The Internet Websites

Following people outside of a feed

Replied to Specifying Spring ’83 (Robin Sloan)

What do you want from the internet, anyway?

I want to follow people who are interesting to me, in a way that’s simple, expressive, and predictable.

I want this to work, furthermore, whether those people are sharing a random thought every day, a blog post every week, or an art project every two years.

And I want it to work, of course, across media, so I can follow writers, musicians, programmers, theorists, troublemakers … 

Agreed, these points describe exactly what I want from the internet, yet is almost impossible to achieve. In the IndieWeb we’ve talked a bunch about following people rather than feeds, and wanting to be able to see that in one place rather than going to each service. For two years I checked Instagram, which I don’t use anymore, monthly just so I’d find out if/when one of my favorite artists released a specific image as a print because he doesn’t announce prints on his email list (magically I checked the day after he released it and it wasn’t sold out! Kismet. This is probably not something I should admit? 😅 I really wanted that print.).

So, I am excited to hear ideas for better ways to follow people. I’m not technical so I skipped over those details, but the sample images of ad and comic pages as a virtual poster board / nonlinear feed (with each person only getting one display block) caught my attention.

That visual layout is appealing. As a visual person, I find a lot of the feeds I follow tend to blur together in my reader’s chronological feed, so I can’t remember whose article I’m reading or which feeds I like best and which have mostly duds so I can unsubscribe.

Per the example, boards could be kind of picture-less Insta Stories made with html so they’re accessible (I assume screen readers can’t read the text in a Story?) – or text-only like a microblog post, with html markup (so, better than a tweet).

Considerations for the proposed system

From an IndieWeb own-your-content standpoint, I’d want to post the canonical form of a board to my site and have it populate through to anyone’s collections. The board they designated for my material would be reusable, each update replacing the last on subscribers’ pages, but I’d retain a copy of the original content. Bloggers could designate a post kind as a “board” so only those pieces of content passed through, or could have a separate microblogging stream that fed out.

These updateable blocks do a little make me think of Now pages, which often seem to be set up then rarely updated — so treating boards as less of a calling card / homepage and more as ephemeral content like tweets or Stories could create a positive feedback loop of users both posting and visiting more often (although fostering FOMO is maybe dark pattern-y?).

For a presentation that allows each publisher one block, you’d need a way to indicate updated boards since your last visit. Could be moving newest cards to the top, or for fixed position blocks using some visual indicator like a thick border or star in the corner (plus markup to make that info accessible for screen readers).

Would people’s collections be viewable by others? Sets up social implications, but also could be a handy way to find new people to follow if it was easy to follow a board from someone else’s collection.

An IndieWeb variation?

Thinking how a nonlinear feed / follow page could be constructed in an IndieWeb fashion, I bet it would be possible to hack together displaying the h-cards of everyone you’re subscribed to on a page similar to the IndieWebRing directory as a way to show updates outside of a single stream vertical feed. In addition to their photo and name, the h-cards could also list links to their most recent update on either their website or multiple services/formats they use. New content could be marked up and displayed in a way that was easy to skim, or cards with most recent updates get moved to the top of the display. An excerpt or headline could be listed, or each service could indicate the number of unread new posts on each (e.g. 20 new tweets, 1 new blog post).

As a person-focused rather than chron-focused display, people who hadn’t posted in a while wouldn’t disappear into the abyss, and it wouldn’t necessarily reward people for being frequent posters.

A simple subscribeable h-card website service that collated a person’s updates from social media and other sites could be useful for people who want to participate in the IndieWeb in the sense of having a domain to represent themselves, but still mostly post their content on social media to avoid admin tax. This could be an IndieWeb stand-in for services like LinkinBio that are just a collection of links to their content elsewhere on the web, something people could set up once and not fuss with again. When the author posted on any of their platforms, if that somehow backfed or syndicated a link on their website, the update could then be syndicated out to all subscribers / followers. (I don’t know enough about protocols to know if that’s possible/ how you’d go about achieving that 🤷‍♀️)

Playing with the visual approach

I do like the idea of cards for people / feeds and might try that presentation out on my blogroll 🤔

The visual layout could also work for an alternative feed presentation: kind of a Pinterest board suite of content from all the folks you follow, blocks of tweets mixed with YouTube videos and photos from Instagram and blog excerpts. Some company must offer this? Or not, since walled gardens don’t play friendly 😠

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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