My hacky solution to book blogging and exercise tracking in the indieweb.
My personal blog, a static site built with Jekyll, is a bit of a frankenstein. I really need to write some posts that get into the dirtier details of how I’ve stitched various bits together (like webmentions, POSSE syndication, and so on). But for this installment I wanted to start with something I’m doing which I think is a bit unique.
So, backing up, as we all know, social media isn’t just about long-form articles on Medium, medium-length rants on Facebook, or short-form trollbait on Twitter. We also track what we read, what we listen to, what we watch, the games we’re playing, the exercise we engage in, the websites we’re bookmarking, and on and on. Basically, if there’s some human activity that we want to collectively experience, there’s probably a social platform somewhere.
I wanted to explore these same ideas, but in the context of my blog. First I started with replacing Goodreads. I’ve since followed that by blogging my cycling PESOS-style with Strava. In both cases I’ve used a combination of purpose built, locally hosted tools for collecting metadata, and then integrating those tools with my blog to enabling publishing the data to the world.
I won’t claim this is a friction-free approach. But it’s working pretty well for me, so I figured it was worth sharing!Continue reading...
Documenting my absurd journey to bridging an IRC client to a bunch of messaging services. Totally nuts and totally worth it.
IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is unquestionably the progenitor of modern online chat systems. IRC preceded instant messaging platforms like ICQ or AOL Instant Messenger, and in doing so connected people in real-time in a way that would lay the groundwork, not for just those instant messaging platforms that would follow, but for modern social media platforms as we know them today. And today, while certainly diminished, IRC still plays an important role in connected communities of people, particularly in the IT space.
But IRC isn’t without its flaws, and those flaws created openings for many competitors:
- Chatting is ephemeral. If you’re not connected there’s no way to receive messages that were sent while you were away.
- Text-based. No images or giphy animations here, and file sharing is direct, client-to-client only.
- The mobile story in general, and notifications in particular, are weak.
Now, the IRC community has worked hard to address the first problem with bouncers and changes to the IRC protocol (I’ll dig into this later).
Issue two… well, bluntly, I actually view that as a benefit rather than a drawback, but obviously that’s a matter of personal taste.
As for issue three, it’s still true that the mobile story isn’t great, though there is slow steady progress (Android now boasts a few pretty decent mobile IRC clients).
But IRC also has some enormous benefits:
- It’s open and federated. Running a server yourself is trivial.
- Clients are heavily customizable for power users.
- It’s fast and lightweight.
And these various other products (like Slack, Signal, etc) have some mirror image drawbacks:
- Closed walled gardens.
- Zero ability to customize.
- Heavy, memory- and CPU-intensive clients.
And then there is the fragmentation. My god the fragmentation. Every app is its own beast, with its own UX quirks, performance issues, bugs, and so on. Even the way they issue notifications varies from product to product. And some (I’m looking at you, Whatsapp) don’t offer a desktop client product at all.
I spend every day working with these messaging products, and I wanted to find out: Is there some way I could use an IRC client of my choice to interact with these various walled gardens (recognizing that, yes, that would come with some loss of functionality)?
Well, with a lot of hacking and elbow grease, I can definitely say the answer is yes! Though… this is, as is the case with many of my projects these days, probably not for the faint of heart…Continue reading...
Did you know Calibre can turn an RSS feed into an eBook? I didnt! It turns out Calibre, tt-rss, and Wallabag make it possible to roll your own news that you can read right on your eReader!
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again: I’m a big fan of RSS. For the uninitiated, RSS is a way to subscribe to a feed of content from a website and consume it in a reader or other tool of your choice. And despite claims that it’s dying out, I still manage to have more content in my feed reader than I possibly have time to consume.
For a long time I used Feedly as my RSS reader of choice. But back in October I decided to switch to tt-rss, a self-hosted RSS feed reading service that works on both browsers and through a mobile app. Then, in a fit of boredom, I used some self-hosted home automation tools to incorporate email newsletters into my feed. Meanwhile, I also decided to stand up an instance of Wallabag, a self-hosted website bookmarking service.
But I ran across a problem: with all this content at my fingertips, I started to fall behind, particularly on all those long-form articles and newsletters I want to read.
And then I discovered Calibre’s news scraping features and a solution presented itself!Continue reading...
Social media algorithms care only that you’re engaged. They exist to advertise. Everything else is a side-effect. RSS lets you ditch the machine and build your own feed from trusted sources.
Quite a few years ago, for personal reasons, I decided to drop out of major social media platforms. This was just at the time when those platforms truly started to take over the world, so the whole thing more or less passed me by as I watched from the sidelines. As a result, it wasn’t until very recently that I came to appreciate just how much these platforms have become the primary way that people run across content online.
Of course, this really shouldn’t be surprising. Once upon a time, the internet was made up of an untold number of websites, big and small. And this posed a real problem of content discovery. Sure, we managed. We managed with search engines, and bookmarks, and web portals, and other ad hoc technologies. But it was a huge pain.
Today, this same kind of content discovery is done on social media platforms, with content pushed to the consumer by machine learning algorithms that optimize for “engagement”, which is a technical term for “time spent on the service”.
On its face this would seem like a good thing! After all, if you’re engaged, that must mean you’re delighted by what you see!
But the reality is a lot more complicated. Yes, certainly the things that delight us will keep us engaged. But so do the things that make us outraged, or offended, or jealous. And the algorithm can’t tell the difference. So whether you’re clicking on a link because you want to see a picture of a large cat in a small box, or you want to read an outrageous article about how the world is really flat, it’s all the same to the machine.
The result is an algorithmic filter bubble that often serves to misinform, usually while making us miserable.
On the other hand, those algorithms really do provide a useful function: They push interesting content to us so we don’t have to go and seek it out. The problem is, we have no control over how they function.
Well, as you can probably guess, I’m here to tell you that there is an alternative, and it’s a technology that’s almost as old as the web itself: RSS.Continue reading...