The evolution of a blog: enter the lifestream

If you’re a regular visitor to Groundling, you may have noticed that the last few days’ posts have been little compendiums of my online reading for the day. I haven’t posted any original material, but have chosen instead to share my day’s discoveries with my readers.  Lazy blogger? Mmm … well I don’t believe in posting when I don’t have anything to say, and whilst this temporary writer’s block isn’t going to last too much longer (I’m working on something dear reader, honestly), I’m banking on visitors here being perhaps interested in some of what floats by me or grabs my attention during the day.

Like many of us who blog I have a lot of other sites which require a certain amount of maintenance. What’s coming to be called a ‘life stream’ or the sum total of our posts and commentary on the web needs somewhere to call home. I want it to be here on Groundling – a hub, if you like that can take you out and beyond this site, but which also provides some return for your finding your way here. I’ve been working at the best way to do this. You’ll see my Friend Feed widget over there in the sidebar. This is a start, but there are other sites which I work in or visit, and which don’t create so much as a ripple here.  I’m referring especially to the many terrific posts which pop up daily in my subscription feeds to other blogs and websites.

Most articles from these feeds relate to Groundling’s interests, and would find a congenial place here snuggled up with other posts on creativity, performance, design, arts business … all the topics I write about.  Up to now I have tended to share particularly interesting material from these feeds via a ‘like’ or ‘share’ click directly from Google Reader or Feedly (a Mac desktop reader).  Shared posts then appear on my Google shares page, whilst ‘liked’ posts more recently have found themselves ported into my Friend Feed; I’ve set it up this way.  Other material I find and share during the day will arrive eventually in Friend Feed via Tumblr, Flickr, Vimeo, Facebook etc.  I do use these other sites selectively however: obviously Flickr for photos, Vimeo for video, but Tumblr for example tends to be for quotes that I like, whilst Facebook is for me, pretty much a ‘niche’ area which I quarantine from most other social sites.  In other words, I don’t send anything to Facebook automatically via Friend Feed.  Because of the way I have set it up, Friend Feed then streams selected posts out to Twitter.

Now while this reliance on Friend Feed works well for most of my finds, given the nature of the fast-flow in Friend Feed and Twitter, most of the links are quickly washed downstream and out of sight. Its rare to get an RT (retweet) or a comment in Twitter or Friend Feed after about 20 minutes – unless, of course, you post when a good portion of your followers or friends, especially those in another time zone, are otherwise occupied or asleep.  These usually get back to you within 12 hours or so,  if at all.  Now getting a comment or being re-tweeted is not my main intention in sharing via social networks. I also like to archive the more interesting or substantial links, and stash them away for research and reference. However, there’s no denying that stimulating conversation is one of the reasons I’ve engaged with social media. Here’s the rub: I’ve got lots of places where conversation and comment could happen, and whilst I’m pulling lots of these via Friend Feed, which any visitor here can access over there on the right, along with the latest tweets and Audioboos,  I’d like to pull even more into Groundling if I can – into the mainstream of the blog post – and make this the prime focus of my social networking as well a comment enabler on posts.  I want a workflow that meets all of my needs, and whilst I haven’t quite cracked it, I’m well on the way.  About those daily link readings … here’s how I set up automatic publication of my likes and shares to Groundling.

I check my feeds in Feedly on a daily basis – you may prefer every second day, or whatever rhythm suits.  Then, rather than ‘like’ or ‘share,’  I tag selected posts using a bookmartlet,  and add them to my Delicious site.  As far as each of these links is concerned, I read each post and write a brief introduction – I hate bare hotlinks!  I also keyword-tag these posts in the Delicious posting pane to make it easier to search for a particular article at a later stage.  Having got my links into a searchable, archivable site, the next step is to get them from Delicious to my blog on a regular basis.  To do this I set up the automatic Blogposting feature which you’ll find under ‘Blogging’ on your settings page in Delicious.  The default title for each of these daily posts is ‘Daily links plus the date.’ If you want to change this to something else, download the WordPress Delicious Daily Blogpost Fixer plugin which will do the job admirably; it’s at work here.  What I now have is an automatic post of my daily links straight from Delicious to Groundling.  Now here’s the good bit, and a productivity geek’s delight. I downloaded the WP FFDirect plugin which means that every post published here is pinged immediately to Friend Feed – the daily links as well as other posts. From there, because of the way I’ve set Friend Feed up, my post notifications also go out to Twitter. Set and forget, cover all the bases. Love it.

