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!


YouTube to Make Originals Available for Ad-Supported Free Viewing – Variety

Source: YouTube to Make Originals Available for Ad-Supported Free Viewing – Variety

Does this mean that YouTube isn’t selling enough subscriptions to its Premium service?

In my house, we pay for the Family version of YouTube Premium because the ads on the platform were getting too irritating. Watching a two minute video of questionable value often meant having to sit through a thirty second video of even less value (meat ads to vegetarians? Really Google?).

But have we ever watched any of the YouTube Originals? No. Not even one. I started one just to see what content they’re creating and I wasn’t impressed and moved on.

YouTube also does a terrible job of highlighting these (or pushing these to paying customers, if you look at it another way) in their app. They created a crappy custom app for the Apple TV just so they could better show ads and have more control over the interface, and they didn’t even take the time to put in a special section to highlight originals.

But what’s more important than any of this is why Variety didn’t even bother to ask the question – does this mean YouTube’s Premium isn’t selling enough? It’s the first question that pops into your head while reading the headline, let alone the article, and they didn’t bother to ask it. Great reporting there.

Security vs Usability

I’ve come to a point where I do **not** update apps, plugins, software in general. I know that’s a regressive approach to safety, but safety can’t keep trumping usability all the time.

Source: My comment on Stephen’s Notebook

 

Every few days, I have a conversation about security vs usability somewhere. With my iPad Mini, I blindly trusted Apple to do the right thing and they’ve screwed me over. It’s a beloved device, destroyed completely by iOS 9.

So I’ve basically given up on this bullshit harp that companies sing of ‘security’ to shove software updates down our throats. Sometimes it’s their stupidity, and sometimes it’s just them being sinister. The new Microsoft is the old Microsoft. The benevolent Apple is an insidious Apple. Don’t get me started on Facebook, twitter, and Google. Gmail is just the latest casualty of our overzealous overlords.

Yes, security is a big problem. Yes, it needs constant vigilance. But just like national defense budgets, one key phrase doesn’t allow organizations to completely railroad people’s expectations, asks, hopes, and in this case, UX.

If you’re concerned that by not updating software, you’re living on the edge, restrict the things you do on that device, while keeping other devices that are completely updated and secured. Use only frequently updated third party browsers instead of the default options. Read up on the latest security scares on the Internet and just be aware of the situations you can get into. But most importantly – back up. Make frequent backups of things you care about. I don’t care if it’s as much as letting iCloud run its course every night, and Google Photos siphoning off your pics. Just do it so that if you brick your device, or get hacked, you’re not set back a hundred years.

99% of security is just keeping your eyes open.

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.

How do you like them upgrades?

Every few days, my iPhone politely but firmly nudges me to ‘downgrade’ my iOS from iOS 10 to iOS 11. I say downgrade because that’s what iOS 11 is to me – a crappy OS that was shoved out with half baked ideas which work well for the latest and greatest iPhone, but not at all for any other device Apple supposedly still supports. Getting rid of that prompt requires careful jumping through a confusing menu that makes it too easy to accept a “sure go ahead with this change at night when no one is watching” option. Most of the time, I am able to do just that. But last night, in a haze of trying to actually use my phone, I must have hit the wrong button, because when I woke up, my phone had restarted and was magically on iOS 11.4.1. Yay.

Before I talk about iOS 11, I just want to say why I didn’t want to get on it –

  1. It’s terribly built – simple features such as the ability to close apps quickly (in a few years time, Apple will reveal that just like their battery nonsense, closing apps DOES actually increase the speed of the phone, as empirically witnessed by a Bajillion people), the ability to turn off the wifi completely through the Control Center, the ability to actually use the phone for half an hour without draining the battery completely (my wife got on iOS 11 as soon as it released and she had the worst experience possible with that OS) were nice to have in iOS 10.
  2. I won’t be able to use all my apps – Apple, with iOS 11, waged a war on 32 bit apps. Now, most apps (99.9% I’d say) were smart about it and went 64bit, but I still have 4 apps on my phone, two of which I was using every few days till yesterday, which are 32 bit. So long Stress Baal and Sunstroke. You will be sorely missed.
  3. It will most certainly screw up my Apple Watch – I have a Series 0 (zero) Apple Watch. When will I buy the new one? Probably not for another few years. It’s a watch. It’s somewhat smart and lets me see messages and cut phone calls, but that’s about it. Do I need LTE? If AT&T pays me $15/mo instead of charging it from me, I might. But one minute into using the new OS, I was told to update my Watch from version 3.2.3 to 4.3.2 and told that if I do not, the phone will force unpair my watch and reset it. Thanks Obama. I exited the Watch app on my phone and plan on opening it at some point in the future. My watch is no longer getting notifications and isn’t able to send heart rate data to the phone (so much for Apple’s “we’re helping you take care of your health” crap. If the data collection is conditional, it’s not really helpful, is it?). But I know that watchOS 4 will screw up the watch, the third party apps, the battery usage. Basically, this is Apple’s way of making you buy a new watch. NO.

