The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete. They just have to go fix it — often in the face of people who say it’s impossible or are content with the status quo.Rands In Repose: Hacking is Important
I’m looking for a suggestion, or a coalescence of suggestions to drive me towards a solution.
I’m looking for a read later solution that doubles as a notes repository. See, I want to not just read longform articles at peace, I want to also take notes and highlight things and (maybe?) search my notes and recall things over time.
Here’s a list of everything I’ve tried to date –
- Instapaper – Of course this is first on the list. It ticks off almost all the boxes. It’s reasonably priced, cheaper ($30/year) than its main competitor, and has been around since forever. It’s also everywhere. Why am I even writing this post? Well…
- Pocket – This is the alternative. It’s nice. It’s too well integrated into my current browser of choice (Firefox). It handles video etc well, supposedly. (Ah, that’s why I’m pondering this – should I lean towards Pocket because it does things that Instapaper simply is not capable of?) Flip side – Pocket just looks wonky. It’s like they married Material Design and never looked beyond. I hate that their list view doesn’t show snippets of the text of the article (Instapaper does). Heck, I modify my RSS readers to show me that stuff, who is Pocket not to show it to me? When there’s a banner image available, Pocket prefers to show that, which just shows that their style is more images-visual then text-readable. It gives me pause. Also, expensive! Though it’s just $15/annum more than Instapaper.
- Wallabag – Yes, this is ‘mainstream’ because AlternativeTo lists it as a leading alternative to Instapaper. It’s also the one most talked about after the top two. Wallabag is nice, and it makes me pause and wonder whether I want vendor lock-in and data dependency over time. Options like wallabag are what make it difficult for people like me to choose closed source over open source. Damn you French people! The problems with wallabag are more like – their iOS apps don’t support note-taking, and neither do their iOS website versions. It’s really painful that I have almost everything I need, including data independence, and then they lack features on the move. Yikes. Free, self-hosted solutions are nice, if they work. Wallabag has a long way to go because it’s ready for this generation of web users.
- Polar Bookshelf – This is an interesting alternative. Polar lets you save articles into their app in a custom format, called phz, which is basically where they load the page in a custom browser, let the JS finish it’s magic, then lock it down and freeze the page as such, without any JS. This becomes a very impressive document that’s not PDF (ugh, I hate PDFs), but not a live doc either. I’ve had some hits and misses with Polar though. Sometimes, when it screws up a document’s format (because don’t devs love to write weird CSS?), there’s no way to fix that. Also, due to it’s use of a custom browser, it doesn’t support ad-blocking or element removal as yet. The devs have said that they’re working on a solution so we can use our own browsers and the attached technologies, but no idea when that will come along. Last nail in coffin? Polar has a web app and desktop apps, but no mobile apps. But it’s not all bad. Polar is supported by a vigorous sync solution that’s free (you can pay for Pro if you want some cloud storage (2GB-5GB) and hang out at their members-only lounge). The desktop apps are just great when it comes to actual use and reading. The problem? Their design is that you click on an article in their list and it opens a special view where you read and bookmark/take notes in a sidebar. This view doesn’t open in the mobile version of their sites, specially on the iPad, which is where it would be super useful. Instead of that, they do weird stuff like syncing flashcards to Anki. I guess the dev was a student at one point? Also, pricey if you go for premium ($5-$8 depending on how much cloud storage you need. Seriously, how much cloud storage do we need?)
- Hypothes.is – This is, at the same time, not an alternative, and a great alternative. Hypothesis just works. It’s great for when I’m reading something on my desktop, need to quickly highlight, so I hit the bookmarklet and seconds later, the JS has loaded, logged me in, and I’m good to go to highlight and take notes. An amazing thing – hypothesis even works on the move – while they don’t have an app, if you go to their site and paste in a url (this is in mobile Safari), it’ll load up the article with their JS enabled, on their fancy via.hypothes.is domain, and their Annotation and Highlighting features work pretty well there. Problems – lack of app means I end up using the layout of the site, which is something I want to escape at times using pretty read-later fonts and text-extraction. Also, hypothes.is isn’t positioned as read-later+notes. It’s positioned as read-later+notes for scholars, and to promote healthy discussion on the web. This doesn’t mean that your notes are all public. You can choose for them to be private if you want. Also, they have API access for all, but no data export that I could find. Also, also, they don’t add a page to your account till you first annotate it. So it’s not read-later, as much as it’s “we’ll store your highlights and notes from around the web”. Lastly, hypothes.is is free, and a non-profit, and has big media sponsors… I… dunno what to think of that.
- Liner – I got a free sub to this when I first created a Samsung account. It’s… ok? It’s got apps across all platforms. It’s got a good set of features. Frankly, I didn’t use it much. Primarily because damn it’s pricey! $5/mo which reduces to $4/mo when paid yearly. Looking at hypothes.is and even Instapaper, that’s a lot! Heck, even Pocket is cheaper!
