Dat Rats

But if a YouTube channel disappears, it’s gone to us.

Source: Dat Rats

I worry about this too, sometimes, because it would seem that we’ve created and destroyed more content on the Internet than the entire Greek civilization produced for us.

But other times, I’m ambivalent to the idea. Some of the most important ideas survive and move on to the next level or the next civilization and there’s always progress.

So while yeah, it would suck if these cool/weird/fun sites disappear, and if YouTube one day loses all content from a period of time. But how much would it be a loss for civilization? The ideas would have been absorbed by the people of the time and the most important ones move on with artists and consumers in different ways.

Falling into Faith — Acko.net

The following is a critique of a post I recently came across in my RSS feeds-

 

This is augmented by the ease of concerted flagging and other public shaming campaigns, which create a guilty-until-proven innocent environment.

Source: Falling into Faith — Acko.net

This is a weird post, and it set off all kinds of alarms in my head. But I read through the author’s convoluted logic till the end. Some of it doesn’t make any sense, the rest of it makes sense, but is faulty logic. It’s clear that it’s a rambling, onerous post about somehow not protecting white privilege, but also not condemning it. It seems to want to put logic above everything else but the relationship between the example and the conclusion is tenuous.

This line above was the one that sprung out to me the most. The author seems to want to say that the constant vigilante justice meted out on social networks stifles free speech. But forgets a couple of things –

  1. Every example the author gives – James Damore, SubscribeStar – is one of extremism from the right. These are harmful rhetoric, and conspiracy theorists whose right to free speech is somehow being taken away by the people. Somehow, the ‘people’ having the right to decide who gets to live in the public sphere is not acceptable to the author. Instead, pure logic and pure freedom are the only things important to the author. This is, of course, the wrong approach, because there is no such thing as pure freedom. All of life is about the exceptions to the rule. The exception to the rule of free speech is one where someone means someone else harm.
  2. The author seems to want to criticize public movements on social media. But here’s the thing – it’s not like there’s a recourse. Elsewhere in the post, the author criticizes the left for controlling the institutions that mediate over ideas on social networks, namely the Trust and Safety Boards –

bootstrapping their own inquisition in the name of Trust and Safety

This means that the author doesn’t trust the devices created to remove negative influencers from social media, and doesn’t accept that people should be able to run their own campaigns to remove such people from there either. So what’s the recourse? What can people do to root out truly evil ideas from the public sphere? The author falls silent on that aspect. As it is, the tools that Facebook and Twitter (and WhatsApp) have created to combat misuse are woefully shortsighted and pathetic attempts at appeasement. That leaves the users to fend for themselves, so why would they not band together and attack the trolls and bad actors? Yes, they would get a few folks wrong and that’s where the author jumps in again to criticize, but not to give solutions –

Nuanceless policing bots and scripts make it trivial for innocent bystanders to get hurt.

All in all, a frustrating read to go through. Why did I? Well, for some reason, I’m subscribed to this person’s RSS feed and this was a recent article on there. Everything else by the author is purely about technology.

Also, it’s a good exercise in spotting every logical misconception that the author has made. Which ones did I miss?

 

Giving up on WordPress embeds

Back in 2012, I wrote a post called Conversations as a future of blogging. Well, I say I wrote, but actually I must have had a conversation on this up-and-coming platform called branch.com with a few people I invited to it from twitter. Using their tools, I embedded the conversation to my blog on the link above. I thought the embed would last forever, because a) where is branch going to go, and b) WordPress usually gracefully downgrades embeds, right?

Nope. branch.com died three years after launch. They gave us a period of time to request backups of our conversations. I remember doing that, but I never received one in my email. Perhaps they expected me to come back to their site to download the files? I asked all the other people involved in the conversation and none of them cared to request a backup of the copy. This goes back to my posts here about the futility of exporting your data from online services, even though in this case, a full backup was exactly what I needed to recover my blog post.

I was further wrong in that WordPress does no such thing with embeds. In the case of officially supported embeds, I’ve seen the system do this once before and I thought that was standard behavior, but in the case of link embeds, there’s no clear way for it to be possible.

Recently, I introduced a random post finder to my blog. With it, I’ve been discovering a lot of great and terrible posts I’ve written over time. It’s my way of getting closer to my blog.

But it has also left me reeling from all the broken links and embeds that I trusted to work forever. The branch.com embed, images and links I’ve linked to, PDF files I thought would never go away. Heck, even Facebook CDN stuff has disappeared and that company doesn’t let go of any data!

Recently, Automattic introduced inline GIFs from giphy through Jetpack. The model they’re following is pretty neat – they shipped the Gutenberg editor within WordPress 5, and have been extending it using Jetpack with blocks that allow various kinds of content, including GIFs. It shows the scope that Gutenberg has in the future.

