Another attempt at revitalizing my blogging

For some time now, I’ve (mostly privately, sometimes “out loud” (which could mean either actually talking to people, or in online text ramblings)) been lamenting how rarely I’ve actually been posting to my blog. For the past years, various forms of social networking sites and applications — primarily Facebook and Twitter — have done a good job of monopolizing my online interactions.

It’s not all bad, really, as they’re great ways to keep in touch with friends, and I’m not making any sort of “quitting social media” declaration. But concentrating on those spaces has meant that this space, where I’ve been posting in one form or another for over two decades (seriously: my oldest “blog post” is dated December 29, 1995 and was posted back when I was still hand-coding; I have earlier posts entered into the blog, but they’re ports of old Usenet posts), hasn’t been getting much attention at all. And, as importantly, if not a bit more so, it means that virtually all of the writing and content creation I’ve done over these past years has been going to sites other than my own.

So going forward from here, I’m going to make a more concerted effort to make this blog the central, canonical repository of my online ramblings. I’ll still comment and get into discussions on Facebook and Twitter, but this is where all (well…most all…) content should appear first and will canonically reside, even as it’s mirrored elsewhere so that I’m not simply disappearing from those other spaces.

Here’s how I have things set up at the moment:

In brief (Twitter)

I’ve set up a micro.blog account, which is tied to both this blog and my Twitter accounts (I heard about micro.blog from a few places, including articles by Brent Simmons, Jean McDonald, and Charlie Sorrel). So now, when I have something quick and simple to say, it posts to my blog first as a post with no title, then picked up (via RSS) by micro.blog and piped to Twitter and Facebook.

Look here (links)

When I find interesting links, I’m posting them to my pinboard account — this is something I’ve been doing (off and on) for some time now, I’m just trying to be better about doing it consistently. If I want a saved link to post to Twitter or Facebook quickly, I give it either the .twitter or .fb tag respectively, which are picked up by IFTTT and piped to the correct site. Otherwise, the (apparently abandoned, but still quite functional) Postalicious WordPress plugin occasionally catches any recent links I’ve saved and creates a digest-style post for my blog.

Rambling on (blog posts)

If I have something more in-depth to say — like, oh, a few paragraphs on how I’m trying to start blogging regularly again, and brief explanations of the tools and services I’m using to start doing that — then those posts get written (in Markdown format, using Ulysses on either my Mac, iPhone, or iPad) and posted here. Not long after they show up here, micro.blog picks them up, creates a post that links back here, and then that goes to Twitter and Facebook.

It’s technically possible to just connect WordPress to Twitter and Facebook without using micro.blog as a middle step, but micro.blog is smarter about how it cross-posts than WordPress is alone. Without this step, every post would show up as a truncated excerpt and a link back to the blog; this way, that’s only the end result if a post is long enough to make that necessary, and shorter posts just appear to be “native” to whichever platform they’re seen on.

Will this system keep me going the way I hope it does? Only time will tell. But between Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica privacy mess and Twitter looking more and more like it’s going to be killing third-party clients soon, I’m hoping I have enough motivation to actually keep this going, rather than falling back into the ease and convenience of staying inside Facebook or Twitter’s ecosystems.

Linkdump for December 27th through January 8th

Sometime between December 27th and January 8th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • Why So Many Men Hate the Last Jedi But Can’t Agree on Why: SPOILERS: "I don’t think every human who disliked The Last Jedi is an evil, evil misogynist. I do think that we have so deeply internalized sexist narrative tropes that we see them as 'correct' and 'good filmmaking' while seeing their absence as 'flaws.'"
  • My Hero, Luke Skywalker: SPOILERS: “It is a beautiful fantasy and, I thought, a particularly resonant message for the anxious and depressed about what you can be capable of, the kind of peace you may be able to find if you dig down deep enough and push yourself emotionally.”
  • Stop reading what Facebook tells you to read: "Literally, all you need to do: Type in web addresses. Use autofill! Or even: Google the website you want to go to, and go to it. Then bookmark it. Then go back every now and again."
  • List: Alternatives to Platonic Love: "Newtonian Love – There’s a strong attraction between your bodies."
  • This is not going to go the way you think: The Last Jedi and the necessary disappointment of epilogues: SPOILERS: “Happy endings are always undone because ‘endings’ don’t really exist. Time doesn’t stop when you want it to. Your ‘destiny’ can and will be slowly eroded away by the many small, cumulative abrasions of life that inevitably follow after you achieve it. This is real, and it’s disillusioning, and it can fill you with righteous anger at the unjustness of it all.”

