Reviving the network

Having decided to focus more on writing on my blogs again, I’m realising just how many I’ve created over the years (and subsequently neglected). Over the last two days, I did my inventory: updated plugins, themes, cleaned up the odd, erm, hacked installation and put them all under the roof of the rather handy wordpress.com centralized command.

All of those blogs had their very own raison d’etre, but now that some time has passed and I’ve grown somewhat tired of having to look after all these installations, I’m thinking about maybe consolidating them into one, maybe two roofs. I’m still torn about what to do with each of them, so I’d value your input.

Stormgrass
That’s of course this blog right here. I started it, I think, sometime in 2000, then still without my own domain. Ha, I remember the invigorating feeling when actually accessing it under my own domain. What freedom! What self-expression! Its tagline “The Excitement of Boredom” was actually my own criticism of then prevalent blogging practice. I found most of them dull and thought I could be even duller. I stuck to it, for better or worse. If I’m consolidating my other blogs, this will be the hub. The stormgrass empire, if you will.

Stormgrass Tech
I used to write about technology a lot. Technology in the sense of web services and other consumer-oriented tech products. It was all done on my main blog, but I soon realized that the people who visit my blog to see updates about my personal life (mainly my mother) didn’t really care about the tech updates, and vice versa (currently most links there are broken, which I think is due to some rewrite rules I’ll have to figure out). Creating a separate blog seemed like a good solution. Today, I’m not so sure anymore. There’s a whole bunch of popular blogs out there that don’t have this strict dividing line and I find that rather charming. I’m thinking especially about Ninjas and Robots, the blog of Nathan Kontny, CEO of Highrise. The thing is, he’s got a voice, and that voice is carried through all of his posts, whether they’re technical or personal or whatever else. I do think I should strive for that.

Death by Martini
Yet another fork from my personal blog, this time one oriented towards food and eating and general gastronomical debauchery. I used to write about food a lot, used to post pictures about food a lot. Mind you, that was quite some time before the advent of apps like Instagram. When I realized that there’s actually food blogs out there, I wanted my own. And as it happened with so many of my blogs, after a while it seemed far easier to just post those pictures to Twitter or Facebook and be done with it. My qualms with this blog are similar to those I have with my tech blog. Keep it or incorporate it? I’m too much in love with the name of this blog to just let it go, but maybe it’s the right thing to do.

The self-hosted web
This is not so much a blog, but more of a project about the beauty of self-hosting consumer-oriented software. Think self-hosted Instagram, WordPress, social networks and the like. It was born out of the idea to not give all your content and especially all the discussions that happen around it to other companies. It’s alive, but I haven’t been as active there as I want. Since this really isn’t as personal as my other projects, and more geared towards becoming a community project, it’ll stay where it is. I am always looking for new software that fits this space, so if you’ve got any recommendations, do drop me a note.

Intrepidlytrite
Remember tumblelogs? Yes, exactly, the kind of blogs tumblr was designed after. In a time when Facebook was more of a, well, Facebook and less of a publishing tool and Twitter hadn’t yet taken off, tumblelog was the designated name for a kind of blog that could do without titles, categorization, tags and all that cruft, and let people concentrate on quickly posting stuff. Take note of this Lifehacker article from 2007 detailing the ins and outs of a tumblelog.

Intrepidly Trite was to be that kind of blog. I had it connected to Austrian soup.io for a long time, after that ran a couple of different self-hosted blog variants under the name. Today it’s a bare-bones WordPress installation I had created in order to turn it into my own photo-sharing site. Somehow it didn’t really fit, so I’m not sure yet what to do with it. There’s this beautiful open-source project called “Chyrp” out there, which is basically a tumble-log software to self-host. I might just use this for Intrepidlytrite if I feel the need to have my own tumblelog again. If I don’t, I might shutter the site altogether and just see what else I could use the domain for at some point in the future.

