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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Brent Simmons’ blog turns 20

Brent Simmons’ blog has turned 20 years old. A fantastic milestone! But, it was this bit that I wanted to comment on:

It‘s tempting to think that The Thing of my career has been NetNewsWire. And that’s kinda true. But the thing I’ve done the longest, love the most, and am most proud of is this blog.

I’ve long held that the most important and impactful thing I’ve made has been my blog. Not helping with 9rules, Viddler, Barley, etc.

The coolest thing about me is my blog.

Manton Reece also commented on this same bit from Brent, adding:

The great thing about a personal blog is that if you stick with it, your blog will very likely span multiple jobs and even major life changes. You don’t need to know where you’re going to be in 20 years to start a blog today and post to it regularly. Writing about the journey — and looking back on the posts later to reflect on where you’ve been — is part of why blogging is still so special.

Being able to look back through my blog’s archives is something I hope I’ll be able to do long into he future.

See also.

You can now follow any blog on Micro.blog

Neat feature from Micro.blog. Here is Manton Reece, from his personal blog, on the new feature:

You can now follow blogs in the Micro.blog timeline, even if the blogger hasn’t yet registered on Micro.blog.

Manton describes this feature as another type of “username”. I understand why he’s framing it that way but I’m unsure if it is the best way to describe it. A blog’s content being syndicated through Micro.blog, unwitting of the owner, isn’t a username. In fact, any interaction with those posts by the Micro.blog community may very well go wholly unnoticed by the owner of the site unless their site supports Webmentions. So these are hardly Micro.blog users.

Be that as it is, I am struggling myself with a better way to fully describe the different ways in which someone can use Micro.blog.

At current, here they are:

  • you can host your blog on Micro.blog at your own domain name
  • you can sign up to Micro.blog and post there using their domain name
  • you can sign up and syndicate your blog to an account (like I do)
  • with any account:
    • you can follow Micro.blog accounts
    • you can follow any Mastodon account on any instance
    • and now you can follow any blog irrespective of whether or not the site knows it or not (like an RSS reader)

A powerful service!

This brings back memories of two services that had some interesting tip-toeing to do as a result of syndicating the content of another persons without their permission.

One, I had a lot to do with, which was 9rules. We crawled the content of all of the blogs within the community and kept a copy of a lot of their content. This allowed a few things. We had categories on the 9rules web site that made it easy for people to find blogs that interested them such as Tech, Culture, Food, etc. It also made search possible – so in a way, we had our own blog search engine. It was one of the first services of its kind on the web.

However, 9rules’ main income came from ads. Our homepage featured a few primary ad spots and some of our subsequent pages did as well. A few of the members wondered if we were profiting off of their content. A valid concern, one we didn’t intend, and I remember it being a topic of debate.

Another service I had nothing to do with, Get Satisfaction. This service created forums for people to ask questions and get answers and rate their favorite products and services. One reason it caused a kerfuffle was because the companies had no idea these conversations were happening and it made them look bad when a big issue with one of their products went unanswered. Many asked to be removed from it.

I don’t think Micro.blog will end up with ads but never say never. Also, I trust Manton and his team to be mindful of how they use this content and how they notify site owners of anything that is happening with that content on their platform. So far they’ve proven themselves to be careful, purposeful and altruistic.

If you want to follow me or my blog on Micro.blog you now have lots of ways to do that. My account, my blog, and my Mastodon account. Cool.

On blog search engines

Brent Simmons has been reminiscing about blog search engines and writing down some ideas for how one could be made today.

Something he wrote sparked a memory.

Instead of having it crawl blogs, I’d have it download and index RSS feeds. This should be cheaper than crawling pages, and it ensures that it skips indexing page junk (navigation and so on).

In 2005 or so, for 9rules I had built this exact feature. I scheduled a script to run every hour or so to poll all of the blogs in the 9rules Network (which, at its peak was hundreds of web sites). I did so before ever knowing about scaling something like this. Today it would be so much easier and cost effective to build something like this that could scale to hundreds of thousands of feeds without much effort or funding.

Like Brent I miss the days of Technorati and its ilk. It gave us a window into what people were writing about. It gave us a back channel to people’s thoughts on topics we enjoyed. These days, I suppose, you can search for “Star Wars” on Twitter to see what people are saying about last week’s announcements. But it doesn’t feel the same.

