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IndieWeb Summit 2019

8 min read

I had the great pleasure of spending this weekend in Portland, OR for the 2019 IndieWeb Summit. IWS is my favorite event of the year, as it gives me the opportunity to spend time with so many smart, like-minded, principled people who are interested in using technology to make a positive impact on the world. This year’s IWS was a runaway success, selling out for the first time ever, and featuring some truly great sessions, keynotes, and projects.

Day Zero: The Pre-Party

On Friday evening, a large subset of the attendees gathered at Pine Street Market to share in food, drink, and community. It was fun to reconnect with IndieWeb friends like David Shanske, Aaron Parecki, Tantek Çelik, Marty McGuire, Jacky Alciné, and Malcom Blaney. Much fun was had by all, and the post-party festivities carried on well into the night.

Day One: Keynotes and Sessions

Keynotes

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The next morning, we kicked off the summit with coffee and breakfast, followed by some great keynotes.

First up, Tantek gave a brief state of the IndieWeb presentation, and shared details about the IndieWeb’s Code of Conduct, our use of color-coded lanyards to give people a choice about whether or not they should be included in photos, and our use of pins to enable people to display their preferred pronouns.

Next was fellow Micro.blog community member Kitt Hodsden who gave an inspiring talk on contractions and expansions, which really set the tone for the rest of the summit. Kitt should be very proud of both the content of her talk, and her wonderful, passionate delivery. Well done, Kitt!

Continuing the thoughtful keynote presentations was Jordan Brady, a native of Portland that I met several years ago at a Homebrew Website Club meeting at the DreamHost PDX offices. Jordan shared her story of changing her domain during her job search. Her experience shined a light on the challenges of being a woman in tech.

Marty McGuire followed, with an interactive keynote about his IndieWeb experience from his iPhone. It was very cool to see how far we’ve come in the past few years, with native mobile apps like Indigenous by Eddie Hinkle, and deep integrations thanks to iOS Shortcuts. Kudos to Marty for presenting the entire keynote directly from his iPhone.

Finally, Jacky Alciné closed the keynotes with an exploration of how to make the IndieWeb available for all. Jacky is a really thoughtful guy, and I enjoyed hearing his perspective.

Lightning Intros

After keynotes, all IWS participants were encouraged to give brief, 2-minute introductions, along with demos of their personal websites. During my introduction, I talked about the importance of preserving and owning your memories, and showed how my website helped me cope with the loss of my sixteen year old dog Winston earlier this year.

Sessions

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After a group photo and lunch at local Portland food carts, we returned to the venue to plan out the rest of the day. IWS uses the BarCamp format for session planning, where attendees lead interactive session proposals, and build the schedule together. We came up with quite an impressive collection of sessions!

There were a lot of great conversations, but I’ll touch on three of my personal favorites:

  1. “Follow That Bird” – This session was proposed by David Shanske, and addressed the problem of discovery. On platforms like Facebook and Twitter, it is easy to just click the “follow” or “friend” button, and following / friend lists help users discover other people. On the IndieWeb, we’re still figuring out the mechanics of how to improve this user experience, especially in social readers like Together and Monocle. Lots of great discussion all around, and this session ended up inspiring my project for day two, which I’ll talk about shortly.
  2. Private Posts – I ran this session, and we talked about another problem that is neatly solved by traditional social platforms: sharing content privately. Again, some great discussion about how to solve this problem in the IndieWeb. Thankfully, there’s plenty of prior art out there to build upon. I’m looking forward to working on solving this for Known, which is the CMS I use for this website.
  3. Possible Futures and IndieWeb – An extremely engaging and interactive session facilitated by Ariana Lutterman. Ariana guided the group through the process of exploring the many possible futures for the IndieWeb based upon emerging signals of change through the lens of growth, collapse, discipline, and transformation. We brainstormed on future implications across a number of axes – STEEPV (social, technological, environmental, economic, political, and values). Finally, we used our exploration to write headlines from the future. A really thoughtful and fun exercise. Many thanks to Ariana for guiding us.