Colordisco
This domain was actually a joke. A couple of years back, companies had this tendency to create apps that were named after common words. There was “Color”, a photo app that sounded promising but didn’t take off, and there was “Disco”, a group messaging app by Google that got sunset basically right after its start. I thought it was a fun idea to get a domain name combining those two. Ironically, today both apps are gone but my domain is still here.

I finally used it to create yet another blog which I envisioned to be something more in the vein of a blog like kottke.org. An aggregator of cool stuff, mostly films, articles of note, videos. Not hugely personal, but simply based on the things I find interesting. As it turned out, I didn’t have enough time to keep it updated regularly. I’m not yet sure what to do with it. It somehow fits the “aside” category on a WordPress installation but could also work as a sideblog (similar to what Helge does here).

Medienschelte
Speaking of Helge, his community blog called “Kobuk” is similar to what I and my friend Daniel had created quite a while ago. Medienschelte was a media-watchblog that detailed the systematic mis-information and error-riddled coverage by the two Austrian tabloids “Österreich” and “Kronenzeitung”. It hasn’t been updated in a long time and probably won’t ever be again. “Kobuk” does a good job with that and I do have to admit, reading those tabloids on a daily basis can be rather detrimental to your mental health.

Hemmer.co
Finally, this is a blog that hasn’t even started yet, but which is going to happen. I’m a trained historian and after working in social media and other rather technical jobs, I’m about to embark on a journey as a freelance historical consultant for TV, film and videogame productions. Hemmer.co will be the place where I’ll write about history, specifically history in the above mentioned products. Do keep your eyes on that (and if you need someone like me, don’t be shy to drop me a note).

So, here we go. The result of roughly 15 years of creating blogs and projects. The landscape of publishing on the web has changed drastically during that time and while blogs haven’t disappeared, they’ve either become neglected (like mine) or been turned into mainstream products that rival traditional publishing outfits on the web. Creating a blog that doesn’t strive to become a viable source of income seems somewhat outlandish today, which is one of the reasons why I think most people who just want to publish with the least amount of hassle simply do it via Facebook or Twitter. It’s due to that development that I find it rather important to revive my network of blogs and maybe, at some point, inspire others to do the same. Not for fame, money or glory, but simply because they can.

Here’s to #London2012

I’m not much of a sports nut. In fact, in order to be able to write this entry, I had to go and look up the exact dates for the Olympic Games 2012. You’ll be relieved to find out that they start in pretty much exactly 64 days. Which would be the 27th of July.

Now, why am I writing about an event which I have no interest in at all? Because it’s necessary. You see, the Olympic Games, like any event of a certain size that gets broadcast all over the world, has sponsors. Very powerful sponsors who invest a lot of money so people all over the world can see that these modern-day gladiators do in fact splurge on Coca Cola. All day, everyday (it’s a no-brainer: I know how fidgety I get after a bottle of Coke, I’m sure professional athletes use that to their advantage). Anyway, since these sponsors invested a whole lot of money, they don’t want others, who didn’t unload truckloads of cash into the lobby of the IOC, to profit from the Olympic Games. Hence, they’ve managed to lobby the UK into passing a law which effectively outlaws the usage of “London2012” or any combination organisers and sponsors deem to be infringing on their copyright, by entities other than official sponsors.

Here’s an example of what that means:

One day, the small espresso shop near the site of the London Games was the “Olympic” cafe. The next day, it was the “Lympic.”

So where did the “O” go?

The manager won’t say. But it’s more than likely the small business became another casualty in the battle against guerrilla marketers – advertisers who try to associate their products with an event without paying to be sponsors.

(This article gives more insight into how the IOC has been cracking down on unauthorized usage of the five rings and whatever shitload of terms they have put their copyright on – read it, but only when you’re done with this one.)

