Social Media Resolutions

A couple of months ago I wrote about rethinking my involvement with app.net. Since then nothing interesting has happened in the ADN-sphere but the trend of users leaving for other places has continued. As I've already mentioned back then there are a lot of interesting alternatives. Manton Reece's Snippets, for example, has not been released yet but it has been renamed to micro.blog and runs a very successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Jason (@matigo) and Robert (@33Mhz) are still devoted to 10Centuries and pnut respectively. With Mastodon, another interesting contender has entered the field of "decentralized social networks" and luckily it doesn't reinvent the wheel but is compatible with GNU social.

I'm committed to embrace and experiment with different networks for personal use. I would like to also be "more social" on these networks and interact more with people instead of just dumping my reading recommendations which make up the majority of my social posts at the moment. At the same time more of my investment into social media will be centered around my new project CloudObjects, its blog and the related social media channels.

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Cutting down the reading backlog

As you might have guessed from the amount of links I'm sharing on Twitter, App.net, my website and sometimes Facebook, I read a lot of blog posts and news articles. I'm always eager to hear what's going on in the tech space as well as the world at large and I like to learn people’s opinions. You could say I'm an information addict and admittedly reading often is just procrastination, but I like keeping an open mind and also consider myself a curator.

Links to information comes in through different channels; email and personal messages, social media feeds and my RSS reader (yes, I still use one!). I typically check social media during breaks or while waiting for something else, so I rarely read entire articles the moment I encounter them. Instead they get added to a reading list. Then I set aside some reading time where I process that list, read the articles and then decide whether they might be of interest for someone else and where to share them. I also sometimes add quotes from the article to my personal research notes or create a bookmark if I want to rediscover the article later. If you are interested I can share more about my general reading workflow or the tools I use in another post, but today I want to focus on one specific aspect: the growing backlog.

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Rethinking my involvement with App.net

I've always been a supporter of app.net. I love the idea of a social networking backend that is free of advertisements and has a business model that is completely aligned with the goals of third party developers building products on top of it - a true and sustainable platform. The API is well-designed and the annotation system makes a lot of things possible that can't be done on other networks. For example, what you are reading right now is stored as an annotated post on app.net. Apart from its technology, the network also has a great community of interesting people - or had, at least.

As you also know or have experienced, app.net is on its decline. There is no active development from its founders and the number of active subscriptions is decreasing. A community effort called ADNFuture is trying to support and grow the network but so far it has not been very successful (which I'm not saying to criticize the people involved - and even if I wanted to criticize someone I'd have to start with myself who hasn't been as active within ADNFuture as I intended to be).

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What worries me about the rise of Ello and Telegram

At the DLD conference in Munich this January, WhatsApp founder Jan Koum announced that the $1/year subscription fee will be dropped and WhatsApp will be completely free for users. The company will look into business-to-consumer communications and charge businesses instead. The mothership Facebook is looking into ads for monetization of Messenger. Now I know a lot of people are wary of Facebook and look for alternatives in the messaging and social networking space, for companies who do business differently.

My favorite attempt at an alternative social network was App.net which charges $36/year. Sadly right now it seems that the network is actually shrinking. Another alternative social network seems to be doing much better: Ello. They started with an anti-advertising message and instead they charge users ... well, nothing. Initially they announced that they'd eventually add premium features for a fee but short of selling branded t-shirts there's no visible business model at the moment. Then, however, I read this article: Founder Paul Budnitz describes Ello as "a safe and positive community where creators publish, share, and eventually sell inspiring work." (the emphasis is mine). My understanding of this quote is that Ello's business model is now no longer about selling something to their users but helping their users sell things to each other and earning money by sharing revenue. If this is true, the so-called "anti-Facebook" is going down the same route as other networks.

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Improving your Daily Routine

In an article about evening routines, Benjamin Hardy refers to the book The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy in which the author argues "that a person’s morning and evening routines are the 'bookends' of a prosperous life". Daily routine is all about small habits and, as Belle Beth Cooper (who works at Buffer) writes in her article about becoming a morning person, small habits can be "stacked up" to achieve "big wins" in the long term.

I'm always striving to improve myself and, while there are many aspects in my life that I should work on, starting with the daily routine is a no-brainer. Personally I prefer the term framework over bookends (that's probably the nerd talking) because I believe that when I have a good morning and evening routine with small positive habits improving other aspects within this framework will become easier. In this blog post I've collected some of the things I'm doing, or at least try to do, to improve my own daily routine. I hope that some of it can be helpful for you, too.

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phpADNSite is becoming a true PESOS system

My personal website runs on phpADNSite, an open source project "that allows you to present your microblog posts and conversations happening on the social networking backbone app.net on your own domain in your own visual style". So far phpADNSite has been a stateless system; it would run on a webserver and fetch all content from the app.net API on demand. This saves users from maintaining their own storage system while still participating in the IndieWeb but of course the site will be gone in the event of an API downtime or, even worse, the "ADNpocalypse" in which the service shuts down. To change this and increase trust in phpADNSite as a viable way to run an IndieWeb site I've used the latest app.net "#CommunityHackDay" on 30th/31st January 2016 to start the first steps to turn my software into a true PESOS system.