Strange experiments of the fourth kind
So, after I mucked around with all kinds of cross-platform services, I dipped my toe into some platform specific, or interesting solutions –
- FiveFilter’s Push to Kindle – Yes, this is a neat solution. I like reading on my Kindle app, and Kindle’s note taking abilities are epic! Every book I’ve read in there has it’s notes stored away safely (really?) in Amazon’s vault. I have exported said notes when I needed them. The problem with this process is that my Kindle experience gets cluttered. Almost all the problems with this process are at Amazon’s end – their library management is pretty s-h-i-t-e. I can’t sort stuff into folders, and for mobi files I’ve exported, if I mistakenly delete them from a device, all my notes are gone too (I think). Also, if I send a document to one device, it doesn’t go to other devices. There’s no way for me to tell the system to send this document to, like, my iPhone and my iPad. Also, even if I send it to my iOS devices, I can’t open the document on Kindle Cloud Reader, which would be a nice-to-have. On the FiveFilter’s side, the problem is that I don’t want to send single documents any more. They clutter my Kindle library up. I want to send a few at a time. So, I discovered –
- Epub Press – Epub Press is this awesome thing that lets you take a bunch of tabs, combine them into one big eBook and ship it away. Well, not quite. Their email function doesn’t work. So I can download the files to my dropbox and sync away. This suits me because I can then import the file to the Kindle app on all my devices. But the text-extraction isn’t very impressive. There was absolutely no formatting applied to the end-product, almost as if it were an archive.org eBook. (I know, I shouldn’t be shitting on a free resource like archive.org, but seriously, they need to learn eBook creation from Gutenberg). Epub Press is a fair solution because they allow you the choice of creating a mobi (for Kindle) or an ePub (for Apple Books), and because they let you compile as many articles as you want into a weekly/monthly/weekend reads. If it weren’t for the problems with Kindle, this could have been an ideal solution for me.
- Mobile Safari’s Create PDF/Save PDF in Books – I hate PDFs.
- Mobile Safari’s Send to Kindle – This is supposed to be from the Kindle app itself, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. Hit and miss. Sometimes, it’ll tell me that it’s sending the document to my Kindle app, and will then just… forget.
- Using a journal app to take notes – I used Day One as my primary thoughtsbox. I have a journal in there called Quotes that I sometimes add a good quote to. It’s a nice way to recall some thought years later. But Day One is staunchly not-cross-platform. They keep promising a web app, but haven’t delivered a fully functioning one yet. Their Chrome extension is nice, but I’ve yet to see a corresponding Firefox one yet. Not that I need it. I hacked my way to make the Chrome extension independent of Chrome, but it’s still a jugaad and there’s no good way for me to make extensive notes and highlights on it. I also don’t want to clutter it with read-later stuff. Just doesn’t feel like the right use of the technology.
- Publicly blogging about it – once in a while, I’ll want to talk about an article publicly and so I’ll make a blog post with highlights, my notes, etc. But it’s not a very easy process. I have to constantly go back and forth between my site and theirs, to copy content over (because WP supports a ‘quote’, but only one quote to begin a post with. After that you’re on your own to copy paste and format). This method doesn’t work well on mobile. I’d rather have a dedicated reading space which lets me highlight stuff, and then export it, sort of how the Kindle does it.
- Not-publicly blogging about it – The same as above, but I don’t publish it publicly, I just keep the notes in Private mode. I like private mode.
There are solutions that I’ve tried over the years and not bothered pursuing or listing here. Apps like Unmark, which do a great job of letting you know what’s on your plate to read, but don’t let you read in a clean environment, or let you make notes, don’t count here. Similarly, apps like Evernote don’t either, because they’re not a read-later solution.
I know there are hundreds of solutions I’ve not tried or talked about. Most of them are closely related to what I’ve listed above. For example, TheBrain, DevonThink, Refind, Google Keep, OneNote, etc are all nice, but don’t fit into the box I’m trying to fill here.
So, dear reader (first of all, thanks for getting to this point), tell me what should I do? Should I bite the bullet and go with the top most solution, Instapaper, which is well priced, focused specifically on reading text (which is what I primarily want), but which is run by someone else? Or should I go with some form of open source solution that might cause me headaches but at least I’ll keep all of my thoughts with me over the years? Maybe I should go with a solution like Hypothes.is, which is free, non-profit, and an interesting technology. Or maybe I should be looking at it from a different perspective, or looking at a solution I’ve never even heard or thought much of? What’s your opinion?
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 –
- 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.
- 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?
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.
It is unclear how much revenue the pirate distributors are siphoning away from Apple and legitimate app makers.
