WordPress.com Offering free .Blog subdomains for new sites

 

The good folks over at WordPress.com are doing something interesting - they are giving free .blog subdomains for any new sites created on WordPress.com.

Now, to be clear, this is not ANY subdomain under .blog. For instance, I was immediately curious if I could get “danyork.blog”, but no, they are giving away for free third-level subdomains under the following second-level domains:

  • art.blog
  • business.blog
  • car.blog
  • code.blog
  • data.blog
  • design.blog
  • family.blog
  • fashion.blog
  • finance.blog
  • fitness.blog
  • food.blog
  • game.blog
  • health.blog
  • home.blog
  • law.blog
  • movie.blog
  • music.blog
  • news.blog
  • photo.blog
  • poetry.blog
  • politics.blog
  • school.blog
  • science.blog
  • sport.blog
  • tech.blog
  • travel.blog
  • video.blog
  • water.blog

So I could possibly get “danyork.tech.blog”, “danyork.news.blog”, “york.family.blog”, or “Vermont.travel.blog”. Basically, a free domain underneath that set of domains.

When you create a NEW site (and that is important because this is currently NOT available to existing WordPress.com sites), you will have a chance to claim one of these subdomains in this process.

Now, for most of us who are more serious about this, we may already have a domain. Or at least will want to get our own.

But for someone just starting out, I could see this being a useful way to get started without having to buy a domain, get it set up, etc.  Cool move by the Automattic team behind WordPress.com!


How to Run WordPress in a Docker Container, Part 1

Wordpress docker installation

Here is a quick 3-step process for launching WordPress in a Docker container. You can use this to easily launch a new WordPress instance on your local system to test out new versions, new plugins or anything else.

First, though, you need to have Docker installed on your system. The simplest way for Mac and Windows users is to install Docker Desktop. This desktop download also gives you Docker Compose, which you will need. If you are running Docker on a Linux system, you will need to manually install Docker and Docker Compose.

To run WordPress, you also need a database running. The steps here use Docker Compose to launch TWO containers: one for WordPress and one for MySQL.

Three steps

Step 1 - Create a directory (a.k.a. "folder") and install the docker-compose.yaml file found in this Github repository. You can get the file three ways:

The key is to have this all in a separate directory because your WordPress installation will store some plugins there (see the notes below).

Step 2 - In a terminal window[1] type 'docker-compose up

This will launch the two containers and link them together. You will see logging to your terminal window. You can press Ctrl+C to stop the containers and get your command prompt back. To launch the containers in the background add a "-d" option:

docker-compose up -d

Step 3 - Connect to your new WordPress server at http://localhost:8080/

That's it!

Wordpress installation 660px

Now you simply go through the normal WordPress installation process and within a few screens your new site will be fully active.

Next you can update WordPress to the latest version, install whatever plugins you want, etc.

For example, I installed the WordPress Beta Tester plugin, went into its settings and turned on "Bleeding edge nightlies", performed an upgrade... and now I'm running the very latest WordPress 5.0 build. Perfect for the testing I want to do.

Credit for the simplicity of this approach is due to Github user "wglambert" who answered a request I made about help using the WordPress Docker container. Thank you!

Notes

  • Stopping the containers - do 'docker-compose stop'. This will stop the containers from running. Doing 'docker-compose start' will start them up again.
  • A 'wp-content' directory is created is created inside the directory in which you put the docker-compose.yaml file. Any plugins or themes you add will be stored here. This allows you to do a reinstallation and have all the plugins and themes available.
  • WHEN YOU ARE DONE and want all this to go away, just type 'docker-compose down' and the services will be stopped and the containers removed.

There are many more things you can do with docker-compose. The command-line documentation can help you learn more.

Next parts

I labeled this as "Part 1" because I'm planning to write about my own ongoing testing with Docker and WordPress. In future parts of this series, I intend to cover:

  • How to load in an existing site for testing
  • How to save your changes in a Dockerfile (so you don't have to start at the very basic installation each time)
  • ... and other things I learn along the way.

I also expect I may update THIS article over time as I do more with using WordPress and Docker.

I hope you found this helpful. Please feel free to leave comments here (unfortunately I have to moderate due to spam, and so comments will not appear immediately).

I also welcome pointers to other "WordPress and Docker" tutorials that people have found helpful. If you want to follow along with some of my other experiments with Docker and containers in general, I'll be writing about that over on Code.DanYork.com.


[1] or "command shell" or "powershell" or whatever you call it...


Returning to POSSE - Writing on my own site, THEN on Facebook, Twitter, etc

Sheriff posse flickr tom kelly

Over the past few weeks as I’ve been grappling with colon cancer, it has been soooooooooo tempting to just pop open the Facebook app, write a story in the box and press “Share”.

Simple. Easy. Done!

Or inside the Twitter app… or LinkedIn… or… or...

But here’s the problem with that...

All the stories get LOCKED INSIDE A PLATFORM!

They are there living on the platform’s servers, inside the platform’s systems.  Maybe they are visible publicly, maybe they aren’t.  Maybe they will be around in two years, maybe they won’t.  Maybe people will find them, maybe they won’t.

The future of your stories is entirely at the whim of the platform.

As I wrote about on the Internet Society’s blog earlier this year, one of my own guiding principles is “POSSE“, a content publishing model from the “IndieWeb” movement:

Publish on your
Own
Site,
Syndicate
Elsewhere

And so over these past few weeks, I tried really hard to do that with my journey through cancer: the diagnosis, followed by the recovery, followed by the results.

But it’s HARD. It was so insanely tempting yesterday when I got the great news just to pop open Facebook and share it with everyone.

But when I do that… it’s shared ONLY within Facebook’s shiny “walled garden”. It’s not shared with people I know who choose NOT to use Facebook. It’s not shared with the communities I’m in on other social networks.

The “open Web” on top of the “open Internet” is really the only way to do that. But it’s hard. There’s extra steps involved for me right now with the way my various blogs are set up.  I want to work to make that easier and simpler… but doing so will take time… which is challenging to find.