Coming back to embeds, Giphy, the company Automattic is leaning on, came into existence in 2013, and I suspect will be out the door before its 10 year mark. Such is the way of life on the Internet. All of these are fads and fads can raise millions, but they eventually all die. Automattic will simply pull out the block from Jetpack and replace it with something else, but we users will be left with broken links and missing context on our blogs.

When the block was introduced some time ago, I played with it and added some GIFs to a blog post. It’s a lot of fun to express ourselves visually. But if branch.com is any indication, embeds come back to bite us later on.

Therefore, I’m getting off embeds. I’d rather download the GIF and upload it to my media. I’d rather take a screenshot of a webpage than to iframe it and hope it sticks around a few years from now. Jetpack already has a massive CDN operation behind them, so you’re never really serving your content directly from your site if they can help it. So there’s no need to worry about storage and bandwidth issues.

As I go through my site, rediscovering old posts, I’ll keep coming across these embeds. Whenever I have context, I’ll try to replace it with relevant information. But, as in the case of branch.com, I will just put a note that explains what happened there, some general thoughts on the topic, and move on. Once bitten by embeds, twice shy now.

The deadline is always now

Any good personal blog is like an episode of Seinfeld – there’s a lot of navel-gazing, an excess of philosophizing, and not a lot of public good comes out of it. That’s fine, because the personal gains are humongous, if metered like the seasons of self-love and loathing.

Whenever I think of non-text forms of blogging – podcasts, and photostreams – I realize that neither of those are truly enough. You can express a lot in a photo, but it feels static, whereas the written word has largely proven that it should always be taken with a grain of salt based on the time from which the writing belongs. You can’t express a lot in podcasts because speech is such a thing that it derails the most cohesive of thought. I’ve rarely ever come across a podcast that was more than one person, off-script, and intelligible after about five minutes of listening.

But blogging, well, that’s something. Don’t take my word for it. Here are my favorite quotes about this art form –

A blog is sort of like an exhale.

– Nora Ephron, 2006, via Daniel Gray

For bloggers, the deadline is always now.

– Andrew Sullivan, 2008, via tedium, via The Atlantic

I used to think that if I critique something on my blog – a book, or an idea, or a movie – it should be well researched and well structured. The frivolous thoughts are for microblogging. I still think that about the other forms of blogging. But there’s vgr, holding a mirror, saying, “No, blogging is for everyone and everything. Dump your worst ideas and your stupidest thoughts on your webspace. Are you that curated in your offscreen life too?”

I’ve written a few book reviews and notes and movie reviews here on my blog. The only time I’ve received any form of feedback is when I criticized a highly timely and visible piece of tech, which was immediately picked up by the lead developer and I’m glad I was wrong and completely out of line and learnt that over time.

I love the concept of blogging, but, and I believe this to be true for a lot of bloggers out there, am held back by this wanton need for perfection. Screw the perfection. Just hit publish. The deadline for your thoughts is always now.

p.s. I’ve linked to a lot of posts from my own blog. Because once a blogger is done navel-gazing, it’s time to make others do the same!

Update. Perfect timing – after I wrote this post, I updated my Jetpack plugin and they’ve added a new Gutenberg feature to find and add GIFs to posts. What could be more frivolous than GIFs? So here’s one –

Update. More timely validation, this time from a more professional environment that uses blogging –

Perfection is the enemy of the good

Have No Fear – Learning to love your blog

Update. Austin Kleon on the importance of revisiting diaries (and his blog) –

[…] the live reading and revision, that’s what this blog is for. It’s the place where I take private thoughts and turn them public, see what the reaction is, if any, and then weave what I’ve learned back into the work.

The importance of revisiting notebooks

Don’t Moleskine your blog

Have you ever seen people using a Moleskine notebook in public? You can see them using a fancy pen or pencil, writing in beautiful cursive, making excellent sketches, drawing straight lines without scales, right into their beautiful overpriced notebooks. It’s a gorgeous and truly scary sight.

I’ve never been able to buy a Moleskine notebook. I’ve often come across them in shops and stores, but every time I flip through the well weighted, elegant pages, which can give you paper cuts all day, I realize that I’m not worthy of a Moleskine. My handwriting is terrible. My ability to sketch wouldn’t save my life! Besides, the most important thing I want out of any notebook is the ability to scribble random ideas, or write small notes into. I want to just dump chicken scratch and small paragraphs in, without having to worry about elongating, or writing perfectly. Do I furiously scratch out words as I’m writing? All the time.

Would I ever want to use a Moleskine for that? No.

