating their WordPress website’s content to Micro.blog, this plugin now provides for a per-post decision about exactly what content to send to Micro.blog. It also naturally provides a syndication link from your site back to the Micro.blog post. To my knowledge no other method provides this  syndication link functionality.

As I suspect many may already be aware, if your site supports Webmention (typically done with the Webmention and Semantic-linkbacks plugins), then Micro.blog will notify your site with replies and comments to your post as they appear on Micro.blog. This provides one the ability to do two-way communication between the two platforms.

Set up and configuration for Micro.Blog syndication

If you don’t already have it, install the plugin and activate it, otherwise update it within your site’s administrative interface.

Add your Micro.blog account username to your user profile on your WordPress site. This is typically found at /wp-admin/profile.php. In my case I simply added c to the field labeled Micro.blog username.

screencapture of the WordPress user interface
Enter your Micro.blog username (not the full URL) in the appropriate field and save your profile.

Adjust your WordPress Syndication Links settings page (typically found at /wp-admin/admin.php?page=syndication_links) to include Micro.blog by using the appropriate checkbox. Be sure to save the setting.

Screencapture of the Syndication Links settings UI
I obviously have a lot of syndication targets. Micro.blog is always one of them. If you’re also using Micropub clients like Quill that support the feature, you can choose Micro.blog as a syndication target in those interfaces.

Remove, if necessary, any of the RSS, JSON, or other syndication feeds from your Micro.blog account so you’re not accidentally duplicating the syndication.

Add the JSONfeed URL from the bottom of the Syndication Links plugin settings page into your list of feeds at https://micro.blog/account/feeds.

Screencapture of the Syndication Links settings UI

Create a post, select Micro.blog as an endpoint in the relevant meta-box, and publish your post.

Once published, your post will ping Micro.blog’s server to indicate the new content which will then be displayed in your timeline. The Syndication Links plugin will then find the permalink URL of your post on Micro.blog and display it on your post (as per your settings) along with any other syndicated copies. This notification process is roughly real time, but may take a minute or two for your post to display and the syndication link to appear on your site based on the processing times on the relevant servers.

Screencapture of a post on my site featuring the new Syndication Links features for micro.blog
Here’s an example of what Syndication Links looks like on a post recently syndicated to Micro.blog. This example was syndicated to both Micro.blog and Twitter.

As an added bonus, Syndication Links plugin will also find the syndication links from Micro.blog in your current feed and add those to your original posts.

If you have any questions, need clarifications, or find bugs with regard to your set up, you can file issues for the plugin on GitHub.

 

Improving RSS Subscription Workflows with SubToMe

I love that WordPress has some built-in functionality within WordPress.com and many themes to allow one to easily build and display a social media menu on a website. Frequently these are displayed in headers, footers, or even sidebars of websites.  I have one in the footer of my website that looks like this:

Screencapture of my social links for email, RSS, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.

The RSS icon and links are automatically generated for me by simply putting in any RSS feed that has a /feed/ path in its URL. 

While this is great, clicking on the RSS icon link goes to a page with a hodgepodge of markup, content, and meta data and typically requires multiple additional steps and prior advanced knowledge of what those steps should be to do something useful with that link/page. In other words the UI around this (and far too many other RSS icons) is atrocious, unwelcoming, and generally incomprehensible to the general public. (Remember those long and elaborate pages newspapers and magazines had to define RSS and how to use it? It’s a HUGE amount of cognitive load compared to social media following UI in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al. which just works™.) 

Fortunately Julien Genestoux and friends have created an elegant solution in SubToMe, described as a Universal Follow button, that is open, non-intrusive, protects privacy, and works with virtually any feed reader. It uses some JavaScript to create a pop-up that encourages users to use any of various popular feed readers (or the one of their choice). The UI flow for this is far superior and useful for the casual web-user and has the potential to help along the renaissance of feed readers and consumption of web content in a way that allows readers more control over their reading than social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that mandate their own proprietary reading algorithms.

While one can embed SubToMe directly into a website (I do this with a Follow button in my site’s top right sidebar, for example) or using Julien and MatthiasWordPress plugin, I suspect it would be far easier if some of this functionality were built directly into WordPress core in some way. Or alternately, is there an easy way to put data into one of the common fields (or wrap it) in these social links menus, so that when a user clicks on the relatively ubiquitous RSS icon in those social links menus, that it triggers a SubToMe-like subscription workflow? 

I would suspect that WordPress.com might try something like this and naturally recommend their own beautiful reader, which was relatively recently redesigned by Jan Cavan Boulas et al., using a bit of functionality which SubToMe kindly provides.

I think that the simplification of this RSS reader subscription workflow would go a LONG way toward making it more successful and usable. It could also provide massive influence on increasing the use of feed readers in general and the WordPress Reader in particular.

