On responding using your blog

but I don’t think I would like to make my blog mainly about conversing with others

Meadow over at their blog

I respect that. I follow hundreds of blogs, exactly what Meadow is musing about not doing. But I don’t converse with them all, and certainly not on my blog.

My blog sits idle most of the time, until I have something I want to write. This may be private or public. But writing goes here. (Journaling, of course, goes into Day One.) That may involve responding to someone, as this post is, or utterly random musing, as the one by Meadow.

I like this about blogs. They’re not one thing. They’re defined by whatever is important to the steward. That’s why I follow so many.

As I was saying…

I find it strange and interesting when people tend to their “digital gardens”. Try as I may, I cannot treat this blog as a sort of self-referential wiki. A blog to me is a log, a journal. It starts afresh every time I begin writing in it. Perhaps if I wrote daily, it would make sense to me how everyone is always linking to their own posts?

But the fact is, I don’t do any real discovery on my own blog. I write, and I move on. I don’t forget, per se. After all, sometimes I link to my own posts. But largely, the process of writing here is one of growth. I write as it’s my way of thinking, or feeling, or seeing what my present looks like. When it’s written, it’s the past. We don’t dwell on that here.

In that sense, this is more a flowing river of thought than a digital garden. Whatever metaphors go with that, apply to this blog. It’s also why the interface irks me so. I want a sort of chat interface instead of this massive writing space. I want my blog to look like a journal, instead of published writing. But, since the frontend is not for me, but for others, and since others have told me that they like this interface, I don’t do the work of finding a new theme. Independent Publisher is a good theme and it does the job. Yes, I can customize it a bit more, but why? To what end? I don’t even look at the posts that often. Just read them once in a while when I discover them through stats or search. In those moments, I find the interface sufficient. Thus, it doesn’t feel like I should blow up the feel of the entire blog just for how I’m feeling right now. That’s counter-intuitive to what I said at the beginning of this post, but so be it.

Sometimes I envy the micro.blog interface. It’s a river of thoughts. This is not true for the individual blogs, since they sort of act exactly like this blog, though with smaller font sizes. But the main “home” interface is what I sometimes wish I had. But when I start writing on desktop, I tend to write longer sentences and in paragraphs. So the point of having a small writing and reading space is lost. It’s only when I’m on mobile that I feel the cumbersomeness of this interface. Also, I kind of do have that interface – on my LiveBlog. It’s got exactly that dirty sort of input mechanism that I’ve designed to be minimal and a front-end that’s obnoxiously simple. Only 30 days worth of posts are displayed on a page, due to a technical limitation in the backend code that I can’t bring myself to overcome. I keep wondering if I should look into extending that web app so that it doesn’t just post to twitter, nice.social, and beta.pnut.io but also here, to this blog, as well as mastodon.

Mastodon’s API is apparently very painful to deal with. Of course, I’d be using some prebuilt PHP library to do that work, but it’s still supposed to not be easy. So, I found a solution in a web app called moa.party, which cross-posts from twitter to mastodon. Good enough. I don’t want to move the entire work of cross-posting to third parties, otherwise I’d use pipedream to just do the whole thing instead of dealing with PHP. But I know this solution. It’s never been perfect, but it works well enough. I don’t want to touch it beyond this, nor do I have the time to do so.

Speaking of mastodon, I’ve been thinking and if I were ever to move off my liveblog and live on mastodon, I’d like to do so at a cost of $5-10/year. That’s yearly, not monthly. I don’t do pic/video uploads, I don’t do excessive posting and I’m not famous to drive a lot of traffic. I reckon a server with a couple hundred users paying that much would break even. Maybe I’m wrong. I’d love to talk to some folks running mastodon servers and figure out what their costs are like. I’ve not yet found any resources for mastodon servers by pricing. If something like that doesn’t exist, I’d like to create it and put it out there. People should be able to find servers not just by interest and community but also by cost.

Mastodon is making microblogging like email. It’s letting people create their own servers and run them as they want. The cross-pollination features are strong, but also have (apparently) great controls, to the point that some servers have or will decouple from mastodon.social to present freeloaders like me (but basically spammers and outrage pundits) from getting in the face of folks who just want a good time online within their own communities. At some point, some big entity will start a mastodon instance that will centralize power and wipe out competition (a la gmail) but till that happens, the social web is molting and it’s good. Services like Pixelfed are riding this wave and doing to photo sharing what mastodon is doing to microblogging. If all of these can begin to act like email, that’s all the better for end users like me. We don’t think about our email provider. It’s just there in the background. We used to not pay for email. Now we do. We don’t pay for social, till we begin and that’ll be fine too.

I’m thoroughly enjoying finding new audiobooks and sources of audiobooks, even though I know I won’t be able to get to most of them any time soon. I have quite a backlog in audible and Libby, yet I’ve recently discovered Open Library (run by Internet Archive) and through them, reminded of LibriVox. I have bookmarked a few audiobooks on there, like Dubliners by James Joyce. Maybe I’ll get to it at some point. But for now, I’m very happy listening to Rousseau and Revolution by the historians Durant. I also snagged a deal on audible and got Project Hail Mary by Andy Wier for a significant discount and I have an audiobook credit that’ll expire with a few days, which means I’ll have to get some other book too. I also have Kate Chopin’s The Awakening on my radar, after seeing its presence in the Netflix show 1899.