I recently came across this post by Jeff Perry –

It got me thinking – do we sometimes treat out blogs as Moleskine notebooks? Do we worry that we must only present our best writing on them, instead of just putting our ideas out there, perfection be damned? Yes, we do. We write entire posts and then save them in drafts, only to forget them forever. Either we’re not proud of our writing, or we’re not sure if it’s the right time to publish them, or we’re unnecessarily being perfectionists. Whatever the reason, what happens when you open your blog the next time? You come to the homepage, or the admin dashboard, and what do you see? The drafts? No. That’s a hidden page somewhere, totally ignored. So we move on to the next idea, and then the next, until our creativity is stifled and our spirits dampened by the lack of publishing. Why do we do this? Because the home page of our blog, at least in our minds, is a public space, and on it, only our best work should be displayed. But this is not true. CMSes allow two states – logged in and logged out. When you’re logged in, your blog’s home page is, in fact, not a public space, but a private one. Most of us do not realize or understand this, let alone capitalize on this simple idea.

I learnt about this problem in 2017 and solved it for myself. I want to share the idea with you, dear reader, so you can also stop moleskinning your blog. I’ve alluded to me writing this post before, specifically mentioning a key aspect of my solution – that when you see my blog’s 2018 archive, you see 25 posts, while I see 59. Yes, that’s thirty four posts that are not sitting tucked away in a drafts folder, but active and alive on my blog, albeit only for me.

Here’s how – this plugin on WordPress can set the default visibility of every new post you create on the web to Private. If you’ve never done this before (and I had not, till I discovered this solution), go ahead and manually try it now. When you change the visibility of a post to Private, WordPress immediately changes the save prompt from “save as draft” to Publish. You can finally get it – you can hit that Publish button and get that sweet, sweet rush of publishing something, but you can also get the freedom to read your post after some time, catch a few errors, a sentence you don’t like and such, and finally, when you’re happy with it, you can publish it publicly, which, by then would be a much smaller cognitive step than publishing it for the first time.

Side note – I’ve long recognized that seeing your blog posts on the front page of your blog, with theme and all, is a much different experience than writing and editing inside a text area and then publishing it. The feel is different, your eyes move differently to that beautifully set font, but most importantly – your mind responds differently.

I’ve tried hard to capture this feeling. A few years ago, when I found out about front end editors, I tried every single one I could get my hands on. One of my favorite ones was Barley. It was very well built, and a charm to work with. But front end editors come and go. Besides, the mind’s response to an editor is still that it is just that – a workspace. Even in the look and feel of my blog’s theme, the words seemed to flow differently when they were in edit mode.

I’ve been excited about Gutenberg since it was announced. But when I installed it in beta, it was horrible. However, the first release was actually quite good for me. For some reason, when I turned on SSL on my blog, one of the Gutenberg JS files crapped out (probably something to do with bad caching) and I can’t use it any more for post creation. I’ve gone back to the Classic Editor for now.

Just as well, because I noticed that when I was using Gutenberg, my willingness to quickly pound out an idea to the blog actually went down. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Private Posts by Default plugin only works on the blog when using the Classic Editor. That’s because it uses JavaScript to change the visibility setting on the fly. It’s a little silly, but it’s a better solution than the other hacks I’ve found, including a database script that’s changes the visibility setting as soon as you actually publish a post to public <shudders>.

Coming back from that long winding side note, when you’ve published a post to private, go your blog’s front page and just read. Be a consumer. Be a reader. The first time I did that, I found two spelling mistakes I’d made towards the end of my post. It’s so much easier to do that when your mind is just casually glancing at words instead of trying hard to be creative and write. The second time I did it, I was able to find a few sentences I hated reading and edited. Immediately after I made the edits in both the cases, I changed the settings to set the visibility to Public and published my posts. I’ve even used this process to sit on a post for a few days, slowly edited it every day, till I was ready to hit publish. Of course, you need to be careful to set the time and date of publishing to the current time and date instead of the value it’ll actually be – the time when you first hit Publish.

You don’t have to use the plugin. Whenever I’m on the WordPress iOS apps, I just head to the Post Settings section and quickly set the visibility to Private.

As I said before, stop moleskinning your blog. It’s not a perfect, pristine place which must always reflect the best work you’ve ever done. It’s alive. It’s a creative space where your ideas should stare you in the face so you can always work on them, and when they’re presentable, you can show them to the world. If you don’t ever want to, that’s fine too.

p.s. I let this post marinate on my blog in private mode for one night. According to WordPress, I have edited it twelve times after the initial publish. 😊

A year with Facebook

A year ago, I decided to change my relationship with Facebook. I decided to be more active on the network, but not in the way Facebook would want me to be – commenting, liking, browsing, and clicking more.

