Nick Denton: Back to Blogging

Nick Denton, in a memo to Gawker staff:

[…]I want to resume the activity that brings the best out of me: blogging.

As a company, we are getting back to blogging. It’s the only truly new media in the age of the web. It is ours. Blogging is the essential act of journalism in an interactive and conversational age. Our bloggers surface buried information, whether it’s in an orphaned paragraph in a newspaper article, or in the government archives. And we can give the story further energy by tapping readers for information, for the next instalment of the story, and the next round of debate.

The natural form of online media is the exchange, not the blast.

The blog is dead. Long live the blog.

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Losing Google Reader

Google announced last night that they are sunsetting Google Reader on July 1:

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

By which they mean “we started cutting features from Google Reader, so fewer people enjoyed using it and ended up stopping,” and “no one was developing it anymore.” I’m also curious to see where this “better user experience” will appear. Certainly not for Google Reader. :)

Anyone who has been paying attention has seen this coming; Reader has been neglected for some time and in some cases has had features removed from it over the last couple of years. It was clearly not receiving much love. I haven’t used it in well over a year, which was sad because I lost the use of Reeder across all my devices, which I have gladly purchased three times over on all my devices.

A lot of the chatter has been about available alternatives. The big ones that I’ve seen kicked around are NewsBlur, The Old Reader, Feedly, and Fever. I’ll tell you why I use Fever and why I think that—for now—it’s the best alternative.

When it comes to the content I create, I’m really big on ownership. I have my own domain, I run on open source solution for blogging that relies on a deeper open source stack to run, and I act as my own gatekeeper. I have argued in the past that you should do the same and that the blog is still the atomic nucleus of individually-generated content on the internet.

That’s why I’m using Fever. If there were an open source alternative that were just as easy to set up and configure, offered a robust API, had at least some of the same features, and ran on the same stack as my WordPress installations, I would switch in a heartbeat. But for now, Fever is it. Here’s the bulleted list of things I like about it, for those of you who are in to that sort of thing:

  • Easy to set up (LAMP stack).
  • Includes a bookmarklet that leverages autodiscovery to help me add feeds without fuss.
  • Has an API that now works with Reeder for iPhone to sync subscriptions (wish the iPad and iOS apps would catch up to this).
  • Has great keyboard shortcuts, including one that sends the selected article to Instapaper (my primary information flow relies on this).
  • Can be cron’d so subscriptions get updated on a schedule I like (I prefer hourly and will turn that down if I feel like it’s ruining my life).
  • Has the “What’s Hot” list, which I don’t use as often as I should, but aggregates the links that appear in all my feeds to show me what they are linking to—and helps me discover new things in the process.
  • Allows me to hide read/unread counts.
  • Allows me to add feeds just for the purpose of the aggregation feature so I can add news sources without feeling that I need to read everything they post (I prefer to aggregate things friends are talking about, anyway).
  • Includes a referrer anonymizing solution for when I go to stories that are in my reader.

And here’s the list of things I don’t like about it, in case you want to know that:

  • Not open source. (Though I don’t mind giving Shaun money. He’s a pretty cool dude.)
  • Non-cron syncing takes a long time, but that’s probably more to do with my feeds addiction.
  • Mobile browser view sucks, and it’s awful on iPad (this is the main thing that would get me to switch away). Reeder’s API syncing is what brought me back to Fever after I tried it once and dropped it to go back to Google Reader for a time.

All of the other alternatives I have listed above are hosted services. They aren’t under my control. Out of all of them, I find NewsBlur the most compelling and the option that appears to have the greatest chance of success as a Google Reader alternative.

NewsBlur is available as an open source DIY project, but the instructions for it are more work than most humans are willing to undertake to set up something on their own, and I’ll bet that a lot of hosts wouldn’t support it based on its requirements. I’d love for someone to tell me there’s an easy way to set it up on Webfaction, because my wife is now looking for a Reader alternative and something that supports more than one of us at a time would be great.

The most important thing I can say is that if you are/were a Google Reader user, please take a look at the alternatives that are available and use one. RSS is still out there, and you should use it: it’s a robust, open solution to aggregating content. If everyone stops using it, there’s always the danger that it will stop being supported by even more services and eventually disappear completely.

If that happens, then the alternatives won’t matter.

