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!

Replied to a tweet by Tournez à gauche | alt-wrongTournez à gauche | alt-wrong (Twitter)
“So, RSS fans, particularly those who wish google hadn't shuttered reader: what would you pay to have it back as an indieweb project?”
I’d definitely go up to the $75/year range for a solid full-featured reader like Feedly or Inoreader but that included Micropub and Microsub infrastructure. (See also Using Inoreader as an IndieWeb feed reader.)

Looking at the current responses it seems like most respondents don’t have a very solid conceptualization of how to define “indieweb”. Almost none of the products mentioned in your thread are IndieWeb from my perspective.  Most of them are corporately owned data silos.

To me IndieWeb needs to have a focus on allowing the user to keep and own big portions of their data. Things like read status and old articles history should be owned by the user and not by a third party. Readers that do this are just as bad as Google Reader which took that data down when they closed.

If you’re using the IndieWeb.org definition of a reader, would you be considering building a Microsub server, Microsub client, or both?

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?

 

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
Replied to Networking as Time Saving by Jane Van GalenJane Van Galen (Teaching and Learning on the Open Web)

We talked in our group last week about the time that it requires to develop course websites and "open" assignments, and to make new tech function as it should when there may not be enough support, and when these sorts of investments may not be valued in faculty reviews.

I talked briefly about the "innovation" part is often simply building off the work of others, when so many faculty now share their work on the open web.

A great example of this just came through my Twitter feed.  I have a column set up in Tweetdeck  where I'm following the  conference.  With a Tweetdeck column, I can just glance or scroll for a minute between other things I'm doing,  to see if anything looks interesting.  People at this conference are working on open pedagogies, particularly via the Domains of Ones Own work we've talked about.  Most sessions are being live-tweeted, with a rich trove of links.

One attendee Chris Aldrich, has created a Twitter list of past attendees at the conference and others who do work related that that presented at this meeting.   I can skim this to find new people from whom to learn.  I can follow them and then, as I have time, check their Twitter feeds for updates on what they're doing.   If I don't find myself learning from these new follows, I just unfollow and move on.

And inevitably, over months and years, I'll find people who will generously invest in teaching me and others about the work they're doing, about why they're doing it, and about how that work is recieved by their students.

This is the open web I hope we're teaching our students about --  place of innovation, generosity, value-driven discourse and always, always, something new to learn. 

Thanks for the shout out! Making those kinds of lists can certainly be repetitive, time consuming, and thankless. The only thing worse is that hundreds or thousands should try to reinvent the same wheel. 

If you appreciated that bit of trickery, you might better appreciate a more open web version of the same with respect to the following page I made of various people and publications I’m following in my various feed readers. It provides OPML feeds so others can easily import them into their feed readers as well. You can find some additional documentation about it here.

Here’s some additional reading and links for background, if you’re interested. 

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. 

Read Publicly Sharing RSS Libraries i.e. My RSS Feeds are Yours by Kevin SmoklerKevin Smokler (Kevin Smokler)

Inspired by Matt Haughey’s public posting of the RSS Feeds he subscribes to, I’m doing the same (below).

What is RSS, you ask? A method to subscribe to what your favorite websites publish and have their updates all in a single place. Think of it as DVR for the Internet, food delivery instead of pickup except for the web. Podcasts would on the same technology and concept: Subscribe once, receive forever without asking again.

Lately though, its been making a bit of a comeback. Idea being that self-selecting your daily information diet (see: No Trump-loving-creepy-brothers-in-laws) probably means less unwilling toxicity and restless nights of non-sleep.

–highlighted December 08, 2019 at 04:26PM

This is the third time I’ve heard about RSS coming back in almost as many days, and this not long after highlighting some recent advancements in feed readers. (One of the others was Jeremy Keith at this weekend’s IndieWebCamp in San Francisco.) Kevin highlights a fantastic reason why using a feed reader can be important and more healthy than relying on the social aggregation algorithms in your not-so-friendly-neighborhood social media platforms.