At the end of a very long and engaging day, we split out into groups for evening activities. I joined a great group of nine for dinner at Jackrabbit, which featured an impressive and delicious 4-pound steak that we shared. Yum!

Day Two: Creative Hack Day!

IndieWebCamp Logo

On Sunday, we started things off with some tasty vegan breakfast options, and then I headed off to the first ever meeting of the Known Open Collective. It was great to finally connect, at least over video chat, with Marcus Povey, Jeremy Cherfas, and Paul Lindner. We definitely missed having Ben Werdmüller at the summit, but all send our best to him as he deals with this complicated thing we call “life.”

For the rest of day two, I focused on two things – helping other people and personal projects.

Inspired by the “Follow that Bird” session from day one, I decided that it would be extremely valuable to focus on the problem of discovery. I chose to update my site to make it easier to subscribe to my website, and to discover who and what I am following. The first, smaller part of the project, was to update my Subscribe page with more detailed instructions on how to subscribe to one or more of the feeds that are available on my website.

The second part of my project was to build a way for people to see what I am following. There is a wealth of information on “following” on the IndieWeb wiki, but none of the approaches discussed for documenting subscriptions really sat right with me. I am a fan of the DRY principle, and I don’t like the idea of manually creating “follow posts” when I have a perfectly serviceable source of truth for my subscriptions in my Microsub server. Thus, I embarked upon a project to automatically generate a page on my website that displays an up-to-date list of my subscriptions from Aperture.

Thanks to some enhancements by Aaron Parecki to Aperture, I was able to create a beautiful Following page that gives visitors to my website a way to see exactly what I am following in my social reader. They can use this to discover new content that they may enjoy. Even better, if you parse my Following page with a microformats2 parser, you’ll find that it is an h-feed containing h-entry “follow posts” with a u-follow-of property for each feed that I subscribe to. The only missing piece is that Aperture doesn’t yet provide me with the date and time that my subscription was created. Aaron has indicated that this is something he’d like to add, and once he does, I’ll update my page to include that data.

At the end of the summit, participants demoed their projects and progress before we closed out the summit. My personal favorite demo was from Malcom Blaney and Gregor Love, who demonstrated one of the first implementations of subscribing to private posts using AutoAuth. It was awesome to see private sharing in action, and it gives me confidence that 2020 could be the year that we solve this problem for good.

IndieKaraoke

Once the summit wrapped, a small group of us enjoyed what is becoming a wonderful annual tradition: IndieWeb Karaoke night! This year, we celebrated at Voicebox Northwest thanks to our wonderful host Lillian Karabaic. There was singing. There was laughing. There was a non-stop stream of incredible IndieWeb lyrical jokes:

  • “Bow down before the Zuckerberg. You’re going to get what you deserve.” – To the tune of Head Like a Hole by Nine Inch Nails.
  • “If you want to destroy the silos (whoa oh-oh), POSSE first, and then walk away!” – To the tune of Undone by Weezer.

We’re a bunch of very lovable nerds. I’d especially like to call out Fluffy for her amazing energy at karaoke. She made sure that fun was had by all.

Conclusions

Thank you so much to all of the organizers of IndieWeb Summit for doing such a great job building an inclusive, fun, and enjoyable event each year. This year’s summit was the best yet, and I have no doubt that next year will be even better.

I love you

 

iPad Pro Impressions

9 min read

iPad Pro

This past weekend, I took the plunge and purchased myself an iPad Pro, including an Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio. Amazon had the iPad Pro on sale for 16% off of list price, which is an uncommonly large discount that I couldn’t pass up. I also had saved up quite a bit of Amazon rewards credit, so my out of pocket cost was quite low. I’ve had my eye on an iPad Pro for quite some time, and now that I have one, its time to share my impressions.

Which iPad Pro?

