Replied to a thread by pkamb and Kicks Condor (Hacker News)

pkamb :

> I use it to follow people
This is something I have a real need for. Specifically, podcast hosts. I want to follow certain hosts and listen to every random show they're on.
Some hosts do keep lists of their appearances across many shows: http://hypercritical.co/about/appearances/
But that forces me to manually find the episodes and add each one to my podcast app.
I want something that aggregates appearances into a cross-podcast RSS feed that I can subscribe to in my app. Automatically subscribe to every one of their appearances.

Kicks Condor:

This is a brilliant concept. Hosts could keep a feed of their appearances, but it would be interesting for someone to make a site that tracked this sort of thing (using user-submitted links I suppose).
https://huffduffer.com/ is another good discovery/bookmarking tool for podcasts. It has RSS feeds for everything on the site including custom searches that could potentially pick up your favorite contributors. The bookmarking functionality also makes it easy for you to quickly add things you find to one or more followable feeds for the one-off guest appearances you may hear about.
Bookmarked Follow As Intended (follow-as-intended.glitch.me)
Follow people the way that they'd want you to.
Jacky has built a cool little tool here. It looks like it’s keyed off of rel=”me”, so the word “intended” is carrying some extra weight. I have rel-mes on my site, but I’d prefer people followed my site directly and not my social silos.
Replied to About this site by Dan MackinlayDan Mackinlay (danmackinlay.name)
Many ideas about how this site is used and presented are cribbed from the notebooks of Cosma Shalizi, which I find a pleasant format to read. The content is my own, except where otherwise stated. The fiddly details of how it works are here, and the really fiddly in-progress details are on my TODO list.
I love your site Dan and follow many of the same philosophies myself. Your notebook idea is a great one. If you want to extend it a bit, you could go full digital commonplace book to encompass even more.

I notice that in your follow me section you’ve got a handful of buttons that may eventually begin to give you a NASCAR Problem, or prompt others to say “What about feed reader XYZ?”

I’ve run into the issue before and used Julien Genestoux‘s excellent SubToMe follow button. It’s got a simple user interface, allows you to recommend a particular feed reader, but also gives readers the choice of several dozen other common feed readers. Best, it functions relatively well without getting into the whole what-is-RSS-and-how-do-I-use-it-issues. Obviously we have a long way to go to make some of these things simpler and easier to use, but slow iteration will get us there eventually.

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!

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?

 

Bookmarked https://micro.blog/feeds/chrisaldrich.json (micro.blog)
A feed of all the people I'm following on micro.blog. 
Taking a crack at following my micro.blog feed within a feed reader rather than natively on the web or in the app. An interesting experience that helps put more emphasis on the longer form material rather than the here-and-now.

Are there other ways to follow micro.blog feeds outside of the traditional outlets?

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? 

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 ...
Read Subscriptions are attention, but what about blogrolls? by Leslie Michael OrchardLeslie Michael Orchard (decafbad.com)
Ah hah. Here's a use case where I agree OPML has undeniably become king: Exporting and importing feed aggregator subscriptions. Because Radio UserLand was the first aggregator to really take off—and because OPML is Radio's lingua franca, any new aggregators have needed to speak OPML to facilitate migration. It grew from there, with nearly every aggregator supporting some basic form of OPML import/export for subscription lists. OPML has won the "feed subscription list format war" before there was ever a notion that there might be such a war.
Hypothes.is doesn’t have a social media-like follow functionality baked into the system, but there are a few methods to follow interesting people. My favorite, and possibly the simplest, is to add https://hypothes.is/stream.atom?user=abcxyz as a feed into my feed reader where abcxyz is the username of the person I’d like to follow.

So to subscribe to my Hypothes.is feed you’d add https://hypothes.is/stream.atom?user=chrisaldrich to your reader.

Of course, the catch then is to find/discover interesting people to follow this way. Besides some of the usual interesting subjects like Jon Udell, Jeremy Dean, Remi Kalir, et al. Who else should I be following?

Ideally by following interesting readers, you’ll find not only good things to read for yourself, but you’ll also have a good idea which are the best parts as well as what your friends think of those parts. The fact that someone is bothering to highlight or annotate something is a very strong indicator that they’ve got some skin in the game and the article is likely worth reading.

📑 Exploring the UX of web-annotations | Tom Critchlow

Annotated Exploring the UX of web-annotations by Tom CritchlowTom Critchlow (tomcritchlow.com)
There’s also a robust ecosystem of tools to follow users, monitor site annotations etc.  
Wait? What!? I’ve been wanting to be able to follow users annotations and I’d love the ability to monitor site annotations!! (I’ve even suggested that they added Webmention before to do direct notifications for site annotations.)

Where have you seen these things hiding Tom?