Humble Beginnings, or: I Have Been Doing This a Long Time

On a whim, I just looked up the oldest URL of mine that I can remember (no, I will not tell you what it is) on the Wayback Machine. I found this, excerpted to avoid the embarrassing-I-was-just-out-of-college-parts:

It’s the first post I wrote on my own domain, though I am fairly certain my actual earliest blog post is somewhere (thankfully) lost to the mists of time as it was on LiveJournal sometime in 1999 or 2000.

The system that powered the post you are seeing part of there was a custom front-end I wrote in ASP that used the backend of Snitz Forums. I made it using Dreamweaver and at the time I think (though I am not sure) that it was hosted on SimpleNet. It had comments in that if you clicked through you would be taken to a forum thread, and it actually had categories that would display a different header image above each post based on that taxonomy, which was set by the forum in which the post was created.

My habits of blogging have come and gone in the intervening years. But it is really cool to think that I have been invested and interested in publishing on the internet for that long. From hand-coding a site using TeachText and a giant book on HTML 3 in my bedroom, to making my first site that relied on a database, to discovering, playing with, and professionally supporting WordPress today, it’s been a huge part of my life.

When I was giving the beginners’ workshop on WordPress at WordCamp St. Louis, I took a moment after explaining how to create the first post on a blog to reflect along with the people in that room. More than half of them were completely new to WordPress and maybe even to blogging, as I once was. I asked them to stop and consider what I had just done.

When you stop and think about it, it’s amazing how much easier it is now to be able to click a button and have the words you write made public for the world to read. You and I can write about just about anything and we’re enabled to nearly instantly beam that out so others can find it, read it, maybe identify with it, and even respond to it with their own Publish button.

The amount of power that confers on people is still amazing to me. That’s why I still do this; that’s why I help other people do so as well.

Your Blog Has Always Loved You

There’s lots of talk going on early this week about Twitter and their intentions towards third-party clients. Will they permit them? Will Tweetbot still be around in six months? How am I going to connect with other people if Twitter goes the Facebook route and makes me use official clients that aren’t as nice as the third-party ones I have now?

I was going to write a bunch of words about this, but in the end it comes down to something very simple.

Your blog has always loved you. Open—or at least agreed-upon and widely used—standards are not going to magically grow walls and keep you or others out.

WordPress. RSS. Comments. Pingbacks.

Digging deeper: PHP. MySQL. Apache/Nginx. Linux.

These things don’t belong to someone else. They don’t belong to a company that needs to please its investors. They don’t have reasons to keep you out or to stop you from doing what you want.

They belong to you. You use them to make great things. You contribute to them and make not only your stuff, but other people’s stuff, better. You use them to read others’ content and to enter the discussion. If your blog hasn’t been the center of your digital presence, why not?

Your blog has always loved you.

Stop Not Linking

Matthew Panzarino:

I personally always, always try to link early and often throughout any sourced piece that I write. I’m not perfect, so I do miss links once in a while, but I attempt to correct them whenever possible. It’s only the right thing to do. We have a link section at the bottom over at TNW but I very, very rarely use it. I suppose I should duplicate the source links at the bottom of the post, but I feel that an inline link clearly attributed to the source so that it’s not a mystery is the best way to go.

Not one word, not a bit of punctuation, but either on the name of the site you’re referencing or a portion of the text that is clearly an indication that ‘more information exists here’.

There is only one reason why you wouldn’t link right in the body of your text, as far as I’m concerned: you don’t want people to click on it.

This is why when I link to interesting things I have read, I use an excerpt and  link the author’s name or the site on which the article was posted. I also try to use the Link post type on WordPress.com, which changes the post title to be a link out to the original article.

I quote things on my blog not because I’m trying to get eyeballs myself, but because I find what these people have written to be genuinely interesting and I think if you are pointed in their direction, maybe you’ll find another blog or site to add to your reading list.

Coming soon: a discussion on why Fever is the best RSS reader in the universe because it helps you find source articles and new things to read. (Oh, and owning your data FTW.)

Focus

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Going all the way back to last year, I told myself (and others) that I was going to make a concerted attempt at blogging more often. I view it as tragedy that I work for a company that has as its goal helping to bring publishing to as many people as possible by providing the best hosted blogging platform in the world, but seem reluctant to blog myself.