But if we don’t find ways to OWN OUR OWN STORIES then they will stay locked away in closed, proprietary walled gardens.  And maybe that’s fine for some of those stories. Maybe they are small and mundane… “in the moment” stories that we don’t really care about. But even so, we feed the platforms. We help them to grow.

 I’ll keep trying to follow the POSSE rule… and I’ll be writing more here about that.


Image credit: Tom Kelly on Flickr CC BY NC ND


Revisiting a Not-So-New Rule - No Social Media Usage Until I Have Created Something New

Being a writer not being distracted

I woke up this morning frustrated that I simply haven’t been writing across my various sites. In theory I am a “writer”, but I haven’t been writing! And as I wrote in My 3 Words for 2018: “because if I don't write... the stories build up inside of me until they want to explode like a pressure cooker without a relief valve. Writing is my relief valve. I need to do it.

So I said to myself- I know, I will impose a new rule on myself... no social media usage until I publish something new! A blog post, a podcast episode (such as my The Dan York Report short audio segments), an article on some site (ex CircleID), a longer update on a social site... something.... anything.... BEFORE I get sucked into the vortex of social media updates. 

And I will start with a blog post like this one...

Except... I discovered I WROTE THE EXACT SAME POST TWO YEARS AGO! July 24, 2016, to be precise.

And... I noted that on day #2, July 25, 2016, I had already failed. ☹️

So this morning’s great idea turns out to be nothing new. 

In fact, I can go back 10 years ago, to a post in September 2008, where I wrote about Jeremiah Owyang’s “Pay yourself first” philosophy. Or may many other posts about struggling with consistent writing.

Now, maybe this rule is like the “no sweets today” diet rule that turns out to be an aspiration that just doesn’t happen. And maybe EVERY day is too high a goal. Maybe every other day. But I have to do something, or consumption will win over creation. 

Unless, of course, I want to reframe my own perspective and think of myself as an “occasional writer”... and just accept only writing now and then  

I am not quite ready for that. Let’s see how I do this year!

 


Heading to Belgrade This Week for WordCamp Europe 2018 (WCEU)

Wceu 2018

If any of you will be at WordCamp Europe 2018 this week in Belgrade, Serbia, please do say hello. I'll be there starting this afternoon and am greatly looking forward to learning from many of the people involved deeply in the WordPress community.

In particular I'm looking forward to the Developing for Privacy and Data Protection session. Based on the work done in the community to help website operators comply with the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), this workshop will look at what comes next. I'm personally very interested to see where this will go.

I'll also be going to some accessibility workshops and checking in on topics such as caching, security and mobility that are always of interest. I also have some meetings with partners and others.

Anyway, if you're there at WCEU 2018, feel free to drop me a note.


Beginning NaPodPoMo - 30 Podcast Episodes in 30 Days

NationalPodcastPostMonth NaPodPoMoCan I publish one podcast episode each day for the month of November? That's the premise of "National Podcast Post Month" or "NaPodPoMo". Similar to the idea of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where writers sign up to write a novel in a month, NaPodPoMo is a way for podcasters to get in on the action for the month of November.

For me, I decided to do it just as an incentive to see about getting back into more content creation. As I explained in The Dan York Report episode 333, the last 10 months of my life have been focused on the launch of the Internet Society's new website. That's consumed a HUGE amount of hours... and left me with very little time for all the normal writing and audio production that I've done.

The Internet Society website launched on September 14, and in that TDYR episode 333 I naively thought the work was close to done... and that I'd have more time for content creation.

The truth is that there's been a great amount of work still to be done on the website - and so I have NOT been able to return to creating content.

But now we're getting closer... and my internal NEED to create content is driving me crazy.

So this NaPodPoMo is just an incentive to help me get back into the swing of creating more content.

I'll be publishing new episodes at my SoundCloud account at https://soundcloud.com/danyork

You're welcome to follow along this month! We'll see how I do!


Facebook Adds Stories to iOS/Android Apps to Try to Kill Snapchat

Facebook stories

Facebook truly DESPISES Snapchat!

As documented in a blog post today, Facebook has now added "Stories" to their main mobile apps. Just like Snapchat, these stories:

  • expire after 24 hours
  • can be either images or videos
  • have all sorts of filters and effects you can add
    • this includes a "masks" feature similar to Snapchat "lenses" that can change someone's face
  • can also be sent directly to one or more of your friends
    • and just like Snapchat, the recipient can view the photo - and then view the photo once more in 24 hours
  • can be created by simply swiping to the right to rapidly access the camera

If you reload your iOS or Android app today, you should see that the top of the app has changed. You now have:

  • a camera icon in the upper left corner that lets you open the camera
  • a "Direct" icon that gets you to images or videos sent directly to you. (Yet another messaging inbox.)
  • a bar of icons of all the friends who have posted Stories so far

And, as mentioned before, you can now swipe to the right to access the camera. If you don't have this feature today, you should within the next day or so.

Cloning Snapchat again and again...

Adding "Stories" to the main Facebook app comes as no surprise. It's been clear for a while that Facebook was jealous of all the people using Snapchat and wanted to bring them back inside Facebook's shiny walled garden. Facebook had already rolled out "stories" in their other Messaging apps:

  • Instagram Stories
  • WhatsApp Status
  • Facebook Messenger "My Day"

Of these, Instagram Stories has been viewed as successful. The WhatsApp and Messenger launches have been very recent and so it's not clear how many people will use them.

How will Facebook differentiate from Snapchat?

In their blog post, Facebook notes that:

Over the coming months, we plan to introduce new ways for the Facebook community to create their own frames and effects that can be used on any photo or video created with the new Facebook camera. Our goal is for the camera to be a home to hundreds of dynamic and fun effects that give you new ways to connect with friends, family, and your community.

We hope that with the new Facebook camera, Stories and Direct, it will be easier than ever to see the world through each other’s eyes

While it is possible in Snapchat to create a custom "geofilter", this teaser from Facebook sounds like a great bit more.

Facebook, of course, has a huge userbase. As I wrote in my "Directory Dilemma" post a few years back, users will use an app for messaging if the people they want to communicate with use that app. And the reality is that Facebook is the center of many people's communication.

