I’ll agree: Passive Tracking > Active Tracking

It’s always nice if you can provide real-time active tracking and posting on your own website, but is it really necessary? Is it always worthwhile? What value does it provide to you? to others?

The other day I read Eddie Hinkle’s article Passive Tracking > Active Tracking in which he details how he either actively or passively tracks on his own website things he’s listening to or watching. I thought I’d take a moment to scribble out some of my thoughts and process for how and why I do what I’m doing on my own site.

I too track a lot of things relatively passively. Most of it I do for my own “diary” or commonplace book. Typically I’ll start out using silo services that have either RSS feeds or that work with services like IFTTT.com or Zapier. If those don’t exist, I’ll just use the ubiquitous “share” functionality of nearly all web pages and mobile platforms to share the content or page via email which I can use to post to my website as well. The primary minimal data points I’m looking for are the title of the specific thing I’m capturing (the movie, tv show/episode title, book title, article title, podcast title) and the date/time stamp at which the activity was done.

I’ll use these to take input data and transfer it to my own website, typically in draft form. In many cases, these methods collect all the data I want and put it into a format for immediate sharing. Other times I’ll clean up some bits of the data (almost always context related, so things like images, summaries, the source of the data, etc.) a bit before sharing. Then I optionally decide to post it either publicly or privately on my site.

Some of the sources I use for pulling in data (especially for context) to my website include:
 Watches: IMDb.com, Letterboxd, TheTVDB.com, themoviedb.org, direct websites for shows/movies themselves
 Listens: typically using share functionality via email from my podcatcher; Spotify, Last.fm,
 Reads: reading.am, Pocket, Hypothes.is, GoodReads, 
 Bookmarks: diigo, Hypothes.is, Twitter, Pocket

Often, going the route of least resistance for doing this sort of tracking is a useful thing to find out if doing so is ultimately useful or valuable to you. If it’s not, then building some massive edifice and code base for doing so may be additional sunk cost to find out that you don’t find it valuable or fulfilling somehow. This is primary value of the idea “manual until it hurts.”

I will note that though I do have the ability to do quick posting to my site using bookmarklets in conjunction with the Post Kinds Plugin for WordPress, more often than not, I find that interrupting my personal life and those around me to post this way seems a bit rude. For things like listen posts, logging them actively could a be a life threatening endeavor because I most often listen while driving. Thus I prefer to take a moment or two to more subtly mark what I want to post and then handle the rest at a more quiet and convenient time. I’ll use down time while passively watching television or listening to music to do this sort of clean up. Often, particularly for bookmarks and annotations, this also forces me to have a second bite at the proverbial apple to either follow up on the bookmarked idea or think about and reflect on the thing I’ve saved. In some sense this follow up is way more valuable to me than having actively posted it and then simply moving on. It also becomes a way for what might otherwise be considered “digital exhaust” to give me some additional value.

Eventually having better active ways to track and post these things in real time would be nice, but the marginal additional value just hasn’t seemed to be there for me. If it were, there are also larger hurdles of doing these posts quickly and in a way that pulls in the context portions I’d like to present. Adding context also generally means having solid pre-existing data bases of information from which to poll from, and often these can be difficult to come by or require API access to something. As a result services like Swarm and OwnYourSwarm are useful as they can not only speed up the process of logging data, but they are underpinned with relatively solid databases. As an example, I frequently can’t use IMDB.com to log in television shows like Meet the Press or Face the Nation because entries and data for those particular episodes often don’t exist even when I’m watching them several hours after they’ve aired. And even in these cases the websites for these shows often don’t yet have photos, synopses, video, or transcripts posted when I’m watching them. Thus posting for these in real-time the way I’d like becomes a much more difficult nightmare and requires a lot more manual effort.

Update:

As a follow up to Eddie’s post (which doesn’t yet show the Webmention), I’ll also point out that Jonathan has an excellent description and some code for what he’s doing on his site as well.

Some thoughts about Media Diets prompted by Paul Jacobson

Replied to Keeping track of my media diet by Paul JacobsonPaul Jacobson (Paul Jacobson)

This idea of tracking my media diet really appeals to me:

Just like last year, I kept track of almost everything I read, watched, listened to, and experienced in my media diet posts.

Jason Kottke

I follow a few people who do this too, sometimes pretty publicly. I’m not sure that I’d want to share everything I consume, but I do like the thought of capturing, and aggregating everything.