I think part of this has been information overload. I am very good at synthesizing large amounts of information and finding the stuff that’s interesting, but over the last six months or so there’s just been too much going on.

My effort this year is going to be one gaining focus. My thoughts on this:

  • I’m more likely to write about things that interest me.
  • I’m more likely to write about things that I read, and vice versa.
  • I’ve been reading too much and in too many areas, and thus my writing has suffered as a result.

I have historically had a problem with focus. The result of this is last year, when I blogged about everything from my family to tech things to anecdotes to whatever.

I am going to change this.

If you look at the menu of my blog now you will see that I have divided things into two basic categories: “games” and “off topic.”

Games are my hobby and my passion. I love playing them, I love thinking about them, and I love dissecting them, whether it is a game that’s sitting on the dining room table with pieces and points scored, a sport, or the latest video game on my TV. Therefore, games are going to be the focus of my blogging from this point on.

I’ve also made changes to my information intake. I have cut free all of the big tech aggregators that I have in my reading list and will now depend on friends and Twitter to find the really interesting stuff there (which is usually a really good indicator). Instead, I’m looking for the best blogs to read that talk about the stuff that I want to talk about. I’ve already curated quite a list that I hope to share with you in the near future.

I think that by reading more about the stuff that I want to write about, I can engage in that discussion and hopefully become part of a larger but more focused community. I also believe that by focusing more on a tighter scope of content, I will build my audience from people who want to read about those things. There is an emergence in critical thinking regarding games (specifically video games) happening right now and I want to be a part of that.

The last thing that I plan to do hasn’t happened yet because I am still trying to figure out how best to do it, and that is to set aside a specific time each day to write. I don’t practice the craft often enough and as a result I don’t think my writing is up to the level that I want for myself. This will be an effort to change that.

I made this decision about a week ago and it’s taken me that long to write this post, so I’m not really being successful so far. But I do hope that you will join me by reading. If you don’t think about games all that often, I hope to teach you a thing or two or clue you in the really interesting things that are going on in the space. And if games do interest you, I hope you will join in the conversation.

Complimentary Spam

Royal Pingdom:

Go ahead, look through your comment spam. You’ll feel great. Here are people (uh, bots) who really understand you. There will be an abundance of comments mentioning how brilliant, fascinating, intelligent and just plain old great you and your blog posts are.

This has quickly become one of the most prevalent forms of comment spam, because pandering to the ego works. People will reach into their Spam queue and pull these comments back after Akismet flags them as spam automatically, then defend them as legitimate commenters—including replying to them.

And who can blame them? So many blogs rarely receive comments, so when one comes in that not only appears to be genuine, but actually praises the blogger, it’s hard for people to say no.

Want to make a blogger’s day? Leave a comment when you read something you like. (Real ones, not spam ones.)

rStat.us and “Decentralized Twitter”

ReadWriteCloud:

rStat.us is an OStatus-based microblogging service built by Steve Klabnik and others using Ruby, Sinatra and MongoDB. Because it uses OStatus, it’s compatible with Identi.ca and StatusNet microblogs. In order to follow someone from Identi.ca, just paste the ATOM feed from their profile into rStat.us. Theoretically this should work both ways, but I was unable to subscribe to my own rStat.us account from Identi.ca account.

Yeah, good luck with that.

WordPress and other publishing platforms work well decentralized specifically because they don’t require a single locus to function with each other. There are pingbacks and comments—and if you want to follow another site you generally do it with RSS. It’s the language of publishing platforms. You can do neat stuff with a single locus (like the social features on WordPress.com), but it’s not necessary for the ecosystem to function.

Social services like Twitter and Facebook are popular because they focus people’s attention in the same area. It’s a single place where people can find their friends and people they want to Internet-stalk, and that makes it easy to connect.

Pasting an Atom feed? It’s not going to work because that’s not the language of social services. You’ve already made it too hard.

Color

There’s been so much discussion on Color that there are even posts talking about how much discussion there has been. Regardless of this, I am going to tell you what I think of it and why I think it’s a poor concept and why it won’t fly—at least with me. I’d love to be proven wrong (and I think Sequoia would love for me to be proven wrong as well, with a pre-launch $41 million round that’s the talk of the town), but let’s roll with this.

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