So on one level, Facebook doesn't need to differentiate from Snapchat. They simply need to provide this functionality... and hope that this keeps people from opening up the yellow ghost app.

And of course, Facebook still supports regular text posts, photos, links, all of which last longer than 24 hours. They also have Facebook Live video streaming.

This is just really a way to bring "ephemeral messaging" (messages that disappear after a period of time) inside of Facebook's walls.

How many places can people post "stories"?

The question to me is really:

how many places can people realistically post their 24-hour "stories"?

Right now people have at least FIVE major options:

  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Facebook Messenger
  • WhatsApp

... and any other apps that are copying Snapchat right now.

The reality is that users won't post to all of them. They'll choose one... maybe two... and that will be it.

Many people will probably choose to stay right inside of Facebook's walls and use that. Or, if they are already using Instagram Stories, they may stay there.

But what about Facebook Messenger?

One curious aspect of this announcement is bringing direct messaging BACK INSIDE the Facebook mobile app.

Facebook has spent a couple years now moving messaging OUT of the "Facebook" app. They have forced people to use Facebook Messenger to send and receive direct messages on a mobile device.

Now using the "Direct" inbox, we can send and receive messages inside the Facebook app again.

Granted, the messages can only be viewed twice within 24 hours - and they are in the form of images or videos. But we do have messages in the Facebook app again.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook evolves these many different messaging and "stories" channels they have.

Which will YOU choose?

If you have read this far... do you see yourself using the Facebook Stories?

Or will you stay with Snapchat? or Instagram Stories?

Or are you using WhatsApp Status or Facebook Messenger "My Day"?

Or do you just wish this whole "Stories" format would go away? ;-)

Please do leave comments here or wherever this article appears on social media.


P.S. There are many other stories about Facebook Stories appearing today.



Big News! 360° photos now available for any WordPress site via JetPack plugin

360 photo

For those of us experimenting with "360-degree photos", last week's announcement of Jetpack 4.5 had a hidden but awesome feature: you can use a shortcode to embed your 360 photo or video into ANY WordPress site (that uses the Jetpack plugin).

Here is why this is so huge - up until last month, the only sites that would display 360 photos were either:

  • Facebook
  • Google StreetView

That was it. Two effectively closed walled gardens of content.

As I mentioned in my reports into a couple of For Immediate Release podcast episodes, my concern was that only Facebook users would really get this benefit. I wanted the ability to display 360 photos on any website.

On December 15, 2016, WordPress.com announced that all hosted sites could embed 360 photos or videos. This was a great step forward in bringing 360 photos out to more sites.

Then just last week version 4.5 of the JetPack plugin was released and, somewhat bizarrely, while the announcement contains no mention of this awesome new feature, an Automattic staff person confirmed the inclusion of the support in a comment.

You can read all about this new capability here:

Now, since this Disruptive Conversations site is sadly NOT on WordPress, I can't show you the features directly here. However, I've gone ahead and embedded 360 photos on two WordPress sites I have:

Those were both taken using the Google Street View application on iOS. (And yes, sometime I need to write or record a tutorial about how to do this.)

I have included the shortcodes in the blog posts so that you can see how easy this is to do. You just:

  1. Take the 360 photo using the Google Street View app on your smartphone. (This will save it to your camera roll on an iPhone.)
  2. Upload the image to your WordPress site.
  3. Use the appropriate shortcode in your blog post.

That's it!

Of course, you need the Jetpack plugin installed in your site, but that's all.

Many thanks to Automattic's Jetpack team for bringing out this capability so that we could set our 360 photos free of the walled gardens and bring them to any WordPress site!

What do you think about this? Will you try some 360 photos now?


FIR Episode 68 Available Now - Artifical Intelligence (AI), fake videos, PR trends, blockchain and much, much more

Fir68 shel 660px

Yesterday I had an incredibly fun experience starting off 2017 - and now you can share in that: For Immediate Release (FIR) episode #68 is available for listening or download at:

http://firpodcastnetwork.com/fir-68-us-actually-say/

Host Shel Holtz (in the big picture above) brought in C.C. Chapman, myself and former FIR co-host Neville Hobson as the panelists and we had an outstanding conversation that ranged widely. As noted in the show notes, the main topics included:


  • The incoming press secretary for President-Elect Donald Trump has warned us not to expect business as usual when it comes to the administration’s relationship with the media. What does that bode for the press’s ability to hold the administration accountable — and will the philosophy extend beyond the White House to business?
  • Some businesses have begun preparing for unexpected criticism from President Trump while others have already had to respond. Crisis experts are advising companies to add presidential jabs to the list of potential crises for which they must prepare.
  • Five industries are under threat from technology, according to the Financial Times: travel agents, small component manufacturers and distributors, auto insurers, financial advisers, and auto repair garages. How can they prepare (or can they)?
  • Artificial Intelligence will soon make it possible to create fake video with little effort. Think fake news is a problem now? Just wait.
  • Edelman Digital is out with its 2017 trends report. Among the issues the report raises, the panel was particularly interested in bots and conversational experiences, blockchain, and over-the-top entertainment.
  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asked users what they wanted to see Twitter improve or create in 2017. He got answers (including one from longtime social tech leader Anil Dash). In the meantime, does Twitter know yet what it wants to be when it grows up (and will its recently announced live 360 video make a difference)?
  • Apple has published is first Artificial Intelligence paper.

It was fun to be part of the panel participating live versus the usual "tech reports" that I record each week for FIR episodes. And it was fun to have the kind of dynamic exchange that Shel, C.C., Neville and I all had. We've all known each other for a long time and so it all flowed quite nicely.

Speaking of a long time, this episode also marked the start of the 13th year of the FIR podcast! That's a remarkable bit of longevity for any podcast - and congratulations are really due to Shel for keeping it going as long as he has.

Next week I'll be back to presenting my tech reports. I continue to enjoy doing so and will keep at it in the years ahead.

Meanwhile... please do give this episode 68 a listen - and please do send in any comments to the show.


Will Facebook Live Audio be good for podcasting? So many questions...

