Matt

Founder at Write.as

We live in a cacophony of constant commentary. Whether it's talking heads on TV, buzzing smartphones, status updates, blog posts, social media mentions or retweets or reblogs or comments or likes, we're surrounded by opinion and reaction.

When it comes to software that enables the spread of commentary, we need to remember the human side. That's what I'm hoping to do with our upcoming product, Remark.as.

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I recently found myself working 12+ hour days again, so I took these last two weeks to slow down, step back from work a bit, and enjoy time with family and friends. I'll be slowly ramping up again over this upcoming week, so we'll be back to full-speed again by next week.

I'm not usually one to divvy up my life into calendar years, but 2018 was a particularly impactful one for me, so I figure, what better time to do a little reflection than now?

I made some major life changes this year. ...Well, one in particular: I traded employee life for founder/boss-man/big-cheese/“maker” life back in February. I did a lot of traveling this year — some just me and my dog, some alone, some with good friends or family.

I started meeting more people, from my own city and others. I got stranded in Alabama as my old car broke down, and made friends with some mechanics. I got a tour of Asheville after showing up without a plan. I got too little sleep dancing and wrestling with locals in Reykjavik. I traded languages with new friends in Sevilla, and stories with Münchner, despite my sorely lacking German. I did some things for business and many for pleasure.

What I'm most excited about right now, this day in late December, is feeling like I'm finally hitting my stride. Besides having the time to build the things I want to this year, I've also had the space I need to grow up and out of old habits; to grab more control over how I spend my time and energy; to do things more deliberately. Many of my experiences and mishaps this year made me realize what I've been doing wrong for a much longer time, and what to do about those things.

One thing I've done over the past few months is go on a diet — partly to lose weight, and partly to eat less terrible food. I was never taught how to eat well as a kid — I didn't touch a vegetable and enjoy it until my mid-20s. But cutting out the sugar and beer and pasta for more whole, varied foods overall has got my body feeling better, and my mind more clear. I've lost a decent amount of weight, but more importantly, most mornings I actually wake up feeling refreshed and ready. When you eat like shit all of your life, this is a truly profound feeling.

One realization I had this year was that I've actually been doing something pretty serious this whole time, despite me not recognizing it — building these platforms and ideas and this business. I'm trying to seriously build something that will last. I'm seriously trying to continue doing that for the next few decades. I haven't felt that way about anything in my relatively short life thus far, so actually acknowledging it really affected me.

As I look to 2019, I'm optimistic. I can't wait to build more things, and help more people express themselves freely. I can't wait to meet more humans I've never known or only corresponded with through a screen — whether that's at FOSDEM 2019 in Brussels (February 2-3), AWP 2019 in Portland (March 27-30), or anywhere in between. I can't wait for what tomorrow holds, and I hope you can't either.

Happy New Year, everyone 🎉

#2019 #newyear2019 #personal #travel #work

A recurring problem I and others see in the fediverse, with both new and veteran users, is the issue of a single identity.

I wrestled with this when I first created a Mastodon account, going straight for one on mastodon.social, as most people do. But when I wanted to start my own writing-centric instance, I had to create a new personal account on it and mention my mastodon.social account in the bio, and vice versa. I was the same person, but speaking to different audiences — one, a general audience and the other, more about writing.

Many people create multiple accounts — the point, especially on niche instances, is to get access to the local timeline and see the conversations around your instance's niche. (There are probably better ways to handle this specific problem, but I digress.)

The issue of identity really started to grow as new platforms popped up. There's PixelFed / Anfora for photos, PeerTube for videos, Plume and WriteFreely for blogging, and many more in the works. Though #ActivityPub allows you to follow and comment on all these services from a single identity, current implementations unfortunately don't accommodate the other side: the publisher hoping to utilize all these services under a single identity.

But I think I have a solution — one I mentioned in a recent conversation in the fediverse.

Essentially, we could make each ActivityPub service work both as a publishing platform and a client to other AP services. So for example, if I wanted my primary identity to be a Mastodon account, I could also create a PixelFed account like normal and hook it up to that Mastodon account. In this scenario, PixelFed would let me turn off publication of any ActivityPub endpoints (so people aren't also following my PixelFed account), and would simply interact with Mastodon's API as a client. With this kind of setup, I could use PixelFed's photo uploading / filtering features and have everything go to the profile of mine that people already follow, over on Mastodon. With this, people could combine any number of services to publish a variety of posts all to a single identity.

With the projects I'm building, WriteFreely and Read.as, you might use your WriteFreely blog as your primary identity, and then by hooking up your Read.as account, any posts you boost from there would be published to your blog.

