3/09/2010

Interdome Content-Object Shakeup

Been thinking a lot about Tim's (of Quiet Babylon internet-fame) project, "Unlink Your Feeds".

The problem of multiple, interlinked feeds has long been a burgeoning neurosis of mine.

Let me share my problems with you!!!

I love interconnectivity. I use my Google account with great zest, trying out the new features as they add them. A lot of them are useful, but a lot of them I try to use, simply because having everything linked together makes it easy to experiment. I don't have to invent a new password and username to try X service, I just click the link. If I don't like it, I just stop using it, and never pay it another thought.

Additionally, Google's interconnectedness is a huge plus. There are plenty of portals and application uses between Gmail, Docs, Calendar, and so on, which I don't have to spell out for you. I use my iGoogle page as my widget desktop, and then access my cloud holdings from there. The interconnectedness makes it superior in function even when it lacks particular features, and all of this has made me continue using Blogger rather than going solely to Wordpress, caused me to shun Facebook, and even avoid using Twitter for a long time.

But Twitter... oh, oh Twitter.

It's just too damn easy. All those one-line witticisms I come up with during the day, with no one to share them. The ease of retweeting, rather than saying something original. The ability to take a picture of a strange car and share it with the world, all from my cell phone, while still driving with my knees.

Twitter isn't owned by Google.

So, I have this other feed going. In addition to my RSS feed, and my Reader feed. Now that I know what a wonderful world Twitter is, I get curious as to what the hold-outs who refuse to get Twitter are saying on Facebook. And I think maybe I should start cross-posting to Facebook.

Then they created Buzz, which is the Google-Twitter I always wanted, except that it still sucks, so everyone read on Twitter is still only on Twitter. So I linked my Twitter feed to Buzz, as well as my reader account.

And now I live in this hellish world I have helped create.

Tim is right--we cannot live like this. And while the idea of cutting the feeds free, and using each as each is best suited has a nice, Marxist "to each according to his need" sort of feel, I still have this need for interconnectedness. I just can't blog, feed Reader, Tweet, Buzz, and Facebuke (the verb?) separately and simultaneously. Hell, I'm supposed to be writing books! I still want to maintain my Internet presence, and read what I want to read, so there has to be some over lap.

How, oh, how, can I make all this damn technology work for me?

The secret to using a Google Account, in my opinion, is to be flexible, and also to be patient. Many things work, and over time, Google makes them work better. And, work better together. Also, as I experiment with different tools, I change my use of them as they work, and work differently, together. Only recently did Google Docs get to a point where I was comfortable doing serious writing with it. And, since I spend less time online in "open surf mode" than I used to, I now only bookmark certain feed posts, rather than keep detailed notes about various web sites.

The same is possible with my feeds. I think I've hit upon a way to link them so that people who want to know what the deal is can still find out, without redundancy, and with most of the input automated.

This is the way it is working now:

I am looking at these feeds in terms of objects of communication. Any feed-ready information posted to the web is an object, treated as an individual, accessible, feedable piece. Different classes of objects hold different amounts and kinds of content, which may or may not overlap other objects' capacities for content.

Additionally, certain objects may have a certain shape, which allows them to fit into different data flows or lines of assembly (feeds). For example, I can set up Buzz to attach Twitter-objects to Buzz-objects in my Buzz feed. However, this shape is a shape of intensive flows (in the sense that it allows a certain change-of-state transition of the object, rather than a transitivity, like A = B = C). I'm getting all complicated with my terms, but basically, think of it like how yeast can bake into a loaf of bread, but bread cannot be dissected back into yeast. A Buzz-object cannot be translated into a Twitter-object (at least not yet).

RSS is the smallest common denominator in terms of objects, more or less. Any feed, be it Twitter or Facebook or a blog, almost always has an RSS feed generated with it. There are various tools to mash RSS feeds together, Yahoo Pipes being the most well-known. However, I am doing this because I don't want to create a new feed, I want to merge and ally the feeds of services I already use. Many of these services also have APIs, and perhaps I could work out some sort of program for managing my posts among the feeds. However, I'm not so skillful in the programming department. Also, if I use the recognized features of these different feed services already in existence, I'll probably be in better shape down the line to adjust to new features, and also I have the services' dependability to fall back on.