I chose to purchase the smaller 11" iPad Pro in Space Gray with 256GB of storage. Why? Well, the 12.9" iPad Pro was very tempting, but my primary use case for this device is to be a highly portable alternative to my MacBook Pro. What do I plan to use it for? Ideally:

  • Productivity
    • Email
    • Documents
    • Task Management
    • Note-taking, as an alternative to my trusty paper notebooks
  • Development
    • SSH’ing into my various Linux environments
    • Local development, preferably using Python
  • Writing / Blogging
    • Publishing to my website
  • Media
    • Streaming from my Plex server
    • Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc.
  • Reading

Given my constraints and desire to have something more portable than my MacBook Pro, I opted for the smaller size iPad Pro and Apple’s very slim keyboard case, with the Apple Pencil to help me replace my paper notebooks. I chose the 256 GB storage option because the base model only offers 64 GB, which is just not enough for my needs.

The Good: Hardware

So, what’s the good news? Well, there’s a lot to like. First off, the hardware itself is simply stunning. Its light, thin, fast, and beautiful. The screen is bright and crisp, and the bezel-less design is reminiscent of Dieter Rams' greatest hits. The last hardware design that I loved this much was the iPhone 5s.

The accessories are similarly well designed. The Smart Keyboard Folio attaches to the iPad Pro with ease thanks to an array of powerful magnets, and the Smart Connector means that I never have to worry about charging or pairing the keyboard. It just works. The Apple Pencil is similarly impressive, with an ingenious magnetic attachment to the side of the iPad Pro, and wireless charging that is effortless.

The Good: Software

iOS has come a long way in the past few years, adding rudimentary file management in the Files app, early multi-tasking capabilities, and iPad-specific features that enhance the overall experience. That said, there’s a long, long way to go from an OS-level to truly make the iPad Pro a professional tool. I’ll touch on that more later.

Now, there are some truly amazing apps that I have been enjoying to help me with my target use cases. They’re not all perfect, but I am encouraged by the vibrant and growing ecosystem of truly professional apps for iPad. These give me a great deal of hope for the future of the Mac as these apps begin to show up via Marzipan. Below is a list of apps I am using or experimenting with so far:

  • Productivity
    • Email – Apple Mail. I am a heavy email user, and try out email clients often. For now, I am sticking with the built-in option, which is adequate.
    • Documents – Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and Drafts for personal projects. For work, we use GSuite, so I have installed Google’s Drive, Slides, Sheets, and Docs apps.
    • Task-Management – I use Things on my Mac and iPhone, and now I am using it on my iPad Pro.
    • Note-taking – This is an area where I am spending a lot of time experimenting. I have very much enjoyed note-taking in Drafts with my Smart Keyboard Folio attached, but am also trying out note-taking apps that are more Apple Pencil driven, including Notability and Nebo.
  • Development
    • SSHPanic’s Prompt and the emerging iSH, which adds an emulated Linux environment to iOS.
    • Local Development – The aforementioned iSH has been a revelation, enabling me to do local development in a very similar way to how I would on macOS, with vim, Python 3.7, git, virtualenv, and other common terminal-based tools. I’m also experimenting with Pythonista and have my eye on a few other editors to play with (Textastic, Buffer, etc.).
  • Writing / Blogging
    • Blogging – Drafts with a custom Micropub action for publishing to my website.
    • Microblogging – Directly on my website, through Indigenous, or via the Micro.blog app.
  • Media
    • StreamingPlex, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc.
    • Local VideoInfuse, VLC, and Plex. To get video into Infuse and VLC, I tend to use youtube-dl inside of iSH.
  • Reading
    • Books – Apple’s Books app works great for ePub content.
    • News – Apple’s News app is decent, but mostly I use Safari with my favorite news sites, or more likely I use my feed reader.
    • ComicsChunky Reader is pretty solid, though I wish this entire category was more like Plex, with rich metadata indexing and organization on the server, with clients for reading.
    • Web – Safari.
    • Feeds – I have installed Together as a Progressive Web App on my home screen and it works well.

