Is Sharing Caring? – A Reflection on Comments and Social Media

Comments are the power of the village

What does it mean to be caring in online spaces and how is this related to sharing?


I recently came across a message on a blog that stated ‘sharing is caring’. This was placed next to buttons for the various social media silos. This had me stop and think. Is this this in fact a lie we have been sold? I have spoken before about paying ideas forward and feeding back into the stream, but I wonder, are there means of caring that do not involve sharing into somebody else’s backyard? This then involves stopping to reflect on two questions: what does it mean to share and care?

Sharing

I love to share. It was one of the things that really drew me to Twitter and then blogging. It offered the ability to post short snippets, telling a story over time. This though touches on the first consideration, what should we share?

I often share quotes, visual creations and links. In the past, this was straight to Twitter. However, over time this seems to have become about something else. Although I was backing up my Tweets, my contributions seemed conflicted.

Recently, I have taken to posting everything on my second blog – Read Write Collect – and syndicating from there. This often involves capturing a quote or a short reflection. The question I have is, when I share out, whose link do I share? If I share a link to a bookmark or like then it will bring back all the responses using webmentions. However, then the question is about whether I am sharing for the original author or myself? Should I instead by retweeting a tweet from the author or share out the original link? This then leads to the second point of caring.

Caring

I imagine caring can come in many shapes and sizes. When sharing out on social media, I have long made the effort to mention the original author in the post to indicate to them that I care. Sometimes this also involves attaching a graphic or a quote that caught my attention. Although this is good, I wonder if there are better ways to show care?

A step beyond sharing a tweet is posting a comment. I am not sure if it is the effort involved or the process behind it, but I have always valued a comment more than a tweet. In recent times, this has included posting comments from my own site (where applicable) or pasting in.

Another part to this is linking to ideas when I know that they have come from elsewhere. I think this is often overlooked and I really like the latest change to the webmentions plugins that allows you to turn mentions into comments.


Maybe it is just me. Maybe sharing online just works? However, I agree with The Luddbrarian that where we need to start in regards to Facebook and social media in general is ‘expand our imagination’ in this area. I think that this starts by asking questions. What does it mean to be digital? How are we really caring in online space? Does it have to involve sharing? As always, comments welcome.


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It Takes a Family – A Reflection on Support Networks that Make Leadership Possible

A quote from Steve Wheeler on the importance of the village and support networks

Life can get busy, when this occurs, should leaders stand aside or do we need to stop and recognise that sometimes leadership involves the support of wider support networks?


In a post reflecting on leadership and the self, Paul Browning identified three aspects that great leaders are able to manage:

  • Emotions
  • Health / Sleep
  • Ego

The question I am left with is what happens when a leader can’t keep these aspects in tact? Not for the lack of trying, but rather that life does not necessarily allow for it. Maybe it is raising a young family, suffering from illness or balancing life situations. Should leaders stand aside or does it sometimes take a team?


Discussing the challenges of balance, Corrie Barclay shares a number of tips associated with raising a family while also being an assistant principal. These include doing what you say you will do, learning to say no, making time for you, mindfully moving around and living life to the fullest. Barclay’s post was a response to a post from Eric Sheninger on the same topic.

For Sheninger, worklife balance can be broken down into three areas: professional, family and personal. Some of his strategies for answering each of these areas is to consciously block out time for things, think about eating patterns and cut back on social media. He also states that sometimes you need to be selfish.

Our well-being is not only good for us on a personal level, but it has positive impacts on our professional work and family life.

When Sheninger was a principal he would leave early in the morning in order to fit in a gym session before the start of the day.

Chris Wejr provides his own take. His answer has been to remove email, as well as schedule his family into his calendar.

For Steve Brophy the challenge is the transition from one mode to another. He does this through the use of a routine when he arrives home, where he gets his clothes ready for the next day, writes a few notes and leaves his phone in the bedroom. This then allows him to give his best to his family.

Taking a different approach, John Spencer has his own solution to the personal problem. He and his wife give each other one night a week to pursue other interests. This means going somewhere else, whether it be Starbucks or a microbrewrey, and focusing on something unrelated to teaching.

What each of these situations and suggestions demonstrate is that there is no quick fix to finding balance. Whether it is food, scheduling or space, each approach is based on a particular context. Having said this, there is one thing that ties them together. The part played by our wider support networks.

