How have blogs changed, and what's there to miss about them? fluffy just wrote some good thoughts that dovetail with a project I'd like to work on, so I thought I'd respond at a little more length.
The current impasse
Why does no one offer modern blogging with privacy and freedom? For some reason I think of this in terms of LiveJournal. I guess it was a local maximum for personal, social blogging at the time, so that's what feels missing.
At any rate, it seemed like somebody was going to distribute LiveJournal, but so far nobody has. While Dreamwidth starts to address LJ's specific problems, I don't expect they'll invest the necessary work and goodwill in retrofitting for deep federation. It's plenty enough a challenge keeping Dreamwidth as it already is growing. (I can't find anyone discussing building distributedness/federation into Dreamwidth, but maybe I'm using the wrong keywords.)
Private feeds were going to let us do this, as fluffy mentions, but then Google Reader killed the private feed. It doesn't work for them economically, since they have to deliver features with the network effects that, for example, Leapfrog doesn't have. You can't share content from private feeds, and private feeds don't make the world's information universally accessible. (You also can't provide effective AdSense ads for private content, I don't think.)
Yet because Google Reader covers the regular feed use cases so well, there's no room left for private feeds. Maybe this is part of the persistent cloudification of everything: once your reader is in the cloud, it's unmutual to have private content. The alternate scenario is Facebook, where you can have privacy by Facebook's rules as long as you stay in Facebook. That Facebook is only “in the cloud” when you want to bring content in shows that centralized services in the cloud don't want to give you privacy.
I'm disappointed too that these social features never spread beyond LiveJournal, since I stumbled into blogs when there was still more barnraising than snarkflaying. Vox was our own attempt to evolve into some of LiveJournal's behavior, and some people loved it, even if we did wrong by it in other ways—and of course it too was a gated community anyway. People have largely moved into other enclosed services, and the major ones happen not to be about sharing your thoughts with words. The personal journal is a different medium from the status stream, and even if the 80–19–1 rule applies, I'd rather spend time in a community of 19s and 1s who invest thoughtful sharing in each other.
Remember, friends: If you have an important idea to share, & only tweeted it instead of blogging it, it's not really on the record.
I expect some of you might feel the same way about the depersonalization of the written web. Being able to write to a tightly constrained audience when I wanted was the killer feature of LiveJournal for me, and though Facebook gives you that, it has both effectively banned the long post and locked up the entire network for one company.
I was talking to a friend today about why I'm not on Facebook:
Andy: Is there a specific reason you don't want to join facebook outside the usual suspects?
Mark: part of it is contrarianism
Andy: I have a bit of that.
Mark: i choose not to see value in it, even though i know i miss out on a lot of stuff for not being able to use groups or see events people post or w/e
Mark: yeah, that's not a reason is it eh he
Andy: Could you not just post links to your blog automatically through APIs so that people will friend you and have to read and participate in your own space?
Andy: Other people do that
Andy: I could understand (maybe) being in a competing space with Voxel at SixApart or whatevers
Andy: I can also understand just being a contrarian elitist
Mark: part of it is lingering from six apart still, i'm gonna have to see how that changes the equation
Mark: i don't trust facebook, and they're really good at private content, so in order to prevent even other people from posting private stuff to share to me, i have to not participate at all
Andy: I don't trust fb either but in that sense I don't participate in that space in any way that's a liability I guess
Mark: yeah, you can not trust it and still use it
Mark: but it's almost like the cliche about photographs taking part of your soul
Mark: to the extent that i invest myself in facebook, they own that part of me
Following this line of thinking, it's Facebook owning the network that provides the distrust; dealing with atomized interaction is more of a distaste.
There are some features of other social networks that align well with the goal of deep personal interaction, but nothing puts them all together into one system. If you don't want to read my stupid technocentric suggestion for fixing a social evolution that isn't technically a problem and so can't be “fixed,” by all means stop reading here.
A proposal (modest)
The project I'd like to do is the complement of Leapfrog—that is, the other half of the Giraffe project it came from. A lot of this I worked out with Martin when we were talking about Giraffe, but like Leapfrog, this is a scaled-back version that someone could build today. Let's take it as a straw man for how a private blog network would work.
This would be a little blogging app that lets you publish to privacy groups. People in your privacy groups have subscribed to your posts using PubSubHubbub, authenticated with OAuth 2/OpenID Connect, so when you make a private post, it's pushed out to those subscribers' own compatible blog apps. New content both public and private that you've subscribed to is then displayed in your blog's private dashboard.
The problem here, especially with regard to fluffy's complaints, is then you'll have yet another inbox for these private posts. A few things might ameliorate that:
- The original Giraffe design married the publisher to an excellent stream reader (Leapfrog), so there's probably still room to experiment toward a better-than-feedreader experience. Even though it's yet another inbox, it can be a pretty good inbox.
- Your dashboard can offer its own private feed view for you to put in your non-cloud reader. So if you're one of those people who can use private feeds, you at least have that option.
- Because this protocol would be a profile of PubSubHubbub and OpenID Connect, you can be on the network without using particular software. You could build your own dashboard to offer any reading experience you like, as long as it's a compatible PubSubHubbub subscriber.
As we found when planning Giraffe, acting from a reader app is a problem. You probably know that if you use a regular feed reader: you have to click through to favorite or comment. Pushing activity back upstream is what Salmon is for, and it's a complicated protocol for a complicated problem. For an expedient prototype, one might just punt and require you act from the originating site. However, since you do have an OAuth 2 token from completing the subscription, perhaps your site would push the appropriate Activity Streams activity upstream to an OAuth-protected endpoint, authenticating you that way. You wouldn't need Salmon's ability to pass through or prove to an intermediary, but the network shouldn't pass content around secondhand anyway, because it might be private. It's less secure, but also provides a lower hurdle for implementation.
Among all the other folks thinking and working on these problems to build new social networks and stream readers now, why would a blog-based network be different enough to bother?
I started thinking again about this yesterday, when I got a link to Friendika from somewhere, and decided its technical focus at the expense of design meant I should check up on Diaspora. Diaspora and Friendika appear to be built around the activity stream, so they both look like Facebook clones. In the same way that Leapfrog focuses on content, a blog network would be about posts, not activity. (As in Leapfrog, photos are posts too.)
Diaspora's “aspects” are a good model for privacy groups—though I can't tell how they aren't like LiveJournal's—so that's encouraging. (If you're trying Diaspora too, I signed up on weLeft, so you can try adding me as firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Facebook avoids activity burn-out by applying the network's feedback to decide items' interestingness, bumping interesting items up into your feed and leaving trivial items hidden. Perhaps the distributed blog network could too, presenting them as the party on the side of the full feed. That's a challenge to build, though, so I would imagine the first version would have a regular dumb stream. Without Facebook's vast network, the challenge at first is having enough content to keep checking the stream, anyway.
LiveJournal is the original point of reference for this idea, so to my mind this network would work quite a bit like LJ: your dashboard is your friends/reading page, and you post to a preselected group of your friends at a time. (I'd also like to keep/revive a lot of the fun things about LiveJournal, like pervasive, many avatar pictures.)
I guess the dashboard would also work a lot like Tumblr's, though with privacy (and a share-ier sharing model, if I can help it). I don't have a lot of experience with their dashboard, but after I inquired about dashboards, I moved all my Tumblr subscriptions from Google Reader into Tumblr, so maybe I'll have a better idea after using it for a while.
Are there any interesting points of comparison that I missed?
I admit this is likely my technocentric missing the point. I hoped this would come out as more of a sympathetic lament. Could something like this help, even in a limited way? What would you be worried about and how would you change it?