Of course, making this work in practice will involve much more work that wouldn't otherwise be needed. For one, each platform would need to be able to store any kind of activity out there published by another platform. And some platforms will be more suited to play the “identity” role than others.

Still, I think it's an interesting idea. And I'll be experimenting with it in the future to see if it's all actually possible.

#fediverse #WriteFreely #ReadAs

Now #hashtags are included in the Write.as post data sent out to the #fediverse! This means that besides helping organize your writing on your blog, hashtagging your posts will make them show up in searches too, like this:

We also support #CamelCase tags, and encourage everyone to use them to help visually impaired people reading your posts.

Next I'll include any image attachments, and then the only remaining feature to complete this basic implementation is to support scheduled posts. Once that's done, I'll move on to fixing interoperation with other platforms besides Mastodon.

#WriteAs #tags #ActivityPub

As we make iterative technological jumps, what do we lose in the process? I'm thinking about this with Snap.as. It's cool what Google does with machine learning, but what do we lose when the machine put our albums together instead of us? Or when a good friend does? What connections do we miss out on? What is more important: connecting to an illusory intelligence, or another human, animal, the natural world?

One thing we don't see very often in the software world is a project being finished. Why does some piece of software need a visual refresh every year? Why are there more freaking menus here when I could navigate the site just fine before? Why can't we be content with something we built that's just really, really good as it is?

The answers, in many cases, are: it doesn't; no good reason; we can.

One of the things I'm happy to have accomplished, that I noticed the other day writing my last post, was that this thing I built does exactly what I need it to and no more. Are there some places that could be smoothed out? Sure. But overall, it's pretty damn good, and has remained that way for years.

The exciting part for me, the guy building the thing, is that the software is still improving, but it's not disturbing the user. I, the writer, am happy that the publish button is in the same place it was yesterday — but oh by the way, now this cool thing will happen where this post will go out to followers in the fediverse as soon as I publish it.

Build something to be good and as close to perfect as possible — not for endless improvement.

After you've been a tourist abroad once, the second time there feels different in some ways. You're no longer bouncing from place to place, riding planes and trains to find a point of interest, snap your selfie, and carry yourself and your fanny pack to the next place on the brochure. You walk slower, notice the sidewalk and the people, the birds and the smells; and really, you could be anywhere in the world.

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After much trial and error, I've finished basic #ActivityPub support on Write.as! (Though it's not live yet. Create a federated blog here, or enable federation by going to your blog's settings > Enable federation.) I'm very, very excited about reaching this point so I can try out some new ideas.

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Inspired by Ev Williams' mini-manifesto.

Humans are humans, and society is full of good and bad actors. Technology, at the most fundamental level, is a neutral tool that can be used by either to meet any ends. There is nothing inherent in technology or the internet that says it must be used for noble causes, just like there is nothing inherently evil about technology — it is what its users decide it is, through usage over time.

Still, I and many others believe the internet should be used for good, and more importantly, that it's not exceptionally difficult to do. In my mind, it requires a few things: first, an alignment of incentives between the makers of technology and the users of technology, starting with the business model. Second, a higher regard for professional ethics in the entire industry, at all levels.

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I signed up for Facebook in 2006, while I was still in high school. I “deleted” my account for the first time in 2008. Since then I've seen it evolve from chronological feed to platform for FarmVille, et al. to sprawling ad-spewing machine hoping to infect every device you live on.

Today I care enough about privacy to take a principled stance on it, and after dropping maintenance for the Write.as page I got rid of the last vestige of Facebook on my phone — the Pages app. Otherwise my profile sits there, happily populated with “Likes” I don't actually like and a Timeline featuring a life of adventure, like graduating college 5 decades before I was born, and living in Antarctica for a short period of time. I don't know if obfuscation like this completely works, but I like to think it helps.

Still, I occasionally hear about events and certain pages that are only available on Facebook. But with their cookies blocked on all my computers, I get this wonderful experience:

A Facebook page while not logged in, cluttered with sign up prompts

Like any other service that starves without trackable human attention, Facebook is happy to degrade their product to this point if it means annoying non-users enough to make them sign up. But the web is beautiful because users have control.

So I took back some control. I made a small browser extension that hides all of the annoying sign-up and log-in prompts, so you can safely click that Facebook link without being assaulted upon your arrival. What you get is something like this:

Facebook, with this new extension

Even if you haven't deleted Facebook, my hope is that this will make it a bit easier to log out, uninstall, and step back from the platform for a bit.

You can get Make Facebook Browsable for Chrome and Firefox.

#privacy #facebook #usability #ux #projects #extensions