I wanted to use Facebook to put out my thoughts more. So I actively started blogging more and putting it all on Facebook, a practice I had stopped for a while because I wasn’t getting anything out of it. I did another thing – something I’ve often been told off for, but I just wanted to experiment with – I connected my twitter account with Facebook. The benefit? All my tweets (and quote tweets, which is a little silly) started getting posted to Facebook. This meant that each passing, silly thought, which we often toss into the void, became instantly visible to my real life friends.

In a way, I did do all the things that would be considered an increase in Facebook activity – I have spent the past year listening to a podcast called Philosophize This! The podcast has an accompanying community on Facebook. Though I didn’t interact with the community much, I did become a part of it. I also found a community relating to an app I use a lot – Day One. The community also chugs along, though I’ve not derived as much value from it as I would like.

I also started using Facebook a lot more. There was a time when I would gleefully count the stupid notification counter on the Facebook website approach 99. I call it stupid not because I have prejudice against it. I like notifications. They’re an excellent approach to garnering attention. But somewhere along the way, Facebook decided that I am not a worthy enough user of their service and they downgraded my experience. They made the counter stupid by pushing every little activity to it. Things which belong in the newsfeed – someone posted something, someone liked someone else’s post, someone had a birthday – were suddenly in my notifications. But at the beginning of the year, I decided to be more proactive, hoping that the algorithm would notice this and rid me of the stupid notifications and only give me the smart ones. I’ll let you know that the algorithm is not smart. It never did recognize my contribution and that portion of the experiment quickly bombed. Now I don’t care what the notification counter says. Whenever it irks me, I click it to reset it and ignore the notifications. (They’ve added even more notifications now – friend suggestions, community posts; heck they’ve even added Facebook notifications to the Instagram app, because why ruin just one social network when you can ruin two?)

I even went ahead and actively started using Instagram. I thought, maybe one Facebook property will feed into the algorithm of the other? See above regarding algorithm smartness.

But the last thing, that of posting more, I did religiously. After my initial December 20th, 2017 post, I’ve posted 25 public posts on my blog, a marked increase over the 13 posts I made in 2017. The plan was that all of the posts would be posted to Facebook and the ensuing conversations, controversy, and opinion would all happen in Facebook. After all, only if I contribute more to the platform, will I reap the rewards of the happiness that are supposed to come from it.

I also definitely did not delete any (well, most) of the tweets that got pushed from twitter to Facebook. I don’t like posting about political stuff openly. It’s like religion, everyone has one, and it’s best kept personal. But some tweets do get out once in a while. I believe I deleted those from Facebook. About 70 tweets made it to Facebook before disaster struck.

In the words of Hillary Clinton,

What Happened?

Well, the year started off nicely. Posting to Facebook is certainly a good way to garner attention. Friends who often forget that I have a blog were reading my posts and sometimes even clicking through to come to my actual website to check it out. The fact that Facebook discards in-text HTML, thus removing all URL references from a post both helps and hinders. It removes all context, but it also means that astute readers realized they had to click through.

I don’t have a lot of unknowns on my Facebook account. I do have a bunch of acquaintances, and people I haven’t met in years. I’m not a particularly social person irl. But everyone on there is someone I know or knew once. So it’s not like I was able to appeal to the masses and drive ‘traffic’ to my blogs. What I did achieve is a meager amount of conversation – a few likes and comments per post.

This extended to both types of posts. Folks who had never heard me express things about the random topics I post about on twitter and other microblogs, suddenly had access to my thoughts. Some reacted like idiots, some had positive or negative comments, and some just hit like and moved on.

All this stopped on August 1st. The declaration came in the form of a blog post by Facebook on their developer portal on April 24th. It was hidden between a bunch of other deprecated APIs, which I’m sure broke a lot of other things for other people. At the time, a huge noise rose, specially in the WordPress world about this. A lot of blogs depended on this API to post to Facebook using either the Jetpack plugin or the dlvr.it service (or other, similar services). Matt Mullenweg commented on the change, hoping that Facebook will reverse their decision and re-embrace the open web, to which this decision shuts the doors. But that’s not Facebook’s way. I reckon they heard him once in 2017, so they’re done listening to him for a decade.

I didn’t bother with finding workarounds to this problem. Smarter and more dedicated people than me would have found ways if there were any. Regardless, I wrote a blogpost on August 2nd and manually posted it to my Facebook profile on August 11th. This was my last cross-post from twitter or my blog to Facebook. It did not get any likes or comments.

According to some people, removing this API is important in helping fight the corruption that was revealed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But from what I can see, removing the ability for content to come in through legitimate sources is certainly not the way to go if you want to increase trust in your system. This was just a random move by Facebook, which is running around in headless chicken mode right now. It would be better if it were actually headless right now though, because the current head is part of the pattern of problems that Facebook manifests in this world.

Regardless, my year-long experiment ended mid-year.