Well, today the media are flush with news about suspended Twitter accounts, one of which was a parody account. Apparently, the usage of the 2012 logo is enough to have an account suspended, for people might actually confuse the account with an official sponsor. Which is the world we live in – warped, but accepted. But it does get a bit worse: Twitter is working closely with IOC to guarantee only real sponsors can buy ads associated with the London2012 hashtag. Now, even that seems ok. It’s about ads, not content posted by users. But here’s the thing: the IOC is always afraid of guerilla marketing stunts, and what better place than social media to do that? There’s no ban (yet) on using #London2012 in a tweet, so in theory, companies could use it to promote their products (a practice all sorts of Twitter users employ to peddle their shit). And they will. And Twitter might start policing the usage of the hashtag, and they might delete accounts of private users and they might reinstate these accounts but they might not. All in all, Twitter might be turning shit within a fortnight and there’s not a whole lot we could do. Or could we? We actually can.

As a pre-emptive strike against what might turn into a freedom of speech issue, let’s have some idiotic fun: starting July 27th, whenever you tweet, add the London2012 hashtag. Ask your friends, followers and/or foes to do the same. And while you might anger or bore your followers, you’ll have done something good and noble as well. For free speech, for people with little cafés in London called “Olympia” and maybe even for yourself (by disproportionally blowing up your sense of self-importance, of course).

Last but not least, don’t forget to share this posting wherever you go, preferrably of course by appending the mother of all hashtags: #London2012

Why I uninstalled Instagram for Android

I’m usually not one averse to hypes. This blog right here is testament to the fact that I like to sign up to just about everything, especially if there’s been about a thousand people telling me how great it is. I went ahead and did the same thing with Instagram for Android. What you see below is the first picture I shared via Instagram and even below that, in a lengthy rant, I will explain why it will also be the last.

Instagram, popular photo sharing app previously available for the iPhone only, has about 35 million users by now (according to numbers I could link to but that would mean I’d have to actually look up sources, and, seriously, that’s not what I signed up for). Anyway, it is mighty popular and there’s already a number of brands cooperating with Instagram (a sure-fire  sign that a service has gone mainstream).

Yesterday, about a year and a half after its inception, Instagram delivered an Android version. Now, during those one and a half years about a myriad other services were released to satisfy Android users’ hunger for apps that provide the same functionality (namely photo filters and easy sharing). There are some apps, in my mind, which have vastly eclipsed Instagram’s functionality, but – and imagine a long sigh here please – that doesn’t mean a lot today.

You see, it’s the Internets, and here it doesn’t really matter how good you are, all that matters is how well connected you are. And with about 35 million users, Instagram connects the shit out of everything (I don’t believe that’s a phrase yet – consider it coined). Even for vastly superior services like PicPlz, life is hard because they simply don’t get the exposure they deserve. Which leads me to the actual Android app. How much exposure does Instagram deserve, apart from being early? Let’s find out!

I’m far too lazy to actually make screenshots, but The Next Web has a rather thorough comparison between Instagram for Android and its iOS version. And it’s underwhelming as fuck. Firstly: as much as iOS is heralded for its streamlined, simple design, it’s also ugly as hell. I’ve used apps on Android developed simply for the fun of it which looked better. Secondly: There’s an extensive style guide for Android out there. The good people at Instagram obviously spent exactly zero minutes looking into it. What they did is take the iOS version (complete with the no-buttons functionality) and port it to Android. What exactly took them so long, I don’t know, because I’m sure the proverbial monkeys typing away on a keyboard would have created this abomination in less time. Whatever their reasons, I think it shows a certain contempt for the platform and its users. While it’s a shit attitude, I’d have let that slide if the app was packed with exceptional functionality. But is it?

Yes, Instagram lets you put filters on pictures, then send them off to wherever you want. But what the hell is up with the squares? Why does it force me to upload square photos? I don’t really want to get into the whole iOS vs Android thing, but it so fits in the mindset of using iOS that an application forces you to use a certain format instead of the other way round. And I don’t much care for that, no matter how much people rattle on and on about simplicity.