While none of the above apps are perfect, I have been quite impressed with them as a whole.

The Bad: Hardware

While the iPad Pro and its accessories are truly impressive hardware, they’re not free of issues. Because the bezels are so small on the iPad Pro, it can be a little uncomfortable to hold in portrait layout while reading. In the lap, the whole Smart Keyboard Folio and iPad Pro setup is a bit top-heavy, making it slightly unstable. Other than these minor nits, overall I think the hardware is top-notch.

The Bad: Software

While the app ecosystem is amazing, and iOS has made great strides, there are still some fundamental missing pieces that prevent me from viewing iOS as a true alternative to macOS:

  • Keyboard – While the Smart Keyboard Folio is generally great to type on, in spite of its small size and low key travel, it is greatly hampered by software limitations in iOS. There is no ability to re-map keys in iOS, so I am stuck with a system-wide Caps Lock key, and no ESC key. Some apps, such as iSH, allow you to map Caps Lock to ESC, but this should really be handled system-wide. In addition, the Smart Keyboard Folio has a “globe” button in the bottom left corner which is infuriating. Pressing it pops up the Emoji keyboard on screen, and its right next to the control key, which I use heavily.
  • Fonts – iOS comes with a small set of fonts, and there is no standard, built-in way to install additional fonts. I have been able to use an app called AnyFont to install fonts, including my preferred programming font, Dank Mono, but because the system itself doesn’t have support for font management, most apps don’t surface font customization. Kudos to Drafts, though, for allowing users to pick from any font available to the system, including ones installed through AnyFont.
  • File Management – Apple added the Files app to iOS, and its a good start, but has so far to go to truly make it a pro-level file management tool. In addition, there isn’t any ability to plug in external storage to my iPad Pro, in spite of the fact that it has a USB-C port.
  • Multi-Tasking – iOS has a very rudimentary multi-tasking system, which allows you to place multiple apps onto the screen at the same time, in floating panels, and in split views. It works, but is fiddly to use, with delicate gestures required to bring up the dock, drag apps over each other, and position them. In addition, there is no way to have multiple “windows” of an app used in different multi-tasking sessions. I think Apple is definitely innovating here, looking for new ways to approach multi-tasking than traditional window management. In many ways, iOS multi-tasking reminds me of tiling window managers, just… not as good. I’m hoping for good news on this front at WWDC.
  • Web Browsing – Safari is an awesome browser. But, on the iPad, too often websites give you the mobile version of their site, rather than serving up the “full size” website. In addition, there isn’t any sort of download manager, or support for extensions other than content blockers.
  • iSH – I have heaped praise on iSH above, and it really is pretty incredible. Its also an open source project, and is rapidly improving… but its not there yet. Things I’d love to see added to iSH that would greatly improve my experience: custom font selection, better performance, compatibility with additional software, tabbed sessions, and a choice of a different base operating system than Alpine Linux.

Conclusions

Overall, I am thrilled with my iPad Pro, and really excited to see where Apple is headed with iOS for “pro” users. There is so much to like, and massive potential for improvement. While I don’t see the iPad Pro displacing my laptop anytime soon, I think it will become an important part of my workflow.

 

New Podcast: Two Dads Talking

2 min read

I am not ashamed to admit that I love podcasts. In the early 2000s, blogs were the hot thing: an open publishing medium that allowed people to exchange ideas, converse, and share. Since then, blogs have faded, as increasingly toxic social media walled gardens have moved people off the open web. It’s a shame, really. I’m hopeful that blogs will rise again, but it’s going to take time.

Podcasts, on the other hand, have only grown in popularity, and are still blissfully free of central control from creepy ad-driven social media giants. We are in the golden age of podcasting!

I’ve had a personal microcast for a while now, and I’ve been pretty undisciplined about publishing it. Still, it has been a fun exercise, and I plan to keep at it for years to come.