It’s taken a long time and another massive Facebook privacy scandal for the news media to discover this underbelly of hacked apps chugging along happily due to Apple’s Enterprise Apps program.
I’ve used one on and off – Instagram++
I must say, it’s a liberating experience – I see no ads on Instagram, I see no random “Suggested Friends to Follow” crap.
I had to resort to this because my Instagram experience is vastly worse off than my wife’s and my friends’. I see, on average, 3x more ads on Instagram than others around me. How many ads does my wife see? None.
So to my mind, using Instagram++ makes perfect sense. If I can hack my way to a better UX, why shouldn’t I? It’s the same as using an adblocker.
I don’t support piracy of services. There’s no legit reason to not pay for Spotify.
As for hacked games, well, cheats and hacks have always existed, and will continue to exist, despite the alarmed voice of this Reuters article.
Also, the article got one thing wrong – I’ve observed Apple kick out the Enterprise cert almost once a month, sometimes two or three times a month. They seem to make it sound as if Reuters alerting Apple was the only thing that forced Apple into action.
They’re very much aware of the problem and can’t or won’t do much about it. Talking about it as if it’s the end of the App Store is just noise.
As for how much revenue these services generate? Not close to enough. They do seem to have a comfortable existence, and so might be able to get around Apple’s 2FA proposal by just buying a bunch of phone numbers in China. But do they run a massive profit? You bet that if they did, Apple would be all over them.
This is the same as the jailbreak community in some senses – only a small percentage of users are actually trusting these services not to misuse the extensive powers that Enterprise certs give them. Out of that small percentage, a further small percent is paying for it.
It’s sad that large companies like Facebook pulling the shit that they do often also bring to light little players that are just trying to provide a good service to users.
Now, the technical aspect of this – Instagram++ is available online for download as an IPA if you want to use your own developer account. If you don’t have a dev account, Apple now allows side-loading, but it is a cumbersome process that expires after 7 days. Apple’s earlier sideloading used to be 30 days. When Apple made it free for everyone to sideload (not just if you’re a $99/year paying developer), they reduced the time frame of the cert to 7 days, which in my mind is a total d*ck move.
If Apple really wants to combat Enterprise cert misuse while letting users do whatever they want with their systems, they can just legitimize sideloading and let me choose when my cert would expire, but Apple isn’t that generous.
Till a good solution presents itself, services like TweakBox, Tutu, and AppValley will continue to operate by hook or by crook. So be it.
There’s a huge stress in the media to tag things as inappropriate for kids. But perhaps we need to empower users even more – across the aisle, media offerings from websites to games should be taggable as appropriate for certain ages. The consensus would then be both an indicator of where our society currently is, and a good indicator to other parents of where they should be.
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,
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.
The following is a comment I was writing on the above post. It became long enough that I’d rather just throw it on here for posterity. A couple of loosely knit thoughts on YouTube –
YouTube seems different.
YouTube is different.
Instagram, twitter etc have a feed. YouTube doesn’t have a feed like that. YouTube does have an autoplay option, but in my experience most people prefer to keep it turned off. It’s a fundamentally different browsing model than these other social networks.
The author wishes people use YouTube as a sort of backend to embed videos into their websites. I’d say that a lot of people did initially experiment with video embeds as a means of ‘indiewebifying’ YouTube and Vimeo. Many still continue to do so. So many methods of embeds exist, from WordPress shortcodes to YouTube itself giving you easy to copy iframe and html5 snippets. But that’s not how YouTube is truly consumed. Just like those other social networks, YouTube is consumed mainly within their app. There’s true continuity there, even though most people don’t actually use it.
The other point is that content is king. When you’re chasing silly cat videos, whatever YouTube suggests seems fine. Similarly, when my wife has to do some housework, she puts on one fashion blogger or the other and the algorithm takes her on a journey of background noise that’s more than adequate.
However, when we get home and want to either watch some news/latenight commentary/random funny videos from specific content creators, we specifically select a video, play it, and exit after it’s done.
My main method of consuming YouTube is on the Apple TV. With the new version of their app, YouTube has effectively shot themselves in the foot. The app doesn’t do a very good job of good, engaging, never-ending recommendations. We’re a little more discerning than letting complete random videos play when we’re actively looking at the screen, so after a few refreshes, the content of the day dries up and we can actually get out and watch something else we’ve been paying for – Netflix or Amazon.
So what’s the right way to think about YouTube: is it fundamental to the internet revolution, or just another source of social media distraction?
YouTube is both, true. But it’s both because people have recognized the value of uploading serious content on there. Now, serious content isn’t only suited to video format. It can be made in photos (see brainpickings Instagram) and in tweets (the reuters twitter feed). But can it be consumed in those formats easily? No, and that’s why YouTube stands out.
YouTube is a conundrum because people actively upload cat videos on it.
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.
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.