Other than John Spencer, there is little mention of partners and their part in the play. Although Eric Sheninger identifies family as an area that is a part of the balance, he does not touch upon their particular influence. Steve Brophy recogises his wife’s role on his ‘learning board of directors’, but not necessarily what this involves.

Like Sheninger, I too used to exercise early in the morning. However, I now choose to help out at home, before dropping my children off at childcare. My wife is in leadership and I feel that it is important to help out where I can.


Returning to the beginning, Browning talks about what leaders are able to manage. Similarly, Philip Riley highlights the stresses that principals are put under. What seems overlooked in both accounts are the structures often in place that allow leaders to prosper and the sacrifices made by those within the support networks involved, such as family and friends.

Reflecting on guilt of not always being their for her children, Pernille Ripp recognises the role played by her husband in allowing her to do what she does. Maha Bali is another who explains the need to say no to various requests because she is also a mother. While when she does present, this often involves a team of carers or her daughter actually attending various events. Although neither are explicit leaders of schools, they are still leaders in their own spaces.

I wonder then if the greatest challenge we face in regards to leadership is realising we cannot do it alone and recognising those who help out to make it possible? As always, comments, criticism and communication welcome.


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Secret, Safe and Informed: A Reflection on Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Collection of Data

Tufekci on Informed Consent

There have been a lot of discussions lately about Facebook, social media and connected society in light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. Here are my thoughts on what it might mean to be more informed consent.


Secret and Safe?

At the start of Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins inherits a ring from his cousin, Bilbo Baggins. He is unaware of the power it holds. After leaving Frodo to find out what it is, Gandalf returns. He promptly askes Froddo,

Is it secret, is it safe?

Still unaware of the ring’s power. Gandalf explains to the hobbit the gift he has been bestowed and the journey he must go on.

I think that connected education and social media pose us with the same challenges. There comes a time, when after signing up and dipping our toes in, we need to stop and ask ourselves,

Are we secure, are we safe?

Our responses to this can go in a number of directions. On the one hand we can don our silver suits like Chuck in Better Call Saul and become possessed by fear.

via GIPHY

Or we can become completely paranoid like Elliot in Mr Robot, where we always think the worst and react accordingly.

via GIPHY

We need some sort of compromise. We need to, together, demand better.

Informed Era

A few years ago, Doug Belshaw made an attempt at mapping the internet. He divided it into five eras:

  • 1993-1997: The Information Superhighway
  • 1999-2002: The Wild West
  • 2003-2007: The Web 2.0 era
  • 2008-2012: The Era of the App
  • 2013+: The Post-Snowden era

I have been thinking lately, with fake news and data breaches, maybe we are entering a new era, what Belshaw mooted as an ‘informed era’.

Although there has been a call for companies to improve the clarity of their terms and conditions and governments to put in place policies to protect citizens, I think that ‘informed consent’ needs to go beyond that. If we are to demand better then the conversation needs to go beyond the features and affordances of digital technology. For tools themselves are just one actor in a larger play.


“EdTech Enablers – Modern Learning Canvas” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

A useful framework for making sense of technology is Belshaw’s Eight Elements of Digital Literacies. Split between four mindsets (Critical, Civic, Confident and Cognitive) and four skillsets (Creative, Communicative, Constructive and Cultural), these elements provide a means of appreciating the complexity at work.


“The 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacies #digilit” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

These elements though do not provide a checklist to tick off, but rather the start of a richer conversation. They should not considered all times, but they help in realising that there are always other aspects to consider.

Take for example an application like Hapara. It provides an added layer of control on top of GSuite, which allows teachers to organise and manage learning in the classroom. Using digital literacies as a lens provides an insight into a number of aspects which help to inform our use.

  • From a cultural perspective, Hapara posits that teachers are largely responsible for creating the conditions for learning.
  • Cognitively, it involves new ways of working. Although it may be more efficient, if you have been using GSuite, these are still habits to unlearn and relearn.
  • Constructively, there is a blur between empowering students with the power to participate in actions and the dangers in excessively moderating their learning.
  • From a communicative point of view, GSuite allows a number of ways to engage, Hapara provides the means to manage and moderate this within different cultural norms.
  • Connecting with GSuite through the use of APIs, Hapara has the ability to both hinder and help the creative process depending on how it is deployed.
  • From a critical and civic point of view, it is important to consider why there is a need to manage learning at all and the consequences associated with such actions.