So, what else does Instagram do? Does it have a nice destination page like PicPlz? Well, no. Does it have vastly superior filters, borders and such? No. Is it super fast, doesn’t use loads of memory and isn’t bloated? No, no and no (I admit, this is personal experience and some people may feel it’s about as fast as the Shinkansen, merely nibbles from your RAM and is as lean as a piece of jerky – but I doubt it).

Well, there you have it. Instagram may have millions of users, but it’s not for want of alternatives and definitely not because it’s so good. It just is, and that seems to be enough to spell out success. But it’s not enough for me to actually use it.

 

PS: Yes, I like dramatic endings to my blogposts, but I’m also aware that they may sound ridiculous and contrived. So let me give you an alternative one:

Instagram is shit, I can’t believe how it got so successful and I’ll gladly leave it to the iOS crowd to fawn over. Who seems to have a problem with Android users getting in on the fun anyway.

 

 

Back to the roots with +1 OR How not to give a shit

RSS, former love-child and poster technology of the social web, is something of an enigma. For some, it’s the second coming of Christ: versatile, indispensable and it can turn one a fish and two loafs of bread into a feast that will feed a million people (disclaimer: that last point is rampant conjecture and might actually not be true). For many others, though, it’s a technology that’s so utterly uninteresting and unattractive, they’d be glad to see it disappear in the depths of that pool where great but unattractive technology disappears to die a slow and painfully ignored death. I’ll just call that the “Not as shiny as Apple”-pool. In that vain, every year there’s renewed discussion whether RSS is dead or not and it never leads anywhere.

The motivation of the latter is clear: Twitter, Facebook and a myriad of other social networks have replaced personal curating. Nowadays, friends and contacts decide what’s worth a read, while, ideally, you can lean back and enjoy. It’s an interesting, albeit heavily flawed concept (more about why I think it’s flawed either in this article, or sometime later. It kinda depends on how much I still care when I’m done writing that other stuff you see below).

Anyway: Google Reader, after the demise of Bloglines and just about any other full-featured RSS-reader probably the last beacon of original RSS-feed love out there, recently received an update which was meant to streamline it with many other Google products. The update is mainly a facelift, adapting it to the no-nonsense, loads of whitespace, more icons, less text design of recent Google products (closely modeled on Google’s new Google+, that social network that’s a lot like Twitter and a bit like Facebook but pretending to be neither).

In addition to that facelift, they also removed its social elements, that is seeing what people you added within Google Reader shared, and the ability to share your stuff with others in return. Instead, they added a big and shiny +1 button underneath every item, allowing you to send stuff to your Google+ profile.

Basically, Google  turned their reader into another content provider for their fledgling social network, removing what they regard as cruft and detrimental to their goal of reaching world dominance. And by world dominance I mean social network dominance (I’m not THAT paranoid).

There’s a small but outspoken minority of Google Reader sharing fans and they are pissed off (as is, according to TechCrunch, all of Iran). Google doesn’t care and I don’t think they should. You see, Google Reader is, first and foremost, a feedreader. You feed it with feeds, it slices, dices and does its thing and what it spits out is what you consume. I remember quite clearly when after their second iteration (the first one was a dud and everyone simply KNEW that Google’s Reader would fail against the mighty Bloglines), that they introduced social elements. And back then, everyone either balked or was foaming at the changes (there was actually not a single person on earth who liked them from the start – I know this for a fact). Fast forward a year or two, and lo and behold, people actually liked the social elements. Fast forward another few years and people are foaming at the mouth for removing those features.

My point, for all you tl;dr people out there: Google Reader is now what it used to be initially: a tool to read your feeds. If you want, you can share articles to your peeps on Google+. And that, my friends, is that.

PS: So no, I don’t feel like elaborating on the flawed concept of the recommendation system. Fear not, I might have time on my hands sometime in the next few months to actually write something up.