Plus, I’ve found that since I do all my listening through my iPhone, if there’s no good app to support LibriVox listening on there, I probably won’t use it a lot. But I’m most likely wrong. Why wouldn’t there be a good set of third party apps for LibriVox on iOS, if not first party?

I came across an old browser bookmark – a website called My Writing Spot for the epynomous app. The website is dated, the app is no longer available, but the domain keeps getting renewed every year and the hosting seems to be working fine (albeit without SSL). There’s a webapp (hosted on appspot) which can be logged into with a gmail account, but I don’t trust the permissions to muck around. From what I can see, the app was active on both iOS and Android between 2010 and 2014, with support even for Nook and Kindle (and even, it seems, Dropbox sync). There are tweets from around 2015 talking about how the sync functionality is broken. At first, I didn’t understand why the website would even be up. But perhaps it’s part of the developer’s portfolio and a deadlink is a bad idea in the freelancing world. But why the heck is the webapp up and running?? Surely it’s costing them money to host that?

Anyways, it’s an interesting glimpse into the heyday of apps, when it was painful to develop for iPads as well as iPhones (and the apps were separately priced), and when things like “Incredible iPad Apps for Dummies” existed.

It’s also a glimpse into the web of that decade. You can share the website on StumbleUpon (replaced by their new product Mix) and Delicious (domain now redirects to Delicious AI, an app for converting your pet photos into art using image-to-image), and you can read a blog that was last updated May 26, 2012.

Reposting with WordPress

I wish WordPress had an easier way to repost things

WordPress does, sort of, have an excellent reposting feature. But it’s wrapped up in a Quote Repost feature. After all, what’s the point of linking to something without commentary or context?

Also, WordPress.com seems to have a much better reposting feature. But to me, that’s a social network and while we bloggers may be social, we’re solitary creatures too.

Good luck competing with Goodreads

Every once in a while, I come across a book management and listing tool. This is a broad category – it covers lists of the books you’ve read/want to read, your book notes, a social network inbuilt, and perhaps even the ability to buy books through them. Sometimes this is in the format of an app, and sometimes it’s a web service. Never mind that I actively seek these out (hey, everyone should have a past time), I always come out exasperated.

Why? Well, do you really want to build your entire book library all over again? I’m on the low-end of a prolific reader spectrum, and I’ve got about 260 books in my lists; that’s over a hundred books I’ve marked as read, and over one fifty that I want to. Most people have a lot more books than that in their lists, and almost all of them just hope in the back of their heads that Amazon doesn’t ever decide to kill Goodreads. Amazon has already been cozying up Kindle and Goodreads – you can post your Kindle reads, reviews, and notes directly to Goodreads through the Kindle apps. What’s to say that in a few years time they don’t decide that they’re done collecting our data through Goodreads and can shut the service down?

Oh, but don’t worry, you can export all your Goodreads data!

Really? Thanks! What do I do with it once I’ve exported it?


See, this is the problem. This is why I keep looking for alternatives. But every time I come across one, I immediately realize the blind spot they aren’t addressing. If you’re an app/service, what you need to jump-start your platform is data. The ‘elegant’ way of doing this is to ‘ask’ the user for it. I put that in quotes because it’s more mandatory than just a small ‘ask’. If I come to a service, spend some time poking around, and realize I need to input all of my books all over again, that’s an immediate turn off. Services like Goodreads aren’t like conferences, where you can slap on a name tag and wander around till you find someone interesting to talk to. They’re more like parties, where if you don’t know anyone, you’ll just end up bored and.

So, this is what I ask of you if you’re making a service to compete with Goodreads – ask the user to export their data in an ugly .csv format and import the entire file to your service. Then you’ve got the entire library the user has curated on your rival service since the dawn of time without lifting a finger. You don’t even have to have this as the front and center of your UX. Get your user onboarded, get them talking, and then somewhere along the way, gently tell them you’ve got this amazing import feature that’ll help them quickly ramp up. If they care about books, they’ll do it. Those are the serious users of your platform anyways.

But nowhere have I seen this happen. I’ve recently come across a few apps – Litsy (by LibraryThing), Reading List (which seems to allow CSV imports, but needs them to be in its own format, instead of the Goodreads format; you’re this close folks!), BookBuddy (again, imports only its own data, god knows why) and some web services which I’ve already forgotten about, none of which seem to understand this basic concept of stealing from the enemy.

But what am I saying? I wrote all the way back in 2012 about how useless exporting data from Internet behemoths is. Nothing has changed in the last seven years. Till today, companies and apps come and go, without realizing that using prior data is a jump-start, not poisoned fruit.

Indie services actually get this. If you install the Goodreads plugin on Calibre, it lets you quickly import your data so your library is complete. Similarly, if you use the WordPress Book List plugin, there’s a way to import your Goodreads data. Because people who care about data, understand reuse of data. That tells me that if you’re not reusing my data, you’re not building a platform for me.

So good luck competing with Goodreads. Unless you can get my data from them and reuse it, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.