Now, coming to iOS 11. I immediately noticed that most apps seem to work differently – Google Maps had some new and interesting UI changes, Egg Inc had AR, the photos app had an irritating number of new features it had to tell me about before it let me use the app, the screenshots were showing up at the bottom (which is nice), etc.

Oh wait, backup. AR. That gleaming, new, awesome technology that’s changing the world! Yeah, I used it. For about 30 seconds. Then I was done.

Literally the only thing I could imagine using AR for – Egg, Inc. With that, my AR experience has ended. Well done, Apple.

Incidentally, I only recently watched this rather interesting video about how Apple will eventually launch AR glasses and they will be more successful than Google’s half-ass attempt because, well, Apple. It’s worth a watch 🙂 –

The rest of the stuff, is as I expected – meh. The app switcher can now close apps (yay!). The wifi stupidity that Apple propagated with iOS 11 is still there (so it’s always going to drain your battery no matter what). The animations and speed of launching apps is meh. Apple really wanted to make you feel something different, and well, I feel it, but I don’t care for it. It’s more a disruption than a nice addition. Plus, if you close an app that sits at the top of the screen vs at the bottom, the animation helps you see where the app is ‘going to’, but that’s really a rather stupid thing to care for Apple. I say that because I’m sure anyone who has as many apps as I do uses the search bar to get to apps instead.

Oh, yeah, that might be the silver lining – in iOS 10, I would swipe down, type out the name of an app I want, and the phone would just sit there, like a dunce, unsure of what I want it to do. Something was really borked in the code there and sometimes the search would work perfectly and other times it would go completely for a toss. Hopefully, that experience will be more consistent with iOS 11. If not, I’ll know that Apple did not even bother improving the Siri search code underneath and just dressed it in iOS 11 style. Typical Apple. Let’s see.

I’m no Luddite. I like experimenting with new stuff. But I really was hoping to go directly from iOS 10 to iOS 12. When iOS 12 drops, it’ll most likely not support my Series 0 watch. But at least it’s purported to be better than this monstrosity Apple threw our way. It’s OK to skip an OS, it’s OK to turn off auto-upgrades and auto-updates and watch your ‘to update’ App Store list burgeon to 197 apps. It’s OK to let the latest and greatest go while developers work on hardening releases. We all do it in some sphere of our lives. It’s just that my sphere was the one I’m staring at the most during my day – my phone. I want it to be consistent, familiar, and with less fluff. Sometimes people stick to a particular iPhone for a lot longer than they can, because they like the form factor and the materials used. Well, iOS 10 was that for me. But now my phone has moved past it. Time to adopt the new and shiny and see what changes this brings. Hopefully some nice AR filters.

Thoughts on Simpleism

I was hearing on the Philosophize This! podcast about Erasmus and his humanism and how he rejected everything corrupt about the Church and wanted simplicity and love for your fellow man and a move towards less ritual.

One of the things mentioned was how he believed that ignorance cannot be a sin (he also didn’t like philosophers and their ‘lazy’ dawdling about looking for the truth being the most important pursuit of life; what needs to be understood, of course, was that Erasmus was just after the black plague and the hardships of that time must have felt more important than looking for a higher truth, you know, Maslow’s…) because we’re born into ignorance and never in our life does it happen that we are suddenly NOT completely ignorant.

Stephen then goes on to link this to how ignorance is a bliss and I started thinking about how ignorance is something people nowadays strive for. The book some of my friends are reading nowadays – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – is all about staying within your own self, being more confident about what you are, and not constantly feeding yourself the news, or information.

Stephen ends the episode with a quote from the Bible – “The summit of happiness is reached when a person is ready to be what he is.” – and says that Erasmus thought this to be the key to happiness.

Well, it seems that humanism and simple-ism and being ignorant is making a come-back. With more books such as this one above coming out, with an increase in the noise in the signal, with every social network trying to capitalize on outrage as a means of increasing discourse, it seems that people are pushing back by finding their own corners in the world, focusing on what makes/keeps them happy, and by being more ignorant.