What this example highlights is that you cannot meaningfully consider all these elements at once. Each offers the possibility of digging deeper or stepping back to develop a wider perspective.

Becoming Informed

One of things I have noticed about the current discussions around Cambridge Analytica, fake news and polarisation is that there are no quick fixes or simple solutions to any of this. As Seth Godin points out,

Advertising has shaped our culture. Not the ads, but the money. And Facebook’s woes are a symptom of that.

Being informed is not some sort of process where one day you wake up certified. This is a problem with things like cybersafety programs. They are often designed to get everyone to a particular level of knowledge, but fail to address the mindset and ongoing practice. The real problem that needs to be addressed is what next?

The challenge as I see it is to understand that consent is something that we inadvertently give each time we tap into an application. I would argue then it is a constant state of becoming more informed. In an ever changing world, with goals forever moving, it is a case where we can never quite be fully informed. Here then are some strategies to start with.

Critically Reflect and Ask Questions

I think that the most important thing we can do is wonder. This helps go beyond the how-to to the how-do-they-do-that. Ian O’Byrne has written a useful series of posts with questions to consider in staying safe online. He touches on issues such as passwords, backing up and protecting your connection. In part, I think this a part of the push for computational thinking.

Learn from and through others

For me, being informed takes a village. If we are to ask questions, then it is useful to have people to talk about them with. Dean Shareski wrote a post a few years ago that that has really stuck with me. In it, he spoke about leaving conferences with new connections, not just new content. I think that this is important. Meeting people beyond your own context helps extend your thinking and develop new ideas.

Engage in new challenges.

Reflecting upon his digital workflow, Clay Shirky talks about each year getting rid of perfectly good habits. He fears that if he doesn’t he will stop noticing the ever changing digital environment around him. For me, such change starts with reading widely. There are so many places to find content these days. Whether it be on social media or reading books. I am an advocate for feed readers. All you need to do is find a few interesting sites, add the feeds and you are away.


So to come back to the start: “Are you secure? Are you safe? And are you informed?” Maybe the answer is actually the question itself? As always, thoughts and comments welcome.


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Automation, Generation

Automation image

Although many talk about the power and potential of automation to aid us, sometimes we need to step back and ask ourselves what this means and where the limits lay.


In a recent episode of Loose Learners, John Johnston and Marianna Funes discussed web generators. These are applications designed to automate a part of the creative process. As I listened I realised how many of these generators I myself either use or have used in the past:

iMovie Movie Trailor – I have used these templates myself and with my students. What is useful about them is they provide a clear structure to riff off.

Lumen5 – I have made a few videos with Lumen5 to summarise longer posts. It reminds me a bit of Haiku Deck.

Adobe Spark – Made up of a suite of apps, Adobe Spark makes it easy to generate quick and easy images, posts and sites. In regards to video, I like that you record the audio for each slide, rather than one file across the whole video.

Each of these application works within a particular set of constraints, that make it simple to just make. In part, this reminds me of Tom Barrett’s point about knowing what is possible to work at the edges:

Not to be confused with restraint which is much more about self-control, constraint is about finding the edges of the page before you begin, it is about knowing what limits you have in terms of resources.

The challenge with all of this is being thoughtful about how these generators are used.

Johnston touches on this in regards to Micro.blog and using his site to syndicate to various social media siloes. He shares how although some tasks take a little bit longer, however he feels that he has inadvertently approached things with more care. I too have taken this approach recently. I have taken to using SNAP to send out links and have them syndicated on my site. This all involves a semi-autonomous setup.

I sometimes wonder if the best generator at times is in fact ourselves? Fine, we might use various tools to offload the physical labour, however they are associated with dynamic choices and actions. This is what I do with the creation of my images. I could probably automate this, especially with the addition of add-ons to Google Slides. This would then involve populating a spreadsheet or even a Google Form and applying this to a template. However, I feel that I have the process downpat that there is something in the generation that I actually like. Therefore, the automation in this situation comes in the form of process.

In a recent article, Antone Martinho-Truswell discusses automation and the way in which it seperates us from other animals. What stood out from his piece though was that automation has two parts: mental and technical.

