Brian Shaler

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A Year and a Half of Dust

I didn’t write a single post on this blog during 2013.

2013 was a pretty intense year. Not too intense to write blog posts—I shared updates, photos, and check-ins throughout the year using various social networks.

Lately, I have been getting frustrated with those platforms.

The motivations of the social networking companies (ad publishing businesses) don’t always align with the goals of the users. Are they helping connect people with their friends? Or with brands?

As tools, they tend to break down as people use them differently. What if one friend posts every thought he or she has in a day while another thoughtfully posts one thing per day or week? Facebook, with their Top News feed, seems to do a pretty good job of bubbling up the most interesting or relevant posts and filtering out most of the noise. But the Top News algorithm applies only to what your Facebook friends share on Facebook, not what your friends share online.

Twitter did a much better job of connecting people in 2006-2008, when people posted less frequently (used the service more similarly), followed fewer people on average, and were more likely to read everything. As it turned out, requiring every user to self-moderate prior to posting would not work out in the long run. The closeness Twitter fostered was eroded as it transformed into a chat room and link sharing/promoting service.

Features come and go—or in Google’s case, entire services—based on whether or not the sponsoring ad publisher (Google, Twitter, Facebook, et al) deems it a benefit to their bottom line. Foursquare cares more about fleeting digital rewards (mayorships and badges) and selling deals/sponsorships to brands or venues than it does about doing meaningful things (to users) with our data. In many cases, ad publishers’ agendas align with the needs of their users. After all, they can’t sell advertisements if the users don’t keep coming back.

WordPress—perhaps a dinosaur in today’s post-RSS, social-network-central world—is one of the few options we have to connect directly with each other. I write a post, and save it to one of my computers (a web server). Then, from anywhere—a browser, web app, RSS feed reader, or perhaps some other mechanism—you connect to my computer and fetch the post.

It is saddening to realize I have all but abandoned WordPress in favor of the social networks, but ultimately, WordPress isn’t an ideal method for connecting with each other. Not everything I want to share is an article, and I don’t necessarily want to blend long form blog posts with microblog one-liners (Twitter) and photoblog posts (Flickr, Instagram). Even if I could share these various facets of my life using one tool, it’s not connecting me with my friends if I’m just posting them to some site somewhere while all my friends are using insular social networks.

I deleted my Facebook account in August (dodging the inevitable flood of banal platitudes from acquaintances you tend to receive on your birthday) and my Twitter account will be going soon, too. Twitter was my favorite place to go when I felt like talking to myself, but I could only stand throwing my thoughts away into the ether for so long. I want my thoughts to live somewhere, and an ad publisher’s web site is ultimately the wrong place for that.

For now, I will be stuck with WordPress. As a developer, I feel the urge to figure this out and come up with a way to share my life online while staying connected with my friends no matter where they’re sharing their lives.

Posting via Android

I just installed the WordPress for Android app on my phone. I found myself posting long form posts (1 or more paragraphs) on Facebook or Google+, and then copying and pasting it to the other. Going forward, I would prefer to post about my work, life, and travels here, and let Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ be the “data exhaust” for people who are connected to me there but don’t read my blog. Google+ doesn’t allow writing via their API (they don’t WANT to be data exhaust, having learned the hard way with Google Buzz), so I’ll have to figure out a way to get all or some of my posts over there without too much work.

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