The implementation has been extended with a new ArchivePlugin. This plugin archives data into a storage system. I've implemented a FileSystemStorage class which simply places all posts into date-based folders on the filesystem, but other storages could be added as different implementations of the PostStorage interface. I'm thinking of RDBMS like MySQL, NoSQL-storages like CouchDB or even external cloud storage systems, both developer-oriented like Amazon S3 or consumer-oriented such as DropBox. Whenever you or someone else visits your site, new or changed posts are automatically archived so the archive always stays up to date with your posts on app.net.

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Will Medium own blogging and why does content move towards silos?!

A few days ago, Dave Winer, who is known for his work on RSS and blog and podcasting software as well as being an advocate for syndication and the open web, published a post on his blog called "Anywhere but Medium". The post is an explanation of a tweet he sent previously in which he asked people to not publish (only) on Medium.

Blogs are distributed media and part of the open web. Everyone can put up a blog on their own or a shared domain through a myriad of hosters and everyone with any browser can read them. Also, blog posts have permalink URLs through which we can refer to and recommend posts. On the other end of the spectrum we have sites who are content silos and essentially own a certain type of content. Twitter owns microblogging, YouTube owns video, SoundCloud owns audio and so on. Of course there are always alternatives and nobody prevents you from publishing any type of media on your own site, but the alternatives are often dwarfed in comparison. Dave is worried that something similar could happen to text blogging and, as an IndieWeb supporter, I can relate to that sentiment. I recently recommended trying and promoting alternatives to Facebook. Dave essentially did something in the same spirit for Medium.

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My Social Networks

A few days ago, I coined the Social Web Vendor Diversity Challenge. The first part of the challenge is about using social networks, apps and websites that are not owned by Facebook in an attempt to demonstrate and preserve the diversity of social software out there. The second part is about telling people which sites you are on. This post is now my own reply to this part of the challenge, so here's a list of what I use regularly:

  • App.net: This network launched as a paid, ad-free alternative to Twitter which promised not to screw up third party developers (like others had done before) and let everyone build an ecosystem of different apps around the service. Unfortunately the network didn't see the growth it wanted to see and thus it's not further developed at the moment. It's still running indefinitely, though. There is a strong community of great people on it (which heavily skews towards developers and other geeks). Of course there's also a free tier if you want to test the service without paying. See my app.net profile or sign up for app.net.
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The Social Web Vendor Diversity Challenge

Since people started using the web to connect to their friends on social networking websites there have been countless of these sites. There used to be Friendster, then there was MySpace and finally there was Facebook. German students may remember StudiVZ. Now it seems Facebook is here to stay. None of its predecessors have ever been this large or well-funded. Facebook got to where it is now through a combination of doing the right things and being lucky until it reached the tipping point where the lock-in effects of the network became too strong for anyone to surpass them. Well done, Facebook, congratulations!

Nature has taught us that ecosystems with a high biodiversity tend to be stronger, agriculture has taught us that monocultures in farming tend to cause problems and capitalism and market-based economies rely on competition to stay healthy. Innovation happens when companies need to compete and in turn consumers profit from increased supply, more choices and lower prices. Monopolies are mostly seen in a negative light and countries have antitrust and competition laws designed to prevent them.

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phpADNSite Changelog

The last commit to the phpADNSite GitHub repository was on the 6th of August and I had some uncommitted changes lying around on my computer as well, so I thought it was about time to make some updates to my App.net-related open source project. This blog post is to inform you about the changes that I deployed today.

The major change is the introduction of so-called views. These are custom pages that show a subset of posts from your account. I have created two of those views. One is for Longposts and shows all the long form blog posts with the respective annotation (like this one!). The view currently requires the #adnblog hashtag but - since all clients that I know of that create Longposts add it - it should not be a problem. The second view is, as I think, slightly more interesting. It is called "Top Posts" and shows the posts with the most replies, favorites or reposts. It uses a slightly simplified version of the algorithm that I've used for HottextApp and also shows popularity as a temperature value.

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The Story of Pocket

I like reading stories of entrepreneurs building their startups into a successful company. Even though you cannot duplicate success, of course, there's always some lessons learned which you can apply to your own projects and startups.

First Round Review published an article about the read-it-later service Pocket and its founder Nate Weiner, titled The Story Behind How Pocket Hit 20M Users with 20 People. I really enjoyed reading the piece, but its quite a long read, so I thought I could try and condense the information both for my own reference as well as everyone else who's interested but too impatient to read the whole thing.

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Introducing HottextApp

A while ago I announced an app.net web application called HottextApp. In this post I want to explain what exactly HottextApp is, how it works and why I wrote it.