Today, however, I’m excited to announce a new podcast project: Two Dads Talking. TDT is a longer form podcast featuring myself and my co-host Eddie Hinkle. Eddie and I have known each other for a few years now through the IndieWeb community, and we’ve found that we both have a lot in common, but also a significant amount of differences. This podcast is an opportunity for us to get to know each other better, and for our listeners to join us in that discovery.

Eddie and I are both parents, though at very different life stages, and both are people of faith, and technologists. I’m really looking forward to getting to know Eddie better, and I hope you’ll all join us in our journey of Two Dads Talking.

To subscribe, visit the Two Dads Talking website, follow us on Micro.blog, or subscribe in your favorite podcast client.

 

Micro Monday: Eddie Hinkle

1 min read

Its our first ever Micro Monday, people! Thanks to @manton and @macgenie for deciding to make this happen. I think its a great way to grow the community of Indie Bloggers and Micro.blog itself. My first recommendation for my followers is @eddiehinkle.

Eddie is a fellow IndieWeb developer that I've enjoyed getting to know over the past year or two. Eddie works on an iOS app called Indigenous:

Indigenous is an iOS app that is in development. It’s goal is to provide a native iOS interface to the indieweb movement.

Indigenous is open source, written in Apple's Swift programming language. If you're an IndieWeb-curious developer on Apple platforms, I'd encourage you to get involved with Eddie, and help him with Indigenous!

In addition to his work on the IndieWeb, I also appreciate following Eddie because he writes thoughtful posts about, you know, being a human. Its always refreshing to see someone share how their faith informs their life in an open and honest, accepting way.

Thanks for being awesome, Eddie!

 
 

On HomePod

5 min read

 

I've recently been thinking about the smart-speaker category, musing about Amazon's recently announced Echo Show, and speculating about if and when Apple would get into the game. Earlier this week, I got an answer when Apple announced the HomePod, a smart speaker with voice control powered by Siri. So, has the announcement of HomePod made my choice clear? Will I buy a HomePod, an Echo Show, or another smart-speaker?

Well. Its complicated.

Smart Speakers in Theory

In theory, smart speakers have several appealing features for me:

  • Convenient access to cloud-based music services like Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify. Being able to whisper an incantation into thin air, and have the speaker play pretty much any song I've ever heard means that I'll spend more time listening to and enjoying music.
  • High quality audio in my great room, which is excellent for hosting parties, or just enjoying in the evenings after the kids have been put to bed.
  • An always-on assistant for my home, with a massive library of integrations and home automation support. I can imagine bringing up recipes on a screen for reference in the kitchen while I cook, only by using my voice, or setting multiple cook timers, asking for conversions, etc.

On the other hand, there are some significant theoretical drawbacks, the most significant of which is security and privacy. Having an internet-connected microphone in my house that is always listening is a bit scary. Is my information safe? Is the company that I am sharing it with a good steward of my data?

HomePod Tradeoffs

HomePod has really muddied the waters for me. I absolutely love the convenience, integrations, features, developer story, and screen on the Echo Show, but the dismal audio quality and significant concerns with privacy and security give me pause. The Echo Show is also not particularly well integrated with Apple's ecosystem, in which I am thoroughly entrenched, though that seems to be changing.

The HomePod has addressed my privacy concern very effectively. Apple made it abundantly clear that they don't send any audio up to their servers until you say "Hey, Siri," and that all information is encrypted in transit, and is anonymized to protect its users. I trust Apple more than I trust Amazon, Google, or pretty much any other major technology and services company. They're interested in selling me their products to improve my life, not in sharing my information with advertisers, or more effectively mining my information to enhance its retail offerings.

Audio quality is also huge focus for Apple with the HomePod. In fact, their marketing site introduces it as "the new sound of home," and spends significant time and effort discussing the internal speakers and adaptive audio features that use its onboard processing to optimize the sound to the room. While there's no way to beat, or even match, a properly tuned multi-speaker audio system, I am betting that Apple's engineers can make the HomePod sound pretty great. Certainly, much better than the Echo. In addition, Apple has built in multi-room audio features that put competitors like Sonos to shame, thanks to tight integration with iOS.