Facebook live audio

Will "Facebook Live Audio" be good for podcasters? Will it help us engage with our audiences? Will it compete with SoundCloud and other similar platforms? Or will it pull people away from traditional podcasts to keep people within Facebook's shiny walls?

On December 20, Facebook announced the impending release of "Live Audio", initially with five partners and then "early next year" to more people. There's been a great amount of discussion but as of yet I've not learned of anyone who has seen/heard one of these new Live Audio events. Here is the info I've seen so far or can speculate on:

  • Users will be able to go live with audio in a similar way to going live with video.
  • Live audio content will go out in News Feed.
  • Listeners can ask questions and leave reactions in real-time during the live audio stream.
    • Presumably listeners will also be able to leave comments and reactions after the event is no longer live. Will Facebook differentiate as they do with comments to Live Video events? (Comments during the event have a red dot next to them.)
  • Facebook users can easily share the Live Audio streams to their own feeds and friends.
  • Listening will occur inside the Facebook mobile application. There will be an important distinction between iOS and Android listeners:
    • iOS users will only be able to listen while the Facebook app is open (and the phone is not locked). The users can continue browsing through Facebook while listening.
    • Android users will be able to listen in the background while using other apps.
    • To me this means that Facebook has not yet integrated with the audio interfaces within IoS that allow other apps to play in the background or on lock screens.
  • Techcrunch reports that Live Audio streams will have a limit of four hours in length.

As far as a motivation for launching Live Audio, Facebook mentions the feedback that some publishers prefer audio as a format. They also mention that some people are in areas where Internet connectivity is too low to support Live Video. Writing over on The Drum, Sean Larkin notes that Facebook needs new advertising formats and points to a recent study from The Trade Desk showing that advertisers are looking to increase their spending on audio advertising. Audio streaming and podcasts were highest rated in that survey.

In many ways this seems a logical extension of Facebook's desire to be THE place where people spend their time on the Internet. Given the explosive growth in interest in podcasts, it seems to me only logical for Facebook to try to bring some of that attention inside their walls.

Granted, it seems Facebook's initial focus is on the audio version of "live events" versus on podcasts. But to me podcasts are an obvious extention of this tool.

My Questions

Given that we can't see the Live Audio streams yet, or the tools to produce them, I find myself with the following questions:

  • Will users be notified with special "Dan York is live" kind of messages? (I suspect yes.)
  • Will Live Audio streams show up in the new "Live" tab in the mobile app? (as Live Video streams do now?)
  • What tools will be available for streaming audio? For instance, will there be anything to help with audio levels?
  • Presumably we will have to use the Facebook mobile app to stream the Live Audio streams. Will it be able to work with any other mobile apps?
  • Will we be able to bring in intros, outros, bumpers and other audio effects? Or will it truly be raw, live audio?
  • Will Live Audio streams also be accessible outside Facebook's walls to traditional podcasting apps? i.e. would there be a RSS feed that could go into iTunes? Or will it only work inside of Facebook?
  • Will Live Audio be a place to host a podcast? Or will it be another distribution channel?
  • Will Live Audio help spread the interest in podcasts and audio streams? Or will it impact the usage of traditional podcasting apps?
  • What will the impact be on SoundCloud? Many of us have found that platform useful for quick, fast podcasts.
  • And on a techie note, could you start out in Live Video and when connectivity drops, could you drop to Live Audio? Or will they be two separate event types that need to be started separately? (I suspect the latter.)

So many questions!

Given my interest in using SoundCloud for rapid creation and distribution of podcasts, I'll be curious to see how well Facebook Live Audio might work for podcasting. It might be good... it might be too constraining.

What do you think? Are you interested in Facebook Live Audio?


P.S. Another interesting aspect - over on The Verge, Casey Newton notes the potential of Live Audio for "witnessing" events: "Live audio of police confrontations might be less conspicuous, and thus easier, to broadcast than video streams."


Twitter Launches QR Codes on iOS App - But.... Why?

Apparently seeking to keep up with Snapchat's Snapcodes and Facebook's Messenger Codes, Twitter has launched QR codes in at least the iOS app. Here are two examples of how the codes look for me (it seems to change color each time you go into the menu option):

Twitter ios qr codes

I learned of this ironically from Krishna De over in a Google+ post. I can't find any mention on Twitter's blog or website.

You get to it by going into the iOS app, tapping on "Me" in the lower right corner and then on the gear icon in the top middle to get into your Settings. You then have "QR Code" as an option:

Twitter qr code

I did try the "QR Scanner" button on the "QR Code" page and it works pretty much exactly like the equivalent function in Snapchat and Facebook. When I pointed it at Krishna's QR code in her G+ post (as displayed on my Mac's screen), the app showed me her profile and let me know I was already following her:

Twitter qrcode 4

So it works.

But I share the same question Krishna has in her G+ post: WHY is Twitter doing this?

I'm not really sure why I would promote this as a way to have people connect to me. Twitter already has the "@" mentions such as "@danyork" that easily allows people to connect to my page. It's not entirely clear to my why this is needed.

Perhaps Twitter sees this as a way to help people more easily connect. From the "QR Code" page I have the ability to tweet the photo of "Share via..." and send it through other means.

But given that the QR Scanner is buried through several levels (Main page -> Me -> Settings -> QR Code -> QR Scanner) I don't see this really being any easier than simply typing in the person's user name in the app - or sending someone the URL for my Twitter profile.

I thought about the physical printing of one of these QR codes as a way for people to get to my account, but again, with the current level of steps you need to go through it seems to be more work than most people are going to want to do.

Perhaps this is just a case, as Krishna wonders, of Twitter wanting to keep up with Facebook and Snapchat. They all have codes, so Twitter needs a code.

Or maybe this a preview of features yet to come.

What do you think? What value (if any) do you see in these kind of QR codes? Would you use it?


Writing Every Day of November - the NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo Challenges

NaNoWriMo NaBloPoMo 2016

Today is the day! Every year on November 1 some number of writers across the world challenge themselves to write EVERY SINGLE DAY in November.