I do note that there is a form of follow functionality built into WordPress.com-based websites, but that’s locked into the .com platform or needs a plugin for self-hosted sites. It also only benefits the WordPress.com reader rather than other readers in the space. Some of the issue here is to fix the NASCAR problem of needing dozens of plugin solutions and widgets to have what amounts to the same functionality on each platform in existence. I think it’s far more important for the open web to be able to do these sorts of simple functionalities in a more standardized way to give users more freedom, flexibility and choice. The standardization makes it easier for competition in a market economy to gradually improve this sort of user interface over time.

If someone did undertake some development in this area, I’d give bonus development points on this for:

  • Is there a way to do this without JavaScript to get around the js;dr potentiality?
  • Is there a way for this to find not only the common main and comments feeds for posts, but also for the affiliated /category/feed/ and /tag/feed/ taxonomy feeds on posts to allow for subscriptions to niche areas of websites that cover multiple broad topics? I know David Shanske has done some work on feed discovery in WordPress recently for the Yarns Microsub Server that may be useful here.
  • Is there a way to talk major browsers into adding this into their products?

I wonder if Jeffrey Paul, Jeremy Felt, Matthias Pfefferle, Jeffrey Zeldman or others may have some ideas about broader implementation and execution of something like this for improved UI in these areas? 

Home

An informal mnemonics podcast

I started out using Huffduffer to collect a handful of podcast interviews with LynneKelly on her work with mnemonics, but noticed a handful of others that had already been using various tags like “memory” and “mnemonics” on the service as well.

While I know there are some podcasts dedicated directly to memory, most of the ones I’ve tagged/highlighted in my list are one-off episodes or radio interviews that stand alone. I’ve also gone through a few past posts on the forum about podcast episodes relating to memory and tagged them as well.

I’ve seen a dozen or so other posts on the forum here in which people have mentioned particular podcasts, so I’ll mention that Huffduffer is a great audio-based web tool for finding, discovering, and collecting audio content. It also provides iTunes subscribe-able audio feeds for every account, collective, and even tag on the site.

If you’re interested in the topic of “mnemonics” you can subscribe to the public RSS feed on Huffduffer and you’ll automatically be updated in your podcatcher of choice whenever anyone else in the community uses Huffduffer and tags an audio file with the same “mnemonics” tag.

Happy listening and collecting.

On the caustic focus on temporality in social media

In thinking about the temporality of social media, I’ve realize that sites like Twitter and Facebook focus incredibly hard on the here-and-now. At best you may get a few posts that go back a day or two when reading. I find it’s very rare that anyone is interacting with my tweets from 2010 or 2013, and typically when those are being liked, it’s by bots trying to give themselves a history.

We’re being trained to dip our toes into a rapidly flowing river and not focus on deeper ideas and thoughts or reflect on longer pieces further back in our history.

On the other hand, reading more and more from my variety of feed readers, I realize that on the broader web, I’m seeing people linking to and I’m also reading much older blog posts. In the last few days alone I’ve seen serious longform material from 2001, 2005, 2006, 2011, and 2018 just a few minutes ago.

The only time I see long tail content on Twitter is when someone has it pinned to the top of their page.

Taking this a level deeper, social is thereby forcing us to not only think shallowly, but to make our shared histories completely valueless. This is allowing some to cry fake news and rewrite history and make it easier for their proponents to consume it and believe it all. Who cares about the scandals and problems of yesterday when tomorrow will assuredly be better? And then we read the next Twitter-based treat and start the cycle all over again. 

A manual tweak for icons in the Syndication Links plugin

I’m not sure why I had never manually done the fix before, but I’ve had issues1 2 with the Syndication Links plugin showing icons for the reading.am service and my old chrisaldrich.wordpress.com site, which I primarily use as a pseudo-mirror/backup to my primary site. I figured there had to be a way to force them in instead of relying on the set up to process the links and show something. Reading.am doesn’t work because there isn’t an svg available for it and though there’s a WordPress icon, the plugin’s parser doesn’t seem to be able to recognize the subdomain properly.

Within the code at class-syn-link-domain-icon-map.php, I added the following two lines to the obvious spot in the list within the code to fix the icon issues I was having:

'chrisaldrich.wordpress.com' => 'wordpress',
'reading.am' => 'book',

I then reuploaded the edited file to my server. Essentially I’m hard-coding the domain name and the default icon I’d like to have the plugin display.

If the plugin is updated, I’ll obviously have to manually add them again, but the disappearance of the icons again will be pretty obvious and this post will document the necessary changes.

Although upon tweaking this I’m noticing that the reading.am icon isn’t working (I also tried ‘website’ instead of ‘book’ but that didn’t work either). Perhaps the .am tld is causing an issue? Alas…

I suspect that there’s some other bug hiding in the works as one or both of the two types of links above should default to the generic ‘website’ icon when a syndication link exists, but the system isn’t able to specify a particular icon. There may be some small if/else bug hiding in the logic of the plugin.