I’m just not too sure how to pull it all together, if I were to do this.

There are a few parts to having a media diet:
1. keeping track of it all quickly and easily;
2. going back to contemplate on it and deciding what may have been worthwhile or not; and
3. using the above to improve upon your future media diet instead of consuming the same junk food in the future.

I try to use my own website (cum digital commonplace book) to collect everything quickly using bookmarklets from the Post Kinds plugin or RSS feeds from popular media-related websites (GoodReads, Letterboxd, reading.am, etc.) in conjunction with IFTTT.com recipes to create private posts on my site’s back end. Naturally, not all of my posts are public since many are simply for my own reflection and edification. Usually logging the actions only takes a few seconds. Longer reviews and thoughts typically only take a few minutes if I choose to do so.

The hardest part may be going through it all on a weekly, monthly, or annual basis to do some analysis and make the appropriate adjustments for the future. (Isn’t it always sticking with the adjustments that make it a “diet”?) Fortunately having all the data in one centralized place does make some of this work a lot easier.

Having lists of what I read online has definitely helped me cut out all click-baity articles and listicles from my information diet. It’s also helped me cut down on using social media mindlessly when I think about the great things I could be reading or consuming instead. Bad national news has also spurred me to read more local news this year as well. Those interested in some of these ideas may appreciate Clay A. Johnson’s The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Comsumption, which I read several years back.

I experimented with eating and drinking posts early last year too, and the nature of posting them publicly was somewhat useful in losing about 10 pounds, but the work in doing it all did seem a bit much since I didn’t have as easily an automated system for doing it as I might have liked. Now I do most of these posts privately. Definitely having the ability to look back at the ton of crap I’ve eaten in the past week or month does help with trying to be a bit healthier in my choices. I look at posting photos of my food/drink to my own site somewhat akin to dietitians who tell people to use a clean plate for every meal they have–the extra work, process, and clean up makes it more apparent what you’re doing to yourself.

As I’ve written before about posting what I’m listening to, showing others that you’ve spent the time to actually listen to it and post about it on your own site (even with no commentary), is a great way to show that you’ve got “skin-in-the-game” when it comes to making recommendations. Kottke’s awesome recommendation about listening to the Seeing White Podcast has way more value if he could point to having spent the multiple hours listening to and contemplating it, the way I have. The situation is akin to that headline and link my friend just put on Twitter, but did she think the headline was cool or did she actually read the entire thing and wanted to recommend her followers also read it? Who can tell without some differentiation?

Lastly, I keep a “following page” of people and feeds I’m following on a regular basis. Put into broad categories, it makes an easy method for periodically pruning out that portion of my media diet using OPML subscriptions in my feed reader.

In the end, what you feed your body, as well as what you feed your brain, are important things to at least keep in the back of your mind.

 

Reads, Listens, Watches, and Editable Webmention Types and Avatars in the IndieWeb WordPress Suite

I’ve been meaning to write regular updates to highlight some of the useful changes in the functionality of the IndieWeb suite of WordPress plugins, but never gotten around to it. There’s been a few really interesting ones lately, so I thought I’d start. Observant watchers who read through either the code or even the scant change logs before they update their code may catch some of these features, but sometimes interesting tidbits can slip by the most vigilant. Here are some interesting recent ones:

Display of Reads, Listens, and Watches in comments sections

David Shanske’s excellent Post Kinds Plugin allows one to post what they’re reading, listening to, or watching in simple IndieWeb fashion. (Examples of these on my site: read posts, listen posts, watch posts.) These posts types automatically include the appropriate microformats classes so the user doesn’t need to bother doing them manually. For a long time when replying to another’s site, bookmarking it, or even mentioning it when also using the Webmentions plugin would send the site a Webmention that would generally cause it to show up as a native comment, bookmark or mention. With an update late last year, from within the Discussion settings in WordPress, one could set toggles so that many of these webmentions could be displayed as facepiles. Other broadly unsupported post types would typically default to a simple mention.

Recently David Shanske and I started a podcast, and he thought it would be useful if his site could accept listen posts and show them visually within his comments section just like these replies, bookmarks, and mentions. Thus over the past month he’s added code to the Semantic Linkbacks Plugin to add the functionality for these types of posts to properly render showing facepiles for listens, reads, and watches.

