2019

Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you think they will. Life can be full of surprises that way. Here I am, not even a week into this year and already changes are afoot that even a few days ago I would not have expected. Let’s get to those changes.

Updates:

  • Posted my CSS as a Gist.
    • I use the Marfa theme for Mumblings, with a bunch of custom CSS to twist it into the shape I prefer. The code is now on GitHub, for anybody to grab and/or leave feedback. I’ll also soon post it to this site.
  • Projects:
    • They Chose Us is a website dedicated to my cats, Kismet and Aria.
    • Firebyrd is the home of my wife and I for our collaborative work, including our blog with which we will post updates.
  • Increased contributions to Micro.blog on GitHub.
  • Snapshot has been put on indefinite hiatus.
  • Returned to Twitter and Instagram.

The future:

  • Today I Learned returns proper on Monday, the 14th of January.
    • The December edition of The Macro Report will be back before then.
  • For The Weekend returns this Friday, the 4th of January.
  • Introducing: Broken Ground, a photo-based record of the public infrastructure in Liverpool.
    • I’m going to highlight the condition of the streets and roads in my local area, within the relevant context to talk about why this is important and exactly why, as citizens, we should demand more from both those in positions of authorities and each other.
  • Introducing: Chronicles of Thedas, a fan-site hosting stories set in the Dragon Age universe.
  • Regular longer form blogging is forthcoming on Mumblings, with a reduction of shorter posts.

I briefly moved Mumblings, this site, from Micro.blog Hosted to Tumblr but now it is back again and I couldn’t be happier. I believe strongly in the work being done by the team, that Manton is right when he says the best future for the web is one made of smaller networks of higher quality rather than the current roster of social media behemoths.

I have big goals for this year and Today I Learned is a big part of that. I can’t wait to restart the project on the 14th of the month, especially with the plans I have in place for further expansion.

I hope to get my Micro.blog Hosted photoblog back up before the end of the year, along with a couple of other blog-based ideas for which I am currently in the early planning stages. In the meantime I’m going to keep blogging here and look forward to a year of even more people getting back to blogging.

Happy New Year!

– Simon

Random Thoughts: Blog, Tweet, Instagram, or otherwise?

During my downtime over Christmas I’ve been thinking a lot about the time I am spending on writing, especially with regard to how I am moving away from constant, daily blogging and toward longer form blogging whilst increasing my time on writing-based projects.

Between this and the pressing need to maintain my overall health – as a carer, there is no other choice; if I do not maintain my health then I cannot do my job – I am looking at cutting away those activities of my day-to-day life that are in fact excessive. A post from tones helped me see this ambition in the sharp reality that is text and I have never felt as driven to do my best work as I do right now.

That being said, there is no question that my decision to move away from regular shorter blogging is an important part of this focus; don’t get me wrong, the activity is brilliant and has been integral to my year-long rejuvenation thanks to which I am now well equipped to reach for my aforementioned goals. However, those goals are unlikely to be met if I continue to spend time with such regular blogging; I do not write about a specific subject or have a well established history of sharing via link blogging, or have any real access to the type of material about which I could write and thus gain traction with any sort of audience.

… and there it is. I want to make things for people. I believe the world is better when we all try to contribute to it and right now I wish to do so directly, with intention. This means posting my general, mixed blog is purely for me as a hobby, which again is great but for me unfortunately little more than excessive; a thing that has the potential to drag me down as it were.

And so my blog, this very site, will be for the longer form writing and that is fine.

However, there is still microblogging. Those short posts for which my favourite social media platform is named; Micro.blog. Everything about the platform is great… well, almost great. I recently posted my wishlist for the platform and have come to realise my main issue can be summed up in a word: friction. There’s just too much of it still, be it foundational issues such as the lack of cross-platform apps, cross-platform parity, or a lack clear messaging about how it is safer than mainstream social media platforms… I still wouldn’t recommend Micro.blog for the average person and so it is not quite great.

Then there is mainstream social media, specifically Twitter and Instagram. Flawed though they are, I have written previously about the reality that they are where people are; within contexts that are important for my life this is simply true and remains so to this day. There is also another thing; they are relatively free of friction, to enough of an extent to matter.

To this end, a recent post on Instagram by Federico Viticci caught my eye. He is effectively blogging on Instagram. I guess Instagram is photoblogging by another name anyway but I had never thought much about it also as a general purpose blogging tool. Yet there it is, again, relatively friction free.

It’s a similar story across mainstream social media:

Tap -> tap -> tap -> done. Boom; on with your day.

This ought to be one of the big aims for Micro.blog. Not necessarily as friction-free but much closer to that point than it is at the moment. I believe this is possible, likely to happen, and the true moment when I can thoroughly attempt to convince people I know on a day-to-day basis to give the platform a try as a replacement for whatever social media platforms they are using.