Colin Walker linked to a post by James Shelley recently, talking about how the word ‘simpleton’ needs to be repurposed from a derogatory term to someone who “reflects a healthy sense of skepticism about the comprehensiveness of one’s knowledge”.

I believe this is an important point in the current discourse, but instead of taking that one word, I’d rather use the word ‘simpleism’, simply because it’s something I do not already see as a pejorative.

To say, “let’s be simple”, to pursue simpleism, then, is to focus on reducing the noise, reducing the constant barrage of notifications, and news, and outrage, and even the implicit trust we have in our own knowledge and understanding.

This doesn’t mean one should simply stop looking at the news, or always be unsure. No, it means one who is willing to say, “I dunno” and being comfortable with it.

Now, if you ask my wife, I’m NOT one of those people. She asks me a question, and if I don’t know the exact answer, I regurgitate what I do know with something half coherent. The next moment she’ll ask Google and I’m completely wrong.

This surety is not something we should aspire to. It’s actually harmful. Now, that’s on a micro-scale, the personal level. The same doesn’t truly apply at the macro or the societal level. At that level, what quacks like a duck, walks like a duck…

Is simpleism compatible at a societal level? I dunno, James and Colin, you tell me.

Sourcing information

We all do most of our browsing on our phones. When we come across something we don’t know about, we google it to find out more. More often than not, the link that gives us the most information is either Wikipedia or a news site.

If it’s current affairs, it’s a news site. If it’s general information, Wikipedia. Then why do we still google the thing? Why waste time on the middleman? Is it force of habit? Is it because we believe that google will give us the most comprehensive information and links? Is it just laziness?

Perhaps it’s all of the above. Google is our one stop shop for all information. Whether we’re looking to buy something, looking for a website which we don’t often go to, looking for some news, or solving some mystery on the web, google will give you the knowledge you’re looking for. That’s a great product, regardless of any other implications on privacy, advertising, politics etc.

So why should we opt to change this excellent workflow? (Need information, ask google, get information)

Because it’s worth it to go to the source.

  • Google often scrapes data from Wikipedia, but most of the time, it’s incomplete. It’ll be the first line or paragraph in a topic that’s complex and needs some more study to understand. Or, google will tell you a part of the information, expecting you to select a link to learn more from. So why not go to the source directly?
  • When the topic is a current affair, Google will show you links that it judges to be of your interest, or of value to them (advertising, collaborations with sites like twitter which will be surfaced above others). Instead, if you go to a solution such as Apple News (or Google News perhaps) and search for the topic you’re looking for, you’ll see a more balanced perspective because all Apple News is doing is collecting links from various news sources and presenting those to you. Notice that I didn’t say you should go to a particular news site for this, because if you want real news, you’d better be looking at more than one source.

Now, how do we make this easier? How do we give up our google habit and go to the source? On mobile, the simplest way to do this is to move your apps around. On my phone, the Wikipedia app sits on the main home screen and the Apple News app sits inside a folder on the dock (most of the time, I end up searching for the news app on spotlight search, but I’m trying to get rid that habit too).

This is not ideal. In an ideal world, I would not have to go to each app individually to search for the topic at hand. I would be able to select a word or phrase and use the share sheet in iOS to jump to Wikipedia or Apple News, neither of which seem to support this simple functionality.

But those are the technical details, which may change at any time. What matters is where we source our information from and why. I recommend that you start cutting out the middleman and go directly to the sources, sites, and services that you trust, because those are the same ones your middleman trusts too. As for the why, well, start doing this and you’ll see a change in how you receive information and perceive the news. Search is good, but search algorithms may very well not be.

Reverse Instant Gratification

More than a month ago, I subscribed my wife to some print magazines. We’ve never had those lying around at our home here (newspapers and magazines were common in India) and I just thought it might be a good addition to her media diet. Ever since, every few days, she asks me what the status of the magazines is. The problem is that print magazines have ridiculous starting dates for new subscriptions. The promised first set is not going to arrive till the end of April. This is just weird. I did some digging and found out that print magazines run on a thin budget for subscriptions and so the process to add someone to the list and publish specifically for them is a long-drawn out process. Or it’s just a scam so they can get you into the next year’s subscription for an exorbitant price. Whatever.

