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.

Finding my space

A large portion of the Internet is just about discovering interesting things. A part of that is just generally interesting things. But the other part is things that interest us. These two are different.

For most of my lifetime on the Internet, I’ve sought, and found, interesting things. My media diet has varied a lot over the years, flicking from one service and form of information to another. I’ve frequented twitter, Facebook, reddit, news sites, Instagram, blogspot, imgur, tumblr, self hosted blogs, forums, and a whole lot of the Internet I’d rather not talk about. I’ve seen memes (I hate memes), I’ve been caustic (I’ve learnt that’s just not useful to anyone), I’ve read entire books on Gutenberg.

But of late, I’ve noticed that I’ve finally found my space. Some people find it on tumblr or twitter because that’s where the people are. I’ve found it on RSS. I follow, unfollow, cull, clean, unsubscribe and resubscribe to blogs a lot. Whenever I think about moving away from my current self-hosted RSS feed solution, I look at the 700 odd blogs I follow and think that I’ve got better things to do than to reduce this list to an acceptable-by-the-service-I-want-to-move-to number. I used to follow well over twelve hundred sites,  but I realized that I don’t follow the news the way I used to (now I seek it out myself, when I want to, via Reuters or Apple News), so I unsubscribed every single news-site RSS feed and this is where I am today.

For a short, shining time, I was a part of the App.net story. I wasn’t particularly involved, but I did pay for the API and I did learn a few things along the way. I also made some friends and found more people to follow (overwhelmingly, these are old white guys. Just the demographic frequenting that service, I guess). When ADN went away, I still followed these people’s stories, through other social networks that sprung up (pnut, 10C, micro.blog) but also partly, through their blogs. On these social networks, I found more people to follow their blogs of.

What prompted me to write all of the above? I saw the following post by Colin Walker on his ridiculously well-built blog today –

“It’s not about being perfect, just about being.”

He’d written it in his notebook at some point and took the time to remind readers like me of it.

This idea resounds with me. This is something I’ve struggled a lot with. I’ve tried daily blogging, daily journaling, daily private blogging, scribbling notes on a throwaway page on the net, all in an effort to just put words on the screen, to just ‘be’. It doesn’t matter that those words are perfect. Or, well, it shouldn’t. I still fret over it. I still write something, save the draft, and push it out of my memory, because I worry that it’s not up to the mark. I still feel that a lot of my writing is either too laborious, or too much of a rant, or that I drone on.

Meanwhile, there are people like Colin out there, reassuring us that no one is perfect, that there is nothing more important than putting those words, and oneself, out there. I’m glad I follow his blog, and so, follow him.

I’ve found my space in this one field of interest – writing. There are others I’d like to sate, but I believe I can find blogs for those too. If not, I’ll write about that too, right here, asking for your help, dear reader.

Photo by Blue Trail Photography

Changing my relationship with Facebook

I’ve come across two posts today that are of high interest to me (and probably to you, dear reader).

First is this official Facebook blogpost here. It talks about how Facebook has discovered that those who use social media passively, just for browsing, end up sadder than those who use it actively, commenting and chatting with friends. I’ve seen people use Facebook for posting material which I sometimes thought was too long or too short or too general to be posted on what is supposed to be a rather private network. But if it brings joy to them, and helps me connect with them, then why not, right?

The second post is here. It’s a heartbreaking tale about how the algorithm destroys relationships and makes us devoid of important information. The algorithm is prioritizing information for us and in the process is making us less human. Please do read it.

I’ve been thinking about Facebook’s blogpost and I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way forward is to game the system. What does that mean? It means to post frequently and interact with people. It means to force the algorithm to think that I’m some sort of high value poster. Till date, I’ve refrained from cross-posting my tweets to Facebook. I believed that Facebook is reserved for longer posts, meatier ones that mean something to the people to whom I’m posting. But the algorithm doesn’t think like that. The algorithm rewards those who post often instead of those who post things of value. So I guess that ends now. Thoughts are thoughts, no matter how small they are. I’ll post them on Facebook simply so that one day, when I want to post something of value to my friends on Facebook, the algorithm deems me of enough value to make sure they see my posts.

Some of you may object to this on the basis that you see my posts on twitter (and other places). Well if you do and do not interact with my posts on Facebook, the algorithm will downgrade me for your experience. In that way, what Facebook does to control our lives is highly personal and deeply disappointing. Hopefully, you’ll see that.

To all others, I hope you like my short gripes which I send out every once in a while. I’ll try this for the year of 2018 and share the results with you at the end of the year. I posit that inputting more to Facebook will mean I’ll also get more output from it. Let’s see if that turns out to be true.