A lot of these thoughts have come in the midst of a deep desire to finally push on and maintain the momentum gained from a particularly busy year. Cutting away excess, minimising friction for hobbies and side projects, and thus making tangible contributions through my work is the path I am taking… as a result, I will continue to think about such matters as I have written about here, make the relevant decisions, and update my blog as I do so.

2018

It’s been… well, one hell of a year. There are plenty of things I can’t remember right now and that’s OK; if it’s important enough I’ll remember it and make a note. In fact, I’ve been advised by more than one person to start a diary and I’m looking forward to doing just that.

If there’s one thing I’m currently feeling it is anticipation; after taking a break, I’ll be back on my bullshit and determined to take on all kinds of projects, as well as shoring up my basic organisation of various tasks so that I can use more of my time to do actual work. The improved use of my time will also grant me the chance to rediscover some hobbies, which now feels like a thing I ought to be better at prioritising.

I don’t have much else to say, so here are some recent updates:

  • Deactivated my Now page.
    • It’s been a great writing exercise over the past year, and has helped me with regard to making decisions about exactly what I want my blog to be, the degree to which I am involved in mainstream social media, and more. I thoroughly recommend it.
  • Edited menu links.
    • This now better reflects my thinking about this site. It will change if certain features are implemented on Micro.blog but the basic structure is set.
  • Edited the About page.
    • This continues to be an ever-changing page but the rate of change has slowed over the past few months, which is good. I would prefer it to be relatively stable, mostly with changes in the future centred around additions.
  • Moved my home page to WordPress.
    • It’s almost done; just missing a single post that I’ll have up at some point in January. Tumblr is decaying as part of its life as a social media silo, whilst Micro.blog does not currently have the features I require for this kind of page/site, and I can’t afford the other options. Fortunately I won’t be blogging at this site so the recent update by Automattic won’t be a problem.
  • Started contributing to Micro.blog on GitHub.
    • I haven’t done very much yet but a start is better than none. I think this is the best place to focus the various discussions across the community about Micro.blog itself; hopefully this will help make it easier for people to get a good idea of the extent to which Micro.blog is developing and the actual influence the community has on that process.

I have also done some light work on project planning and since stopping regular work a few days ago have found it a lot easier to note down ideas and think about my exact intentions for the next few months. The various parts of my projects are moving forward together nicely and I’m looking forward to getting some hobby projects off the ground during my break.

Other than that I am winding down my usual computer-based activity as a whole and will spend more time with both my iPad (reading, video, etc) and my Chromebook (limited functionality means focusing on specific, smaller task), as part of a much more relaxed approach to each day. It’s gonna be fun!

With that in mind, this is the last post on Mumblings until next year. Have a fun, safe end to the year everybody. :)

Bye!

Donald Moffat had a guest role in my favourite episode of The West Wing. Rest in peace, sir.

I haven’t written anything of consequence for 48 hours. This is… odd.

I’m too old for senseless cynicism. We need to be constructive, direct, and more efficiently spend our energy; read a book, watch a movie, go for a walk, talk with somebody… anything is better than lashing out, especially on the web.

Die Hard is the only Christmas movie worth watching every year. Fight me.

Iā€™m tired of managing plugins. Iā€™m tired of managing themes. Iā€™m tired of wrangling metadata. Iā€™m beyond tired of trying to manage the growing complexity of the Wordpress platform.

Paul Craig

Oh look, a mirror.

Over the past couple of years I’ve seen and heard people use the word “socials”, referring to their social media accounts.

Socials

šŸ˜

Moderation on Micro.blog

What tools are missing? I think it helps to talk about specific feature requests here. The current design is around muting, reporting, and curation of the various sections of Discover.

In reply to Manton’s comment:

Similiar to Smokey, there are worries about manual curation in the future but that’s not a thing I think is worth caring about too much for the rest of us right now since it’s mostly theoretical and has too many potential solutions for which it is impossible to know what will definitely be the best approach to take.

Immediately, I think about how Twitter has:

  • Quality filter. When I switched this on it made my timeline so much better. Is the Micro.blog version of this the aforementioned Safe Replies? If so, I have missed the detail on that but even so would suggest that gets promoted a lot more.
  • Keyword filters. Given the chance, you can really go deep with this and stay ahead of some of the worst offenders; people for whom dealing with is a struggle for even a team of community managers, not least because they are often part of a team themselves (4chan, etc).
  • Private mode. You can switch this on if things are getting bad, you need to take a break from using the platform, you are unable to keep an eye on things, or you want a personal timeline as well as a public timeline.
  • Per-person re-tweet setting. I know re-posting doesn’t exist on Micro.blog but right now people are already posting to the timeline with a variety of posts, they just happen to be manually created and not actually built into Micro.blog itself. But I can’t filter those out.
  • Blocking. When signed into my timeline certain people simply don’t exist.