With this blog as the prime site, I’m starting to get my material flowing the way I want it in my lifestream. But of course, like a garden, it’s a work in progress. Stay tuned!

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Life snippets: a collector’s tale

I’ve been collecting snippets of my life for years. I guess I am a confirmed diarist at heart, although the collection process is random and not nearly as organised as it might be. I’ve had a camera since I was 11 years old – a Box Brownie as I recall – and have been collecting images from the world around me since then. I’ve kept journals and diaries – especially when I travel, and with the advent of portable audio recording tools back in the early 1980s, started grabbing bits of my life this way as well. For a long time my collections were a diaspora – scattered far and wide. Diaries got too hard to organise, and got shoved in big boxes – audio cassette tapes likewise. I won’t even start with the photos and negatives, hundreds – probably thousands of them tucked away in drawers and boxes, fading away. The movies are few and far between; I’ve relied more on still photography to capture the world out there, that is until I got a small, dedicated, very portable, and easy to use video camera earlier this year (a Creative Vado HD).

Where is all this going? Well, until the advent of digitisation, my packratty collection of memorabilia lay scattered. Now I have the opportunity and the means to convert my stuff and share it – publish it around. Some of this takes time: scanning old photos for example can take forever, but the results are well worth it, especially after the magic of Photoshop or iPhoto has been put to use getting rid of scratches and blotches. As for diaries or traveller’s tales – apart from a quick scribble in a tiny notebook to jog the memory when I got back to the keyboard, I stopped keeping a hardbacked diary when I found out about blogs. I now share photos on Flickr or Facebook, videos on Vimeo, or in the case of private materials for my family and friends only on my Mobile.Me gallery. With the advent of aggregation tools like Friend Feed, I can suck in all my tools and apps from around the web and share in the one spot. The easier the better say I. I want to be able to access the stuff as easily as I can create it. Bottom line though: always back up your digitised collections in a different place. Burn to a DVD and put in a safe or keep away from your home, or send your files into a ‘cloud.’

My absolute favourite collector’s tool right now in terms of ease of creation and sharing has to be Audioboo. I recorded this Boo earlier today. It’s about the delight of re-experiencing a moment in your life via the intimacy of another’s voice – in this case, my children’s voices recorded on Christmas Eves and birthdays over the years.

Listen!

The process of recording, copying, and sharing used to be laborious – I had the collection of cassette tapes digitised by a tech friend 10 years ago. With Audioboo you just click and record on your iPhone, then click and share with the world; it’s the same spontaneous (though you can pause and resume) process that I used all those years ago with our trusty, kid-friendly cassette tape-recorder-player, but how much simpler. The original cassette tapes are tucked away in the safe, but I now have a version which I can share far and wide. It is a precious artefact that my kids and I adore. I recommend your grabbing some audio moments in your life for later; you won’t regret it.

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Friend Feed and Twitter – an experiment

I followed a reasonably heated Friend Feed debate-thread some days ago. It was initiated by someone complaining about Twitter ‘crap’ appearing in the Friend Feed Home feed and supposedly diverting or undermining ‘meaningful’ threaded conversation; it was clearly a gate-keeper post by someone who felt Friend Feed’s real strength was being diluted by these disembodied 140-character cross-posts from Twitter, many of which are (let’s face it) if not crap,  then often meaningless or tiresome.  That particular thread kept popping back up into the lead position on the Home feed over the course of the conversation, proving the point about Friend Feed’s ability to thread and keep commentary real-time.