Thoughts on a required reading page for blogs

I’ve been following Colin Walker’s thoughts on a ‘required reading’ page since Monday and have been thinking about it myself. His own thoughts were based on Dave Winer talking about the idea.

What is a required reading page to me?

Dave Winer seems to suggest a page which would link to articles that deeply affect the blogger, or explain their motivations and give context. Colin took the idea further and talked about old posts which the blogger would want to highlight. There could be external links which the blogger would want the reader to get acquainted with before weighing in on the subject the blogger talks about.

Why are we talking about it?

Two years ago, Derek Sivers and party introduced the idea of the /now page. It’s an easy way for bloggers to talk about what they’re doing right now. There was a marked effort to explain that this page would not be automated, so that the blogger frequently updates it and nurtures the page as a window into their lives. You can read my /now page here.

These ideas – a now page, and a required reading page, are extensions of a blog and a way to empower bloggers to build a blog as an extension of their lives. Sure, you can post what you’re working on on Instagram, and rant about it on twitter. But when it lives on your blog, you care about it more, and so does your reader.

When I was thinking about it, I felt that the required reading page is better implemented by the blogger simply choosing to write about the topic they care about. If you want people to notice a certain article, just blog about it, quote it, and explain your take on it. Ask the reader for their takeaway too. Perhaps, in that sense, a required reading page is every page on your blog. If you care about it enough to write about it, I’ll know that you recommend that I read it too. That is how it works right now, and that’s why I read Dave Winer’s post – because Colin Walker was talking about it.

But when you look at the way people blog now, a lot of bloggers have, since a long time, maintained a page of reading which they want to highlight. Famous bloggers often have a page which lists their most popular blog posts (a great example is this page by Leo Babauta) and others often point to external reading that they value. It’s time this too is formalized into a format and a ‘named’ page, so as to guide future bloggers (and current bloggers) and help leapfrog the blog from a stream of thoughts and articles to a centerpiece of activity and a deeper reflection of the blogger’s life.

p.s. Named pages are useful in both kickstarting a blog and maintaining it for your readers. Examples are the About page, the /now page, the Colophon page (which talks about your tools, your blog’s history; sort of an extended About page; here’s an example), and now, hopefully, the required reading page. As Colin says in his post about the Required Reading page –

I’m going to spend some time considering what I might have on mine.

unpublished, unwritten, unprocessed.

I think a lot, mostly about random things. There’s a few stories or articles always knocking around in my head at all times, such as this one which I’m writing right now.

Most of these ideas come in three out of four categories –

  1. unpublished
  2. unwritten and
  3. unprocessed.

I’ve got a drafts folder filled to the brim with written stuff that passed it’s time-frame without me hitting publish. I do that out of laziness and because I keep thinking that I want to edit, correct, rewrite. Bah. I hate that habit. It works fine for fiction, because that’s timeless. But anything else, mostly stuff I write for my blog, I should just hit publish and get it out in any form.

Then there are the unwritten ones. These are mostly stories, which I keep dreaming up ways to write. In my mind, I’ve got an open novel, a novella, a collection of short stories and some random stories just knocking around, trying to get out. I wonder when I’ll find the time/inclination to write them. Maybe I’ll use NaNoWriMo to get some of those on paper*.

Then there are the unprocessed things – fleeting thoughts I’ve had which came and went or ideas I remember today but are gone by the time tomorrow becomes current. I hate those ideas for slipping away, because I feel like a gold miner who let a huge chunk of gold wash away with the mud. Some of them come back and start troubling me again, but most of them are lost between my synapses, never to be thought of again.

Finally, there are those rare ones which are processed, written and published too. Those gems are the ones I’m most proud of you. I love having more and more of those, though I keep fooling myself that unwritten and unpublished are good enough too.

I wish upon you, oh reader, that you have the most of the fourth category of whatever your art is. I wish upon myself the same.

Cheers!

Nitin

Let’s talk about Tor

Teleread recently covered how the New Hampshire Public Library turned its Tor Relay back on, despite warnings from local law enforcement that although the router itself isn’t illegal, it will likely be used for illegal purposes. The article points out that Tor is an important service because, keeping aside the negatives that come from total anonymity, it provides political dissidents a way to bypass censorship. This is important for the growth of democracy in all countries around the world.

There is, of course, the other side – that Tor is used by a wide variety of undesirables who use it for nefarious purposes using the blanket cover of anonymity as a defense against possible government intervention. In that sense, Tor is kind of like torrents. You can download every open-source Linux distro ever created using torrents, but most people are probably just downloading pirated content off it. Continue reading