Faces and Feeds

I think I might have to develop an app for reading Facebook the way I think it should work.

There was an article doing the rounds the other week about how “our minds can be hijacked,” which was all about how terrible social networking is for us. I skimmed part of it, but got annoyed when it seemed to be about rich Silicon Valley entrepreneurs deciding to go “off-grid.” That’s all very well for them, but most of us have to make a living.

More pertinently, since the main target for the attack was Facebook, it annoyed me because I use Facebook to keep in touch with people that I might otherwise not. For that, it can be very good.

And yet… it struck a chord with, me to some degree. I realised that Facebook has increasingly become more of a time sink than a pleasure. Not that I spend vast amounts of time on it each day, but when I do open it up, I often end up spending longer than I’d have wanted to. And not reading updates from friends and family, but following links to articles and quizzes and nonsense, most of which I wish I hadn’t bothered with.

By comparison, a similar length of time spent in my feed reader lets me read blog pieces by people I actively want to hear from, and which I’m generally glad I’ve read.

But they mostly aren’t friends and family.

And then there’s the fact that the Facebook algorithm is tuned to show me what it thinks I should see, not what I want to see. What I want to see is all the updates from my friends, in reverse-chronological order. And that’s all. But there’s no guarantee that it will show me everything everyone posts, and the order is close to random at times.

One way to work round this is to visit people’s individual Facebook pages. You could see all your the posts by all your friends by going to each of their profiles in turn. But that would mean you’d have to keep track of all that: remember who you visited and when, and somehow manage the list of people.

Keeping track of things is what computers are good at. The software should be doing that for us.

So I’m thinking that what I want is an app that will do that for me: that will keep a list of my Facebook friends, and show me all their posts (which of course is what Facebook used to do).

As far as I know, no such app exists. This seems strange and unlikely, but I don’t think Facebook make a public API available for third-party clients, so such an app would have to work by scraping the web pages, which is neither good practice nor much fun.

Of course, what this means is effectively turning Facebook back into a set of RSS feeds — or now, especially as I have some experience with them, a set of JSON Feed feeds. Which would then be usable in all sorts of other places.

Web scraping may be bad and painful; still, I think I want to write this thing. Watch this space.

Faces and Feeds

Blog Misbehaviour

This blog runs, like so many others, on WordPress. Recently I’ve noticed some strange behaviour.

When I posted an entry, it wouldn’t show up. Not at first, and sometimes not for s long time afterwards. The entry was there: you could see it if you followed the link, for example if you came from Facebook or Twitter, to both of which I automatically distribute.

Eventually I did a bit of googling, and it turns out that caching plugins can have this effect. I had aching plugins installed. I disabled them, and suddenly everything was displaying normally.

You want to cache your content to help with the site’s performance. Cached pages should be served from the webserver’s filesystem, rather than generated from the content in the database each time they’re requested.

So I’ll need to investigate getting a plugin that isn’t problematic, but for now, if you’ve noticed anything odd about the site, it should all be be OK again.

Blog Misbehaviour

Independent Microblogging

Twitter is great in many ways, but it’s far from problem-free. (Thought experiment: if Twitter hadn’t existed, would Trump have got elected?)

The abuse and lack of tools to combat it are of course the major ones. Lindy West’s Guardian article on leaving Twitter is only the latest such.

But another problem is the old one of owning your own words. Of controlling the platform on which you publish. I’ve posted briefly about this before (though that was Google, rather than Twitter). Sure, Twitter isn’t likely to go bust and delete everyone’s tweets without any warning. But you never know when they’re going to change a policy, or change ownership, or make some other change that — deliberately or not — shuts down your access, removes your entire history, or otherwise lessens or removes the experience.

There have been attempts to build open alternatives, such as Diaspora, but I confess that I’ve only ever come away from it confused.

It would be better if there were a simple way we could all publish to our own sites, but still get the benefit of Twitter’s network. Say hello to Micro.blog a new approach from Manton Reece, blogger, podcaster and developer.

It should allow us to post Tweet-style short posts on our own sites, and also send them to Twitter. Which may give us the best of both worlds.

As well as developing the service and the app, he’s writing a book about the subject of indie microblogging, and has a Kickstarter going to help him out. It’s worth offering a few bucks if you’re at all interested in the matter.

Independent Microblogging