The main idea of HottextApp is to show you the most important posts from the people you follow on app.net - a filtered home stream of the "hottest" posts! Why is this useful? Well, if I didn't check my home timeline regularly I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the number of posts that I'm seeing which often are replies and bits of conversations which only make sense when you read the whole thread. That's why HottextApp only shows posts which stand on their own or are the start of a new thread. All posts with links are filtered out (which is why it's called hottext, indicating it considers only text posts), because I also wanted something that just lets me see what goes on inside the network, not adding new material to my pages-to-read-later queue. The posts are shown not in chronological order but ranked on an assigned "temperature", an idea that was inspired by the Fever RSS Reader.

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Confessions of a Pomodoro Technique Addict

The pomodoro technique is a simple tool designed to increase productivity. Its basic idea is very simple: Try to eliminate all distractions and focus on a single task for 25 minutes without interruption or procrastination. When the timer rings, take a short break; and then rinse and repeat. It also advises to write down tasks accomplished for each pomodoro and planning your time in those 25 minute slots.

I've started using the pomodoro technique around three years ago out of the frustration that I felt not getting enough done while not being able to say where all the hours in the day had gone and how much I exactly spent working and where time was lost with procrastination. My own personal implementation is to simply track time spent on tasks with a timer and - after each pomodoro - write down what I've done in a few words or a sentence, thus generating a pomodoro log for each day. I also write down the number of pomodoros that were canceled because there was an interruption which I couldn't ignore. I apply it to all tasks which I'm doing on my own, no matter whether related to my company or personal.

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Phone Numbers and the IndieWeb

I recently wrote a blog post about using domains, emails or phone numbers as user identifiers, in which I argued that the good old phone number is becoming an important mainstream user identifier again. To follow up on that, I would like to write down a few thoughts about connecting phone numbers and the (indie) web, looking at use cases as well as the required technology and protocols.

When I install an OTT messaging app such as Threema, Viber or WhatsApp on my phone, it scans the phone's address book and looks up which of my friends it knows. Not only can I now write them through the app, I may also receive some current information from them, such as their nickname, current status or a profile picture. This information can be shown in the messaging app itself or, for example, my native phone app could display the availability of a person when I'm initiating an outbound call or show the user's own profile picture with an incoming call. This is something that neither of these apps do right now; implementations do exist but I can't remember any right now. The only problem is that for any of these use cases, both me and my friend need to have the same app because the implementation is based on looking up each other's phone number in an internal, proprietary database.

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User Identifiers: Domains, EMail or Phone Numbers?!

At the IndieWebCamp last week I held a session on PhoneNumbers and the IndieWeb. Since attendance was minuscule but some interest was indicated, also by @flashblu after my post, I wanted to make a short write-up. But before talking about the idea I had or the technical implementation of it I wanted to talk about phone numbers and user identifiers in general.

When the first version of OpenID was created in 2005, it came out of the blogging community LiveJournal and using domains/URLs as identifiers for users seemed like a natural fit: a website was needed by the implementation to discover a user's OpenID server. But also from the user perspective it made sense, as blog comments were one of the primary use cases and bloggers typically provide their own blog URL when commenting on other blogs anyway.

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IndieWebCamp Germany 2015

I spent the last two days in Düsseldorf for the IndieWebCamp Germany 2015. The IndieWeb movement is something I've sympathized with and been following for quite a while but haven't been at any of their events so far, so I was glad that I could attend this one. And even though I was affected by the railway union strike, the travel experience was not too chaotic.

The event was happening as a side event to the "beyond tellerrand" conference (which I didn't have enough time to attend as well) and the location and food was sponsored by sipgate, a VoIP provider and mobile carrier. They deserve a big shoutout and "thank you" for their job, because not only was their office a very nice and modern location that was suited very well for the event, the food they served over the weekend was probably the best I've seen at free tech events so far! Makes one kind of jealous of their employees :)

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Social Networks - Communities or Utilities?!

This is something that has been on my mind a lot recently, especially in terms of what is happening with "alternative" social networks such as App.net and, most recently, Ello, but also the larger networks and the web in general. I'd like to postulate that social networks can be used in one of two ways, as communities or as utilities, and that this is both influenced by the network itself through its design and architecture but it also has a lot to do with the individual users and how they would like to perceive it. Users can even be a "community type" or "utility type" and the opinions of users of these types may often clash with each other.

The "community type" is typically heavily invested into a social network. They connect and bond with new people and also help others to connect and they shape and adopt trends and memes happening inside a network. For them, the service provider and its members become a single entity that they are emotionally involved with. They often use smaller networks with tight-knit communities where everyone seems to know each other or carve their own slice out of larger networks which then is perceived as representative of the network as a whole.

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Why App.net should kill Broadcast

A lot has been written about App.net during the last months after the first uncertainty and then the revealing "State of the Union" blog post, pondering whether the network is dead or not or what went wrong and what should be done. I would like to add one of my - probably controversional - opinions to this; one which I believe has not been voiced yet: App.net should kill its Broadcast feature!

The Broadcast feature, when it was introduced, came as a surprise to me because it was oddly misaligned with the rest of App.net. A company that was targeting developers to innovate on social apps on top of their backbone (and said they only built their Alpha client to have at least something to show and not building a mobile microblogging client themselves) launched a feature that was completely bound to their own mobile apps.

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