Some amazingly choose to focus on writing a novel. They go the "NaNoWriMo" route, a.k.a. "National Novel Writing Month"... where "national" is really any nation in the world. Best place to learn more is the simple address: nanowrimo.org

Given that the target of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000+ words, that's a serious commitment!

Others of us, and I'll add myself this year, choose to focus instead on writing at least one blog post every day as part of "NaBloPoMo", a.k.a. "National Blog Posting Month".

NaBloPoMo started back in 2006 and since 2011 has been championed by the BlogHer community. BlogHer is supporting NaBloPoMo again in 2016, but it wasn't clear for a while if they were going to do so. Meanwhile, another group at the "Cheerpeppers" site started a "blog once a day" challenge under the name "Nano Poblano".

Regardless, the point is to challenge yourself to write every day.

And of course being in our social world, you can follow along at the hashtags #NaNoWriMo and #NaBloPoMo - and also now #Nanopoblano (the hashtags all link to Twitter here but you can find them used on other social networks as well).

For myself, I am going to give it a try. Writing (and publishing) every day. As I recently wrote, I'm struggling to write consistently... so this provides a goal for me to strive for.

Now, I won't be writing here on Disruptive Conversations every day. My personal goal is publish some article across all my various blogs each day of November. That includes the blogs at the Internet Society, my employer.

You - and I - will be able to track how I am doing at my danyork.me site where I aggregate all my posts across all my sites.

We'll see how I do!

And best wishes to everyone else who are pushing themselves to do one of these challenges this year. Let's see the writing happen!

P.S. I haven't signed up for either the BlogHer or Cheerpeppers challenges. I'm just doing this for me right now.


Facebook Says: Get Your Site Mobile-Friendly Or Your Ads Will Suffer

Fb mobile performance

If your web site isn't "mobile-friendly" yet, and you do any advertising on Facebook, well... you better make your site mobile-friendly very soon! Facebook said on Wednesday that websites will be penalized in Facebook's advertising network if they are NOT mobile-friendly. The Wall St. Journal covered this news as did a number of other sites.

I completely understand Facebook's logic here. As they say at the beginning:

Has this ever happened to you? You tap a link on your mobile device, only to have the website take so long to load, you leave before you even see it. You’re not the only one. As many as 40 percent of website visitors abandon a site at 3 seconds of delay.

People are spending more and more time on mobile—consuming content, interacting with businesses and making purchases. However, since it’s a relatively new channel, many businesses haven’t optimized their website for mobile yet and still have very slow loading times. This can lead to negative experiences for people, and problems for businesses such as site abandonment, missed business objectives and inaccurate measurement.

I agree. I abandon visiting sites on my mobile phone all the time because the sites take a long time to load.

Of course, for me, I'm following links from posts inside of Facebook, not ads, but the principal is the same.

If you haven't optimized your site for mobile yet, there are plenty of resources available. Here are a few:

Beyond Facebook ads, of course, Google announced way back in 2014 that they would be penalizing sites in search result ranking that were NOT mobile-friendly. This news this week is just another reason to get this done!

Have you made your sites mobile-friendly? If not, why not?


An audio commentary on this topic is also available:


Ello Introduces a "Buy Button", allowing creators to sell their work

Ello buy button 660

Remember Ello? The social network whose beta version happened to launch in September 2014 when everyone was upset with Facebook? With a commitment to not selling your data and not having advertising, it was a breath of fresh air coming out of Vermont and Colorado.

For a few months, many people jumped on board and tried it out.

And then the "directory dilemma" took over ... people found that the people they regularly communicate weren't on Ello... and so many people drifted back to Facebook, despite the advertising and other concerns.

However, a strong community of people did stay (and continue to join) and Ello evolved over time to position itself as "the creator's network" with a strong emphasis on art, graphic design, photography and more. (In full disclosure, I do occasionally post to my account on Ello, although not as often as I once did.)

To help support that creative community - and ultimately to hopefully help support Ello as a platform - the Ello team introduced the "Ello Buy Button" that anyone can use to sell their products through Ello. As noted in their introduction post, usage is a few easy steps:

  • Upload an image of your product
  • Click the $ icon
  • Add a link to the product in your store
  • Publish

Once you do that your image will have a green "$" icon that, when clicked/tapped, will take the viewer over to your site where they can purchase the product.

In scrolling through my feed on Ello, I do see a few of these buttons starting to appear from a few users.

In conjunction with that news, Ello also announced a "Shop" category of the Discover section of the site where you can now see and search the products for sale. (If you are logged in to Ello it is at the easy URL of https://ello.co/discover/shop.)

I am intrigued by this move, particularly because there seem to be no restrictions on the URLs you use. You seem to be able to point to any site from the image.

Now, I think this will only really work for the artists / designers / photographers who have built up a following on Ello. I've seen some beautiful artwork displayed on Ello, and this now gives people the option to obtain that artwork for themselves.

We'll have to see... the question will really be to check back in after a number of months and find out how many purchases were actually made. (Although that might be hard to gather...) Meanwhile, kudos to the Ello team for introducing this option as a way to potentially help support those who create art.


Trying a New Rule - No Social Media Usage Until I Have Created Something New

Being a writer not being distractedI'm trying something new as part of my day:
No social network usage until I have created something online.

No Facebook. No Twitter. No Instagram... Ello... Google+... or anything else.

Nothing on any of those each day until I have done something such as:

The issue is that I've noticed lately that I've been doing more consuming of content versus creating content.

And as I looked at why, I've noticed that I've been spending a longer time inside of social networks. Before I start my work day I'll fire up Facebook... and 30 or 40 minutes later I emerge. Or on a break I'll scan Twitter or Instagram... and... again time goes by.

Which isn't to say that Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / etc. aren't useful... they definitely are.

But I find I am letting them distract me into consumption of news, updates, etc., instead of creating my own.

So my little experiment is NOT to check any of those until after I've created some content in some form.

Now, I've given myself permission to "cheat" a little in that I might schedule several posts to go out in advance... but the point is to be publishing more than I am doing now.

We'll see how this goes...


Image credit: A few years ago Donna Papacosta posted a photo of this button on her Facebook page. I liked it so much that I printed it out and taped it up on the cross-bar of my office window so that every time I look up from my computer I see that image! The photo is of that image between the blinds that I have covering the window on sunny days.


