Blogging – writing and reading

Inspired, as I often am, by Lloyd and his various experiments in reusing media, finding new ways to use old stuff, and continuing to prod at blogging as a medium.

Thanks to him, I’m drawn back to Tumblr. It strikes me that the follow and post model that Tumblr embodies harks back to the original blogging tools like Radio Userland that combine reading and posting, and facilitates the easy (b)logging of other people’s content.

It is a closed system of course, which is a bit of a bad thing, but tools like IFTTT can be used to ensure a local backup of content is stored somewhere. But it feels better than – say – Facebook, which really is another follow and post type system. As is Twitter, of course, albeit with greater limitations.

WordPress – at least in its .com incarnation – seems to be following Tumblr by enabling users to follow blogs within a dashboard. But with these platforms, you can only (I think) follow blogs within that platform. It would be nice to be able to pull content in from elsewhere too.

The separation between a reading application and a writing application – which happened when? 2003? – was an error, as it enabled platform players to provide that holistic experience, and there doesn’t seem to be an open equivalent, unless anyone else knows of one.

Introducing Kind of Digital Exchange

It’s not the most exciting bit of technology in the world, but it could be very useful.

I read an awful lot of stuff on the web – thanks to Google Reader, it’s made really easy. Lots of people don’t have the time to do so, and are quite grateful to have useful items pointed out to them. I usually do this by putting links up on my Twitter profile, and the occasional link round up post here on the blog.

The trouble is that Twitter is a very ephemeral medium, and if people miss links, or don’t record them anywhere, then finding them again can be very tough. I’m also slightly uncomfortable that someone else has a hold of all this data! What’s needed is a way to record these things for posterity, and perhaps create a conversation around them.

So, in about an hour of fiddling, I made the Kind of Digital Exchange. It simply publishes links to stories I find interesting, with tags to enable easier searching, and the ability for people to leave comments.

As well as the main site, you can grab the RSS feed, get the results by email or follow the firehose on Twitter.

It’s very basic – just a bog standard WordPress instance and the free, open source, P2 theme. The interesting bit takes place away from the site, where I have set up the wonderful IFTTT to pump items I star in Google Reader into Exchange as posts within WordPress. This means that for me to share something via the site, I just click a single button.

It doesn’t have to be just me though. I’d be delighted if others could contribute. Using IFTTT as the spine, it’s easy to pull content in from other sites, whether Google Reader as I do, or maybe through Delicious bookmarks.

So, if you’re keen to start contributing links to the site, let me know and we can get it sorted. Of course, you can start commenting on links right away!

Will this become the digital engagement equivalent of something like the awesome Hacker News? Probably not. But it didn’t take long to put together, and if people find it useful, then that’s alright with me. Of course, if lots of people find it useful, I’ll throw some resources at it to give it a makeover and start to add some functionality. Stuff like:

  • user liking or upvoting of the best content
  • user tagging of articles
  • ability to reshare links on other networks

…and I am sure there’s a lot more too. There’s a page to share ideas.

So do please go and have a look, and maybe get involved. I was asked the other day where people in government can go to find examples of innovation and creative ideas. Other than say ‘look on Twitter’ it was hard to muster a proper response. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to say – ‘look on the Kind of Digital Exchange!’.

ifttt – an absurdly useful little tool

If this…then that (commonly known as ifttt) is a ridiculously brilliant little thing.

It allows you to set automated tasks based on your activities online – and is as easy to use as clicking a few buttons – no complicated wrangling with the likes of Yahoo! Pipes here.

Here’s an example. You can tell ifttt that when you post a photo on your phone to Instagram, it should copy it across and post it in your Flickr stream too.

Or. you could tell ifttt that when you save a bookmark in Pinboard, it should also create a link post in your Tumblr site.

The ‘recipes’ page on the ifttt site is full of examples of how users are stitching together loads of online services to create something new.

I set something up recently that made me feel a bit better about the photos I share online. I already have my Instagram photos sent to Flickr – and Flickr remains my main online photo archive. So, I added a rule to ifttt to save any photos that appear on Flickr to my Dropbox account.

Of course, Dropbox syncs files automatically with all my computers, so this means I get a local copy of my photos saved, giving a bit more peace of mind.

Now, I’ll admit my use of ifttt is pretty boring. Anyone doing anything more exciting?

Bookmarks for March 21st through March 29th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for March 8th through March 13th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

RSS readers

Read/WriteWeb has an interesting piece on RSS aggregators, and whether they really matter any more:

One of the interesting trends of 2009 has been the gradual decline of RSS Readers as a way for people to keep up with news and niche topics. Many of us still use them, but less than we used to. I for one still maintain a Google Reader account, however I don’t check it on a daily basis. I check Twitter for news and information multiple times a day, I monitor Twitter lists, and I read a number of blogs across a set of topics of most interest to me.

Ross Mayfield, head honcho of enterprise collaboration platform Socialtext, picks up on it:

We all know that Twitter cannibalized RSS Reader habits with something simpler and social. And innovation happened elsewhere for aggregation with simple focused things like Techmeme. And that enterprise RSS innovation moved away from clients. But iGoogle and Netvibes widgets as Twitter clients were developed by third parties. Perhaps it was innovator’s dilemma on a compressed scale, but the Readers didn’t expand what could be read.