So, HomePod addresses my two main concerns of Smart Speakers with ease! Yet, the HomePod leaves me very conflicted. Why? Because, frankly, its not particularly smart. I was expecting to hear about a total overhaul of Siri, focused on improving accuracy, opening up the platform to developers, and closing the gap with Alexa. Yet, the HomePod has, in many ways, delivered the "same old Siri," which has no developer story to speak of. The only integrations you'll find are those with HomeKit, which thus far hasn't really taken off. Meanwhile, the Alexa Skills library is growing at a massive clip.

Finally, the HomePod clocks in at $349. Ouch. The Echo series ranges from $49 for the Echo Dot, $179 for the full size Echo, and $229 for the Echo Show, which features a touch screen and an integrated HD video camera. Now, Apple can always demand a premium price point, and I have no doubt that the industrial design and engineering quality of the HomePod will put the Echo to shame, but given the feature disparity, I am a bit disappointed in the price.

What's Next?

Given the tradeoffs and price point of the HomePod, I am almost certain to pass on the first generation. If Apple puts significant time and effort into Siri and the developer story, that may change. Early signs from WWDC are that they're interested in opening up HomeKit more, so I'm optimistic. I'm also hopeful that Apple will eventually release a HomePod with a screen with integrated Facetime support, which would be ideal for my kitchen.

Conclusion? Well, I think that the smart speaker category is pretty nascent, and its going to take a few more years to shake out. Amazon has the early lead, and both Google and Apple now have entrants that are playing catch up with varying degrees of success. As of now, I'm sitting 2017 out to see how things change before committing to a platform.

 

Micro.blog, JSON Feed, and Evergreen Give Me Hope for the Open Web

3 min read

I've long been a believer in the power of the open web, but my passion for saving it has been ignited by the IndieWeb movement, as of late. More and more people are discovering their distaste for creepy, ad-driven content silos like Facebook. Today's post by Dave Winer on the evils of Facebook, and John Gruber's hilariously sardonic "Fuck Facebook" reply do an excellent job of encapsulating my own frustrations. That said, there are reasons for hope.

The IndieWeb movement itself has been chipping away at the problem for years, but I've been particularly encouraged over the past few weeks by a few new developments.

First is the successful launch of Manton Reece's Micro.blog project to his Kickstarter backers. I'm a backer myself, as is my employer, and I've had the pleasure of using the platform for a few weeks now. Its early, but the project is already bearing fruit, with a rapid development pace, a vibrant community, and lots of excellent people to follow. Micro.blog is built on the notion of independence and respects your ownership of your data.

Next is the announcement and early success of the JSON Feed format created by Manton and Brent Simmons. JSON Feed is a new format designed for content syndication, similar to RSS and Atom, but based upon the JSON serialization format, which is popular with developers these days for being extremely easy to properly generate and parse. Since its announcement, there's been a flurry of activity around JSON Feed, including outcry about "yet another standard," and those who are upset that JSON Feed was created at all when there are other JSON-based syndication formats in existence. Over all of the noise, though, the adoption rate has been impressive. Many projects have been updated or created to generate and parse JSON Feed, and consumers are starting to adopt the format as well, including Feedbin, News Explorer, NewsBlur, Inoreader, and a few podcast apps. I've even jumped into the fray, creating an initial implementation of JSON Feed for the Known CMS that runs this website, and a second pass that aims to build in additional information through JSON Feed extensions. Regardless of competing standards, shortcomings in the format itself, etc., its undeniable that JSON Feed is generating real, palpable excitement for the open web, and that's undoubtedly a good thing.

