Replied to Making RSS more visible again with a /feeds page by Marcus HerrmannMarcus Herrmann (marcus.io)
A few years ago you could easily tell if a page offered an RSS feed. Browsers (at least good ones) had a feed symbol close to their location bar, and if you were really lucky (or used a really good browser), that indicator was even a button, empowering you to subscribe to a website with only one cli...
The overall idea to make it easier to subscribe to a personal website is certainly a laudable one.

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?

Exploring Pine.blog

I’d noticed Pine.blog before at a previous IndieWebCamp, but not had time to delve into it very deeply. Seeing some of what Brian Schrader has been working on while following IndieWebCamp Austin remotely this weekend has reminded about the project. As a result, I’ve been spending some time tonight to check out some of the functionality that it’s offering. In part, I’m curious how similar, or not, it is to what Micro.blog is offering specifically with respect to the idea of IndieWeb as a Service which I’ve recently begun documenting. It’s always great to see the growing diversity and plurality of solutions in the space.

My brief prior experience with the platform was simply adding my website to their discovery service. Tonight I’ve found that Pine.blog has got a very pretty little feed reader experience with some fun discovery functionality. You can apparently create multiple timelines to follow content, but one needs a paid account for more than one timeline. It allows both following sites as well as recommending them to others. It also appears that Brian is supporting the rel=”payment” microformat as I see at least one feed that has a “$ Support” button in the Pine.blog interface to allow me to go to the site’s payment page to support it. I think this may be one of the first times I’ve seen this functionality in an app in the wild outside of the Overcast podcast app which added it a couple of years ago.

It has webmention support, so I can “like” things within the reader and notify others. Without a paid account I don’t see the ability to reply to or mention other sites though. It also looks like it allows for import/export of OPML too, though I haven’t tried it out yet–I can only test drive so many feed readers at a time and Indigenous is taking up all of my bandwidth at present.

I do wonder a bit about potentially importing/exporting my content if I were to go all-in on Pine.blog. I’d bet the idea is on the product map, but that’s a huge bit of work to build without a paid user base to support it. I’d personally want at least an export function if I were to change over, though I’m more likely to want to dovetail my own site with it much the way I’m currently doing with Micro.blog.

It looks like it should be able to post to my website, but I’m finding the “publish” and “preview” buttons don’t work–perhaps I need a paid account for this functionality? Of course, I only see UI to provide pine.blog with my URL and my account name, but it hasn’t authenticated using a password or other method, so perhaps that portion isn’t finished? I’ll circle back around to it later when I do a free trial. I do notice that Brian, the developer of the project, has an account on pine.blog which is mirrored on one of his subdomains running WordPress. Quirkily I’ve noticed that the header on his main website changes to alternately serve the pine.blog version and the WordPress version!

More to come as I continue exploring… Later on I’ll take a look at some of their paid functionality, but for now, it’s a pretty compelling set of features and some well-laid out user interface to start. I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.

Bookmarked Twitter OPML Export by Luca HammerLuca Hammer (opml.glitch.me)
Get websites and RSS Feeds of the people you follow on Twitter. Import the OPML-file with your favorite feedreader.
I love nothing more than OPML related tools! I just finished exporting all of my YouTube subscriptions the other day, now I can get the RSS feeds from the websites of all the people I’m following on Twitter?! This is awesome. I’ll need to work out how I might be able to import it all into my following page.

As I look at this wonderful little app, I can’t help but think at how nice it might be if they added the SubToMe universal following button for these. I haven’t looked in a while, but it’s possible that the Feed.ly integration for SubToMe needed a tweak to get it working again.

Today I exported all my YouTube subscriptions as an OPML file and imported them to my website’s following page (aka blogroll). I still have a bit of clean up to do to categorize and present them all the way I’d like, but I’ve got a huge start on it.

I’m hoping now that I’ve cut the cord, I’ll be able to use my various feed readers to watch and stream more video content.

It’s amazing how many inactive channels I was following. 

Special thanks to Martijn van der Ven who had done some great research on YouTube Atom feeds and OPML and created documentation on the IndieWeb wiki YouTube page.