Linkdump for April 2nd through April 7th

Sometime between April 2nd and April 7th, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • Custom Men’s High Tops: Custom printed pseudo-Chucks for $89 CAD (roughly $66 USD). Out of my budget now, but in the future….
  • Mastodon Is Like Twitter Without Nazis, So Why Are We Not Using It?: I'm @djwudi on mastodon.social, if you're over that way.
  • Joss Whedon’s Greatest…hits?: My new album, Joss Whedon Kind Of Really Sucks and Even Though I Have and May Continue to Enjoy Some of His Shows or Aspects of His Shows That Doesn’t Mean That I Don’t Need To Recognize How They Have A Lot of Problematic Elements, is coming out next week!
  • How to Make the Electoral College Work for Everyone: The Constitution asks us to elect a president of the United States, but what we get is a president of Ohio and Florida. There’s an easy way to fix that.
  • UW professor: The information war is real, and we’re losing it: The information networks we’ve built are almost perfectly designed to exploit psychological vulnerabilities to rumor. “Your brain tells you ‘Hey, I got this from three different sources,’ ” she says. “But you don’t realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn’t know how to vaccinate for it.”

Almost Time for Norwescon!

Once again, it’s about time for my annual mini-vacation at Norwescon. This is my second year as part of the ConCom (_Con_vention _Com_mittee — those of us who are crazy enough to volunteer to assist with planning and running the con), and I’ve really been enjoying it.

While for the first year, I had one official position as photographer and one unofficial position as “the guy who knows about Twitter,” this year I’ve had two official positions. I’m no longer simply “Photographer,” but “Lead Photographer,” complete with a staff of two minions assistant photographers (so I don’t have to make another attempt at shooting an entire four-day convention on my own); I’m also the “Information Network Manager”…which is kind of a fancy way of saying “the guy who knows about Twitter” again, but also encompasses handling Facebook updates and occasional website posts.

While the photographer position will be a lot of fun at the con, it’s so focused on the four days of the con itself that most of the lead-up time has been wearing my “Information Network Manager” hat. I’ve really been having fun being the primary Social Media guy for the convention for the past year, and I’m hoping that I get to keep this position for the next year (or two, or three, or…etc.).

(A quick note: While the next few paragraphs concentrate primarily on Twitter, the same basic ideology works for Facebook as well, and I have our Twitter and Facebook accounts connected so that posts to one appear on the other.)

I’ve found myself quite interested over the past couple years with the growing utilization of social media by companies and organizations as a way to create more personalized interactions with their customers and fans. I’ve had some good personal experiences with this kind of thing, when I’ve tossed out random comments on Twitter that have then been noticed and responded to by the companies in question, and I’ve really come to value the perceived personal touch that results. When companies take the time to actually interact with their followers, instead of seeing Twitter solely as another one-way broadcast medium, it makes a huge difference in how the company is perceived by the customer. It only takes a few moments, and suddenly the “little guy” doesn’t feel so little anymore — rather, there’s a real person somewhere behind the corporate logo that’s actually making a connection.

I’ve done my best over the past year or so to ensure that Norwescon’s social media presence is an interactive one. I watch Twitter and the web at large closely for any mention of Norwescon, using saved Twitter and Google keyword searches, and whenever appropriate, I try to answer any questions or concerns that I find. If I can’t provide an answer myself, I pass the question or comment on to the appropriate department. I’ll reply to people on Twitter, even if they’re just mentioning Norwescon in passing (as long as it’s appropriate to do so, of course) — not only does this let them know that they can contact the con directly, but it also helps to let more people know that Norwescon has a Twitter account. Over the past month, I’ve been watching for artists, authors, and pros announcing their schedules on Twitter and retweeting those announcements.

Basically, I’ve been running the Norwescon Twitter account like I prefer other official Twitter accounts to be run — and hopefully, I’ve been doing a decent job of it. Anecdotal evidence seems to say that I am, but it’s always hard to be sure when looking out from the inside.

I’ve also been enjoying prepping the photography side of things. Having a couple minions is going to be incredibly helpful this year (and thank you very much to Philip and Graves for volunteering to be part of the photography department!). Having three roving cameras will allow for better coverage of the convention while also allowing each of us to get some much-needed downtime and off-duty time where we can just do our own thing for a while. I think I’ve pretty much prepped most of what needs to be prepped, with only a few outlying pieces that need some last-minute followup before next weekend.

