Reply to Damian Yerrick about leaving Tumblr and recommendation engines

Replied to a tweet by Damian YerrickDamian Yerrick (Twitter)

Because of the decentralized nature of the IndieWeb, it’s most likely that more centralized services in the vein of Indie Map or perhaps a Microsub client might build in this sort of recommendation engine functionality. But this doesn’t mean that all is lost! Until more sophisticated tools exist, bootstrapping on smaller individually published sorts of recommendations like follow posts or things like my Following Page (fka blogroll) with OPML support are more likely to be of interest and immediately fill the gap. Several feed readers like Feedly and Inoreader also have recommendation engines built in as well.

Of course going the direction of old school blogs and following those who comment on your own site has historically been a quick way to build a network. I’m also reminded of Colin Walker’s directory which creates a blogroll of sorts by making a list of websites that have webmentioned his own. Webrings are also an interesting possibility for topic-related community building.

Since Tumblr is unlikely to shut down immediately, those effected could easily add their personal websites to their bios to help transition their followerships to feed readers or other methods for following and reading.

Of course the important thing in the near term is to spend a moment downloading and backing up one’s content just in case.

 

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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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👓 This Indispensable Digital Research Tool, We can Say, Without Lying, Saves Time | Extend Activity Bank

Read This Indispensable Digital Research Tool, We can Say, Without Lying, Saves Time by Alan Levine (Extend Activity Bank)
I sometimes tell people that when technology evangelists espouse that their tool saves you time, that it’s a red flag warning / code talk for “I am lying”. These days many people rely on social media and their own professional learning networks to provide them information of interest. And these do work well to some degree... <a href="https://extend-bank.ecampusontario.ca/assignments/indispensable-tool/" class="more-link" title="Read This Indispensable Digital Research Tool, We can Say, Without Lying, Saves Time">Read more »</a>
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Reply toMeredith Fierro on Setting up a Feed with Feedly

Replied to Setting up a Feed with Feedly by Meredith Fierro (Meredith Fierro)
Working at Reclaim means I get to interact with people who do incredible work within the Ed Tech community. I was first exposed to this at #domains17 and I remember thinking that I wanted to keep up with all of these wonderful folks and the work their doing. At first, I had no idea how I could keep up with all the blog posts except through twitter. I didn’t really like that idea though because I could lose tweets within my feed. I wanted a place where I could keep them all together. I don’t know too much about RSS feeds but I knew that’s where I needed to start. I a little bit of experience using FeedWordPress to syndicate blog posts to the main class hub but I knew that would chew right through my storage limit.

If you want to take it a step further, you could consider making an open OPML file of the people you’re following from a conference like Domains ’17. Much like Twitter lists, these are sharable (so others don’t need to build them by hand), or more importantly for Feedly importable! Some RSS readers will also allow dynamic updating of these OPML lists so if someone is subscribed to your list and you add a new source, everyone following the list gets the change. I’ve written some thoughts relating to this with respect to the old school blogrolls and included an example here: http://boffosocko.com/2017/06/26/indieweb-blogroll/

If you do set up an OPML file for your Domains ’17, let me know. I’d love to subscribe to it!

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Feed reader revolution

It's time to embrace open & disrupt social media

The state-of-the-art in feed readers was frozen in place sometime around 2010, if not before. By that time most of the format wars between RSS and Atom had long since died down and were all generally supported. The only new features to be added were simple functionalities like sharing out links from readers to social services like Facebook and Twitter. For fancier readers they also added the ability to share out to services like Evernote, OneNote, Pocket, Instapaper and other social silos or silo related services.

So the real question facing companies with stand alone traditional feed reader products–like Feedly, Digg Reader, The Old Reader, Inoreader, Reeder, NewsBlur, Netvibes, Tiny Tiny RSS, WordPress reader–and the cadre of others is:

  • What features could/should we add?
  • How can we improve?
  • How can we gain new users?
  • How can we increase our market share?

In short the primary question is:

What should a modern RSS feed reader be capable of doing?

Continue reading “Feed reader revolution”

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Pulling the plug on @tumblr, and why is @feedly so hard to use?

Read Pulling the plug on @tumblr, and why is @feedly so hard to use? by David Mead (davidjohnmead.com)
I’ve now unfollowed everyone on Tumblr. It’s been turning into a dust bowl for me, people I followed haven’t been posting in years. Since the ads made the app annoying for me to u…
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PressForward as an IndieWeb WordPress-based RSS Feed Reader & Pocket/Instapaper Replacement

As many know, for the past 6 months or so, I’ve been slowly improving some of the IndieWeb tools and workflow I use to own what I’m reading both online and in physical print as well as status updates indicating those things. [1][2][3]

Since just before IndieWebCamp LA, I’ve been working on better ways to own the articles I’ve been reading and syndicate/share them out to other social platforms. The concept initially started out as a simple linkblog idea and has continually been growing, particularly with influence from my attendance of the Dodging the Memory Hole 2016: Saving Online News conference at UCLA in October. Around that same time, it was announced that Pinterest was purchasing Instapaper and they were shutting down some of Instapaper’s development and functionality. I’ve been primarily using Pocket for several years now and have desperately wanted to bring that functionality into my own site. I had also been looking at the self-hostable Wallabag alternative which is under heavy active development, but since most of my site is built on WordPress, I really preferred having a solution that integrated better into that as a workflow.

