Today, we’re introducing new ways to discover writers on our homepage, as well as the beta version of Substack Reader, a new way to keep up with your newsletters.
I’m hoping it might add JSON feed and h-feed support as well, but it’ll need a lot of work to displace feed readers like Monocle, Together, or Indigenous as my daily drivers.
These two quotes provide an interesting framing for comparing and contrasting the UI and functionality for the way that feed readers, email, and blogging (or more broadly networked thinking and communication) work.
Modern social readers provide a reply button and functionality along with the broadcast capabilities. Throw in the idea of person-tagging, and one has the ability to generally broadcast a message to anyone who cares to read (either by search or subscription), as well as to send notifications to specific people (or perhaps groups) that might be interested in the specific message.
Keep your WordPress blogroll in sync with your feed reader.
An IndieWeb capable feed reader and read-it-later service.
Me during the day: why am I always so tired?
Me at 3 AM: I must design the database schema and update algorithm for my new RSS reader
This year IndieWeb Summit was canceled, and some pretty good conversations took place. As usual my biggest interest was in doing authenticated, secure sharing of private posts, which has been a huge focus in how I’ve been building Publ.
What if "feed" is a really terrible product design for news?— Aram Zucker-Scharff (@Chronotope) June 8, 2020
Sadly the general concept presented here, while it sounds potentially useful, is far too little and misdirected. Hopefully better potential solutions are still not too late.
First, let’s step back a moment. The bigger problem with feeds was that website designers and developers spent far too long in the format wars between RSS and Atom while the social media giants focused on cleaner and easier UI. This allowed the social silos to dramatically close the gap in functionality and usability. While website owners were spending time on formats and writing long articles about what RSS was, how it worked, and how to use it, the public lost interest. We need something really dramatic to regain this ground and
/feeds just is not going to cut it.
The first problem I see with this is that on it’s face
/feeds both looks and sounds like code. No user really wants to interact with code if they don’t have to. Why not simply have a page or button called something much more user friendly like “subscribe” or “follow”? Almost every major social silo has a common pattern like this and has a simple “follow” button on every user’s page. A quick click and one is done with the transaction!
Instead the solution offered here is to have not only yet-another-page but one that needs to be maintained. (As good as the /now idea may seem, the fact that it needs to be regularly and manually updated makes it a failure out of the gate. I’ll bet that less than half the /now pages out there have been updated in the last 6 months. I know mine hasn’t.) Worse, suppose I click over to a
/feeds page, as an average person I’m still stuck with the additional burden of knowing or learning about what a feed reader is, why I’d need or want one, and then knowing what RSS is and how I might use that. I might see a one click option for Twitter or Mastodon, but then I’m a mile away from your website and unlikely to see you again in the noise of my Twitter feed which has many other lurking problems.
One of the best solutions I’ve seen in the past few years is that posited by SubToMe.com which provides a single, customizable, and universal follow button. One click and it automatically finds the feeds hidden in the page’s code and presents me with one or more options for following it in a feed reader. Once I’ve chosen a reader, it remembers my choice and makes the following pattern easier in future transactions. This is a far superior option over
/feeds because it takes away a huge amount of cognitive burden for the user. As a developer, I’ve got a browser bookmarklet that provides this functionality for sites that don’t provide it for me. How nice would it be if browsers went back and offered such a one button collection mechanism?
Want to give this a try? I’ve got a “Follow Me” button in the side bar of my website. And if that doesn’t float your boat, I’ve tinkered with other methods of subscribing to my content that you can find at my subscribe page. Some developers might not be too scared of what’s on my subscribe page (a
/feed page by a slightly friendlier name), but less technically minded people are sure to have a dramatically different perspective.
The other piece here that I might take umbrage with is the offering to provide feeds to subscriptions to alternate services like Twitter and Mastodon. (This doesn’t take into any account that RSS feeds of social services are positively atrocious, not to mention that attempting to access Marcus’ Twitter feed in RSS Box returns the interminable error message: “There was a problem talking to Twitter. Please try again in a moment.”)
Ideally I see a future in which every person has the ability to own both their own domain name and their content in a simple manner. If this happens and it’s easier to subscribe to the sites of my friends, then I don’t need corporate social media to intermediate the transactions on my behalf. I also don’t need them to intermediate what I’m actually seeing with their blackbox algorithmic feeds either. Friends, family, and colleagues could simply come to my website and subscribe to all or portions of my content in which they’re interested. While I still presently syndicate some of my content to silos like Twitter and Mastodon for the ease of friends or family who don’t know about the technical side of potential solutions, I post everything on my website first where one can subscribe in a feed reader or by email. Subscriptions in Twitter or Mastodon, while nice to have, are just a poor simulacrum of the real things being served by my site in better ways with more context and a design that better reflects what I’d like to portray online. A
/feed page is going to be a failure from the start if you’re going to cede all the subsequent power directly to Twitter, Mastodon, and others anyway.
While I like the volume of the reactions to the post (indicating that there’s not only a readership, but a desire for this sort of functionality), I’m disheartened that so many designers and developers think that the idea of
/feeds is “enough” to stem the tide.
For those who might be truly interested in designing our way out of this problem, I’d recommend looking at some of the design and development work of the IndieWeb community which is trying (slowly, but surely) to improve these sorts of technical hurdles. Their wiki has large number of examples of things that do and don’t work, discussion of where problems lie, and a community conversing about how to potentially make them better through actual examples of things that are currently working on peoples’ websites.