One personal triumph was creating public photography guidelines. This is one area that has often been a mild frustration for me, as an aspiring amateur photographer — when going to an event, what’s allowed? Are there any restrictions on my camera equipment, or various particular events? I didn’t want that to be an issue, and while perhaps I could have gotten this posted earlier, at least I got it up, and it will serve as a good template for years to come as well.

So that’s been a lot of my non-school-related work over the past few months. I’ve been enjoying it, so far the feedback I’ve been getting has been very complimentary, and I’m really looking forward to running around with my “nerd friends” (as Prairie likes to call them) next weekend. I should be arriving at the hotel by noon-ish on Thursday, am rooming with a couple friends again, and will be there until early afternoon on Sunday, when I’ll be leaving early enough to make sure I’m back home to Prairie in time for Easter dinner. Should be a good weekend, and hopefully I’ll see a few of you there!

Twitter’s Weird Email Search: Not Findable, Except That They Are

While killing time the other day, I ran into a weird little “feature” on Twitter that, I have to admit, I don’t entirely understand.

Twitter's FInd FriendsAs part of their new interface, there’s a tab at the top titled “Who to Follow”, when then has a tab called “Find Friends” that allows you to hook into your Gmail (or Yahoo, MSN/Hotmail, AOL, or LinkedIn) address book to discover people that you might not know are already on Twitter. So far, so good.

So, I pop my email address in, authorize with Gmail, and let Twitter think for a moment. After a moment of thinking, I get a long list of Twitter accounts that are associated with the email addresses in my address book (most of which I was already following). Once again, so far so good — this is all what I would expect to have happen.

But as I scrolled down, things got a little more odd. I started getting hits for a bunch of people with the cryptic message, “This person is on Twitter, but isn’t yet findable by email. Let them know you’d like to follow them.” When I clicked the “Follow” button on a few of those entries, Twitter kindly let me know that it had sent a message to let them know I was interested in following them.

Not Findable?

This morning, I got a note from one of the people behind those accounts letting me know that that account was unused. They were kind enough to forward the message that Twitter sends, however:

On Jan 28, 2011 11:13 PM, “Twitter” discover-wrejneera=tznvy.pbz-5591e@postmaster.twitter.com wrote:

Michael Hanscom (@djwudi) would like to follow your tweets (@—–) on Twitter.

Michael Hanscom knows your email address: @—–@—–.com. But Twitter can’t suggest you to users like Michael Hanscom because your account (@—–) isn’t configured to let users find you if they know your email address.

So here’s what I don’t understand. These accounts are set to hide their email address, and to not be searchable by email address. This is even mentioned twice, once in the listing after Twitter read through my address book, and again in the email sent out after I hit the “Follow” button. However, that’s exactly how I found the accounts: by their email address.

Sure, Twitter isn’t showing me the account name, so I can’t follow directly. Instead, I have to send a request, and the account owner then has to approve (or disapprove) the request. It does, however, let me know that there is a Twitter account associated with that email address…which seems to run counter to the intent of the account owners who have set their accounts to not be findable by email address.

Is this a bug? A feature? A privacy concern? Or is there something that I’m just not grokking, and this actually makes perfect sense and is how things should work?

Anybody want to toss their two cents in the ring (yes, mixed metaphor, I know)?

RockMelt

From First Look at RockMelt, a Browser Built For Facebook Freaks | Webmonkey | Wired.com:

We’ve seen browsers custom-built for the social web before, most notably Flock, which launched as a MySpaced-up version of Firefox. Mozilla experimented with Ubiquity, an in-browser tool for posting to different social sites and interacting with web services. There are a number of add-ons that can embed social networking dashboards into the browser for you. These tools have grown in popularity as we’ve struggled to manage the ever-increasing flow of links, media and bits shared by our online friends.

So, the idea isn’t original. And RockMelt doesn’t sport a complete re-invention of the browser interface, either. But it is very streamlined, and there are some key elements that people who live and breathe the social web will find intriguing.

(via Wired)

Interesting. I’ve signed up to get a look at it, since I’m pretty constantly on both Facebook and Twitter. I’m not entirely sure how often I’ll use it (do I really need a specialized social media browser?), but I’m at least interested in the idea.