There are two kinds of automation: those that are energetically independent, requiring human guidance but not much human muscle power (eg, driving a car), and those that are also independent of human mental input (eg, the self-driving car). Both are examples of offloading our labour, physical or mental, and both are far older than one might first suppose.

Too often the focus of automation is on the tool, yet there are infact other components that are overlooked. To me this is the ‘human’ side of things that people like Douglas Rushkoff and Kin Lane touch upon.

Take for example, reading online. There are some who advocate for the Chrome App TLDR as a way of improving comprehension. The problem with this is that it has its limits. Firstly, the tool does not teach you how to summarise, nor does it address every piece of text on the web. Instead, there comes a time when you have to draw on your own questions and protocols to help make sense of things.

Generators are good, but they have their limit. What is important though is that we never let go of the ability to think through things from scratch. This is the key to embrace both sides of automation, the physical and the mental. For sometimes all elements are needed to find the edge of the page and work from there.


So what about you? What are your experiences with automation or online generators? As always, comments welcome and webmentions too.


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Hidden in the Code

A quote about URLs from Tom Woodward

This is a collection of code that I often turn to when working with WordPress


Every time that I feel comfortable with my level of knowledge associated with WordPress, there is a problem that leads me to discover a particular attribute that I don’t know how I lived without. This time it is the code seemingly obfuscated beyond the WYSIWIG editor and the dashboard.

For some this code is about command line, while others it is about the bashing out the building blocks. My interest here is the everyday code, the little snippets that find there way in here or there while I work with WordPress, many of which have come from wandering through Chris Aldrich’s commonplace blog:

Webmentions

Webmentions are the building block for conversations across the web. However, with WordPress, they often get caught in moderation and/or flagged as spam by Akismet and other spam filter plugins. To prevent this, you can add this PHP snippet to your theme’s functions.php file:

function unspam_webmentions($approved, $commentdata) { return $commentdata['comment_type'] == 'webmention' ? 1 : $approved; } add_filter('pre_comment_approved', 'unspam_webmentions', '99', 2);

Alan Levine has documented the process of creating a child theme, which is useful when customising the code, while Gregor Morrill has developed code to approve webmentions from domains previously approved.

Microformats

Microformats is a data format built upon adopted standards and prior developments. There are a number of specifications, which can be manually added within the existing HTML. It provides the foundation for software to automatically process information. People like David Shanske and Matthias Pfefferle have developed plugins and themes to mark-up content in the backend. You can also use this site to check the microformats on your site, while for a more extensive introduction, listen to Tantek Çelik on the future of web apps.

Two microformats I have worked with are comments and rel=me.

Comment

Although the appropriate microformats are usually built into the Webmentions plugin. The plugin for theaded comments can be a bit more tempremental. Chris Aldrich recommends manually adding the reply class and URL just to make sure:

 <a class="u-in-reply-to" href="http://www.example.com"></a>

I have come to do this out of habit for replies now.

Rel-me

Another microformat incorperated into many Indieweb sites is Rel-me. It is used to consolidate identity, as well as domain sign in.

<ul> <li><a href="https://twitter.com/aaronpk" rel="me">@aaronpk on Twitter</a></li> <li><a href="https://github.com/aaronpk" rel="me">Github</a></li> <li><a href="https://google.com/+aaronpk" rel="me">Google</a></li> <li><a href="mailto:me@example.com" rel="me">me@example.com</a></li></ul>

Chris Aldrich has taken rel-me to its extremes by creating a page in which he records all his accounts. I have also started my own. For more on rel-me, watch Ryan Barrett’s keynote at IndieWeb Summit 2017.

Page Bookmarks

I remember coming across in plugin in Edublogs that allowed you to add a table of contents. This reminded me of the functionality in Google Docs and one of the things I noticed in both was the presence of a hashtag at the end of the URL. (Interestingly, now every heading in Google Docs has a unique identifier automatically created.) In Docs, this is something that can be added using the Bookmark feature, I wondered if the same could be done in WordPress. I discovered that within the tags, you insert ‘name=”unique-name”‘:

<a name="unique-name">Target Text</a>

This can then be used to guide readers to a specific point in your text.