Enter PressForward

I’ve been looking closely at PressForward for the past week and change as a self-contained replacement for third party services like Pocket and Instapaper. I’ve been looking around for this type of self-hosted functionality for a while.

PressForward was originally intended for journalists and news organizations to aggregate new content, add it to their newsroom workflow, and then use it to publish new content. From what I can see it’s also got a nice following in academia as a tool for aggregating content for researchers focused on a particular area.

It only took a minute or two of looking at PressForward to realize that it had another off-label use case: as a spectacular replacement for read-later type apps!

In an IndieWeb fashion, this fantastic WordPress plugin allows me to easily own private bookmarks of things I’d like to read (PressForward calles these “Nominations” in keeping with its original use case). I can then later read them on my own website (with Mercury f.k.a Readability functionality built in), add commentary, and publish them as a read post. [Note: To my knowledge the creators of PressForward are unaware of the IndieWeb concept or philosophies.]

After some playing around for a bit and contemplating several variations, configurations, and options, I thought I’d share some thoughts about it for others considering using it in such an off-label manner. Hopefully these may also spur the developers to open up their initial concept to a broader audience as it seems very well designed and logically laid out.

Examples

The developers obviously know the value of dogfooding as at least two of them are using it in a Pocket-like fashion (as they many not have other direct use-cases).

Pros

PressForward includes a beautiful, full built-in RSS Feed Reader!

This feature alone is enough to recommend using it even without any other feature. I’ve tried Orbit Reader and WhisperFollow (among others) which are both interesting in their own rights but are somewhat limited and have relatively clunky interfaces. The best part of WhisperFollow’s premise is that it has webactions built in, but I suspect these could easily be added onto PressForward.

In fact, not just hours before I’d discovered PressFoward, I’d made this comment on the WordPress Reader Refresh post announcing the refresh of WordPress.com’s own (separate) reader:

Some nice visual changes in this iteration. Makes it one of the most visually pretty feed readers out there now while still maintaining a relatively light weight.

I still wish there were more functionality pieces built into it like the indie-reader Woodwind.xyz or even Feedly. While WordPress in some sense is more creator oriented than consumption oriented, I still think that not having a more closely integrated reader built into it is still a drawback to the overall WordPress platform.

Additionally,

  • It’s IndieWeb and POSSE friendly
  • It does automatic link forwarding in a flexible/responsible manner with canonical URLs
  • Allows for proper attributions for the original author and content source/news outlet
  • Keeps lots of metadata for analyzing reading behavior
  • Taggable and categorizable
  • Allows for comments/commenting
  • Could be used for creating a linkblog on steroids
  • Archives the original article on the day it was read.
  • Is searchable
  • Could be used for collaboration and curation
  • Has Mercury (formerly known as Readability) integrated for a cleaner reading interface
  • Has a pre-configured browser bookmarklet
  • Is open source and incredibly well documented
  • One can count clicks to ones’ own site as the referer while still pushing the reader to the original
  • Along with other plugins like JetPack’s Publicize or Social Networks Auto-Poster, one can automatically share their reads to Twitter, Facebook, or other social media silos. In this case, you own the link, but the original publisher also gets the traffic.

Cons

No clear path for nominating articles on mobile.

This can be a dealbreaker for some, so I’ve outlined a pretty quick and simple solution below.

No direct statistics

Statistics for gauging ones’ reading aren’t built in directly (yet?), but some scripts are available. [4][5][6]

No larger data aggregation

Services like Pocket are able to aggregate the data of thousands of users to recommend and reveal articles I might also like. Sadly this self-hosted concept makes it difficult (or impossible) do have this type of functionality. However, I usually have far too much good stuff to read anyway, so maybe this isn’t such a loss.

Suggested Improvements

Adding the ability to do webactions directly from the “Nominated” screen would be fantastic, particularly for the RSS reader portion.

Default to an unread view of the current “All Content” page. I find that I have to filter the view every time I visit the page to make it usable. I suspect this would be a better default for most newsrooms too.

It would be nice to have a pre-configured archive template page in a simple linkblog format that filters posts that were nominated/drafted/published via the Plugin. This will prevent users from needing to create one that’s compatible with their current theme. Something with a date read, Title linked to the original, Author, and Source attribution could be useful for many users.