Lazyweb: Automated Crowdsourcing of Website Uptime/Downtime Tracking

Last night, Prairie and I were watching Bones on Netflix’s streaming service when Netflix suddenly stopped responding. In order to find out if there were service-wide problems, my first step was to turn to Twitter to see if there were any other people reporting problems — and as it turns out, there were. Reassured that it was a Netflix issue, and not something going wrong with my setup, we popped in a DVD until people on Twitter started reporting that things were working again.

It seems that using Twitter is becoming a more and more common way to get a quick handle on whether a particular website is having issues. This started me thinking about a website that could act as a simple, centralized tracker of uptime/downtime reports, gathered from real-time scanning of the Tweetstream. I don’t have the coding chops to do this, so I’m tossing the idea out to the Lazyweb in case anyone else wants to run with it.

The basic idea seems simple enough: scan the tweetstream for variations on the types of posts people make when a service is showing signs of problems. Basic search strings would be something along the lines of “* is [down|broken]” and “is * [down|broken]“. Anytime a hit is made on the search string, an entry is made in the database with the reported problem site and whatever might be considered relevant data from the source tweet (the tweet text, time/datestamp, perhaps even geolocation data for those tweets that are carrying it). Tracking reports of websites coming back online could be integrated as well, by watching strings such as “* is [back|up|back up|working]“.

The website would display a regularly updating display of downtime/uptime reports, one line per target website, with a series of stats indicating things like how recently the last problem or resolution tweet was recorded, the number of problem or resolution tweets found within the last 10, 30, or 60 minutes, perhaps a map showing geolocation markers that could indicate if downtime is widespread (indicating downtime at the website itself) or geographically targeted (indicating problems with a particular network, carrier, or ISP between the website and the Twitter users reporting problems), and whatever other data might be useful. It might be possible to use CSS to color-code lines depending upon variable such as the rate of problem tweets being found, too.

Anyway, that’s about as formed as the idea is in my head. If this sounds interesting to anyone else, feel free to grab the idea and run. If someone does build this based on this post, though, some mention or credit would be nice. ;)

Use your Twitter stream for Mac OS X’s RSS Visualizer screensaver

Just a quick little tip for OS X users. Nothing fancy, and others may have figured this out already, but a quick Google search didn’t come up with answers, just questions…so here we are.

For the uninitiated, one of the default screensavers in OS X is the RSS Visualizer, which shows a slick ‘floating text’ presentation of the text from any RSS feed against a cloudy blue background.

I wanted to put my Twitter timeline in, so that even when my ‘puter’s not doing anything, and I’m across the room reading on the couch, I can keep an eye out for updates. Seems simple, but on first blush, it didn’t seem to work, as I just got the background, and no tweets.

That’s an easy fix, though. Twitter password protects your RSS feed, so that other people can’t ‘hack’ into your feed and see updates from those of your contacts who have protected their feed from public view — and the screensaver options don’t give a way to enter your Twitter username/password combination.

Twitter does, however, respect RSS-embedded passwords. So, in order to get the screensaver to work correctly, change the RSS feed from the default

http://twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline.rss

to a customized

https://USERNAME:PASSWORD@twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline.rss

format, and you’re off and running.

Note that I’ve changed the protocol from http to https to avoid transmiting my Twitter username and password in cleartext. With the standard http protocol, in theory, if someone was really determined, there’s a chance that they could intercept the TCP stream between your computer and Twitter and see your Twitter login credentials. Using https (the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’), the information between your computer and Twitter is encrypted, so that packet sniffers wouldn’t get anything.

And that’s it! One Twitter-enabled RSS screensaver.

Norwescon Tweetup

A couple months ago, I started up an (unofficial) @norwescon Twitter account as another avenue for disseminating Norwescon info to the masses. The account is mostly automated, mirroring links to anything that pops up in the [ljcomm]norwescon[/ljcomm] LiveJournal community or in the Flickr group, but I’ll occasionally toss things in that seem to be on-topic and of interest.

Earlier this week, @EMPSFM asked if I was planning any sort of ‘tweetup’ during the ‘con. I hadn’t thought about it, but it seems like a good idea.

So, barring any unforeseen complications, I’m tentatively choosing 3pm on Saturday afternoon as a good time — early enough in the day that it won’t interfere with any of the big evening activities, late enough that most congoers should have arrived. The location is still to be determined: unless someone out there has a good spot in mind (somewhere in the public areas, this is far too last-minute, unofficial and slapdash to have an actual room available), I’ll scope out the common areas on Friday to find a decent place.