This is what webmentions of listen posts  look like on his site in his comments section:

User Interface example of how listen posts on David Shanske’s podcast appear on his site

What’s happening

Listen (or scrobble) posts can send webmentions (or notifications) to the original content potentially with the experimental listen-of microformat. In the case of scrobbles of podcasts, these webmentions could be displayed as “Listens” which would provide the canonical copy of the podcast some indicator of its popularity and actual audience. It is tremendously difficult to obtain data on the actual number of listens within most of the podcast community and typically a fraction of the number of downloads must be used as an indicator of the actual reach. Being able to display listens could potentially be a boon to the podcasting market, particularly with respect to advertising as this type of open social web functionality spreads.

Similarly read posts with the read-of microformat and watches with watch-of will be accepted and show up within the comments section. Like the previous types, they can be set to display as facepiles within the user interface.

From the Discussion options settings page (typically at: /wp-admin/options-discussion.php#semantic_linkbacks) one can choose the mention types one wants to have appear as facepiles within their comments section.

Knowing that this read functionality would be available, this week I helped ColoradoBoulevard.net set up their site to be able to accept and display reads of their articles. Here’s an example from their site:

The display of a read post on ColoradoBoulevard.net

I haven’t yet seen one for watches in the wild yet, but maybe you’ll be either the first  to send or receive one?

The microformats on these posts is generally considered to be experimental, but with the ~500+ users of this suite of tools as well as others who are already using them on other sites, they’ve now taken a dramatic step into the open internet and more widespread use and potential official adoption.

Editable Webmention Types and Avatars

Webmention Types

Just yesterday, I spent a few minutes in the IndieWeb chat helping someone to laboriously delve into their mySQL databaset and find a particular snippet of data so they could manually change a received webmention from being a simple mention to being a reply so that it would display as a native comment on their website. I’ve often done this to take what sometimes seem like simple mentions and change them to replies to reveal the richer content they often contain for the broader conversation. Sadly the process is boring, laborious, and fraught with potential ways to mess things up.

As of this weekend, this process is no longer necessary. One can now go to the admin interface for their comments and webmentions (found at the path /wp-admin/edit-comments.php), click on edit for the particular comment they’re changing and then scroll down to reveal a droplist interface to be able to manually change the webmention type.

Samantic Linkbacks Data metabox within the comment editing interface on WordPress. One can use the dropbox to change the webmention type as well as manually update the commenter’s avatar.

As another example of a use for this functionality, perhaps you’ve received a listen mention on one of your podcast episodes that has a lot of useful notes or commentary germane to your episode? Instead of hiding it as a simple listen, why not change the type to reply to allow a richer conversation around your content? After all, with a reasonable reply it will be implicit that the commenter actually listened to the episode, right?

Avatars

Because there is currently no functionality in WordPress for saving or caching the avatars of commenters via webmention, when users change their profile images on siloed services like Facebook, Twitter, et al. the link to their old avatars quits working and they were displaying blank spaces. This is an unfortunate form of linkrot, but one that can become more visually apparent over time.

Likes and Reposts concatenated on my site now after converting them into facepiles. They still give the social “proof” and indicate the interaction, but don’t interfere in the conversation now–especially when there are hundreds of them.

As one can see in the image for the commenting edit box above, the field for the Avatar is now editable. This means one can update out-of-date or blank avatars. One now also has the ability to moderate/edit or easily remove/switch avatars if users are sending inappropriate photos for one’s site’s audience.​​​​​​​​​

UI suggestions for watches

Filed an Issue dshanske/indieweb-post-kinds (GitHub)
Adds support for responding to and interacting with other sites using the standards developed by the Indieweb Community

It would be nice if there were a way to distinguish between various watch types to differentiate between films, television, and internet based streaming media — perhaps with a data field and a toggle along with three appropriate icons for each of these rather than the single watch icon now (a generic “play” button).

Further, most of the current meta data fields are fairly solid for the most often used fields, but I often find that it would be nice to have fields for Season # and Episode # for television shows.

The last “big” piece that would be nice to have is a quickly usable ratings field of sorts so one could provide a rating 1-5, 1-10, or 1-100 rating field? Maybe it could be a simple numerical data field that calculates/displays a rough 5 star-based scale? h-review markup could also come into play here as well, though it would be nice to capture the raw data even if there is no UI display built for it.