Thoughts about Robin Sloan’s Spring ’83 Experiment

I’ve been thinking about Robin Sloan‘s Spring ’83 Experiment on and off for a bit.

I too almost immediately thought of Fraidyc.at and its nudge at shifting the importance of content based on time and recency. I’d love to have a social reader with additional affordances for both this time shifting and Ton’s idea of reading based on social distance.

I’m struck by the seemingly related idea of Peter Hagen’s LindyLearn platform and annotations which focuses on taking some of the longer term interesting ideas as the basis for browsing and chewing on. Though even here, one needs some of the odd, the cutting edge, and the avant garde in their balanced internet diet. Would Spring ’83 provide some of this?

I’m also struck by some similarities this has with the idea of Derek Siver’s /now page movement. I see some updating regularly while others have let it slip by the wayside. Still the “board” of users exists, though one must click through a sea of mostly smiling and welcoming faces to get to it the individual pieces of content. (The smiling faces are more inviting and personal than the cacophony of yelling and chaos I see in models for Spring ’83.) This reminds me of Stanley Meyers’ frequent assertion that he attempted to design a certain “sense of quiet” into the early television show Dragnet to balance the seeming loudness of the everyday as well as the noise of other contemporaneous television programming.

The form reminds me a bit of the signature pages of one’s high school year book. But here, instead of the goal being timeless scribbles, one has the opportunity to change the message over time. Does the potential commercialization of the form (you know it will happen in a VC world crazed with surveillance capitalism) follow the same trajectory of the old college paper facebook? Next up, Yearbook.com!

Beyond the thing as a standard, I wondered what the actual form of Spring ’83 adds to a broader conversation? What does it add to the diversity of voices that we don’t already see in other spaces. How might it be abused? Would people come back to it regularly? What might be its emergent properties? This last is hard to know without experimenting at larger scales.

It definitely seems quirky and fun in and old school web sort of way, but it also stresses me out looking at the zany busyness of some of the examples of magazine stands. The general form reminds me of the bargain bins at book stores which have the promise of finding valuable hidden gems and at an excellent price, but often the ideas and quality of what I find usually isn’t worth the discounted price and the return on investment is rarely worth the effort. How might this get beyond these forms?

It also brings up the idea of what other online forms we may have had with this same sort of raw experimentation? How might the internet have looked if there had been a bigger rise of the wiki before that of the blog? What would the world be like if Webmention had existed before social media rose to prominence? Did we somehow miss some interesting digital animals because the web rose so quickly to prominence without more early experimentation before its “Cambrian explosion”?

I’ve been thinking about distilled note taking forms recently and what a network of atomic ideas on index cards look like and what emerges from them. What if the standard were digital index cards that linked and cross linked to each other, particularly in a world without adherence to time based orders and streams? What does a new story look like if I can pull out a card either at random or based on a single topic and only see it or perhaps some short linked chain of ideas (mine or others) which come along with it? Does the choice of a random “Markov monkey” change my thinking or perspective? What comes out of this jar of Pandora? Is it just a new form of cadavre exquis?

This standard has been out for a bit and presumably folks are experimenting with it. What do the early results look like? How are they using it? Do they like it? Does it need more scale? What do small changes make to the overall form?


For more on these related ideas and the experiment, see some of these threads of conversation I’m aware of:

Know of others? I’m happy to aggregate them here.

Featured image: Collection of 1990s 88×31 buttons by https://anlucas.neocities.org/88x31Buttons.html

Read Show HN: Fraidycat (fraidyc.at) (Hacker News)
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.
Read The master tapes by Robin Sloan (Robin Sloan)
“What do I miss” is the wrong question, because the feeling isn’t an absence, but a presence.

If running your own website is like operating a nuclear reactor, then, yes: let’s give up on that. But what if it’s more like cooking dinner at home? That’s an activity that many people find challenging and/or intimidating, one with all sorts of social and economic ~encumbrances~, but even so, who would argue that it’s inappropriate to hope more people might learn to cook for themselves?
Maybe, after everything, we’ve actually ended up in a healthy place. Maybe the great gluey Katamari ball of technology has served us well. In 2020, you can, using nothing but the free app provided by Instagram, publish something very close to a multimedia magazine. Or, sitting at your laptop, you can produce a lightning-fast website all by yourself, every line of code calibrated just so, and host its files at a domain of your choosing. Or! You can do something in between, using a service like WordPress or Squarespace. This is not a bad range of options! 

There’s something between the lines here that feels like it’s closer to what the idea of IndieWeb Generations should really become. Perhaps it’s the case that when even a small handful of larger competitors like micro.blog exist it will force the larger corporate silos to come into line (they’ll lose out on market share and need to offer better service) and be more IndieWeb-like over time?
Annotated on March 21, 2020 at 11:34PM

Whether their scenario is a historical reenactment (albeit with higher-res images) or a seductive counterfactual, I don’t know. Whether it “matters,” I don’t know. I do know that I am enjoying my fraidy-follows, their slow pulse—people really are blogging, doing the dang thing—and the feeling of an old instinct waking up. 

Annotated on March 21, 2020 at 11:36PM

Read RSS is not dead you know (nor is Atom) by Sebastiaan AndewegSebastiaan Andeweg (seblog.nl)
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...
I need to do some deep thinking and design layout of the feed reader I’d like to have. Something like a cross between some of the traditional readers like Inoreader and Fraidy.cat which has some of the time-based and social sorting that Ton has suggested in the past.
Read Fraidycat, a most unusual feedreader by Jason McIntoshJason McIntosh (Fogknife)
Fraidycat lets you "follow at a distance" blogs, social media accounts, and other web sources. I find it much more attention-respectful than a typical feedreader.
Fraidycat is one of my favorite tools as well. I particularly like it for it’s time-related functionality in comparison to other feed readers which don’t have this kind of categorization/sorting. Reminds me a bit of the sort of reader that Ton Zijlstra was always looking for.

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?