I finally mucked about a bit and updated my Following Page (aka blogroll) on my website.

Because I was using some quirky gymnastics and a hacked up plugin, I’ve now been able to define a custom page and page content so that the explanation of the page appears at the top rather than at the bottom as before.

Viva the blogroll! Viva OPML! Viva RSS!

Replied to a thread on RSS and blogrolls by Andy Bell, Stuart Langridge, and Hidde (Twitter)
Blogrolls? Those are like Twitter lists for the cognoscenti right? 😉

Seriously, I’ve resurrected mine a while back too. And included sub-sectioned OPML files just for kicks.

More details on the project and implications for the future: https://boffosocko.com/2019/06/18/from-following-posts-and-blogrolls-following-pages-with-opml-to-microsub-servers-and-readers/

 

Replied to Return of the blog roll by Hidde de Vries (hiddedevries.nl)
Personal blogs are making a comeback among web folks. I like this. I have even gone so far as to add a blog roll to this site, so that you can see which blogs I like to read (fwiw). Personal blogs FTW When I started getting interested in the web, about 15 years ago, blogs were how I learned new stuf...
It’s great to see blogrolls slowly, but surely making a comeback! I’ve got one too. I’m curious if you provide an OPML file as well?
Bookmarked Blogroll by Dan MacKinlay (danmackinlay.name)

Make your own automatic blogroll

This is the script I use to generate a blogroll from my OPML:

#! /usr/bin/env python3
"""
Parse OPML into markdown.
"""
import sys
import re
from xml.etree import ElementTree


def main(fname):
    with open(fname, 'r', encoding='utf8') as fp:
        tree = ElementTree.parse(fp)
    for cat_node in tree.find('body').findall('outline'):
        print("\n## {}\n".format(cat_node.get('title')))
        for node in cat_node.findall('outline'):
            name = node.attrib.get('text')
            feedurl = node.attrib.get('xmlUrl')
            url = node.attrib.get('htmlUrl')
            print("* [{}]({}) ([feed]({}))".format(name, url, feedurl))


if __name__ == "__main__":
    main(*sys.argv[1:])
Replied to a tweet by Mathew IngramMathew Ingram (Twitter)
Discovery can definitely be a bear. Interestingly I came to your tweet through a handful of related blogposts via a feedreader from a random OPML file, so apologies for the late reply.

I keep an old school blogroll, but it got so big I made it an entire page. It’s split out by a few broad categories, but there are OPML linked files by category at the bottom to let you follow it all or pick your poisons. Hopefully you’ll find some fun and interesting gems hiding in there.

You might find some interesting feeds by clicking around within Dave Winer’s http://feedbase.io/ which will uncover some interesting active feeds. Best yet, it has lots of OPML files everywhere so you can quickly follow a lot.

Matthias Ott’s post Into the Personal-Website-Verse was at the top of Hacker News earlier this week. Both his post and the HN post have lists of people with websites that could be interesting and useful to follow for voices on the web.

You also might take a look at some of the details and resources on the discovery, blogroll, and even webring pages within the IndieWeb wiki. Not to be missed is Kicks Condor’s hrefhunt. Andy Bell also had a project to highlight personalsit.es.

In a somewhat related question, but from the other perspective (especially for journalism), I’m curious if you have any thoughts on: How to follow the complete output of journalists and other writers?

 

 

Read Feeds for journalists (leibniz.me)
This year started with a small project I really like: Feeds for Journalists, by Dave Winer. The idea is that RSS is still a valid technology to get an effective and unbiased flow of news. As he puts it, after reading a tweet by Mathew Ingram: If you’re a journalist a...
Found this while sifting through some OPML files.
Bookmarked WordPress by Jan Bozzez (janboddez.tech)
Through the years, I’ve created a few (child) themes and plugins for WordPress. Some of them are described below, and more will surely follow.
Jan has some awesome IndieWeb-esqe plugins for WordPress, how have I not seen these before?! If David Shanske hasn’t seen them yet, he definitely should be aware of them.

We should definitely add some of these to the IndieWeb wiki as necessary.

Jan if you’d like to join a group of us helping to improve the web standards and IndieWeb-friendliness of WordPress, do reach out.