The outcome of this experiment was this – I fell in love with the written word again. I also fell in love with my blog again. Though I now have newfound respect for a few things – first of all, I’m glad that my twitter is no longer connected to Facebook. The stream of consciousness that goes into twitter is not at all suited to Facebook, even though it should be, and for a majority of the world this has been a learning curve. Rants and raves belong to the place where outrage is common. You put it on Facebook and you alienate friends and get fired from jobs. While none of that happened to me, the effect was clear – people who I’ve never bothered to talk to my every day thoughts about were suddenly talking to me about them whenever I met them. This was… awkward. So I’m glad it’s no longer happening.

The second thing I’m glad of is discovering a rather important aspect of WordPress – private blog posts. While I’d like to talk about this more in another post, the overview is this – when you see 24 published posts for the year of 2018, I see 58. My process used to be that I would write a post and just leave it in drafts if it didn’t feel ‘complete’. This was wholly unsatisfying. Now, I privately publish my posts, giving them a timestamp that helps me date my thoughts. I also believe deeply in the concept of the blog as an Outboard brain as once proposed by Cory Doctorow. Though not as vibrant and well published as his blog, Boing Boing, my blog is my space, and having things published and showing up on the home page of my site when I’m logged in means I get to think about those things more.

What happened on the Facebook end of things? I noticed that the folks who interacted most with my posts were the same over and over – friends in the US who share my time zone, and some in India who I frequently interact with on Facebook. But what happened when the posts stopped? Nothing.

No one noticed. No one pinged me and asked me what was wrong with my blog and my tweets. Part of this is just the way the internet operates. Even with the extensive RSS setup I have, where I follow a lot of amazing blogs, if one slows down, I don’t have an easy way to figure it out. Time spent on the internet gets filled up by whatever is available.

The other half of this, I blame on Facebook. Their algorithm has become too smart for themselves. A willing user such as I should be able to push my posts to my friends without acting like an SMB and paying them money. In the same breath that they turned off the wall feeds, they promoted creating a separate page for one’s blog. This is a bad approach. For Facebook, it makes perfect sense – they can easily show hundreds of thousands new pages being created within the year, with all that untapped potential for paid promotions. That money will never come. A blogger such as I would rather trust the open web as a source of feedback and views than Facebook, whose track record for respecting ad spend is poor if not terrible. Facebook is a hungry beast, always looking for its next fix.

I’m tired of being Facebook’s fix. I don’t care for it any more. I have had an intense love for it as a platform at one time. I’ve been in awe of the leadership at one point. But now the spells are broken. 2018 was a journey, both public and private, in trying to see where Facebook goes. For me, it’s led itself to a dead end.

postscript – I opened Facebook recently, after perhaps a month, and a few things jumped at me. First of all, Facebook wished me for being with them since ten years. I think that’s serendipity. No social network online has a good life of more than a decade. Facebook should be no exception. While the company has morphed and plundered and established itself as the place to go to steal access user data, it should know that its main platform is tired and done for. I will slowly stop visiting and interacting with it. I know a lot of people have done this in 2018, but I still have derived some utility from it, so I’m sure it’ll feel somewhat bad to do so. On a new device I setup recently, I specifically made it a point to uninstall Facebook (it came preinstalled for some reason), while I did install Instagram. I know this is counter intuitive, but this is a signal from me to the company that it’s time to retire your aging platform or at least break it up instead of amalgamating into it. Facebook’s ugly attempts at driving people back towards their main property are so transparent that they should accept that it’s time.

The second thing I noticed was that Facebook had killed off an ugly experiment it has forced me to be a part of since two years – the Facebook marketplace and Video tabs. The main app has had these tabs since the beginning of 2017 for me (ymmv) and I never used them. I’ve looked forward to the day Facebook does *one* smart thing and recognizes that users would like an experience that’s suited to their needs instead of Facebook’s. By the way, for a brief time last year, when I discovered the Facebook groups app, my daily activity on Facebook actually increased, because I was able to get an ad-free, clean, groups-only experience of Facebook. Then FB killed off that app. So it goes. I’m glad that Facebook has removed its craigslist clone from my Facebook experience, but I didn’t celebrate it the day I saw it. Too little, too late.

Some thoughts on WordPress 5 and Gutenberg

Ok, this is me trying out Gutenberg after it’s full GA release. Let’s see how well it works. This entire post has been written on Gutenberg on Firefox on Windows, saved, privately published, and then edited on Gutenberg on Firefox on Mac, and published publicly. Yay.

Hmmm. There are some interesting quirks. The private publishing thing is available, so potentially there’s scope for the private posts plugin to be updated for Gutenberg. I like this plugin because every post is private by default and that gives me the freedom to publish immediately and edit later.

On a rock, undecided.