A PressForward Nomination “Bookmarklet” for Mobile

One of the big issues I came up against immediately with PressForward is ease of use on mobile. A lot of the content I read is on mobile, so being able to bookmark (nominate) articles via mobile or apps like Nuzzel or Twitter is very important. I suspect this may also be the case for many of their current user base.

Earlier this year I came across a great little Android mobile app called URL Forwarder which can be used to share things with the ubiquitous mobile sharing icons. Essentially one can use it to share the URL of the mobile page one is on to a mobile Nomination form within PressForward.

I’d suspect that there’s also a similar app for iOS, but I haven’t checked. If not available, URL Forwarder is open source on Github and could potentially be ported. There’s also a similar Android app called Bookmarklet Free which could be used instead of URL Forwarder.

PressForward’s built in bookmarklet kindly has a pre-configured URL for creating nominations, so it’s a simple case of configuring it. These details follow below for those interested.

Configuring URL Forwarder for PressForward

  1. Open URL Forwarder
  2. Click the “+” icon to create a filter.
  3. Give the filter a name, “Nominate This” is a reasonable suggestion. (See photo below.)
  4. Use the following entry for the “Filter URL” replacing example.com with your site’s domain name: http://example.com/wp-content/plugins/pressforward/includes/nomthis/nominate-this.php?u=@url
  5. Leave the “Replaceable text” as “@url”
  6. Finish by clicking on the checkmark in the top right corner.

Simple right?

Nominating a post via mobile

With the configuration above set up, do the following:

  1. On the mobile page one wants to nominate, click the ubiquitous “share this” mobile icon (or share via a pull down menu, depending on your mobile browser or other app.)
  2. Choose to share through URL Forwarder
  3. Click on the “Nominate” option just created above.
  4. Change/modify any data within your website administrative interface and either nominate or post as a draft. (This part is the same as one would experience using the desktop bookmarklet.)

What’s next?

Given the data intensity of both the feed reader and what portends to be years of article data, I’m left with the question of hosting it within my primary site or putting it on a subdomain?

I desperately want to keep it on the main site, but perhaps hosting it on a subdomain, similar to how both Aram Zucker-Scharff and James Digioia do it may be better advised?

I’ve also run across an issue with the automatic redirect which needs some troubleshooting as well. Hopefully this will be cleared up quickly and we’ll be off to the races.

References

[1]
C. Aldrich, “A New Reading Post-type for Bookmarking and Reading Workflow,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 22-Aug-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/08/22/a-new-reading-post-type-for-bookmarking-and-reading-workflow/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[2]
C. Aldrich, “Owning my Online Reading Status Updates,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 20-Nov-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/11/20/owning-my-online-reading-status-updates/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[3]
C. Aldrich, “Notes, Highlights, and Marginalia from E-books to Online,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 24-Oct-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/10/24/notes-highlights-and-marginalia/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[4]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “Personal Statistics from 3 Months of Internet Reading,” Medium, 05-Sep-2015. [Online]. Available: https://medium.com/@aramzs/3-month-internet-reading-stats-f41fa15d63f0#.dez80up7y. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[5]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “Test functions based on PF stats for collecting data,” Gist. [Online]. Available: https://gist.github.com/AramZS/d10fe64dc33fc9ffc2d8. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[6]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “PressForward/pf_stats,” GitHub. [Online]. Available: https://github.com/PressForward/pf_stats. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
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RSS Feeds on BoffoSocko.com

A Follow up on My IndieWeb Commitment 2017

Over the past two years I’ve been owning more and more of the data that I used to sharecrop into various social media silos. Instead of posting it to those sites which I don’t own, don’t control, and can’t rely on them staying up forever, I’m posting on my own site first and when it seems worthwhile, I’m syndicating my content back out to them to take advantage of their network effects.

A Crowded Stream

As a result of owning all this data, my blog/site has become MUCH more active than it had been before. (It’s also been interesting to see just how much data I’d been giving to social media sites.) This extra activity has caused a few to tip me off that they’re seeing a lot of email notifications and additional material in their RSS feeds that they’re not used to seeing (and may not necessarily care about). So rather than risk them unsubscribing from everything and allow them to receive what they’re used to seeing, I’ve spent some time in the last couple of days to work on my IndieWeb Commitment 2017 which was to:

Fix my site’s subscription/mail functionality so that I can better control what current subscribers get and allow for more options for future subscribers.

Because a lot of the recent additions to my site have been things like owning all my Instagram posts, my bookmarks, what I’m watching, updates about books I’m reading, and links to everything I’ve been reading online, I’ve been using a category on the site called “Social Stream” with each of these posts as sub-categories. In most cases, social stream could be synonymous with microblog to some extent though it covers a broader range of content than just simply Twitter-like status updates.