Now anyone who tells anyone else on a social network how to use a particular tool is going to get some strongly opinionated comment, some of it useful, some inflammatory or defensive,  and this is just what happened.  The conversation petered out eventually, but it provided food for thought.  On reflection I’m sure part of the problem is that many users – including myself – had not taken the time after signing up for the service to learn how to use Friend Feed to their advantage.  Having created a Friend Feed account with a link to their Twitter account and other social network apps,  they continue to work in Twitter. What happens then is that their stream of tweets or Face Book status updates also appear in Friend Feed in an apparently random stream of so-called junk.  I know I’ve had more than a few cross-posting bloopers between various social networking sites in the past, and was concerned that my own random use might not be contributing to the problem. I decided to experiment in the use of both apps, and it began by getting to know Friend Feed a little better.

I’ve written in the second post in this series on how I went about this.  I’d suggest that if you already have an account, or are considering getting one, that you spend some time in the Friend Feed tools page and decide what you want from this application. If Twitter works for you, then stay in that stream; don’t dissipate your energies by signing up for another app that isn’t going to add anything to your social networking needs. You might even consider deleting your Friend Feed account, or at the very least, unchecking the cross-post from Twitter. There’s a good reason for this apart from the spammy-ness of dozens of your tweets flowing through Friend Feed while you’re not there. Jesse Newhart posted a thoughtful video last week that asked ‘Are You a Social Media Hologram?’ It’s worth a look in the context of how you operate as a presence in the social network neighbourhood.

I preceded my experimentation with a search to find out who of my Twitter friends also had Friend Feed accounts. I then bulk subscribed to them all. This is easy to do from the Friend Feed sign up page.  I should also say that many of my Friend Feed subscribers are not part of my Twitter clan, although I’m sure they have Twitter accounts; we just didn’t meet at the Twitter party.  I decided to begin my experiment by working from within Friend Feed ‘natively’ for one day, and with no cross-posting at all to Twitter.  The added benefit here would be that I would avoid some of the less interesting stuff that flows through the stream: the links, the endless quotes, the memes, the hashtag stuff.  The upside, I hoped, would be more engaged conversation.

I sent out a message via Twitter first thing on the first morning of my experiment indicating that I was not ‘at home’ in Twitter that day, but over on Friend Feed.  I wondered who, if any, would care whether or not they got any of my posts.  If they weren’t on Friend Feed they wouldn’t see me at all … unless it were via other social networking services … like an RSS feed that I had linked through to Twitter, or my Flickr or Tumblr uploads. However these were not conversational pieces … though they could well be RTd or commented upon.  I responded to every tweet that arrived from a friend but without cross-posting back to Twitter.  One or two only used Friend Feed to get back to me; and a threaded conversation began.  Meanwhile I engaged as actively as I could with conversations from others in Friend Feed’s Home stream. By and large, the conversation and the experience was satisfying,  with threaded conversations and especially images to accompany posts.

Why were most of my comments on tweets ignored? For a few reasons:  Twitter friends had not subscribed back to me on Friend Feed – odd this – or they were not using the application that day, or my comment was being ignored.  It’s not unknown over on Twitter for an @ (a reply to someone) to be ignored deliberately or otherwise – sometimes the stream is just too fast-flowing and you can miss lots of good stuff  (part of the problem of course).  I suspect it was for all of these reasons.  Anyhow, on Day 1 and working natively from Friend Feed, my tweetage dropped way down, my conversations were more meaningful and diverse, whilst another side-effect was that I received one only new follower instead of the usual 20 or so.  Drop below the radar for a while and your followers drop off too!

The losers that day, if losers is the right word, were those others in my active Twitter community who are not Friend Feed users, and with whom I converse regularly.  I hoped that my one and only tweet about being over in Friend Feed would explain my absence for 24 hours or so.  What I didn’t miss at all were most of the other tweets that flowed right on by. So, the first part of the experiment showed me that not all who are subscribed to Friend Feed actually work there natively, and that apart from contributions from my Twitter-only friends, I got much better bang for my posts over the fence on Friend Feed.