Finally, in the midst of all of this, Brent Simmons has announced that he's working on a new, open source feed reader for macOS called Evergreen. Brent was the original creator of NetNewsWire, which was at one time my favorite app. In fact, I created several themes for NetNewsWire back in the day, and was a member of the beta testing and feedback group that Brent set up. Evergreen has a chance to take a fresh look at the problem of consuming feeds, and with JSON Feed and the new capabilities it could support through extensions, I am hoping that Brent takes a crack at solving the bigger picture that I blogged about in March. Imagine an open source app that bundles consumption (through feeds, including JSON Feed) with content creation and interaction (leveraging Micropub, a newly minted W3C recommendation, and Webmention). I'm looking forward to seeing what Brent produces!

So, yes, I lament the state of the web, thanks to walled gardens like Facebook, but I'm optimistic about the future.

 

 

Tim Bray on Blogging in 2017

1 min read

Replied to a post on tbray.org:

Thank you, Tim, for still blogging, and owning your own identity on the web. Your presence makes it more vibrant, unique, and diverse.

The great dan­ger is that the Web’s fu­ture is mall-like: No space re­al­ly pub­lic, no store­fronts but na­tion­al brands’, no vi­su­als com­posed by am­a­teurs, noth­ing that’s on of­fer just for its own sake, and for love.

This sentence in particular resonated with me. I want the web to be a massive, interconnected network of independant thinkers, businesses, artists, communicators, individuals, etc., not just a collection of brands shouting into the void, hoping to attract consumers.

 

 

Disqus, Self-Hosting, and Owning Your Interactions

3 min read

This morning, I read an interesting post by Don Williamson about how he removed Disqus comments from his site and moved to hosting his comments on GitHub, using some very creative hacks. Learning about the hacks he used is pretty fun, but I actually found his exploration of Disqus and its aggressive tracking more interesting. On the impact of performance on his site from using Disqus, Don pointed out:

Load-time goes from 6 seconds to 2 seconds.

There are 105 network requests vs. 16.

There are a lot of non-relevant requests going through to networks that will be tracking your movements.

He then goes into detail listing all of the ad networks and trackers that are pulled into a site when Disqus is enabled, and its terrifying:

disqus.com - Obviously!

google-analytics.com - Multiple requests; no idea who’s capturing your movements.

connect.facebook.net - If you’re logged into Facebook, they know you visit this site.

accounts.google.com - Google will also map your visits to this site with any of your Google accounts.

pippio.com - LiveRamp identify mapping for harvesting your details for commercial gain.

bluekai.com - Identity tracking for marketing campaigns.

crwdcntrl.net - Pretty suspect site listed as referenced by viruses and spyware.

exelator.com - More identity and movement tracking site which even has a virus named after it!

doubleclick.net - We all know this one: ad services and movement tracking, owned by Google.

tag.apxlv.net - Very shady and tricky to pin-point an owner as they obsfuscate their domain (I didn’t even know this was a thing!). Adds a tracking pixel to your site.

adnxs.com - More tracking garbage, albeit slightly more prolific.

adsymptotic.com - Advertising and tracking that suppposedly uses machine learning.

rlcdn.com - Obsfuscated advertising/tracking from Rapleaf.

adbrn.com - “Deliver a personalized customer journey across devices, channels and platforms with Adbrain customer ID mapping technology.”

nexac.com - Oracle’s Datalogix, their own tracking and behavioural pattern rubbish.

tapad.com - OK, I cant’t be bothered to search to look this up anymore.

liadm.com - More? Oh, ok, then…

sohern.com - Yup. Tracking.

demdex.net - Tracking. From Adobe.

bidswitch.net - I’ll give you one guess…

agkn.com - …

mathtag.com - Curious name, maybe it’s… no. It’s tracking you.

 

Including third-party JavaScript libraries on my site like choosing a sexual partner: you better know who that third party has been in bed with, or you'll be in for a nasty surprise.

Comments and comment spam are hard. But, that doesn't mean we should turn over control of our interactions to companies that choose to leverage your audience and your data for their own profit. Own your interactions!

 

 

User Experience and the IndieWeb

6 min read

Those of you who have been following me on this site and on Twitter for the last few years know that I've been a proponent of the IndieWeb and its ideals, and would like to see a return to the open web.