UPDATE #1 - So on the second day I already failed... I was just getting going and had my phone open checking something else... and bam... I fired up Facebook and started surfing through my Newsfeed. Almost an unconscious action at this point! Will take some re-training to break this habit.


An audio version of this post is now available:


Instagram Embraces The Algorithm - Switches From Showing Newest First

Instagram

Some big news in the social media world this morning was that Instagram is embracing the algorithm. Instead of seeing posts from Instagram accounts you follow in "reverse chronological order" (newest updates first) you now will see them in an order determined by Instagram. As the company wrote in a blog post today (my emphasis added):

You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most.

To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.

Note that important part:

To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.

Your feed will "show the moments WE believe".

Instagram decides.

You have no say in the matter.

Now, of course, Instagram's parent Facebook has been doing this for years now. Twitter, too, has recently embraced the algorithm saying in February that users would start seeing "the Tweets you’re most likely to care about" at the top of your timeline..

Algorithms are not necessarily bad.

I wrote about this topic over on Ello a month ago in a post "Sometimes Algorithms Help Us" [1].

The reality is that algorithms can help us sort through the deluge of content that is exploding on all the social services. As I wrote in that Ello post referencing first blogging and then Twitter:

The deluge of content became too hard for one person to handle

Algorithms can help us sort through the deluge and try to bring to the surface the most interesting and useful items.

The big question is - who is in control of the algorithm?

Is it ME, the user?

Or is it the service/platform?

And in that case how will they potentially manipulate the algorithm toward their own ends?

The problem is that there is a great potential for abuse on the part of the service/platform. As I noted in my recent post about Facebook Reactions, Facebook manipulated users newsfeeds back in 2012 as part of an experiment about moods.

Beyond that, I know many folks, myself included, who just assume that Facebook and now Twitter (and now Instagram) will use the algorithm to manipulate our feeds to show us more advertising and sponsored posts.

They have to, really, in order to pay their investors given that advertising is really their only revenue source.

And this is the problem - the algorithm is a "black box". We, the users, have no idea what is inside of it or how it works.

The corporation is entirely in control.

They are the gatekeeper of the content we see.

Ideally we would have some degree of transparency and control. We would at least know how the algorithm is affecting what we see. But we don't for most of these services.

In their blog post today, the folks at Instagram write:

We’re going to take time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way. You’ll see this new experience in the coming months.

I hope they do listen - and I hope they do help us at least understand how the algorithm will shape what we see.

Perhaps they'll take some inspiration from Facebook that still provides (at least for the moment) the option to change to see the most recent updates:

Facebook news feed

Although I thought I saw somewhere some stat that only a very few people actually use that option.

Meanwhile, all we can do is embrace the algorithm ourselves... we have no control over the Instagram platform. That is entirely in the hands of the corporation (Facebook) behind it. If we are to continue using it, we are subject to their whims and desires.

Welcome to our brave new world where the corporations are the gatekeepers of what we see.

And, in truth, the algorithm just may help us find more interesting and relevant images within the deluge of Instagram photos.

What do you think? Will embracing the algorithm help make Instagram more interesting and useful? Or do you see this as a cynical attempt to merely get more advertising visible to us?

P.S. Many more stories about this change are appearing on Techmeme.


[1] Note to self: need to pull that post out of Ello's walls and publish it here on the open web.


Do Facebook Instant Articles Support The Open Web... or Facebook's Walled Garden?

Facebook instant articles

Will Facebook's impending opening up of its "Instant Articles" on April 12 to ALL publishers of content help the "open web"? Or will it just keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny walled garden?

As Facebook's launch announcement says in part:

We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem—slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones. This is a problem that impacts publishers of all sizes, especially those with audiences where low connectivity is an issue.

...

Facebook’s goal is to connect people to the stories, posts, videos or photos that matter most to them. Opening up Instant Articles will allow any publisher to tell great stories, that load quickly, to people all over the world. With Instant Articles, they can do this while retaining control over the experience, their ads and their data.

It sounds great on many levels and blogging pioneer Dave Winer has written passionately about "How Instant Articles helps the open web" (also published on Medium). He went on to document his Instant Articles (IA) feed and to talk about how his blog posts now automagically stream out to Facebook Instant Articles along with other services: Oh the places this post will go!

The beautiful part about Instant Articles is that it is based on good old RSS feeds ... and so with a few additions to the markup of your RSS feed you could be ready to go technically to start publishing Instant Articles. (There are a number of other steps you need to do, though.) Even better, and a point Dave definitely makes, Facebook Instant Articles will update when you make changes to your original text - something that doesn't happen with services (such as Medium) where you can syndicate your articles after you write them... but they don't update.

As Dave notes in "How IA happened from my point of view" by quoting me (in my comment left on Medium), I think this a great step in allowing publishers to easily get their content into Facebook's Instant Articles. My quote said:

"I have expected that Facebook would be focused on keeping everyone inside their shiny walled garden and thought I understood that Instant Articles involved putting your content on FB’s servers… which I now understand it *does*, but via caching of an RSS feed. Which is VERY cool!"

In my previous quick reading about Instant Articles, I had understood that it involved publishers loading their content onto Facebook's servers - and so I thought that we who publish would be forced to load our content onto FB's servers separate from our own websites.

In other words, I thought we would need to publish twice.

This, to me, would NOT support the "open web" that exists outside the big walled gardens of content that we are seeing now evolving.

I thank Dave for helping me understand that Facebook very nicely chose to base IA on the consumption of RSS feeds. This allows us as publishers to create our content once and syndicate it out to Facebook Instant Articles.

This is good and very much in line with the IndieWeb thinking around "POSSE - Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere" that I very much believe in. I applaud Facebook for making it so easy for content publishers to make our content available as Instant Articles.

BUT...

Is the existence of Instant Articles good for the open web?

Right now, when I post a link in Facebook to an article on one of my sites:

when people follow that link they view the article on MY site.

On MY web server, running somewhere out on the distributed, de-centralized and "open" web.