Like Kevin and Matt, I think it’s a nice thing to share one’s sources and feeds. A while back I created a following page where I share a huge list of the people and sources I’m following regularly via RSS feeds, Atom Feeds, JSONFeed, and even h-feed. Everytime I follow or unfollow a source, the page auto-updates. I also provide OPML files (at the bottom of that page) so you can import them into your own feed reader. If you’re using a feed reader like Inoreader that supports OPML subscription, you can input the OPML file location and your copy of my feeds will automatically update when I make changes.

Happy reading!

Liked Day 1: Lwa's in Pre-Pre-Alpha by Jacky Alciné (Jacky Alciné)
First day of my IndieWeb Challenge for December and it's going to be about Lwa. I think this whole week might be! I've released a "stable" candidate that lets you know what your site needs to work with it. Be sure to try it out and let me know what you think! I've also added a page to let you previe...
Read Following other blogs on Micro.blog by Manton Reece (manton.org)
After launching support for Mastodon on Micro.blog, I blogged about how Micro.blog is evolving to support 3 types of usernames: normal Micro.blog users, Mastodon users, and IndieWeb-friendly domain names. This last type of username is where I think we can bring more social network-like interactions ...
Replied to Five RSS feeds I followed today by Jeremy FeltJeremy Felt (jeremyfelt.com)
I followed several new to me feeds today and then decided—why not share? There may be no other way to rediscover the social network that is blogging.
Jeremy, it’s great to see someone else following peoples’ content directly from their own websites! I was surprised (but maybe not really) to see that some of the feeds you had followed were those from the IndieWeb community! Did you happen to catch Tantek’s talk at WordCamp US (▶️) just before the State of the Word?

Coincidentally, I came to your post while playing some feed reading catch up post-WordCamp US and ran across a status update on Helen’s site:

Remember when we used to read each other’s individual blogs? I miss that.

I noticed one other person (you) had “liked” it and clicked myself down the rabbit hole that led me to your post. There are still apparently some interesting old-school discovery methods on the open web.

If you like following interesting sites, I often find Kicks Condor’s HREFHUNT an great regular source for discovery.

I’m curious what feed reader you use for subscriptions? I wrote a short note the other day about some interesting new developments I’ve been seeing in the feed reader and discovery space.

And last, but not least, I followed both the IndieNews and This Week in the IndieWeb blogs via the main indieweb.org site as part of an effort to get more familiar with that community and technology.

If you’d like a crash course on IndieWeb, particularly as it’s applied within WordPress, I’m happy to donate some time to get you up to speed on the next few steps beyond what Tantek outlined. If you’d like to follow more, I have a following page which has a large number of IndieWeb-related developers, designers, and sites including an OPML file for following many of them quickly.

In any case, welcome to the IndieWeb! I can’t wait to see how your explorations there turn out; I’d love to hear about your experiences in that space. There are a lot of friendly people around to help you get started or chat if you need it.

And thanks again for tacitly sharing your list of RSS sources. I’d bookmarked Weinberger’s book a short while ago and can’t wait to read it. I’m looking at your other links presently.

Some recent work in the feed reader and discovery space

I’ve noticed a lot of quiet, but very interesting and heartening feed reader and discovery work going on in the IndieWeb and related communities lately, so I thought I’d highlight it briefly for those who are interested in the topic, but may not have been following as closely:

  • Inoreader has been working on a beta product that will make following social feeds in Twitter, Micro.blog, the Fediverse, and even IndieWeb sites with h-entry easier and prettier.
  • Kicks Condor has been iterating and doing some interesting work on the FraidyCat reader over the past few weeks.
  • Malcolm Blaney has a fantastic little feed reader in his Unicyclic site (not to mention that he’s also got a cool looking IndieWeb as a Service site with i.haza.website that I desperately want to have time to try out).
  • The volume of different and interesting content going into IndieWeb.xyz as a discovery hub has been increasing lately.
  • I’ve been admiring the discovery/aggregation work of Terry Greene on his OpenLearnerPatchbook and OpenFacultyPatchbook sites within the education space.
  • CJ Eller and others have been contributing to Blogging Futures as an extended online conversation in the form of an aggregated blogchain.

And none of this even touches on the excellent continuing work on Microsub readers which continues to astound me. Even with all of this activity, I’m sure I’m missing some fun little gems, so please don’t hesitate to mention them.