If you’re a congoer and already following @norwescon, you’re welcome to show up! If you’re on Twitter but not following @norwescon, follow and show up! If you’re not on Twitter…either sign up and show up, or just show up. It’s not like we can stop you. :)

  • 1st Annual Norwescon Tweetup
  • Saturday, April 11
  • 3 PM
  • Location to be determined

Questions, comments, words of wisdom? Fire ’em at me!

Good Twitter Marketing is Communication

I’ve been having fun over the past couple of weeks playing with a bit of unofficial marketing via Twitter for a couple of the local conventions. I’ve been using Twitter (djwudi, if you didn’t know already) for some time now, and I’ve been seeing a number of different companies and organizations picking up Twitter accounts, some of whom seemed to use it successfully…some of whom, less so.

To me, possibly the single most important aspect to marketing successfully on Twitter — and keep in mind that I’m not a marketing wonk in any way, I’m just an opinionated geek with a Twitter account — is having a real person behind the account. Just as people prefer to call a business and speak to a person rather than an automated machine, I like to know that there’s a real set of eyeballs paying attention to a Twitter account, and it’s not merely an automated receptacle echoing an RSS feed. Many companies seem to see Twitter as little more than an RSS reader for people who don’t grok RSS readers, and that’s a rather sad outlook.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with feeding RSS feeds into Twitter accounts. I’m doing that very thing myself, in fact. However, that shouldn’t be all that is done with the account.

Right now, I’m managing two Twitter accounts for local conventions: norwescon (for Norwescon) and steamcon (for Steamcon). Both of these are unofficial (i.e., I’m not actually involved with the production of either ‘con, but just do this because I can and because it’s fun to play with this stuff), but the Steamcon account is slightly less unofficial…that is, I’ve received a nice thanks from the Steamcon Powers-That-Be along with a link on their homepage to the Twitter account. Both accounts are somewhat automated, using Twitterfeed to pipe in RSS feeds. However, I also take care to make sure that neither account is a simple infodump.

Here’s the steps I’ve taken so far:

  1. Use multiple sources.

    Each account actually has multiple RSS feeds contributing content. For Norwescon, that’s the LiveJournal group, the Flickr group photo pool, and the Flickr group discussions; likewise, Steamcon gets their LiveJournal group, their Flickr group photo pool, and their Flickr group discussions. At the moment, there’s very little activity on Flickr, and most of the posts come from announcements on LiveJournal, but the Flickr feeds will come in handy post-con.

  2. Find the people that might be interested.

    I knew that since these weren’t official accounts, the chances of people stumbling across them were pretty slim. So, rather than just set them up and toss them into the electronic wind of the ‘net to see if they caught anyone’s eye, I set up two Twitter searches and subscribed to the RSS feeds. I use the same syntax for each search, just changing the name of the ‘con: norwescon -from:norwescon. This shows me any Tweets mentioning the ‘con, while excluding those sent by the Norwescon Twitter account (I originally also appended -"@norwescon" to exclude reply Tweets, as those have their own tab in the Twitter interface, but I’m finding it handy to have those included in the RSS feed as well). When I see someone’s tweet pop up, I take a look at their Twitter account, and if they look like they’re interested, I follow them.

  3. Interact!

    As evidenced by how I started this post out, I think this is the most important of the three. Rather than letting the RSS feeds take care of everything, I check in on the accounts myself off and on when I can. Admittedly, it’s not as often as I check my personal Twitter account, but it’s often enough that I can catch mentions, reply to any Tweets directed to the account, and so on. I also post Tweets myself when I find something interesting or worth sharing that fits the theme (such as Star Trek corsets or steampunk Lego). Any indication that there’s a real personality behind the account handle is good, and is more likely to get not just subscribers, but active subscribers. Twitter should be a conversation, not a lecture.

In the end, I’m having a lot of fun with this little experiment. It seems to be working well enough — the Norwescon account is up to 40 followers just through my dinking around and word-of-tweet, while the Steamcon account is now up to 38, most of whom have just shown up in the past two days after the Twitter logo and link hit the Steamcon website. Not huge numbers by many estimations, but both accounts are relatively new, and I’m sure both will continue to grow as the cons get closer and as word continues to spread.

Now if only I could figure out how to get paid for this kind of stuff full-time, instead of doing it for free during lunch breaks and evenings at home! ;)