(Which, yes, is increasingly getting centralized in terms of content hosting providers, but let's leave that for a separate article. The point is that I currently do have multiple choices for where I host that content.)

People can interact with my site, see my content there, potentially leave comments there on the site, etc.

My site, and the content on that site, is not dependent on Facebook.

The key point about viewing Instant Articles is:

Reading "Instant Articles" keeps you ENTIRELY within Facebook's walled garden.

You read the Instant Articles inside of your Facbook mobile app. You comment and interact with the article inside of Facebook's app.

All the interaction happens within Facebook's mobile app.

Yes, as a publisher I can get analytics about my content, including via other services such as Google Analytics.

And yes, all the Instant Articles content is pulled in from my website out on the "open web". But while that content is pulled in using "open protocols",

the content is cached (stored) on Facebook's servers and made available through Facebook's own networks.

Over time publishers might start to ask:

Why not simply publish everything DIRECTLY inside of Facebook?

With Instant Articles, Facebook is already serving out my content from their servers... why don't I simplify my workflow even more by just publishing all my content natively inside of Facebook?

And if I were Facebook that would be what I would ultimately want. Even more content exclusively inside MY walled garden that would keep people staying inside those shiny walls.

Yes, User Experience Matters

Having said all of this, I do understand WHY Facebook is doing this beyond the obvious desire to keep people in their walled garden:

The mobile user experience of reading/viewing content has a HUGE need for improvement!

Even with the push by Google and many others to make the web "mobile-friendly" there is still a huge amount of room for improvement.

We need to speed up the "mobile web" and to improve the user experience.

Facebook is trying to do this with Instant Articles. Google is trying to do this with "Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)", which I'll be soon writing an article about. Apple would like to do this with Apple News.

All of those efforts, though, do speed up the mobile web ... but only for users of specific apps / browsers / etc.. Each of the efforts creates a better mobile user experience, but within their own walled gardens.

And I do understand that from Facebook's point of view the mobile user experience isn't as seamless as it could be when people are in the Facebook app and then follow a link out to a completely different look-and-feel and a completely different user experience.

It can be jarring. And it may not work all that well.

Instant Articles will bring a significantly better user experience to users of the Facebook mobile apps.

As a user of those Facebook apps, I can see that being a good thing. Admittedly I sometimes do not follow links I see in my NewsFeed because I know from experience that the site linked to loads slowly and I don't have time at that moment to wait to view that article. I want to see it NOW.

But is the price of a better user experience worth the continued centralization of content within large walled gardens?

And will anyone really care... as long as they can read their article as fast as possible?

Will I Publish Through Facebook Instant Articles?

Of course!

I'm not stupid! The reality is that right now a huge amount of the audience I want to reach is within Facebook's shiny walled garden - and uses Facebook's NewsFeed as a primary way of getting much of their content. I am there myself and do get a large number of links that I visit on a daily basis through what I see in my Facebook NewsFeed.

Like Dave Winer already does, I'm working to see what I can do to make at least a few of my sites accessible via Instant Articles by the April 12 launch. (For instance, I see WordPress plugins for IA already emerging and FB themselves provides some guidance for content management systems.)

I'll do it because my end goal is to get my content seen by the people who I want to reach.

And right now, Facebook is the way that so many people consume content.

I have to go where the conversation is happening.

Do I worry, though, about the long-term effects this may have on the "open web"?

Absolutely.

And I think you should, too.

We Need An Open Internet

We need an "open web" ... and a far larger "open Internet" ... where we don't have to ask permission to communicate, connect, collaborate and create (what many of us call "permissionless innovation").

The centralization of content, both in terms of publishing of content and consumption of content, is a very worrisome trend.

Huge, centralized walled gardens such as Facebook today can make Instant Articles "open to everyone" ... but tomorrow they could start to play much more of the "gatekeeper" role, determining:

  • precisely "who" gets to publish content to the Facebook audience (which they are already doing in a way through the process of applying for Instant Article access);
  • whether that content gets to be seen by all Facebook users (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm and could do even more now that Facebook Reactions are out);
  • whether that content gets to be seen for free - or for a price (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm for displaying Pages content and letting you "boost" content).

Yes, I'll publish through Facebook Instant Articles (assuming my feeds get approved) because it will help Facebook users more easily view my content.

And I'm glad that Facebook chose to use RSS as the base to allow us to easily publish our content as Instant Articles without having to create a separate mechanism for publishing to Facebook.

I just worry that in then end this will only help keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny and pretty walled garden ... versus interacting with the many other sites and services that make up the larger open Internet.

What do you think?

Will you start publishing your content as Facebook Instant Articles? Do you think that we as content providers have much of a choice if we want to reach people on Facebook? What do you think this will do long-term?


An audio podcast about Facebook Instant Articles is also available:


UPDATE #1 - In a bit of synchronicity, Dave Winer published a new post - Who should support IA and how - at about the same time as I posted mine. He suggests that IA should be used as essentially the improved plumbing to make the mobile user experience better across different platforms and walled gardens. I don't disagree.. but I wonder how many of the other walled gardens (ex. Twitter, Medium) would actually support Facebook's protocol. (Sounds like a topic for another blog post...)


Questions I Have About Facebook Reactions

Facebookreactions

After using Facebook Reactions for two days now (after writing about it on Wednesday), I find myself overall pleased with the ability to do more than just "Like" a post. Sure, I would like more "reactions" (most notably the ability to leave a "WTF" reaction to most current political posts!) but I also understand the need of the designers to limit the choices. (This Wired article had some good insight into the design challenges.)

But now I find myself wondering:


1. Will this change DECREASE the number of text comments?

Previously because the only option was to "like" a post, if there was one that was sad (ex. death of a loved one or pet) I would often write something. Now there is the option to choose "Sad". Ditto for the other reactions.

2. Will this change INCREASE the number of interactions?

On the other hand, now you do have options when you don't want to "like" a post but just don't know what to say in words. Previously you might have NOT engaged with the post at all. Now you could choose a reaction as a way of interacting. As a friend wrote on Facebook:

now people who weren't going to take the time to write out a text comment anyway will be able to at least express something because they now have a choice other than just like or nothing.