Custom URLs for Post Kinds

Using the Post Kinds plugin provides a list a unique urls associated with the kinds of posts on the site. Chris Aldrich provides some guides in how to use these to create custom urls to generate a specific post screen. This can then be used to create a bookmarklet:

 http://example.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?kind=bookmark&kindurl=@url

Dariusz Kuśnierek provides some other examples of custom URLs, which help in U deratamding the way urls work in general.

RSS Feeds

RSS provides a means of following a site without checking in all of the time. To access a feed to follow in WordPress, you simply add ‘/feed/’ to the end:

http://www.example.com/feed

As some feeds can contain a range of content, it is possible to hone down to particular categories by adding ‘?cat=[category id]’ to the end.

http://www.example.com/feed?cat=[category id]

This can be useful if you only want to follow a specific subject or area.

Taking this a step further, you can also produce an RSS based on Post Kinds. Although not all blogs use these, for those that do it can be a useful demarcation. Similar to categories, you add ‘?kind=type’ to the end of the feed.

http://www.example.com/feed/?kind=bookmark 

For more on RSS feeds, see this post from Chris Aldrich.

OPML

Where as RSS is used for a single feed, OPML allows a user to aggregate. I have written about them before. It is possible to store an OPML in WordPress. To access this you add the append ‘/wp-links-opml.php’ to the end.

http://www.example.com/wp-links-opml.php

In addition to this, Chris Aldrich has documented how to split a file into categories:

?link_cat=[category id]

I have yet to categorise my links, however Aldrich provides an extensive example.


So what about you? What little bits of code do you use? As always, comments welcome.


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A Kind of Emoji

The power of emojis is in helping us think differently

A reflection on using emojis as a way to provide visual information about blog posts.


I have dived into my latest #IndieWeb venture of saving links on my own site. I thought that I would simply use the Bookmark post kind to save my links, but I soon realised not every link needed some form of commentary and/or extended quotations. For those where the link and quote/summary was enough, I started labelling as a Like. There were also some links where I would write a Reply to the author. With all these additions, the different kinds of writing were lost in my stream. I was beginning to understand why Chris Aldrich’s site starts with a static page, which guides readers to the different kinds of writing. I was not yet interested in going down the static path, I therefore had to think of some other solution to differentiate between the different content I was adding to the site. After some initial exploration of beginning each title with the kind, I turned to the emoji.

I came upon the use of emojis in the work of John Johnston, who added them to some of his posts to provide additional information. I think this may be something built into the Micro.Blogs platform. In addition, I like the way that Audrey Watters uses icons to break up information in her Weekly News posts. There has also been a lot written about the use of emojis to define Google Drive folders. Although most of the emojis I use correspond with the post kinds, there are times when I use them to add more nuance for particular tags and categories. Here is a list of my emojis so far:

As this is a new iteration, I still have a bit of work going back through my posts adding emojis to other kinds and categories, such as events and mentions.

Beyond the visual, the addition of emojis has had a few interesting side-effects. When I POSSE to Diigo, I have discovered that the title is left blank. My workaround has been to manually create the title for Diigo using the Social Network Auto-Poster (SNAP) plugin. There is no issue with other spaces, such as Twitter, where the emoji is happily embedded.

Another issue is the permalink. Most options involve adding the name of the post to the end of the URL, this includes emojis. For some reasons, this creates issues with sending webmentions. The answer seems to be to manually ping the site using the post ID or manually edit the permalink before posting to remove the emoji.

I remember Eric Curts mentioning problems with some emojis:

Emojis appear differently on different operating systems. Because of this, the images may not look the same on every device. If you are using any modern computer or device (Chromebook, Android, iOS, Mac OS, Windows), the emojis should display well. However if you are using an older version of Windows earlier than Windows 8.1, the emojis do not appear in color and many may be missing.

Maybe the issues are associated with this?

So what about you? Do you use any methods for breaking up content within your spaces? Or maybe you use emojis in some other way? As always, comments welcome and webmentions too.



Also posted on IndieNews


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Zen and the Art of Blog Maintenance

An explanation of why maintaining your own space is so important

This is a reflection on my recent challenges associated with maintaining a blog and an explanation of why I persist in doing it.