There’s an oddity here that might be useful to most people – when you start editing, the menu on the right shifts from Document to Block, so you can quickly change the Block settings if you want. That’s nice and all, but the switch is irritating to me. Maybe in a while I won’t even notice.

Other than that, it’s definitely performing better than it was last time I played with it, when it was in beta. That time, it just completely soured my experience because it kept crapping out on me. But this time, it seems stable and I can actually type a sentence without being constantly kicked out of the editor.

This is a title. Yeah, I know.

LOL. I just noticed that Gutenberg has support for drop capping. I don’t think I’ve ever had it before in my blogs. Interesting!

Is Gutenberg supposed to be useful for longform writing too? I don’t think longformers care about inline images. Also, the whole moving text up or down thing doesn’t make much sense to me. It’s just a weird concept. Maybe it’s useful to speech writers or essay writers – they need to present ideas in coherent ways, with each paragraph a complete idea. So technically, they could massively benefit from being able to move ideas around quickly for the overall coherence and flow of the thing they’re writing.

Wait, does Gutenberg not have autosave? The Classic editor does. It does it every time you stop writing for a significant and noticeable amount of time. But Gutenberg just seems to sit there.

I hit the gear icon and the right side menu disappeared. That’s good. More screen space to focus on writing, even though all the writing is happening within this one central column.

I wonder if Gutenberg would be useful to Instagram poets. Does this allow you to place text anywhere on the page? That might make a very pretty ‘flow’ thing that would work beautifully! If it doesn’t exist, someone should make it!

I really like Unsplash for pictures now. It’s not always on point, but there are some gorgeous pics out there! The Instant Images plugin is also nice – it doesn’t play with Gutenberg, but it sits outside and so it’s easy to add an image and then come to Gutenberg on an already open post and just click on the image block to pull the latest images. That seems to work well. My main problem with the plugin is that it’s got a max image size. They’re just trying to foster consistency, I think. But for an image that’s 5000×4000, to bring it down to 1600×1200 max size is a little irritating. But it does the sizing well actually. No graininess there! (Except maybe the graininess introduced by my theme)

Inline images in Gutenberg aren’t perfect. They don’t do everything as advertised, which will put more pressure on theme devs, I think. For example, the three images in my post till now don’t quite align the way I see them inside the editor. Weird. I wonder how they’ll look if I exit the editor and come back?

Embeds are separately supported now, as a block for each one of them. Nice. Good exposure to functionality. Earlier it used to be – use this shortcut and put the url in there in this format, and then do this incantation to call upon that demon to embed stuff on your blog. Now, it’s just there. Might actually cause an increase in link embedding across WordPresslandia. Maybe. Let’s see. I noticed after publishing that the embed doesn’t look the same inside and outside. Jeez. I think the embeds are a feature of Jetpack and that needs to be further updated to work properly with Gutenberg?

Instagram embedding did not work. Maybe because my blog isn’t https? I dunno. It’s fine.

I wonder if Automattic is tracking Gutenberg installs and usage? They should. It’s pretty good to highlight usage in the first week, first month etc.

edit: When Gutenberg opens in edit view (or maybe this is only on Mac), the currently being edited block is highlighted while others are faded out. That’s nice for focus, but weird for reading and revising

edit to that edit: I realized this is called Spotlight mode. Now, why is Spotlight mode active on my Mac and not on Windows? Don’t tell me there’s small JS differences which the devs have not reconciled yet.

edit: Gutenberg is NOT a happy camper on the Mac. I can move the central edit column horizontally in a not-so-good way. Separately, the dropcap paragraph, when it moves into edit mode, removes the dropcap in a very ugly way.

Verdict: I’m keeping Gutenberg on for a while. A few more posts it in. Let’s see. I already have the Classic Editor installed and I might just go back to that if I don’t see a lot of value in Gutenberg, or if I see a lot of noise in it.

That’s all folks!


Now and Then

A few years ago, a rather interesting idea came to my attention. In an effort to better inform their readers about their day-to-day activities, some bloggers decided to create a ‘now’ page. This page would be frequently updated with what the blogger was doing right now (today, this week, or this month) and would be a great way to update people and also push bloggers to interact with their blog more frequently.

That idea started with Derek Sivers and is immortalized on the nownownow.com website.

I too made a /now page. You can see it here or from the main menu on my site.

Recently, I came across the idea of an ‘on this day’ page here and here. I found it interesting enough to want to implement it on my blog too. Note that this is different than an archive page, which WordPress already has, because that just lists blog posts as a list and is a great way to find a particular post, but not a great way to discover or reminisce.

I call it the /then page. You can see mine here. Most days, it’ll be blank, while some days will show 3-4 posts over the years. That’s just how my creativity ebbs and flows, and how my day job keeps me busy on certain times of the year more than others.