3. Will Facebook share the Reactions data with Page administrators?

For Facebook Pages, when we go into the "Insights" area, will we be able to see the different "reactions" to a post? I suspect the answer is "yes", but on any of the Pages for which I am an administrator I haven't yet seen people using Reactions. (I imagine I'll be able to answer this myself in a little while as people use the reactions more.)

4. How well will the use of these reactions enable Facebook to target advertising?

Let's be clear, rolling out these reactions helps Facebook in a massive way with being able to better target you for advertising. If you previously "liked" a post about, oh, kale ... but in truth were only doing it because you liked that the person shared the post, Facebook might have interpreted that as support and showed you ads about kale.

Now you can choose "Angry" as a reaction to any article about kale, which Facebook could then use to NOT show you positive ads about kale, but perhaps instead ads for the "kale-haters" club or something like that.

(I should note that I can't recall ever actually clicking on an ad in Facebook, but maybe some day I will.)

5. Will Facebook use the Reactions information to tweak what is displayed in our NewsFeed?

For instance, if I use an Angry reaction for every political article about Donald Trump, will Facebook change my NewsFeed to show me fewer Trump articles? (But what if I like being angry?)

There seems like there could be a great possibility for manipulation of the NewsFeed and thus of people's emotions. (As Facebook did as a test back in 2012.)

6. Will Facebook provide information to the public about the use of Reactions?

Will Facebook ever provide some aggregate data about how people are using Reactions? For instance the number of posts with each reaction... or the percentages of usage of the different reactions?

Facebook obviously has the capacity to gather all this data on a truly massive scale. It would be great if at some point they could provide some views into what kind of usage they are seeing.


Obviously question #3 I may soon be able to answer myself, but the others are ones that I'll continue to wonder about.

What about you? What do you think about Facebook Reactions? What questions do you have?


An audio commentary on this topic is available:


Get Ready For A Whole New Facebook Experience As Reactions Launches Today

Oh, my! Get ready for a major change in your Facebook NewsFeed TODAY as Facebook makes "Reactions" available globally. Now when you are in a desktop web browser and you hover your cursor over the "Like" link, you get a pop-up menu where you can choose a reaction other than to simply "like" a post:

Facebook reactions

Alerted to this by a post from the ever-watchful Christopher Penn on Facebook, I confirmed that Reactions also works in Facebook mobile apps. On the iOS app if you just quickly tap the "Like" button you will "like" that post as you always have done. But if you hold down your tap just a moment longer, you will get a pop-up menu:

FB reactions mobile

After you have chosen one of these reactions, it will then appear at the bottom of the post in both an emoji form and in a text word visible to you:

FB reactions after

As with a standard "Like" you can just tap the word to remove the reaction. If you do the longer tap you can change your reaction.

Now, on my iPhone, I had to kill off the Facebook app and re-launch it in order for the reactions to appear but once I did that it worked fine.

The six "reactions" are:

  • Like
  • Love
  • Haha
  • Wow
  • Sad
  • Angry

I expect we'll initially see a lot of playing around with these reactions as people experiment with the reactions, but longer term I do see a value in this increased range of reactions. For instance, there are certainly news posts being passed around right now that I want to indicate that I'm glad someone shared... but I certainly don't "like" the content of the news post.

Similarly when a tragic event happens in someone's life and I may not have the words to say in a comment, it hasn't felt right to "like" their post - this now gives an option of "Sad". Having said that... I can think of some posts that I "dislike" but that are not "sad" and don't rise to the level of me being "angry". My option there may be to continue to simply do nothing.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see what this does to our NewsFeeds over the next few days and over the weeks ahead.

What do you think? Do you like having the new "reactions"? Will you use them? Or do you think they are unnecessary? Will you just stick with the plain old "Like"?

And what "reaction" will you give this blog post when you see it on Facebook? ;-)


UPDATE #1 - After a few hours of using Reactions, a couple of additional points.

1. Only for posts, not comments - the Reactions buttons appear only for the "Like" link for a post / status update / photo / etc. If you want to react to a comment you are still limited to "Like".

2. Notifications mention reactions - when you see pop-up notifications or look in your list of notifications, the new Reactions are displayed separately from the traditional Likes.

FB reactions notifications

One thing to keep in mind, too, is that beyond helping you express yourself more, the Reactions also help Facebook in more accurately tracking what you think about NewsFeed items and therefore allowing them to more carefully target advertising to you.


UPDATE #2 - A very large number of articles about Reactions up on Techmeme.

This article in Wired provides a good view into the design of the Reactions and the testing that wound up with the 6 reactions launched today.


The First Step To Successful Writing/Blogging Is To Put Words On The Screen

Typewriter

The first step to successful writing or blogging is very simple...

write something!

Put words on the page or on the screen.

End the tyranny of the "blank page" or "blank screen".

Start... somewhere.

Write... something.

And then, in the case of blogging, hit the almighty "Publish" button and send your words out into the ether for others to find and consume.

Danyork feb2016 bloggingI've been struggling with this a good bit myself lately. If you look at my danyork.me site and see the calendar on the right side for this month (Feb 2016), the dates in blue are when I have published blog posts or articles across any of the 12+ sites where I write. This includes the Internet Society main blog and Deploy360 site, where writing on those sites is part of my job.

It's pretty sparse for someone who claims to be a "writer".

There are a zillion excuses and explanations I can give, of course. I've been "too busy". I've been caught up in "planning" for future events and activities. I've been sucked into "research". I've been writing words for articles and posts that are published under other people's names. I've been very tired with some other activities going on. I just haven't had the time.

All of which are true. But all of which are irrelevant.

The truth is that we prioritize what is important to us... and there's always time in there for dashing off even a small post such as this one.

Yesterday I stumbled upon a recent post from Greg Ferro titled "Blogging Success Is Simply About Doing" where he writes this:

You can be guaranteed that nothing will happen if you publish nothing. I can guarantee that something will happen if you publish something.

Exactly.

The first step is to ... write something.

Today, this post is that "something" for me.

What will yours be?


An audio commentary on this topic can be found in TDYR 289: