These kinds of algorithms optimize for engagement, and the quickest path to engagement is via the drugs outrage and anger — which require, and generate, bigger and bigger hits.
This is what Twitter and Facebook are about — but it’s not right for NetNewsWire. The app puts you in control. You choose the sites and blogs you want to read, and the app reliably shows you their articles sorted by time. That’s it.
I keep thinking about these tweets from Derek Powazek:
I’m not really watching Twitter these days, but haven’t gone so far as to delete my tweets. Since I mostly read (past tense) on Tweetbot and that’s going away, I have a bit more space between me and Twitter. Just in time too, because today is the day to stop reading twttr.
Mastodon is interesting. I am on a server at @firstname.lastname@example.org (3 toots this year!) but there are other Mastodon instances that kind of mean something. You can be on photog.social for a photo-specific feed, or mhz.social for ham radio. There are more.
I have different Slacks for different contexts. Slack for work, sure. My coworking Slack doubles as a local online community. That’s where I would ask for a plumber or electrician. I have a few Slack with friends and a few more. I’d probably be on some Discords too if I could ever figure out how their UI distinguishes between text and voice.
I’m reading more blogs too. My RSS reader isn’t a Skinner box, trying to mete out dopamine hits. It’s just a list of posts, in reverse chronological order. Like with Twitter, I’m focusing on people I know or would like to know, and who don’t post a million times a day.
A million years ago, I ran an Ann Arbor blog aggregator called ArborBlogs. It was basically a Planet site, showing all the posts from a curated list of blogs. Curation seems to be the key, and curation doesn’t scale. Is that a bug or a feature?
Maybe the way forward, away from toxic interactions and anonymous trolls, isn’t the public timeline but the small groups. Facebook’s need to connect everyone to everyone continues to be its cruel mission, but its groups are the thing that keeps people from leaving.
I’ve never been someone who looks at hashtags or trending topics on Twitter. Someone looks at that stuff, right? That’s the kind of thing that needs a giant public timeline, algorithmically pruned, collapsing all contexts. I’m looking for good stuff from people I know or would like to know. Introverts of the world: unite!
There’s been plenty of talk about the two big announcements at MWSF 2006, so I won’t bother to go into them. While I want a sexy new MacBook Pro, (though not the first few off the assembly line, thank you very much) my technolust doesn’t add much to the conversation.
But what about the other announcements? Let’s see if we can’t find a common theme.
iPhoto will now be able to publish and subscribe to image RSS feeds of photo albums, deemed “Photocasting.” Photocast feeds will work with regular RSS readers, but iPhoto will be able to handle 1-click subscriptions and will treat Photocast feeds as special folders. It’s kind of like a distributed Flickr, using RSS.
iWeb, the new iLife tool for web sites, has built-in blogging and podcasting tools. While hosted blogging tools have gotten to the point where even executives can blog, there’s still a market for client-based blogging tools. So with iWeb, people will be able to produce RSS feeds, complete with media enclosures from other iLife applications.
iMovie has been updated to make web ready video easy, specifically for podcasting video to iPods. GarageBand has added a metric assload of podcasting features. Podcasting, by the way, is something that happens over RSS.
Looking at the new things in iLife, I can’t find that common theme that I was looking for. So let’s talk about RSS instead.
ArborBlogs is starting to get a little long in the tooth, and I’m not too happy with the Drupal aggregator codebase. The ability for people to post to the site was under-utilized, to say the least, so I’m looking for a pure-aggregator to replace it.
Some of the things I’m looking for are:
Ability for non-admins to add feeds. I don’t want my disinterest in my inbox to prevent people from getting added. Bonus points if people can put in their blog’s URL or a username for hosted services and have it auto-detect the feed.
Extendibility. While I’d like features like a blog directory, tagging or the picture aggregator to be built in, as long as the package supports some easy way to add new modules I’ll be happy to put in a few hours adding the stuff I want. Prefer Ruby or a scripting language that starts with “P”. Ben Trott may have made Perl the perfect choice with WWW::Blog::Metadata, but Technorati’s web services gather a lot of the same info.
Any suggestions, Lazyweb?
Bruce Schneier posted his response to a call for the media to pipe down about terrorist attacks. The argument goes that by publicizing terror attacks the media is creating terror, so why not short-circuit the terrorists’ goal? Mr. Schneier explains that the consequence of doing so would cause worse things than terrorism.
He also discusses the nature of the news media in general:
If the press did not report the 9/11 attacks, if most people in the U.S. didn’t know about them, then the attacks wouldn’t have been such a defining moment in our national politics. If we lived 100 years ago, and people only read newspaper articles and saw still photographs of the attacks, then people wouldn’t have had such an emotional reaction. If we lived 200 years ago and all we had to go on was the written word and oral accounts, the emotional reaction would be even less. Modern news coverage amplifies the terrorists’ actions by endlessly replaying them, with real video and sound, burning them into the psyche of every viewer. [emphasis added]
Kathy Sierra says “you can’t be afraid and rational at the same time.” She writes about how the brain deals with fear at low and high levels, and how the media sidesteps higher brain functions to appeal directly to the reptilian brain.
Unlike television shows, movies, and video games–which your brain knows aren’t real–a brain perceives the news as “real” and often concludes that things are far more dangerous than they really are, [emphasis added] thanks to the dramatic statistic imbalance (reality distortion field) between what is displayed on the news and what is actually happening outside your front door. It’s not like you’ll ever hear, for example, a nightly new run down of all the people in your city who were NOT in fact killed in a drive-by shooting that day.
Since I’m a geek, I’m constantly applying technical solutions to social problems. The social problem is that it’s unthinkable for a 24 hour news channel to announce “It’s a slow news day, so we’re taking a break for a while. Enjoy this test pattern until something happens.” Instead, they’ll latch on to whatever story they can because they need to keep people tuned into their advertisements.
The buzzword-compliant solution to this problem is RSS. Well, RSS or something like RSS. RSS provides the model, and it might even provide the format. Chris Anderson wrote about how RSS changes blog posting styles: “in a subscription age, where publishers don’t have to entice you back each day with a flood of new content, quality trumps quantity.” Why wouldn’t the same thing happen to TV?
One of the hard things about searching the web by keyword is that sometimes you want to find things with a specific relationship. Take Drupal’s module list for example. I want to know when there are new modules available, which is perfect for RSS.
There’s plenty of information about Drupal modules that make RSS, but it’s hard to find something about getting the module list in RSS. I’m sure the capitalized Semantic Web will make that easy, but until that happens I guess I’ll just have to roll my own.
So I set up an RSS feed at http://feeds.feedburner.com/drupalmodules. I scrape the page once a day (technically once a night in EDT, once an early morning in UTC, once a…) and make a fresh new RSS feed. If you know of any Drupal users/developers, you might want to let them know.
One of the big problems with using the Drupal Aggregator for ArborBlogs was that it doesn’t support Atom out of the box. My initial fix was to create an Atom -> RSS converter using Magpie but this weekend I was able to set up Drupal to use Magpie for RSS and Atom parsing without the need for a mediator.
I don’t know how the Drupal community deals with contributions, I’ll investigate that when I have a chance, but if you’ve got a Drupal site and want to try out my modifications, you can try out my modified aggregator module. It creates modules/aggregator/aggregator.module so you’ll need to move modules/aggregator.module out of modules for it to work.