But a week ago, one of the magazines showed up. It was a special edition which was already in print. That was nice of them, I thought. Perhaps it was an additional copy and they decided to send it to people who’d recently signed up. It being a nice surprise, Jahanvi settled in to read it one evening. Within forty-five minutes, she was done. Most of the magazine was ads and the rest was fluff. Didn’t take her long to parse through.

The same evening, we were watching one of her favorite TV shows. It comes on Hulu and trickles down one episode at a time, on weeks they deign us viewers important enough to shower their little trinkets on us. After the episode finished and the end-advert rolled, what was left was a bad taste in the mouth, a hankering for more. In the world of Netflix, Plex Media Server, and Amazon Prime Video, we’re stuck with Hulu and real-time TV. Pathetic.

That’s when we started discussing this topic – reverse instant gratification. In an age of instant gratification, when we give our time and attention to something that doesn’t reciprocate in the same way, that thing is getting the gratification that we ought to be deriving from it. When the magazine came, it was read instantly and we have to now wait patiently for the next. When the episode aired, we devoured it, and were left smacking our lips at the aftertaste of that carefully crafted forty-one minute drama. We gave to those things, the Reverse Instant Gratification that we feel we deserve from them. The system is RIGged! 🙂

Such is the state of affairs. We, the consumers, the binge watchers, the devourers of CDNs, are sometimes left hat in hand, begging for morsels of things running too live for our taste. It’s unfair! It’s unjust! It’s a mockery of everything Netflix holds dear! Just putting that out there.

A note about people taking the time on the Internet

I read a very interesting post through one of the linkblogs I follow. This link, through the blog kateva.org talks about how Facebook is experimenting with linking Groups and Pages, the two ‘community’ offerings by Facebook with the use of Saas affiliate marketing software. I’m part of a few groups and a few pages (I’ve cut down on the latter a lot in recent years because it’s mostly noise) and I see real value in merging the two and creating a single entity that simplifies group interactions on FB.

But what was interesting to me was John Gordon’s comment on the link – “I miss blogs that used to explain things like this.” Of course, he’s not talking about the change FB is bringing but the blog he’s linked to. The comment resonated with me because there’s something along those lines that I’ve been thinking about since some time now.

When the Internet began, people started filling out blogs and sites talking about the most mundane of things – small changes in their favorite newspapers, versions of textbooks and differences between them, software and the differences between versions, events of their days, to name a few. These discussions were then swept up by sites who collected these minutae, stripped out all ownership information, and presented the collected works as their own. This has been acceptable practice and what certain sites are borne out of (cough cough). This practice both helps grow the Internet at an exponential rate and harms the original authors as their work and name gets lost along the way.

So people on the Internet slowed down. Content creation moved from everywhere on the Internet to either large syndications or small blogs or forums. The large swathe of users on the Internet became consumers. This is part of the problem for most social networks – when a majority of people are consumers, only a choice few are creating value. Thus is born the consumer’s content creation – likes and shares and retweets and reposts. These became the content of today. I don’t have a problem with this.

My problem is with the loss of the minutae. That value that was once created on blogs and static pages is now created on reddit and stackoverflow and obscure forums, if at all. That often means that the type of value creation that I (and Gordon) am looking for has just about disappeared. If no one asks the question on Quora or Stackoverflow, no one answers what the changes FB is making look like.

What I’m looking for is even more specific. I am often faced with a very difficult choice – whether or not to update a particular software. With apps, it’s much more difficult because we notice those changes quickly and it is almost a split second decision whether to update or not (click that button!). Further, there are so many apps that we use and so many updates that get pushed through that it would be draining to discuss what each update brings to the table and whether it is destructive in any way for any specific scenario. For updates on a computer, there’s still some open discussion one can find. People take these a little more seriously and often it’s easy to find information about version changes and impact on systems similar to one’s own.

Let’s take a few examples –

I recently updated to the latest version of the WordPress app on iOS. It was on a whim and I paid dearly for that. The new update brings the ability to manage plugins on your WP blog. But the update is borked. One of my blogs has well over fifty installed updates (not all are enabled) and when I go into that blog, the app crashes and then keeps crashing. I’ve seen no update for this issue in the last two days and haven’t bothered to write up a report to WP for it. I learnt after a few tries that if I don’t open that blog’s admin page from my app, the app doesn’t crash (letting me use the app for other blogs). Presumably this has something to do with not loading the plugins list from that site. I wouldn’t know, I’ve not explored the issue further. Funny thing is, if I’d have waited a little and read a few reviews, I still wouldn’t have come across this issue because people usually don’t blog about specific versions of an app and I’d have to trawl through a bunch of issues pages on GitHub to find some mention of the issue.