Now, I’m pretty sure a bunch of that list is either already sorted – for example, muting vs blocking is largely semantics and technical differences – or simply not needed due to the structural differences between Micro.blog and Twitter.

If so then I guess the main issue is exactly that I don’t know that the tools are in fact not missing and other than reading through Help have no way to know; don’t get me wrong, I am happy to see people promote Micro.blog independently (I mean, duh, of course I do right?) but my feeling wth moderation is that it should be almost too obvious these problems are already solved/impossible to encounter; to be perhaps as clear as I should have been all along: Micro.blog should be yelling about this, as it is a signal to many potential power users that the platform is ready for them right now.

I’ll be doing nothing in particular and suddenly thoughts of What We Do in the Shadows will cross my mind.

Why I Made Today I Learned

In September of 2017 I had encountered a dilemma. The one all-encompassing hobby project to which I had committed everything I had available outside of my job was no longer feasible. Between the cost, energy, and time it had become a project desperately in need of a team to run it; unfortunately that was not forthcoming, not to the necessary standard and so by mid-October the project came to an end.

Gone. Just like that. More than seven years of my non-job life no longer evident in full public view.

It was strange, not least since things had become steadily worse leading up to this event and so in some ways I had already come to terms with the situation, although to this day I still regret that the project is gone and can never come back. There was a lot in that project, a website centred around creativity and community, that had taken me from my last typical day job through the chaotic first years of becoming a full-time carer. And now it was gone.

Needless to say I had a lot of energy and time now at my disposal, especially once I had taken a good two-week break to recover from such a significant event, and the first thing to come to mind was settling a question that had come often to my thoughts in the preceding years;

How can I just write?

I have written across different subjects in different ways onto different places across the web for a number of years, so much so that it feels odd to think of a time before I did it. The core of the aforementioned project was writing; I met my wife because of writing; my favourite hobbies have always involved writing, even if I do not partake. Thus the question was inevitable, since I no longer had a central project into which I could pour all of my writing energy.

Actually that’s not true.

Almost all of it.

You see, I have always dabbled in various writing-based hobbies and in the end the only constant was blogging. Whether it was a personal blog or in some other form, the act of blogging just… works for me. There’s no other way around it; it’s what I like doing, it’s what primarily drew me to the silos of mainstream social media, and eventually, away from them.

The answer was thus inevitable; I wanted my site, for my blogging, made clearly by my hand. No, not the whole site, just the actual blogging. The core of it all.

This meant considering my options and inevitably deciding WordPress was the best way to go. It just makes sense, right?

Only, no, not really. Of my web-based hobbies one of my favourites is technology. Not just phones or computers but web tech also, and given that the most proficient and well organised independent writers in tech lean very much in the direction of Apple, well, that’s where that hobby found a place. Everything from the blogs, to the news sites, to the podcasts, Twitter feeds, and more! Suddenly there was this backlog of years worth of fanatical people about whom I previously had no idea even existed.

Of course, this was before the project ended, by a couple of years. The specifics of the path I travelled upon to arrive to this collection of people, these connected communities, is not that important but needless to say I now had a lot more time and energy to fully invest my time in getting to know the people within the communities and further indulge my interests.

Inevitably the focus of my interests landed mostly on two people: John Gruber and John Siracusa. I’m just that way (you know, the same way as so many other people). By way of the various outlets through which the pair would express themselves and contribute to the tech communities I came across Manton Reece, a man engaged in such independently centred ventures that I could not help but take notice. There are links at the bottom of this post to better illustrate some of the timeline here and exactly why Manton’s work and words spoke to me strongly enough to wait.

You see, I wanted to blog and do it on my site, and now was the time! However, Manton was close to launching an initiative I had come across thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Gruber; Micro.blog. It was everything I was looking for, maybe… possibly. I wasn’t totally sure but I knew I wanted to try it for sure. But I did not have access – I certainly threw down my email address to join the queue for getting in – and would have to wait.

So I wrote. I wasn’t posting so much but I was certainly writing, blogging even, and thinking about it, and planning it… I was blogging in all but publishing. Quickly enough this changed, however, when I finally got access to Micro.blog and within ten minutes knew I wanted to do this, no matter how it might turn out.

Then a month passed and I felt stronger about it. Then some more weeks passed and I blogged and got more involved talking with people whom I had never previously spoken to. Then I started planning something more involved, something more than just blogging.

Unfortunately reality hit, specifically with regard to needing to tighten our financial belt and so the costs of my site were removed and I left Micro.blog. I returned briefly with a free WordPress hosted site plugged into my Micro.blog account but fortunately it wasn’t long until I was able to fully return, only this time I decided to go all-in with Micro.blog. Now it was the host for my whole site.

