Dat Rats

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

Source: Dat Rats

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

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

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

The deadline is always now

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

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

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

A blog is sort of like an exhale.

– Nora Ephron, 2006, via Daniel Gray

For bloggers, the deadline is always now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfection is the enemy of the good

Have No Fear – Learning to love your blog

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

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

The importance of revisiting notebooks

Don’t Moleskine your blog

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

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

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

I recently came across this post by Jeff Perry –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A year with Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the words of Hillary Clinton,

What Happened?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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.

8 years of blogging

I missed a rather important anniversary over the weekend. I just noticed that WordPress wished me a few days ago for being with them since 8 years. Of course, I’ve been writing since long before that, but most of my writing was read only by my family and the greatest achievement of my writing then was when my parents published my writing in a small book which they presented to me on my birthday. With blogging, I was still being read mostly by my family, but online and I had a sense of achievement in that I was hitting publish every time I completed a blog post, thereby putting it out there for everyone to read, if they so chose to.

My earliest blog is on wordpress.com here. I have tried a variety of platforms over time but WordPress just seems to be the right one for me. Of course, I left that blog some years ago and came to nitinkhanna.com (by way of blog.nitinkhanna.com) and self-hosted WordPress. But all that matters is that on-and-off, here-and-there, I was writing and I was publishing. I seem to have been able to average a post per month or so, though please don’t hold me to that standard (my last post here was more than a month ago and I’ve not had much to write in that intermediate time). But I am proud that I have a cumulative 1,37,361 words published on my blog (with some 66 posts sitting in drafts) Continue reading