The other example I have is of a BIOS update. I have the option of pulling in this update and I know that if I want to go exploring issues around it, I’ll find at least a few pages talking about people’s positive or negative experiences around it. Why the difference? Apps affect our lives just as much as BIOS updates do, because they take up more of our time now than computers do. The only thing is that BIOS updates are infrequent and cause system-wide failure. Plus, the BIOS update has been out there for a while and if it had been problematic, I would be able to find more information about it, and is a big problem since people love to use computers, for work, game or even listen to music using the 5.1 computer speakers 2017 that give the best audio quality to any computer.

There’s a hundred other things associated with these scenarios which I’ve ignored to simplify them – iOS is a closed garden, so the number of users who get affected by an individual app are much fewer than from any BIOS update; app updates are now automated so people don’t even have this dilemma that I have; there is a lot of software out there no one talks about and I’ve not included in my examples.

(By the way, I feel Apple should go the WordPress.org way. It should allow people to report back on app versions with respect to iOS versions, to say that, e.g. “2000 people report 100% compatiblity with iOS 11.2 for version 1.3 of this app”. This will give both us and them so much more information about how stables apps and updates are.)

People have stopped taking the time to talk on the open Internet about changes that affect us all. That’s because the return on investment of time and effort is all but enough to warrant this approach to life – documenting every small change.

That’s somewhat sad, frankly.

To: The Awl, Subject: Before you die

long live the awl

Hey Sylvia and Team,

I knew about The Awl only when Sylvia was heading it. I discovered it last year or so and bothered to send in a few typos along the way. I loved the writing, I loved the off-current-affairs topics, I loved the esoteric posts. I loved Fran Hoepfner’s writing as well as music recommendations, specially since they pointed squarely to playlists on Spotify. Here’s a list of five posts that I have bookmarked. (There were probably more, but I lost some data from my RSS reader one day and didn’t bother to go looking for that)

Now The Awl is dying. People are celebrating this amazing blog/site/publishing platform. They’re talking about what a grand experiment it was, they’re talking about how it began and how it seemed to forever be bootstrapped (this is one of my failings – I do not bother with initial intent, so I don’t know when something will turn on me. I should be more careful of this). They’re relishing in the long list of people who ‘graduated’ from The Awl and the platform it gave to the many who now work elsewhere. They’re toasting to the feeling of having a personal blog but with an editor and getting paid to write on it.

Well I’m a little pissed. I discovered The Awl too late. I supported it too late. I want to discover more writers (and I sure am not going to use Medium to do it) and read more content and send more letters to the Editor. But they’re going away. At the end of the month, no less! I may be an infrequent reader of the site, but I don’t remember seeing any discussion with the readers, or any indication that it’s going under. All I see now are articles written in other publications by people who moved on from The Awl and know its inner workings. They’re waxing poetic about how there were never any investors, how The Awl always had a blog-y feel instead of a publication, how the end was inevitable because 2008-2013 was the time when small ad networks supported small blogs, but we all knew this was going to end some day.

Well, it did and frankly, if you’re in the business of publishing online, you should know one thing – ads are dead. Everyone, when they get a new computer, follow this format –

  • Open default browser
  • Download Google Chrome
  • Install Adblock

That’s the way this works now. If you don’t know that, well, sorry. If The Awl thought that life in the Adworld was tough because the site wasn’t targeted enough, here’s a tip –

2012 may have been the age of small ad networks, but 2018 is the age of ASKING YOUR USERS FOR SUPPORT.

Seriously, if writing apps (like Ulysses and Bear) can move to a subscription model, if The New York Times can politely remind people to donate, if the Guardian can ask for as little as $1, the least you could have done was to mid-2017 start a darn Patreon page. If nothing else, you’d see who out of the thousands of people who visit your pages found your content worth supporting.

But I get it, you’ve thrown your hat in the ring. You’ve decided that the thing you knew – ads – is no longer going to keep the virtual doors open and so it’s time to move on. So be it. I’ve followed my favorites on twitter and Instagram and hopefully will find some meaningful voices on Medium (ugh) and indie blogs (have you heard? they’re making a come-back. ping me, anyone, who needs help setting up a WordPress blog for ~$3/mo). In the meanwhile, I’ll be looking for ways to start my own Awl, in memory of this interesting ‘experiment’.

The Awl is dead, but its marks remain.

 

 

Photo by maritimeantiques