Extending a User Interface Idea for Social Reading Online

This morning I was reading an article online and I bookmarked it as “read” using the Reading.am browser extension which I use as part of my workflow of capturing all the things I’ve been reading on the internet. (You can find a feed of these posts here if you’d like to cyber-stalk most of my reading–I don’t post 100% of it publicly.)

I mention it because I was specifically intrigued by a small piece of excellent user interface and social graph data that Reading.am unearths for me. I’m including a quick screen capture to better illustrate the point. While the UI allows me to click yes/no (i.e. did I like it or not) or even share it to other networks, the thing I found most interesting was that it lists the other people using the service who have read the article as well. In this case it told me that my friend Jeremy Cherfas had read the article.1

Reading.am user interface indicating who else on the service has read an article.

In addition to having the immediate feedback that he’d read it, which is useful and thrilling in itself, it gives me the chance to search to see if he’s written any thoughts about it himself, and it also gives me the chance to tag him in a post about my own thoughts to start a direct conversation around a topic which I now know we’re both interested in at least reading about.2

The tougher follow up is: how could we create a decentralized method of doing this sort of workflow in a more IndieWeb way? It would be nice if my read posts on my site (and those of others) could be overlain on websites via a bookmarklet or other means as a social layer to create engaged discussion. Better would have been the ability to quickly surface his commentary, if any, on the piece as well–functionality which I think Reading.am also does, though I rarely ever see it. In some sense I would have come across Jeremy’s read post in his feed later this weekend, but it doesn’t provide the immediacy that this method did. I’ll also admit that I prefer having found out about his reading it only after I’d read it myself, but having his and others’ recommendations on a piece (by their explicit read posts) is a useful and worthwhile piece of data, particularly for pieces I might have otherwise passed over.

In some sense, some of this functionality isn’t too different from that provided by Hypothes.is, though that is hidden away within another browser extension layer and requires not only direct examination, but scanning for those whose identities I might recognize because Hypothes.is doesn’t have a specific following/follower social model to make my friends and colleagues a part of my social graph in that instance. The nice part of Hypothes.is’ browser extension is that it does add a small visual indicator to show that others have in fact read/annotated a particular site using the service.

A UI example of Hypothes.is functionality within the Chrome browser. The yellow highlighted browser extension bug indicates that others have annotated a document. Clicking the image will take one to the annotations in situ.

I’ve also previously documented on the IndieWeb wiki how WordPress.com (and WordPress.org with JetPack functionality) facepiles likes on content (typically underneath the content itself). This method doesn’t take things as far as the Reading.am case because it only shows a small fraction of the data, is much less useful, and is far less likely to unearth those in your social graph to make it useful to you, the reader.

WordPress.com facepiles likes on content which could surface some of this social reading data.

I seem to recall that Facebook has some similar functionality that is dependent upon how (and if) the publisher embeds Facebook into their site. I don’t think I’ve seen this sort of interface built into another service this way and certainly not front and center the way that Reading.am does it.

The closest thing I can think of to this type of functionality in the analog world was in my childhood when library card slips in books had the names of prior patrons on them when you signed your own name when checking out a book, though this also had the large world problem that WordPress likes have in that one typically wouldn’t have know many of the names of prior patrons necessarily. I suspect that the Robert Bork privacy incident along with the evolution of library databases and bar codes have caused this older system to disappear.

This general idea might make an interesting topic to explore at an upcoming IndieWebCamp if not before. The question is: how to add in the social graph aspect of reading to uncover this data? I’m also curious how it might or might not be worked into a feed reader or into microsub related technologies as well. Microsub clients or related browser extensions might make a great place to add this functionality as they would have the data about whom you’re already following (aka your social graph data) as well as access to their read/like/favorite posts. I know that some users have reported consuming feeds of friends’ reads, likes, favorites, and bookmarks as potential recommendations of things they might be interested in reading as well, so perhaps this would be an additional extension of that as well?


[1] I’ve certainly seen this functionality before, but most often the other readers are people I don’t know or know that well because the service isn’t huge and I’m not using it to follow a large number of other people.
[2] I knew he was generally interested already as I happen to be following this particular site at his prior recommendation, but the idea still illustrates the broader point.

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👓 NetNewsWire Diary #2: Switching to OPML | inessential

Read NetNewsWire Diary #2: Switching to OPML (inessential.com)
Since the earliest days of NetNewsWire, before 1.0 even shipped, I wanted to make the subscriptions list on disk an OPML file. It seemed like using the standard format for listing RSS subscriptions would be a good idea. But I was never able to make that happen — until now, with NetNewsWire 5.0d7.
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👓 How to Follow Instagram Hashtag and User Feeds Using RSS | Make Use Of

Read How to Follow Instagram Hashtag and User Feeds Using RSS (MakeUseOf)
Instagram itself doesn't provide a way to get RSS feeds for hashtags or users, but you can use a third-party service!

