Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Problem with Posting

There are too many venues, that's the problem. I have no audience, and still 'publish' in 3 places: blogger, twitter, and I'll go ahead and consider my reader shared items. Of course, with the recent updates to reader shared items, what is the point in posting to twitter anymore (was there every a point?)? I can post random notes to my shared items without any associated link... that's what I do on twitter (I know, I know, you can't follow anybody in reader... unless you sign up for their shared feeds). On the flip side, I can post links on twitter, but why bother if they are shared through reader? And I don't do any real amount of multimedia (pictures, video) posting, but I can't imagine things would be better if I did. And this is just my own individual decentralized posting. What about the people I follow, the random networks they're all on, and services they use. We're all on different IM/blog/microblog/social networks, and it's a mess.

Everyone (e.g., here's two) is abuzz today (I guess yesterday now, sorry) about myspace joining dataportability. And it is good news. I think it's only a first step (one of many first steps being made), which is clearly valuable. Nothing will apparently come out for a few weeks, but I'd still like to think about what's next (since I have been anyway). Perhaps something like the following:

From my main page I can post new material, manage my friend networks, maintain my profile, manage access to my material and profile, and read all of the material people have sent me. Let's start with friend networks. I've set up lots of little networks for myself (instead of signing up to whichever ones online) - some friends are in several of the networks, some are people I've never met (imported from my twitter/blog followers). Some are people I'll only communicate with via email, others are more instant message sorts of friends. Some are people that I'll never hear from, but who've decided to read what I've got to say. Others are the opposite, people I read but will probably never communicate to. The university has set up a network for the class I'm teaching, as well as a network for the faculty and staff. I've got lots of information about some of these people (close friends, online family), and little more than a username for plenty more (blog followers). I've got all of my contacts, at all levels, accessible in one place.

When I want to post something new, I distinguish it as a noted link, or a global tweet, or a local tweet, or a blog post, or a geophysical post (or...?), or I pick an individual out to send a message (email, IM? same thing). So my random twitter followers only get to see my global tweets (and noted links, or links to new blog posts I make, if I want to allow that), while my closer friends might see my local tweets (as well as global ones). Generally I put random 'what I'm doing' tweets in the local bit, and random 'interesting thought' (to me) tweets in the global bit. I've also set things up so that the world can see my blog posts and global tweets (though if I wanted to make an exception for any individual post, it'd be easy to do). My geophysical posts go out to people physically nearby (I've set it up to broadcast to listeners in c'ville, since that's where I almost always am. More advanced (mobile) users can hook things up with their phone to broadcast to local listeners wherever they are). I don't use this feature much, but I hear it's popular. Sometimes when I get bored I take a look at other people's local messages. Or post a message asking if anybody is up for a run this afternoon, or some frisbee.

So how do people see what I've posted? You must have noticed that in the above I only talk about generating content, not presentation. When somebody goes to my base address (like my server points them to the suggested presentation means (for example, a link to a blogger template), which is something I've customized (added various widgets, changed the layout, etc). But since my data is all stored in standardized formats, it is quite likely that individuals accessing my page have set up their browsers to ignore my suggestion (actually, probably set things up to not even bother asking), and will use their own template. This is a natural extension of the sorts of post-production scripts people already run (greasemonkey, ad-block plus).

People can see my global posts without any further interaction on my part, because I've set things up to automatically accept requests to join my global feeds (there's nothing stopping people from joining the rss feed for my blog, or tweets). When somebody signs up, it shows up in my list of friends, under my global followers. This list is mostly only used as a distribution list for when I write something new, but I also feel like it's polite to then sign up for my followers feeds (most of the time). When I meet new people, I can add them to my various friend networks and they will then be able to follow my posts, if they want. If somebody annoys me, I can remove them from the list, and they won't get my (vitally important) updates. I can even block them from signing up again.

What's great about this system is that it handles all of my online communication. Emails, IMs, tweets, blog postings, feed subscriptions all come and go through this personal communication channel. I mean... IMs are just rapid-fire emails, emails are just individually-audienced blog posts, RSS feeds are emails you don't respond to (but you are, of course, encouraged to make insightful comments concerning). Now I've got one system to both send and receive all of it.

Perhaps some people will have this set up through some company. Like amazon hosts everything for you, or myspace (given recent events). These companies will provide nice ways to interface with all of your data, but the better ones also make it easy to bundle up your data and take it to a different service. Open source projects will also provide these services, but you'll still have to find a host (surely there is an analogy to setting up a wiki using twiki, or a bulletin board using phpbb).

And one day, perhaps a nice cloud will come along, and I can have my setup there, so I don't have to worry about porting my data. Semantic web technologies will determine the content of my posts, and little autonomous agents will wander around the cloud, telling people that are interested in such content that I've posted something new. And dually, I'll have little agents wandering around gathering up things they think I'll find interesting (instead of wading through rss feeds for blogs that don't have a focused topic), and sending little links back to me. They'll not stop at forwarding pages, but will send me directly to the original author (so instead of looking at the digg page for an article, I just see the article (and perhaps a note it made it to digg)). The comments generated by anybody, anywhere, will all (mod privacy) be accessible to me. My little agents are turning up more and more interesting items every day...

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