Content-wise, Twitter is the smallest common denominator. You can't find anything smaller than 140 characters. I also use Twitter most frequently, because of its small content size.

Additionally, many objects translate into Twitter-objects. Via Feedburner, I can make my blog posts echo as Tweets. Using Tweetdeck, my mobile Twitter client, I can post to Facebook and Twitter simultaneously.

Granted, it is annoying to see someone's high score in a video game echoed as a Twitter post. However, I've been posting less and less on the blog, and when I do, it is a often something that started as a Tweet, but then grew too long. In this way, the Twitter-object derived from my blog's RSS feed is just a link to a memo, a "please see my memo re: X". The duplication is, in a sense, to force people to choose. Either they want my full feed, and tune in to the Twitter feed for the details, or if they wish they were spared my constant witticisms, they can just go to the blog RSS.

It is not yet possible to auto-transmute my Reader shared RSS to Twitter, but that's okay, because I can always post a single Reader item to Twitter via a sidebar tool. This is probably for the best, because I can share anything interesting to those who like my reading tastes, but reserve only the "mainstream" articles for my main, common denominator feed.

Buzz can, and in my case is posting all of these things together in one, lump feed. It is a taste of the chaos. But, because Buzz has set out to aggregate all of these things, it is less of a network in itself, with its own flavor, and more of simply an aggregator. The cool part is, it shows up in my Google profile, so if anyone happened upon me via Google, they could get a good taste of what I'm into on the Internet.

Blogger, with all the new Gadgets you can add into it, is looking more and more like MySpace every day. But this flexibility is good for me. I now have two columns here. One to store these text essays, and the other to provide an easy way to examine the difference between my feeds. The Twitter feed, on the top, is the general feed. Next is the blog only, then my Brute Press stuff only, then other-source RSS only. All of it retains its original, unique feed-object character and content, while one feed, the Twitter feed, acts as the main door way, strictly under my control.

Control, after all, is what this is all about. It's a personal micro-manager's Internet dream. The solution I just described for myself will undoubtably not work for anyone else. This probably won't even be my own solution in six months, as I discover new tools, and start using the tools I have differently.

This is the key philosophical lesson of Internet content, content-objects, and object feeds. (You knew there was going to be a philosophical lesson, didn't you?) If you told people in the blog boom that they would be abandoning their blogs for a service where you tapped in 140 characters with your thumbs from your cell phone, they would have thought you were crazy. Same thing if you tried to sell Gutenberg a Kindle, or some other such foolish spatial-temporal technology metaphor-mashup. I'm sure whatever's next will also be just as weird as the present, and the past. Time is aggregation, after all.

The tools we have to communicate change the way we communicate. Big surprise, no? I'm sure we'll eventually figure out our feeds, so we don't have to read cross-posts anymore. Otherwise we'll drown in echoes, or suffocate in Internet Balkanization catatonia. People will sort out how to mean what they want to mean to the people they want to mean it to. Right now, to me, I'm directing my meaning to the people who follow me on Twitter. If you don't like that feed, please consider the other options to the left. If you don't like that, there is plenty of other Internet out there.

This way, both my communications and the people to whom I communicate can grow towards each other and into each other, like roots into the earth.

1 comment:

Julius Beezer said...

Great post!

I think my internet use is more solipsistic than yours: I surf, I read my tweets, I'm loving my delicious network, then it all gets automagically aggregated in friendfeed, which gives a nice personal timeline of where I've been.

I'm excited, of course, that other people who share my interests can tune in, but like my writing--for which my primary motivation is to be able to say: "That guy really nailed it: that's just what I think" my primary motivation is to support my own lamentable memory. I can the hell find that page I saw three weeks ago that now seems so relevant to share, and I'm finding friendfeed is a really nice aggregator for a timeline of my thoughts in relation to the internet.

If other people are reading anything I've clocked, tagged, noted, bookmarked, flagged, or otherwise touched, that's great, but it's not really why I do it.

I'm slightly worried that I've leased 95% of my bibliotic memory to two big companies, namely Google and Yahoo, but the next great thing is just a mouseclick away, and I think they know that, and it keeps them pretty straight.