I really wish social sites would re-enable RSS or other feeds. This would be a great boon towards making much better and richer feed readers and related experiences. As it is some readers really just don’t know what to do with some of these feeds the way they’re generated.

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I’m spending some time this morning unliking/unfollowing corporate accounts in Facebook in lieu of following their websites via RSS. Since Facebook’s algorithmic feed isn’t really helping them, prioritizing them, or presenting them to me the way I like (without inordinate work) it just feels so useless. For the most part I’m reading most of them elsewhere anyway.

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👓 New World NetNewsWire | inessential

Read New World NetNewsWire (inessential.com)
So much has changed since I last worked on NetNewsWire, and my thinking about it has changed too. The big things remain the same — NetNewsWire is at the intersection of my passions: reading and writing, the open web, and Mac apps. I want to make NetNewsWire a great app with lots of users. No change there. But so much else has changed. In 2002, when I started NetNewsWire, there was no Facebook and no Twitter, no iPhones, and most people hadn’t heard of RSS. People got their news by visiting a few sites a few times a day. People subscribed to email newsletters. That was about it.
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👓 My Feedly wishlist | Paul Jacobson

Replied to My Feedly wishlist by Paul Jacobson (Paul Jacobson)
Richard MacManus wrote about the state of feed readers as he saw it in his AltPlatform.org post titled “The state of feed readers”. He mentioned a couple things in his Feedly wishlist that prompted me to think more about what I’d like to see added to Feedly.

Feedly and custom sharing

Apparently there were a bunch of us thinking and writing about feed readers and the open web a year ago last June. Several week’s prior to Richard’s article, I’d written a piece for Richard’s now defunct AltPlatform entitled Feed reader revolution (now archived on my site), which laid out some pieces similar to Paul’s take here, though it tied in some more of what was then the state of the art in IndieWeb tech.

Around that time I began tinkering with other feed readers including Inoreader, which I’ve been using for it’s ability to auto-update my RSS feeds using OPML subscriptions from the OPML files I maintain on my own website. Currently I’m more interested in what the Microsub specification is starting to surface in the feed reader space.

I’m not sure if he’s played around with it since, but, like Paul, I was using some of the Press This bookmarklet functionality in conjunction with David Shanske’s Post Kinds plugin for WordPress to make posting snippets of things to my website easier.

Feedly has a Pro (aka paid) functionality to allow one to share content using custom URLs.

Screenshot of the custom share functionality set up from within Feedly.com.

While one can use the Share to WordPress URL functionality, I’d recommend the Custom Sharing feature.  Using the Post Kinds plugin, one can use the following example URL to quickly share things from their Feedly account to their personal website:

https://example.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?kindurl=URL&kind=bookmark

One should change the URL to reflect their own site, and one can also change the word “bookmark” to the appropriate desired kind including “like”, “favorite”, “read”, or any of the others they may have enabled within the Post Kinds plugin.

I personally don’t use this method as it only allows one custom sharing URL (and thus allows only one post kind), and instead (again) prefer Inoreader which allows one to configure custom sharing similarly to Feedly, but doesn’t limit the number of kinds and the feature is available in their free tier as well.

In addition to some of what I’ve written about the Post Kinds plugin before, I’ve also detailed how to dovetail it with sharing from my Android phone quickly in the past.

Highlights and Annotations

Also like Paul, I was greatly interested in quickly creating highlights and annotations on web content and posting them to my own website. Here I’m using a modified version of the Post Kinds plugin to accomplish this having created highlight posts and annotation posts for my site. Next I’m utilizing the ability to prepend http://via.hypothes.is to URLs on my mobile phone to call up the ability to use my Hypothesis account to easily and quickly create highlights and annotations. I then use some details from the outline linked below to capture that data via RSS using IFTTT.com.

Naturally, the process could be streamlined a lot from a UI perspective, but I think it provides some fairly nice results without a huge amount of work.

An Outline for Using Hypothesis for Owning your Annotations and Highlights

I will mention that I’ve seen bugs in trying to annotate easily on Chrome’s mobile application, but haven’t had any issues in using Firefox’s mobile browser.

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Reply to Stephen Downes on microsub readers

Replied to a post by Stephen DownesStephen Downes (downes.ca)
Building an IndieWeb Reader by Aaron Parecki
There's a lot to like in this description (I haven't tried out the actual product) of a reader that in many ways resembles what I'm trying to do with gRSShopper. This is a hard project: "there are a whole bunch of different parts to building a reader, many of which have no overlap in skillset: managing the subscription list, polling and fetching feeds, parsing feeds, data storage, rendering posts in a UI, providing inline action buttons to be able to reply and favorite posts, etc." There are some nice bits, especially the interoperability with Twitter and Github.
Also on Twitter

A WordPress plugin to help facilitate setting up these types of feed readers using Microsub was released yesterday: https://wordpress.org/plugins/aperture/

It’s obviously much more powerful if you’ve got Webmention and Micropub functionality set up too.