I got talking with some of technical designers in my workplace recently. I was inquiring about the plausibility of a few ideas I was thinking about. I did not want to commit myself to something that was doomed from the outset. The question was then asked, “But you’re not a coder, right?” Technically, I guess I am not. I have developed a few solutions, in part based on code appropriated from others, but could I develop something from scratch. I guess not. This for me raises the question, in a world which coding is bandied around as the 21st Century literacy, what does it mean to code and be a coder? Is it about a broad understanding of the mechanics and meaning or is it the ability to make and do? Can these even be separated?

This problem raised its head again this week as I tried to fix a problem occurring with two of my sites. I was not receiving linkbacks from other sites. Although webmentions were coming through, there were mentions within blogs that were not even going through to my spam folder. Of course, this is not going to ‘break the web’, but it means that I am missing some of the conversations from those sending from their site.

I came upon the issue after receiving a few messages from people saying that their messages were being rejected or not flowing through. This was occurring in both directions, with my pings seemingly sending emails, but not properly flowing through to posts and comments. Here then are some of the steps I took to investigate. I share these with the hope that I can learn more about these problems, but also to record the steps for future reflection. They are in no way sequential and have been separated for the sack of representing them in a meaningful manner:


In the end, I decided to turn the Semantic Linkbacks plugin back on and see how it went. To my surprise, things seemed to work. I will continue to tinker and investigate. It is a reminder why I have a Domain of One’s Own. As Martha Burtis points out,

Learning WordPress should not just be about learning WordPress — it should also be about all the tacit lessons that go along with learning how to publish online in an open-source Web application.

I know that at anytime that the Facebooks and Wixs are waiting to greet me with open arms and every day I resist. So what about you? What have been your experiences? As always comments welcome, even more so from your own blog.


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Automating the Summary of Data

The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

My first iteration using Query and Sheets to automate a solution for turning a collection of data into a regular newsletter.

This year I decided to create a monthly newsletter collecting together the updates and resources that I came upon during the previous month. As I have reflected elsewhere, I realised that there was an opportunity to automate some of this process. Although some spoke about Pinboard or generating a post via email, I was interested in sticking to GSuite. I therefore began with the aim of generating a solution within Sheets. So here is my first iteration of an automated solution for turning a collection of links into a summary.

Organising the Data

I remember being in a session with Jay Atwood a few years ago talk about the importance of considering the way you collect your data before anything else. As I looked at my databases, one for updates and the other for resources, I realised that the first thing that I needed to do was reorganise the way that I was storing information. This included restricting the options associated with type and application, as well as separating the link and title and then smashing them together using the HYPERLINK formula. Inspired by Ben Collins’ post on working with text, I also created a column summarising the information in each row into Markdown summary.


Reorganised Data w/ Formulas by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

From Lookups to Queries

Once I had my data organised, I then started explored sorting and shaping the data. I began with a VLOOKUP with a dynamic selector. This allowed me to filter it in different ways. However, I quickly realised that this was limited. I turned to QUERY.

I remember David Krevitt talking about QUERY, describing it as the, ” big kahuna of Sheets functions.” I think this initially put me off. This time I opened up a number of guides from Krevitt, Collins and Anand Varma and dived in. This lead me to rewrite my VLOOKUP as a QUERY.

Bit by bit I stretched the solution. I began with a dynamic selector to represent variables and explored the ability to define queries by date. I then created a prototype with a query for each application across the sheet.


1st Iteration by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

Once I had that working, I create a vertical set of queries. To allow for the variable of the unknown number of posts each month, I left 30 blank rows between each formula.

Filtering Results

To get rid of the spaces and the data headings, I used a FILTER formula and removed the spaces and column headings produced by the QUERY formulas. This left me with a choice, copy the MarkDown data and paste it without formatting, therefore removing the table/sheet that it was in, or using the add-on Sheets to Docs to copy the text to a Google Doc.


So that is the first step in my solution using Sheets to generate the text for a newsletter. My next challenge is transferring this to a Google Script. If you have any thoughts and advice about this, I would greatly appreciate it. Otherwise, as always feel free to leave a comment.


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Building Digital Workflows

Clay Shirkey on the need to continually rethinking our workflows

Technology is always adapting and evolving, here are a few of the recent changes to my digital workflows.


In a post discussing the setup of digital devices, applications and workflows, Clay Shirky explains how he regularly changes things up:

At the end of every year, I junk a lot of perfectly good habits in favor of awkward new ones.

