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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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.

David Nield: “RSS still beats Facebook and Twitter”

David Nield on Gizmodo:

Whether you’ve never heard of it before or you’ve abandoned it for pastures new, here’s why you should be using RSS for your news instead of social media.

I’ve used RSS since it was released and feed readers began to appear and I don’t see a future of the web without RSS. So if you aren’t using it you’re missing an enormous amount of value that the web provides.

/via Dave Winer via Feedly via RSS.

Should I start a blogroll?

Dave Winer:

I’m thinking of restarting my blogroll. Remember those!

I’ve been thinking about that too.

I have a list already created of what blogs I would add to it. But I find linking to individual posts with some context provides more value than just a list of URLs.

rss.js

With all of the JSON Feed hubbub recently I thought it was interesting to read Dave Winer’s post re: how he had created a JSON spec based on RSS in 2012 called rss.js:

I wanted to see if there was interest among developers for a JSON version of RSS. I put up a website, with comments, and added a JSON feed to my blog (technically it was JSONP). Wired even asked me to write a piece about it.

More time needs to pass to see if JSON Feed has longer legs than rss.js. But my guess is that Winer, as usual, was very early with this idea and that developers weren’t nearly as fed up with XML then as they are today. In fact, I’d bet there are JavaScript developers today that have never had to parse an XML feed of any sort (RSS or otherwise) because they’ve only needed to deal with JSON.

Titleless posts

Dave Winer re: NetNewsWire adding support for titleless items in a RSS or JSON Feed:

I got an email from NetNewsWire user Frank Leahy, requesting that I add titles to my feed for items that don’t have titles.

This is an issue that is going to continue to grow. With services like Micro.blog and post formats like my status updates… these are tweet-like posts that do not have titles. Just like SMS messages that are emails without a subject line. We’re going to see this more and more. Rather than apps or services asking publishers to add titles, the apps and services should just get ahead of the curve on this and add support for titleless posts.

JSON Feed

Manton Reece and Brent Simmons have created a new specification for creating feeds using JSON. They write:

We — Manton Reece and Brent Simmons — have noticed that JSON has become the developers’ choice for APIs, and that developers will often go out of their way to avoid XML. JSON is simpler to read and write, and it’s less prone to bugs.

JSON Feed has been implemented on a few platforms already and it was talked about a lot since its debut. I’m glad someone has created a spec around this so that the developers that would like to use this can now rally behind a unified specification. However, JSON Feed won’t be replacing RSS any time very soon.

RSS is something you could call a “good enough” solution. It is already in place, tons of stuff supports it, and works fine. And while the developers of all of the apps and services that use RSS could update their software to create and parse JSON Feed it is doubtful they will very quickly as the benefits aren’t all that great. The advantage of JSON Feed mostly comes when creating new services not replacing old ones.

I don’t think Manton and Brent believe JSON Feed will replace RSS. I don’t think that is why they created the spec. I believe they feel this is a good alternative for the developers that would like to use it and that they wrote the spec out of a need that they had. Which is good.

I’ve discussed the benefits of replacing RSS with JSON in the past. Me, in June 2015 on one of the benefits of replacing RSS with JSON:

RSS is a fairly bloated specification. It is a bit verbose and the file sizes for even a small blog can get relatively large quickly. JSON is, by its very nature, a bit more succinct. This would result in faster load times, easier caching, etc.

So while there are definite benefits, it is doubtful that RSS is going anywhere for a long time. There have been a few attempts to replace RSS with something that is smaller and easier to parse over the years and they simply didn’t catch on. This weekend Dave Winer (the inventor of RSS) chimed in on JSON Feed and he has a similar reaction to it as I have had; it is great that the specification exists but it will not be replacing RSS for news or blogs any time soon.

I’ve added a JSON feed to this blog because Manton created the WordPress plugin already.

Side note: How did I not see this one coming?

 

A note about blogging

Great quote from Dave Winer:

A good blog exists independently of people reading it.

 

Podcasts that I listen to

Nearly a year ago I jotted down some non-tech podcasts that I was enjoying at the time. However, today I was tagged by Joe Casabona (Cassy) to jot down those that I’m listening to currently. Here is that list:

Just like everything else, I shake this list up from time-to-time but you’ll notice a few stay with me. Feel free to send me your suggestions.

These are simply in order as they appear in Overcast. You can read Kyle’s list too.

I tag Matt, Om, Dave, Toni, Geoff, Alex.