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🔖 Feed43 : Convert web pages into professionally looking RSS feeds

Bookmarked Feed43: Convert web pages into professionally looking RSS feeds. (feed43.com)
Offer your customers a convenient way to follow your news. Use Feed43 as a powerful information aggregation platform for your business. Or use Feed43 to streamline the way you read the news from websites you care about.
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Reply to Mariko Kosaka on RSS, blogging, and linkbacks

Replied to a tweet by Mariko KosakaMariko Kosaka (Twitter)

Webmention is the more modern specification now as some have mentioned. I wrote a piece on it in @alistapart recently which includes some background, UI examples, and links to more technical resources:
https://alistapart.com/article/webmentions-enabling-better-communication-on-the-internet

It is a small part of an #IndieWeb suite of open protocols including Micropub, WebSub, and Microsub for allowing site to site communication and interaction which goes to the broader scope of your question about RSS feeds and blogs. See also: Lost Infrastructure

I keep meaning to provide a better overview of it all, but this recent pencast overview captures a chunk of it. Aaron Parecki’s article Building an IndieWeb Reader captures some of the rest of the microsub/reader portion.

 

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📺 RSS in Plain English | YouTube

Watched RSS in Plain English by Common Craft from YouTube

A short explanation of RSS and how it helps you save time reading the web.

This video introduces RSS as a way to subscribe to websites and save time on the Web. An "old vs. new" theme illustrates how RSS differs from visiting web sites independently, including:
• The new and old ways of reading news on the web
• An introduction to RSS Readers
• How to identify and subscribe to an RSS feed
• What to expect when using an RSS reader

A nice (visual) overview of RSS from a technical perspective but small parts of it are dated including some of the currently available feed readers. I might recommend Inoreader and Feedly now instead.

👓 RSS is undead | TechCrunch

Read RSS is undead (TechCrunch)
RSS died. Whether you blame Feedburner, or Google Reader, or Digg Reader last month, or any number of other product failures over the years, the humble protocol has managed to keep on trudging along despite all evidence that it is dead, dead, dead. Now, with Facebook’s scandal over Cambridge Analyt…
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👓 Easy Custom Feeds in WordPress | Digging Into WordPress

Read Easy Custom Feeds in WordPress | Digging Into WordPress by Jeff Star (digwp.com)
Now that we have seen how to setup Tumblr-style posts, it would be nice to be able to segregate the Tumblr-posts category from the main feed into its own, separate feed. This would enable readers to subscribe exclusively to the Tumblr-posts feed and maybe display it in their sidebar or something.

While we’re at it, it would also be cool to be able to provide readers with a full menu of feed choices:
Everything feed: includes both the main posts and the Tumblr posts
Articles-only feed: includes only the main articles and no Tumblr stuff
Tumblr-only feed: includes only the Tumblr-style posts

Let's look at an overview of the process..
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👓 Farewell Social Media | James Shelley

Read Farewell Social Media by James ShelleyJames Shelley (jamesshelley.com)
I recently purged the data from my Facebook account. This effort was shockingly labour intensive: it took a browser script all weekend to crunch, and still many aspects of the process required manual execution. Torching years and years of old Facebook activity felt so liberating that I found another...

A short, but solid piece on why James has left social media and consciously moved to his own blog and feed reader. I’m curious what his thoughts are a bit on into his experience. He’s definitely worth a follow.

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👓 Feeds and Gardens | Kathleen Fitzpatrick

Read Feeds and Gardens by Kathleen FitzpatrickKathleen Fitzpatrick (Kathleen Fitzpatrick)
My last post, Connections, gathered a fair bit of response — enough that you can see a good example of Webmentions in action below it. There’s a little back-and-forth discussion there that mostly took place on Twitter, as well as a lot of likes and mentions that came from there as well.
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An Indieweb Podcast: Episode 8 Interflux

Episode 8: Interflux


Running time: 1h 23m 35s | Download (26.2 MB) | Subscribe by RSS

Summary: David Shanske and I recap the recent IndieWeb Summit 2018 in Portland Oregon including recent developments like microsub, readers, Vouch, and even the comeback of webrings!

Huffduff this Episode

Shownotes

Recap of IndieWeb Summit 2018

Vouch(🎧 00:7:13)

The Year of the Reader (🎧 00:38:32)

Webrings (🎧 00:59:03)

Aaron Parecki posts (🎧 1:12:10)

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