I had launched my planned project just before having to temporarily cancel my accounts; Today I Learned had become public and much to my annoyance and deep shame it became immediately inactive, as a neglected project with no notice. However, my planning continued privately and I was renewed by a sense of urgency upon my return to hosted Micro.blog.

For me any venture about which I care a great deal is only worth my time and energy if it is for more than just me. I truly believe we are all at our best, as communities and societies, when we share that which we have. And I believed in Micro.blog, in not just its potential but for what it could do right now. Since I believed Today I Learned could help people share Micro.blog, I thus believed Today I Learned was worth most of my spare energy, time, and any resources I could muster.

It is vital that we have time for each other, that we treat and are treated with care in such a way as to presume the best and wish to teach the most. If there are resources, even beyond that which might be available via official sources, and they are made available, worked on over time, improved constantly, and renewed by new ideas therein then I think a project has a great chance of achieving the goals for which it has been created.

Here it is then, my ongoing effort to contribute to Micro.blog in a form beyond my individual blogging and cheerleading; Today I Learned, an unofficial resource for Micro.blog.

ā€¢ ā€¢ ā€¢

Links:

Diversity on Micro.bog

This is partially in reply to Jonathan LaCour’s tagmoji suggestion and about the issue in general, since I’ve seen other people talk about it in the typically shallow way so many of us seem only capable of doing so.

Whilst it is important to avoid making it easy for people to be abused on Micro.blog, I think “improve diversity” is a rather shallow demand made with perhaps good intention but very little thought. We need to look deeper, at how our chosen web platforms work and the things we can do to substantially move away from a monoculture without falling into tokenism and other such behaviour.

First, before all else, Micro.blog needs to have a robust set of moderation tools. When even super priveleged white tech dudes are talking about how they have noticed a lack of moderation tools as compared to Twitter, then you know there is a fundamental flaw that needs to be addressed. I’m not joking here; a lot of people compliment Micro.blog with comments like “it reminds me of the early days of Twitter/Tumblr!” and guess what, it was in those early days those platforms utterly failed to prepare for the inevitable decline into savagery employed by hateful people.

We are in the early days of Micro.blog; now is when we decide the hard work of future-proofing against problems we see elsewhere is not just worth it but one of our top priorities. The platform already has issues having been founded in the white tech monoculture of the US and other white Western countries, against which Jean has already worked with manual curation of the community but it is also up to us, the community itself, to push things forward; we have the freedom of non-VC demands but also the constraints of fewer resources and so must dig in and help where possible.

Let’s talk about different things, different people, different cultures, speak with people who aren’t already a part of our lives, and never be afraid to read criticism without becoming defensive and deciding that “the world is too sensitive” or some other nonsense.

Since a part of Micro.blog’s built-in monoculture is being so Apple-heavy, let’s take their marketing seriously and actually think differently.

For The Weekend: Thirteen

A few things for you:

  • Blogging Your Breakfast. Patrick Rhone recently linked to this 5 year-old piece of his. It’s not just written well but also wonderfully pieced together, an excellent example of how some of the best writing of recent times has in fact come from blogging.
  • Blog Engines and IndieWeb Controlling Upstream. Brad Enslen wants to see a turnkey CMS solution provided by the IndieWeb, amongst others, as opposition to even the likes of WordPress. It is certainly an idea worth considering, especially if we’re going to be serious about avoiding behemoth-driven monopolies of the web in the future.
  • Micro.blog Help redesign. Paul Robert Lloyd has submitted his proposal for an overhaul to the official Micro.blog Help pages. You can see his thinking behind the design, and leave a comment on GitHub.
  • Multiple Tab Organisation. Mozilla released update 64 for Firefox and it includes a feature I have long wanted: the ability to manipulate multiple tabs at once.
  • Kiko: System. Kahlil Lechelt is moving his personal blog to Micro.blog and along with it has posted the edits he made to the Kiko theme.
  • People First microcast. John Philpin’s first foray into the world of podcasts has well and truly launched, with episode 1 now out.
  • People First newsletter. Speaking of John and his People First endeavour, he is also launching a newsletter.
  • Your Turn to Roll is the new theme for Critical Role and it is 86 seconds of nerd joy. šŸ˜

This is the last issue of the year. For The Weekend will be back in 2019.

Enjoy your weekend!

Material Design is to UX that which AMP is to websites in general.

Creative Commons is a thing I keep meaning to spend more time on, researching, thinking, writing about. It could be important and is at least significant enough of a presence on the web for those of us interested in an independent web to not forget about it.

Starting to think social networks ought to be regulated to such an extent as to block them from schools and the like. Spaces for thinking, learning, developing… they can surely only be poisoned for general use if they are also exposed to the firehose of everybody’s thoughts.