Day 2 and I continued working natively in Friend Feed, but this time I CCd my Friend Feed posts and comments on incoming tweets back to Twitter. This meant my non-Friend Feed contacts were included in the conversation – more chat.  However, subsequent tweets from them on the same topic would arrive disconnected from the originating comment in Friend Feed.  It was still not perfect, but better. My Discussions page on Friend Feed was ‘cleaner’ and the conversations of the day were easier to track down.

Perhaps the biggest bang of all was finding out who actually was active in conversation with me during these couple of days.  Despite having well over one thousand followers, and following 700, I actually engaged actively over those couple of days with far, far fewer.  During the experiment I created a group in Seesmic Desktop called ‘NFF’ (Not on Friend Feed), and every time a tweet arrived directly to me, or I had a reply to a comment (originating out of Friend Feed), or got an RT of one of my comments, or was mentioned in another’s tweet,  I placed the user in the NFF group. Now I had sifted out those who really engaged with me.  Whilst I follow some from whom I never expect to hear, I’m focussing more on those Twitter people I’m gradually adding to the NFF group. I’ll try to encourage them to try Friend Feed; it’s partly what this series of posts is about, but perhaps they are not interested in working out how to use another social networking app. Perhaps Twitter or Face Book is perfectly adequate for them, and that’s fine too.

Meantime, I’m staying in Friend Feed, working sparingly out of Twitter, and gradually wrangling the tools so that I keep up without compromising the quality of my engagement with my networks.

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Back to Base

I wrote this in my last blogpost a month ago:

I’ve been using Friend Feed for a week now and find it immensely useful to track my own friends’ postings from diverse services.  Once travel proper commences this weekend, posts via any of my services wll find their way here. Kind of cheating I know … but it’s the (so-far) easiest way I’ve found to keep faith with entries here whilst away.Spinning a Learning Web, Jul 2008

It’s exactly one month since I sat down to write a blog post per se here on Spinning. I’ve been on holidays in Europe so there hasn’t been much reflection on e-learning at all. However, I’ve kept up my micro-blogging by using Friend Feed as an aggregator using Twitter and Flickr – a bit the way postcards grab an image and a message. It has worked nicely as you can see via the widget embed in my previous post referred to above.

Twitter ended up being the tool of choice as I could text entries from my mobile iPhone wherever I had a signal, and at inexpensive rates. I could have integrated any number of other services available on Friend Feed, but chose to stick with the 140 postcard-size snatch that Twitter allows.

Although I decided to take my G4 laptop (love that thing) I did not aways have wireless access. When I did, I could upload selected photos from Flickr. Doing this via my mobile phone would have been prohibitive on my current plan as I found last year. Thanks to Sarah Stewart for suggesting I pack my little card-reader to upload from any computer.

I did miss video posts via Seesmic however. I couldn’t use Seesmic as the G4’s one drawback is its lack of on-board camera. Next time, and with the proliferation of free wireless as there appears to be in European cities right now, it should be possible for the traveller to log video posts.

Updates happened quickly and automatically via the FriendFeed widget embed in the post – nice.

Home again with jetlag drifting away slowly, and it’s time to close the FriendFeed ‘room’ that has been aggregating all my travel content in the blog. However, I’ve noticed that entries from the aggregated services continue to flow through to the embedded widget. This is an irritant, given that the intention here was to capture my travel thoughts in the special Friend Feed room, and not the subsequent tweets, image uploads and entries from various other services. Closing down the ‘room’ does not stop the flow. This is a design matter that the Friend Feed developers could address i.e., provide a ‘room’ widget as well as a general Friend Feed widget.

Meantime, if you are interested in what I got up to during my month in summery Europe, you can read all about it at my Friend Feed. It might convince you to get your own, or take off on a holiday!

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