Also, these days, I don’t even know what a blog is! Is The Verge not a blog? Is the WSJ not kinda-sorta a blog? Perhaps that is why even Google removed the blog-only search. Because so many things are blogs now.

It is fun to think about. But, like Brent I too am busy with side projects.

Required reading

The first time I linked to Colin Walker, which was only about 4 months ago, it was because he was fiddling with his blog, trying to come up with the right way to display his content for him and his audience.

It is a topic that has fascinated me for 20 years and to see someone else thinking about it out loud is great.

Over the years I’ve tried many, many different ways to layout a blog. Fortunately, I’ve been able to explore dozens and dozens of options due to my work. I’ve designed and developed online magazines, large-scale video blogs, large online libraries of information for teachers, students, television stations. I’ve even had the privilege of working on a network of blogs, called 9rules, where we aggregated hundreds of blog’s content into many categories and sections. The projects I’ve worked on over the years have had billions of views.

So, I can honestly say I’ve thought about this topic as much as anyone alive.

Long, longtime readers of my blog will remember how I wrote about how the blog format needed to be disrupted back in 2011. This post has ended up being a tent pole on this blog. Here’s the crux in a snippet:

I believe the blog format is ready for disruption. Perhaps there doesn’t need to be “the next” WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger for this to happen. Maybe all we really need is a few pioneers to spearhead an effort to change the way blogs are laid-out on the screen. There are still so many problems to solve; how new readers and also long-time subscribers consume the stream of posts, how people identify with the content of the blog on the home page, how to see what the blog is all about, how to make money, how to share, and how interact and provide feedback on the content.

While the lion’s share of people’s microblogging, photos, video, and audio are still going to the big network sites – there are a few people who are rolling up their sleeves and trying to figure out how blogs should be laid out in 2017 and beyond.

Colin Walker is one of those people.

If you go back through a few posts from this month from him (I wish he used tags) you’ll see how Dave Winer’s post here sparked the idea of a required reading page. And how he’s been thinking about it for a few days now. I understand how he feels. When that seed is planted it is tough to uproot.

One of my reasons for saying that the blog format is in need of disruption has to do with the brand-new visitor’s perspective of a blog. On any given day if a new person were to show up on my site they’d only see the latest few posts that I’ve written. I could be making a joke, linking to a friend, writing about how to save battery life on the new Apple Watch, sharing some thoughts on Bullet Journaling using audio, or sharing a photo of a recent evening at a local lake. Would they come away understanding “what is Colin’s blog about?”. I don’t know. I think some days are more representative of what I’d like my blog to be than others. Some entire weeks probably poorly represent what I’d like my blog to be.

Currently my site’s layout is fairly simple. I’ve chosen this mostly due to the fact that traffic to my site is primarily to single posts and overwhelmingly viewed on mobile devices. So if I were to begin fiddling like Colin Walker is… I’d likely start with what my single post design is, rather than my homepage. More people are introduced to my blog through a single post than the homepage.

Based on Colin Walker’s thoughts I may update my about page this week a bit to include a section explaining what my blog is primarily about. For me, I think that will be enough. But I don’t feel like it solves the issue Winer and Walker bring up. I’m anxious to see what Walker ultimately comes up with.

Don’t make stupid bets

I love learning from other’s mistakes. Typically I watch poker, perhaps not only for the entertainment of it, but it helps me to gauge how the professionals determine pot odds and act on those numbers. More often than not, you’re playing the player and not the cards.

However, there are times when people make stupid bets. Pushing all in when someone has raised over them prior, showing signs of strength. Many times I see this happening when it appears that the player, who had just gone all in, had it predetermined in their own head to go all in even prior to watching what their opponent(s) would do.

This situation can be likened to Mike Rundle’s bet with Paul Scrivens. Mike bet that Paul couldn’t get an entry up to 50 comments before February 1st. Looking at Paul’s archives would immediately give you enough statistical data to not make this bet. And since I have insider information, looking at Paul’s general traffic would tell you he should have absolutely no reason to fear making this wager.

Learn from Mike’s mistake. Make bets when the odds are totally in your favor, and overall you will always come out on top. That’s how professional poker players all end up gracing the final tables of many of each year’s tournaments. They bet based on experience, real numbers, and odds – not predetermined ideals that will only lead you to losing money.