This disruption seems important in a time when platforms are designed to maximise our attention. As Shirky warns:

The thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

Change can take many shapes. Although I may not shake things up as much as Shirky, here are some recent tweeks that have kept things fresh:

Pocket

For a long time I have used Pocket to save links to come back to. It was one of the first applications I really took to. I use a range of methods to add content, whether it be via email, using an IFTTT recipe which saves my Twitter favourites or an extension in the browser. I then either read it later or listen depending on the device or context.

I started out listening using Lisgo, an iOS app. However, this functionality is built into the Android application so I scrapped the additional app when I changed phones. The only issue I had with listening via the Android app is the requirement to select a new article each time. A recent update completely changed that with the addition of continuous playback. This allows you to organise your various links in a playlist and listen to one after another. This new feature has lead me to rethink how I use Pocket and subsequently saving more and more links to listen to

In regards to other aspects of the application, I have never really used the tagging or archiving features. Instead I bookmark elsewhere and then delete the articles in Pocket once I have finished with it. The best functionality is still the ability to read a stripped back version of the text. AMP without all the other stuff associated with AMP. I wonder how Pocket will grow with the acquisition by Mozilla?

Inoreader

I love Feedly. I came to RSS Readers around the time Google pulled its reader from production. Before that, I relied on a combination of Pocket and social media. Feedly was perfect. I progressively built my feed over time getting to the point of following 200+ blogs. I also developed a a process which allowed me to capture a quote and share it out on Twitter.

I did not have any qualms, however when Chris Aldrich pointed out the limitation of storing your OPML file within the application I was intrigued. I didn’t really like how Feedly organised the various categories and always found it tedious to backup my OPML to share with others. The answer is to subscribe to an OPML Feed stored in the links of a WordPress site, rather than upload a static file. Feedly does not allow for this, but Inoreader does.

Starting afresh has been good. There are no features that I used in Feedly that are no replicated in Inoreader. Instead there are ways of working in Inoreader that I prefer, such as the ability to quickly mark posts as ‘read’ by pulling across, rather than swiping, as well as the potential to create my own filters. This maybe a start towards Aldrich’s idea of an #IndieWeb algorithm? At the very least, it helps in understanding how some of these things work and the infrastructure behind them.

Trello

I have written about the features and affordances associated with Trello before. One of the challenges that I have had with the application is how to get it to work for me. A lot of people talk about using the Kanban approach to support an agile way of working. This often involves allocating ‘points’ or colours associated with blocks of time, setting due dates and focusing on priorities. I tried this both personally and in my workplace. It did not work. I decided to leave it for a while and come back at a later point with fresh eyes.

In leaving the application alone, it quickly became apparent why I needed it. I had some documents in my Google Drive, PDF files sent to me via email, links to resources and notes that needed to be recorded somewhere. I therefore wondered if instead of a means of managing priorities that instead Trello could become something of a digital filing cabinet, Something of a ‘canonical URL’, where if you wanted to find something you would start there.

Creating a list for each of the key focuses, the cards broke down the various projects and activities. Each card then contains a description summarising what it is about and a list of resources associated with it. This is all done using Markdown. These resources are all added into one Google Drive folder and linked from there. The card comments are then used to provide a historical snapshot, documenting any developments, additions and meetings, while the checklists are used where applicable.

This new way of using Trello also led me to review my own use. A few years ago I set up multiple boards for all the things that I do personally, whether it be blogging, presentations or projects. Similar to my work experience, this failed. It was too busy and needed to be more efficient. After being reenergised by my use at work, I wondered if I could condense everything into one board? I therefore created lists associated with blogs, projects, ideas, interesting links, things to listen to etc and used the cards to unpack each of these areas. This has subsequently led me to crafting my blog posts using Markdown in the description section and adding links and notes in the comments. Although having its limitations, it is a much smoother process than writing Markdown in a Google Doc which I had started doing. When I want a more thorough writing space though I use Typely.

Typely

I remember reading a rant from Marc Scott a few years ago on the use of Microsoft Word, although it could have been about Google Docs as well. He ended with the plea:

Learn to write in sodding Markdown.

I understand Markdown, but could never find the right reason or workflow. I kept stumbling upon different cases, whether it is Kin Lane’s use of Markdown with Jeykl and GitHub or Mike Caulfield’s Wikity WordPress theme with Markdown built into the bookmarklet. However, it was not until I started having issue with extra bits of code when copying text from Google Docs into my blog or newsletter that I realised why Markdown is so important.