I was thinking about this the other day, when, randomly, I checked into Bloglines for the first time in literally years. Bloglines was the first RSS reader I ever used – it was the RSS reader I used when I didn’t know what an RSS reader was.

It was awful, and hadn’t seemed to have been updated since 2004 when I used it regularly. I use Google Reader these days, like most people I suspect. Well, most of the people who use these things at all.

I like what Dave Winer has to say about this. RSS readers are about news:

News. Stuff that’s new. When you want to find out what’s new you don’t want to know everything, you can’t. The world is too big. There’s too much happening. If you were to get a true readout of the number of stories you didn’t read, just today, it would number in the millions. It’s a pointless number. As if it would mean anything if you got the number to be zero. All it would mean is that you spent every waking moment reading, and you had no idea what any of it meant. It wouldn’t make you smarter, happier, worth more, have more friends, get laid more often, go to heaven or become a saint. Reading every story is a meaningless concept.

It’s like Twitter, or any any other social media stream: You don’t have to read it all.

I check my Google Reader several times a day. When I’m drifting, struggling to concentrate on something, I find it a really good way to tune back in again, to read something thoughtful that gets me thinking.

It’s also a great source of new ideas. Twitter is good for that, but it uses up too much clicking to get through to stuff. People say that Twitter is better because of the trust thing. But I trust the people whose blogs I subscribe to – that’s why I subscribe to them.

Maybe the reason why I’m still a heavy user of an RSS reader – I think blogs matter and like them. I like to have the ones I consider good and useful easily accessible, and the reader does that for me.

Tweetwally

tweetwally is a terrifically simple site that lets you create your own pages that track what is being said on Twitter.

It’s a great way of sharing tweets on a topic with people who perhaps aren’t hardcore Twitter users.

I have set one up that tracks any tweets that have localgov in them. If anybody in local government wanted to demonstrate the use of Twitter in having conversations about local gov, they just need to load up the page, without having to mess about with searches, or lists, or whatever. It’s at http://localgov.tweetwally.com/.

Great work by Clockwork to produce a nice little site.

Hat tip to Matt Jukes for pointing it out.

5 Different uses for RSS

RSS is a great technology, one of those that underpins the new usefulness of the web. It’s a simple way of keeping in touch with what is happening in lots of different places, without having to keep visiting lots of sites every day.

Here’s a video from those wonderful Common Craft folk explaining RSS better than I ever could:

One of the really fab things about RSS are the different uses to which it can be put. Here’s five off the top of my head – have you any others?

1. Keeping up with bloggers

I don’t think blogging would have taken off nearly as fast as it did without its very early adoption of RSS as a method of syndicating content. Blogs by their nature are updated on a regular basis, and in a lot of cases a lot more often than other more traditional sites. Keeping up with all that content would be impossible without a way of bringing all those updated into one place.

2. News to you

News site soon cottoned onto the potential of RSS, to the point where now any news organisation worth its salt provides content in this way. Other organisations are starting to adopt it as well, and government is getting there. The need to keep eyeballs on adverts has resulted in some feeds containing only teaser content, to force the reader to go to the originating site anyway. This is a Bad Thing, in my view, and the one positive thing that will come out of RSS feeds that include adverts in them is that it might mean we get rid of partial feeds.

3. Monitoring what’s being said

Now that search engines such as Google are providing RSS feeds for their alerts service – as well as Blogsearches – it makes it all the more easy to set up monitoring dashboards, rather like the ones developed by Steph Gray and others at DIUS. Scanning the web for mentions of key names and topics means that nothing on the web needs to be missed, no matter how small the source.

4. Chchchchchanges

Collaborating on wikis, and forums etc is a wonderful way to experience how the web can help bring people together to share and develop content together. But how to know when people have made updates to pages, or projects, or conversations? One way has always been to get email alerts, but that can lead to having a very full inbox. Any web service worth its salt these days provides RSS for updates, meaning you can keep yourself in the know, and well organised at the same time.

5. Republish, repurpose

This is the most exciting, for me. Because RSS is an open standard it means other services can make use of it to republish material in new ways. Take Steph’s digitalgovuk site – all built using the RSS feeds that Delicious spits out – or Simon Dickson’s OnePolitics – which makes following political blogs both easy and easy on the eye. When you start getting into the territory of combining RSS with other technology like maps and so on, the possibilities seem limitless.

What other uses for RSS are there that are important to you?

Rethinking government news

Where do government and other public sector folk get their news from?

  • Info4Local
  • eGov Monitor
  • GCN
  • Kable
  • Individual government department websites
  • Any others?

I wonder if there is a possibility for putting together a one-stop-shop for news, aggregating the popular sources in one place. I’d also like to see conversations added to the mix, so the news items could spawn discussion.

There are a few models one could use:

  1. Digg, with user submitted news and voting for popular stories. Will people bother though? Could you automatically feed stories in via RSS? Would similar stories be grouped together? This option will include comments on each item though.
  2. TechMeme, drawing together the stories along similar lines. Lack of commenting might be an issue, and it’s a very complicated thing to get right
  3. OnePolitics, aggregating a set list of sources. Simple enough to get up and running, but doesn’t seem to sort content by topic.

Would appreciate any thoughts on this: Where do you go now for your news? Is there a need for such a site? Which of the three models would be of most use to government folk?