Filtering Social Stream Posts out of My Email Subscriptions

I added a filter in my functions.php file for the JetPack-based plugin that prevents my site from emailing those who have used the JetPack subscription service from receiving emails for each and every post in those categories.

I had previously been preventing some of these emails from firing on a manual basis, but with their increased frequency, it was becoming unsustainable.

For those interested, the code and some useful tips can be found at the JetPack site. A copy of the specific code I’m currently using in my functions.php file appears below:

add_filter( 'jetpack_subscriptions_exclude_these_categories', 'exclude_these' );
function exclude_these( $categories ) {
$categories = array( 'social-stream');
return $categories;
}

More Flexible RSS Feeds and Discovery

For future subscribers, I wanted to allow some easier subscription options, particularly when it comes to RSS. Fortunately WordPress does a pretty good job of not only providing RSS feeds but makes them relatively configurable and customizeable with good documentation. [1] [2]

Custom URLs for RSS Syndication and .htcacess Modifications

I wanted to create a few human-readable RSS feed names and feeds including:

With somewhat canonical feed URLs, I can always change where they point to in the future. To do this and have them map over into the actual feeds for these things, I did a bit of remapping in my .htaccess file based on some thoughts I’d run across recently.  The code I used appears below:

# BEGIN rss
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^rss\.xml$ "/feed?cat=-484"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^microblog\.xml$ "/feed?cat=484"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^articles\.xml$ "/feed?kind=article"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^instagram\.xml$ "/feed?cat=936"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^linkblog\.xml$ "/feed?cat=964,945"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^read\.xml$ "/feed?cat=945"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^math\.xml$ "/feed?cat=10"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^informationtheory\.xml$ "/feed?cat=687"[L,R]
RewriteCond %{Query_STRING} ^$
RewriteRule ^feed$ "/rss.xml" [L,R]
</IfModule>
# END rss

Each of the cat=### are the numbers for the particular category numbers I’m mapping within WordPress for the associated category names.

RSS Feed Pattern for IndieWeb Post Kinds Plugin

I also spent a few minutes to figure out the RSS feed patterns to allow for the additional feeds provided by the Post Kinds plugin to work. While Post Kinds is similar to the native WordPress post formats, it’s designed particularly with IndieWeb posts in mind and uses a custom taxonomy which also wraps particular post kinds in the appropriate microformats automatically. The general form for these RSS feeds would be:

Other feeds could be constructed similarly by replacing “article” with the other kinds including:  bookmark, favorite, jam, like, listen, note, photo, read, recipe, reply, repost, watch, and wish. I suspect that most will only want the articles while those who are really interested in the others can either “build” them themselves for subscribing, or given the sporadic nature of some, they would more likely be interested in the “social stream” feed noted above.

Discoverability

Finally there’s the most important question of what feed readers like Feedly or Woodwind can actually discover when someone searches for an RSS feed on my domain. It’s one thing to have customized feeds, but if feed readers can’t easily find them, the subscriber is never likely to see them or know they exist to want to consume them. Most advanced feed readers will parse the headers of my site for discover-able feeds and present them to the user for possible subscription.

Out of the box WordPress provides two RSS feeds as standard: one for posts (essentially everything) and one for comments.  I added several additional ones (like those mentioned above), which I thought might be most requested/useful, into my page header to provide a slightly broader range of subscription options. I even included a few feeds for alternate sites I run, like my WithKnown-based site. I suppose if I wanted I could advertise feeds for my favorite sites anywhere.

To add these additional feeds, I added several additional lines into my page header similar to the following example which makes my posts categorized or tagged as mathematics discoverable:

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="Chris Aldrich » Mathematics Feed" href="http://boffosocko.com/math.xml" />

Wrap up

Hopefully with these few simple changes, those who wish to subscribe to my blog by email won’t be inundated with a lot of the social details. Those who want all or even smaller portions of my feed can consume them more easily, and there’s a way to be able to consume almost anything you’d like by category, tag, or post format/post kind.

Now on to my stretch goal:

Finish my monthly email newsletter

Comments/Questions?

Is there a particular type of content I’m creating here that you’d like to subscribe to? Let me know in the comments below if there’s a feed of a post format/kind, category, or tag you’d like to have that isn’t mentioned above.

References

[1]
“WordPress Feeds « WordPress Codex,” WordPress.org. [Online]. Available: https://codex.wordpress.org/WordPress_Feeds. [Accessed: 18-Dec-2016]
[2]
“Customizing Feeds « WordPress Codex,” WordPress.org. [Online]. Available: https://codex.wordpress.org/Customizing_Feeds. [Accessed: 18-Dec-2016]
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