Earlier today, I published a series of tweets about my desire for better, more unfied experiences for people who want to actively participate in the IndieWeb:

I received some great replies from fellow members of the IndieWeb community, including some links to interesting building blocks that people have been working on for years:

Ryan Barrett also shared his thoughts on the topic way back in 2015, with many great ideas.

Building Blocks vs. Unified Experiences

Tools like Granary, Indigenous, and InkStone are great pieces of the puzzle, as are open source CMS's like Known and WordPress with support for Micropub, Webmention, and other IndieWeb building blocks. But, the reason that silos like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are popular is that they provide a convenient, easy, and attractive unified experience for content consumption, content creation, and interactions. In order to be successful, and drive mass adoption, the IndieWeb must provide a user experience on par with silos on all three of these fronts.

I think that Manton Reece's Micro.blog project is another good start on attacking the problem, and may get us closer than we've ever been before, which is why I pushed my employer to back the project. But, again, its likely not enough on its own.

Between RSS and Atom, Webmention, and Micropub, the building blocks are there to create such an experience in a decentralized way, with participants in the network owning their own domains, websites, and data, pulling in content from a variety of sources via feeds, and creating posts, reactions, and interactions to their own sites with notifications to other participant sites.

My Vision for a Unified Experience

Today, most people's experience of the web is through algorithmically generated, ad-supported timelines like Twitter and Facebook. Frequently, its on mobile devices in the native app clients for these silos, rather than through a web browser. That's really a shame.

These algorithmically curated timelines are filling the gap that feed readers and aggregators like Google Reader left open. Web browsers have also ceded ground to silos, focusing purely on navigation, tab management, and search, rather than thinking about the bigger picture.

The ideal solution to this problem would be a native application for desktop operating systems and mobile platforms that places user experience at the forefront, and provides:

  • Content consumption for both the open web, through RSS/Atom, and silos like Twitter and Facebook in separate tabs or timelines.

  • Content creation for both the open web, through Micropub, and silos like Twitter and Facebook via syndication or their APIs.

  • Rich interactions for both the open web, through Webmention, and silos like Twitter and Facebook via their APIs.

Back in the early days of Twitter and the iOS App Store, John Gruber wrote about Twitter clients as pioneers of user experience. He was absolutely right! Twitter's (then) open-ish API enabled indie software companies like The Iconfactory, Atebits, and others to innovate and create incredible user experiences. In fact, the early work of The Iconfactory in Twitterific led to the hashtag, @-mention, and other patterns to take hold. The concept of "pull to refresh" was born out of this storm of innovation. Then, as it tried to figure out how to monetize its VC-backed platform, Twitter closed up its APIs, cutting off this innovation.

A unified experience for the rebirth of the open web is a massive market opportunity. The building blocks are there. History has shown that these kinds of experiences can become massively popular and drive innovation.

Opportunity for Who?

This opportunity begs the question: who will build this unified experience? Well, this time, the building blocks are truly open, so anyone can participate. All of those amazing indie developers who were creating Twitter clients back in 2007-2012 could absolutely dust off their code, and pick up where they left off.

That said, I think that browser vendors are in the best possible position to create these experiences, as this is all about driving people to the open web, and consuming it inside of web browsers. I firmly believe that innovation in web browsers has been stagnant for years, with the focus mostly being on search, navigation, rendering, and tabbed browsing, while the ultimate user experience has remained fundamentally the same.

Because of its values and origins, Mozilla is perfectly suited to the problem, and needs to reinvent itself after years of declining market share for Firefox. Mozilla has spent years on distractions like phone operating systems, and a client for enabling publishing, interaction, and content discovery and consumption on the open web, free from silos, is a great opportunity to get back to its roots.

How Can I Help?

For my part, I'm going to continue to advocate for the IndieWeb, support the members of the community that are making the future possible, and work with my employer, DreamHost, to help enable people to own their own digital identity with open platforms like WordPress.

How can you help? Well, that's a blog post for another day.