I hope to use the now and then pages frequently, to discover old posts and rethink ideas, and explain to the world and to myself what I’m doing. If you come to the then page and see it is blank, drop me a line and remind me to blog more often! 🙂

If you want to discuss how I made it, drop me a line here and I’ll flesh out the basics in the commends. Most of the code came from Colin Walker.

Squarespace is the best and the worst at RSS

Within the last 12 hours, I’ve come across two websites hosted on Squarespace that portray how one mustn’t do RSS. Sadly, at some level, it’s not necessary that the owners of these websites even know what I’m talking about.

I’d like to name these sites –

Soup

and

StephenMarche

These are nice sites – well designed, purposeful, vibrant. But their content is so pitifully inaccessible through RSS. Here’s why –

With Soup, I really wanted to get RSS access to all of the topics they cover. These are Culture, Food, Interviews, Features, to name a few. Usually, when I’m on a site that has RSS feeds, the SubToMe extension tells me how to get to it. In the case of Soup, it failed. The content is visible on the homepage, but the RSS feed that it picked up was blank –

http://thesoup.website/index-rally?format=RSS

‘rally’ is what piqued my interest. What is this CMS?

WhatCMS says that it’s Squarespace.

Well, what do Squarespace’s docs say about RSS feeds? Do they even support them?

As it turns out, they do, and quite well! (or so say their docs)

So I opened each of the ‘topics’ I wanted to subscribe to on Soup’s site and found their RSS feeds using SubToMe. One example –

http://thesoup.website/culturesoup/ -> http://thesoup.website/culturesoup?format=RSS

I immediately noticed that the content is there in it’s entirety! That’s amazing. It almost never happens on commercial sites that the RSS feed carries the entire content.

Good – RSS feeds contain entire content

Bad – I had to subscribe to eight different feeds. There’s no parent or ‘all’ feed

 

Later, I came across Stephen Marche’s writing in NYT and that led me to his site. Again, beautiful site, really modern, really functional and pleasing. I jumped to the Essays -> Recent Work section but alas, SubToMe didn’t find any RSS feed!

By now, I’d wizened up. I know that on most pages, just adding ‘?format=rss’ at the end will get me the RSS feed. So I did that. Nothing. Why is that? Perhaps because the recent work page isn’t really a traditional list of items that Squarespace converts into RSS. It’s a static page which the Admin just adds URLs to the top of. But how would I know the difference? There’s no way. So as of right now, I’m subscribed to Soup’s RSS but not to Stephen Marche’s. I followed him on Medium, but ugh.

Pro – ???

Con – Maybe the admin turned off RSS on purpose? Maybe the page I’m looking at cannot support RSS?

Now, I can reach out to the owners of these sites to figure things out. Maybe I’ll end up educating them on the importance of RSS and maybe I’ll learn something new about Squarespace (do they even support an ‘all’ RSS feed? I don’t know, I’ve never used the platform). Maybe all they need is a slight push in the right direction, or maybe it’s a long project that’ll require a reworking of their workflow (which, tbh, why would they do that for me?)

But I don’t want to do any of this. RSS is the perfect stalker medium on the Internet. Facebook and WhatsApp show you read notifications. On twitter and Instagram you’d end up hitting ‘like’ by mistake. But RSS is one-way (depending on which RSS reader you use) and so it’s perfect for people like me who just want to cultivate their little corner of the Internet.

There’s a post out today by Brent Simmons talking about an article that’s talking about the demise of RSS. Brent points out that RSS doesn’t need to be the ‘default’ for everyone and RSS readers don’t need to be installed on every device on Earth for this to be a successful technology. It already is.

This is most visible with beautiful walled gardens such as Squarespace. Most people who host with Squarespace do it because it’s commercial and aligns with their interests. The primary method of communication for consumers is the newsletter. There are options for eCommerce shops, podcasting, and email campaigns. Much off this could happen without RSS. But Squarespace took the basic RSS technology and chose to use it as the back-end for most of these things. Podcasting is basically an RSS feed with audio attached, so there really was no choice but to use this open standard. Wherever RSS feeds are available, they’re full length and rather useful. So could RSS have a place on the Internet? It already does.

Intent

One of the bloggers I follow on the net, Chris Lovie-Tyler, recently moved from WordPress on his personal blog to a TinyLetter based newsletter on a new domain. Most of what he posts are poems and perhaps these poems are better suited on this new domain. As much as I hate newsletters (and podcasts), I followed him.

But that got me thinking – why do we follow people around?

Well, not physically. That’d be creepy. We follow a lot of people around online. Whenever you join a new social network (Facebook, twitter, Instagram), you follow a bunch of people. Slowly, you realize who posts good content and who doesn’t and you tweak that list based on your interests (in the case of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg personally edits your news feed to make it more boring).