I have been exploring a number of applications to support publishing of late, whether it is add-ons such as Grammarly and Pro Writing Aid or applications in general such as Google Docs and Trello. Initially I took to writing Markdown in Google Docs and pasting the text into a converter. This workflow though does not allow you to preview the text along the way. Using Trello allows you to work cross-platform. However the need to flick between preview and editing screen is tedious and not ideal. I recently came upon another application called Typely.

Typely is best understood as a beefed-up text editor. There are no hyperlinks or formatting. Instead you focus on writing. Other applications offer a similar experience, but where Typely differs are the various options to customise the experience, whether it be turning Markdown preview on or off, switching to a blog background or selecting rules to check for. The screen also adapts to the size of the screen, with panes collapsing if there is not enough space. It does not really work on a mobile screen though. Unlike Pro Writing Aid, the error highlights can easily be turned on and off or resolved. Although on a Chromebook, the combination for resolving issues (CTRL + Spacebar) is allocated to changing between languages. There is also the ability to open and save documents across different platforms if you sign in.

Noterlive

I have long used Twitter to share thoughts and findings at conferences, including quotes, reflections and links. This has gone through many iterations, whether it be retweeting what others shared or typing in a document first before sharing out. One of the challenges that I have always had though is how to meaningfully archive this content?

The obvious answer is to curate tweets and embed them. Like so many others, I have used Storify in the past. However, with its move to a paid product, other solutions are needed. I have also used Martin Hawksey’s TAGS script before to make collections of Tweets. Although these can be easily embedded into WordPress, this archive is broken if the original Tweet is deleted. Although Hawksey provided a link to another application for producing a full embed code, I could not get this to work.

Another option is Noterlive. This web app created by Kevin Marks was designed for making IndieWeb live noting (aka live tweeting/live blogging) easier and simpler. Chris Aldrich summarises it as follows:

It not only organically threads your tweets together into one continuing conversation, but it also gives you a modified output including the appropriate HTML and microformats classes so that you can cut and paste the entire thread and simply dump it into your favorite CMS and publish it as a standard blog post. 

Aldrich has also compiled some additional instructions. See an example here.

As an approach and application, Noterlive provides a means of recording snippets of text in a thread. However, it does not allow you to attach media or connect to the actual Tweet. You are also unable to include other Tweets directly in your archive. A solution to this is to add this content when you save the simple HTML archive. This can be a good point of reflection.


So there are a few of the recent changes to my workflows, what about you? Are there any applications that have made you rethink the way you work lately? As always, comments welcome.

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My #IndieWeb Reflections

Dan Gillmor on Indieweb as an alternative

I have been meaning to elaborate on my thoughts on #IndieWeb for a while. Chris Aldrich’s recent post outlining a proposal for a book spurred me to finish jotting down my notes and reflections.


I find #indieweb hard to explain. In part I would describe it as an alternative way of working on the web, a collaborative community and a technical solution. I can’t remember exactly when I first came upon it. I know thought it was associated with the concept of POSSE. It was probably a part of Connected Courses and my move to Reclaim Hosting. Twitter tells me that my initial investigations were associated with Known.

What interested me was the potential to extend and own my presence on the web. Initially, I posted to Flickr from a Known instance and pulled in comments from Twitter and Google+ with the #IndieWeb WordPress Plugin(s).

More recently I have become interested in exploring ‘post kinds’ as I continue to investigate ways that I can better manage my presence on the web. In particular, I like the idea of sending comments from my site, but have yet to either master some of the technical aspects or develop a suitable workflow.

I must admit, I still get lost with some of the mechanics. I wonder sometimes if this is because I am balancing multiple spaces. I would like to better understand how the various platforms and plugins work. For example, what is the difference between Known, Micro.Blogs and WordPress? What does Bridgy do? Are there any limitations to it? For example, can I connect it with more than one space, particularly in regards to Twitter. I also find more solace in reading various reflections, listening to weekly updates and think that the main site has come along way, especially in outlining the different entry points. I think that the addition of a book would be a valuable resource. As always, I am still investigating.

So what about you? Have you had any experiences with the IndieWeb? Do you have any thoughts and comments that you would share with Chris Aldrich?


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