A good example of this is the increasing improvement of social readers that allow one to subscribe to a variety of sources in a reader which also allows one to respond to posts in-line and then own that content on one’s website. If I can subscribe to almost anything out there in one interface and sort and filter it in any way I’d like, that’s far better than having twenty different feed readers named Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Soundcloud, etc. which I have to separately and independent manage and check. Now I’ve yet to see an IndieWeb reader with a one click SubToMe-type of solution for adding feeds to it, but I don’t think it will be very long before that’s a reality. The slowly improving Microsub spec that splits some of the heavy lifting needed to build and design a stand alone feed reader is certainly helping to make some massive headway on these issues.
Maybe we’ll soon have an easy way for people to post who they’re following on their own websites, and their readers will be able to read or parse those pages and aggregate those followed posts directly into a nice reading interface? Maybe someone will figure out a way to redesign or re-imagine the old blogroll? Maybe we’ll leverage the idea of OPML subscriptions so that a personal blogroll (maybe we rename this something friendlier like a following page or personal recommendations, subscriptions, etc.) can feed a person’s subscriptions into their social reader? There are certainly a lot of solid ideas being experimented on and in actual use out there.
We obviously still have a long way to go to make things better and more usable, not only for ourselves as designers and developers, but for the coding averse. I feel like there’s already a flourishing space out there doing this that’s miles ahead of solutions like
/feeds. Why don’t we start at that point and then move forward?
Ton made a post recently about federated bookshelves, sparked by a post from Tom. It’s an idea that Gregor has done a good bit of thinking about from an IndieWeb perspective. Book recommendations is something I’m always interested in. At base, all it needs is a feed you can follow just of what p...
So I built this - and its initial purpose was just to help me keep up on public TiddlyWikis (like philosopher.life) that I had discovered. But I couldn't get myself to rip off other news readers - I've not been satisfied with RSS and I disliked Google Reader. I didn't like that it basically created a second read-only email inbox - where I'm supposed to look through every message. And I didn't like that I lost the formatting and styling of the original hypertext. I much preferred just surfing my favorite sites periodically. As I began to add blogs, Twitter, YouTube support - it felt like I was connecting the whole Web, as if it was all one network, almost as if I viewed it like the government does. (Equipped with my own personal XKeyscore Lite.) I had felt isolated before - unable to see past whatever was being recommended to me on Twitter - but now I had a tool that forced me to rouse my dormant research skills. The task of reading, writing, publishing and hunting on the Web is a formidable one - and we're far from mastering it. It's no wonder that we abdicated to social networks that attempt to do it all for us. So yeah - Fraidycat is a very small attempt to move toward tools that give us some power. It really only adds the ability to assign "importance" to someone you are following - allowing you to track them without needing to be aware of them every second. But hey - it's four months old - I think it's a good start and hopefully others here can be encouraged by it to work on tools for the World-Wide Web again.
Quite a while I wrote about building a social reader[^ Then called IndieWeb reader, but social reader is the better term.], but these days I have to admit it went nowhere. The biggest problem with it being that I myself don’t really use any reader to consume stuff: I was not used to keeping up wit...
A lot of the changes seem to be related to people who are shifting from one shiny toy or project to another. They all seem to say something like:
Hey Mom! Look at my fancy new static site that builds in 0.001 seconds!
Can you believe what Drupal supports in the IndieWeb now? See ya!
I’ve moved back to good ol’ WordPress. Ahhh…
Micro.blog is awesome and requires such little maintenance. I migrated… while on vacation… in the wilderness… from my cell phone!!!
They’re often redirecting all their old URLs to the new site, but the one URL they commonly neglect is to create a redirect for their primary RSS, Atom, JSON or other feeds to their new feed structure. This means that the feed goes dead, and I (and others) have to notice it, then revive it. For some who simply have
h-feed structures on their home page things may continue apace, particularly for the Microsub readers out there, though I haven’t been using those for as long to see as many issues.
Why are you doing all that work and making your followers do the extra manual work to go back and resubscribe?! Over the past four or five years there have been fifty or more people I’ve seen do this dance (some multiple times and even a few every 4 months or so). I totally get why they do it (because why not?!) But there should be a better way of keeping track of our major URLs and redirecting them properly.
From a continuity or even business perspective, this could be an even bigger thing as sites will likely spend a lot of time building an audience and could potentially throw it all away with the flip of a switch. I’ll be the first to admit that most of these people may not have a lot of people following them via RSS or similar means, but still?! It seems like at least once a week there’s some big newspaper, magazine, or corporate site I want to follow and I have to complain about finding their feeds. Why would you want to start all over again?
If a social media framing is easier for some, it’s the equivalent of changing your Twitter handle for your account with a hundred thousand followers to something new with no followers instead of creating a dummy account and swapping the usernames so you can have the new name, but keep all your followers.
There are also a few serial bloggers/writers who will start up a project for 3-6 months and build a following only to shut things down though they’ll keep the domain name. Why not redirect that primary domain to one of their other or newer projects and redirect those feeds as well? You’ve spent the time building an audience, why wouldn’t you want to keep it? Am I missing something fundamental here?
We often say, own your online identity, own your domain, and own your data. Perhaps we need to remember to also “own” our friends, family, followers, our community, or more broadly our audience?
Until then, I’m still flailing away out here. Manually changing your feeds in my reader…
Goodbye Information Overload
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This is kind of cool, but I think I’d want more manual control over what I’m reading and seeing and perhaps a separate discovery mode to do this sort of functionality at times.
I’m enamored of Aaron Parecki‘s Monocle reader. I can subscribe to almost anything I want, read it without interfering algorithms, and reply to posts directly in the reader, which uses Micropub to post those directly on my site, which has Webmentions to send notifications to those sites in turn.
I’m similarly in love with an app version called Indigenous for Android.
But really, who can have just one favorite?!? I also love:
They’ve not only got interesting sites, but they’re always doing cool things that are worth following.
And if you want some other interesting ones to take a peek at, I have longer list (with RSS/OPML) at https://boffosocko.com/about/following/