Ok snarky, let’s stick to non-Facebook more-public social networks.

When you’re on Instagram, you see an interesting post, you open the person’s profile, you like some of their photos and then you follow them.

When you’re on twitter, you see an interesting tweet and, though you may or may not go check out the person’s older tweets, you follow them around.

But there’s a very small disconnect between these two activities – liking someone’s current content, and expecting their future content to be the same, or better, or interesting enough. You take on a risk when you follow someone online. They could be no more funny/interesting than you are, and then you’re stuck following someone who doesn’t inspire or interest you. They could be posting pics of their recent vacation, after which they’ll get back to posting pics of their lunches and their not-so-cute dog. They could have made an epic joke tweet, and use that spurt of popularity to start pushing a different agenda which you wholly disagree with (as is usually the case for meme accounts)!

All of that is possible. After all, most people lead ordinary lives. They aren’t constantly discovering new places or going on impromptu adventures. They work, eat, sleep, pretty much at the same places.

So why do we follow these people around? What is our intent in hitting that follow button?

Mind you, I’m excluding Facebook (and WhatsApp and if we were ten years ago, Orkut) because there, you know most of the people you follow. Even if you know them as acquantances, it’s still you following someone who you already know something about.

But why do we follow absolutely random strangers on the Internet? That too, based on one tweet, one post, one photo they’ve posted? We’ve often joked about it, but these social networks have indeed turned us into stalkers of the highest order. We peek into the lives of absolute strangers with no easy way to communicate with them meaningfully (likes and hearts are not communication, they’re a distraction). So it’s comfortable, easy, accepted to see something interesting and just hit follow. We’ll worry about the content later. Not following someone is kind of like not bookmarking an interesting article to read later. We never read it later, but we do get FOMO if we don’t bookmark it.

Coming back to it, I read Chris’ blog post about his move from the personal blog to the new domain. An hour later, I saw an email from him, inviting me to follow his journey on to the newsletter. Now, as I said, I don’t like newsletters. Gmail is not an ideal space for reading. Email is not geared towards enjoying good writing. It’s work. I thank Google for creating the concept of Promotions, Social, Updates and Forums sections. It tells me the things I need to care for and the things I do not need to care for. But as has been pointed out before, Gmail is killing blogs. There are so many ways outside of Gmail where one can follow people, so why do it inside it?

Yet, newsletters remain popular and one of the popular services to send newsletters – TinyLetter – doesn’t have RSS feed support. So I can’t follow Chris’ new adventure through my beloved RSS feed reader. But I want to follow Chris. I discovered Chris’ writing pretty much the same way we discover people on twitter or Instagram – one interesting post.

But then I went ahead and did something which we do not do on other social networks (remember, the open web is also a massive social network) – I went back in time and read every single one of Chris’ posts. Wait, no no, I worded that wrong. I went back to the beginning of Chris’ blog and read every single one of his posts. Lucky for me, it extended only to February 2018.

That’s when I decided that this person was worth following around. There is a massive difference between me and him – I’m not a poet, not a Christian, never been to NZ. But his words are beautiful and always strike a note in my mind. Here’s one of my favorite poems –

Sunday birds
————
My ears ring with the silence
of Sunday morning

Only the birds are up,
gently stirring the neighbourhood
to consciousness

This is the reason why I followed Chris’ blog – I liked all or most of his previous posts. That volume of past work assured me that I will like what this person puts out in the future too. This sort of freedom – to explore a person’s past work in its entirety without being pushed to follow them and move on – can only come from the Internet at large. After all, if I forget or close the tab or move on and want to come back later, my browser remembers every page I’ve looked at forever. This is not true for any of the silos we use – twitter doesn’t remind us which tweets we’ve looked at, Instagram doesn’t tell us the name of that one person who had that one vacation photo in Barcelona which we liked but never double tapped on.

There’s one more thing. I instantly felt this when I saw the email and actually asked Chris about this – his push to ask people to move to his newsletter was not some templated email blast to 500 followers. He had about 50 followers on WordPress.com Reader (which, I’ve come to learn recently, is an excellent RSS reader on its own, so if you never wanted to pay for RSS reading, just create a free account on WordPress.com folks) but knew that most of them are following him the same way people follow others on silo medias. No, that email went to a fraction of those and that fraction did the smart thing and subscribed to the newsletter.

I’ve meandered enough through this post. I just wanted to say that when you’re in a silo network, the push, the intent of following people is two-fold – as a user, you don’t want to miss out on future posts, and as a company, they want to show growth. But when you’re out on the open web – the intent in following someone is better – it’s about your personal connection with the person and their work. If you like it, you’ll follow them to the ends of the Earth. Otherwise, there’s that unsubscribe button. That’s why the open web is better.