Category: Tools

Tools

Most Nights You Can Find Me (Briefly) Streaming on Twitch and Editing Wikipedia

Wikipedia editing

Every night… usually sometime between 8:00 and 10:00pm US Eastern time, you can usually find me streaming on Twitch (danyork324) while … editing Wikipedia! 😀

If you’d like to learn more about Wikipedia editing - or just want to chat - you are welcome to follow me at danyork324. I am usually streaming Wikipedia editing… or occasionally recording a podcast episode or testing out new livestreaming software or equipment. I should warn you that I’m typically not on very long, often only 15-30 minutes. Sometimes an hour, but usually much shorter.

[Note: In 2021, I might try to move these streaming/editing sessions back to more around lunchtime US Eastern (where they first started last year). I’m also doing some research/thinking into how to sleep better.. and being online streaming right before going to bed may be something I seek to change.]

This all started back on March 20, 2020, as something I wanted to do to distract myself from the chaos that was unfolding then with COVID-19. The Governor of Vermont had just declared a state of emergency. He had just issued a “Stay at Home” order starting on March 17. The news was filled with crazy reports about the virus all around the world. Hospitals were gearing up for the disaster. 

In the midst of all of that, I decided I needed something to take my mind away from the emerging pandemic. 

So I looked at the various things I’d been wanting to explore. One of them was to dive in to Twitch to understand more about how it all worked. I’ve been livestreaming for years to YouTube Live, to Facebook, and to various other channels. But I’d never done anything with Twitch and wanted to give it a try. I also wanted an excuse to play with OBS Studio for producing live streams. I’d used other programs such as Wirecast, but never the free and open source OBS Studio.

So… what to stream? I haven’t (yet, anyway) spent any real time playing online games, which is a huge amount of what gets streamed on Twitch.

It turns out that there is a very large part of Twitch that was historically tagged “IRL” (In Real Life) or “Creative”. This includes people playing music, doing crafts, programming / coding, giving tutorials, and recording podcast episodes or talk shows.

None of that is anything I do consistently, except for occasionally recording podcast episodes.

But I thought of something I did want to explore more - the world of Wikipedia!

I’ve had an account on Wikipedia for over 16 years. But after making some initial edits in 2004, 2005, and 2006, I really made very few edits, and had lost touch with much of what had evolved in the Wikipedia community in terms of conventions, processes, etc.

It so happened that the Wikipedia community was looking for people to help update pages about the COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic - and not much had been done with the Vermont page yet. So I thought to myself… here’s a way I can: 1) help Wikipedia; 2) feel like I’m doing something to help provide info about COVID-19; 3) learn more about livestreaming; 4) learn more about Twitch; and 5) give me a consistent distraction during this crazy time.

And so… in 2020 I wound up making over 1,200 edits of various pages - and streaming that live on Twitch!

Remarkably, I’ve done both editing and streaming every single day since March 20, 2020! It’s just become part of what I do. (A couple of times I streamed something else (like a podcast episode recording) and then did the Wikipedia editing separately and not on a stream, but those were exceptions.)

I begin each stream with updating the Wikipedia page about COVID-19 in Vermont to have the latest stats from the Vermont Department of Health. Then I dive into my “Watchlist” of pages I “watch” and spend time making updates, finding edits from spammers (and reverting them), providing opinions on various topics, and welcoming new users to Wikipedia.

How long will I keep doing this every day?  I don’t know. Probably at least through March 20, 2021, to finish out a year of doing it. But perhaps longer since the pandemic seems to be continuing. It’s quite honestly become a fun thing to do and learn - and the daily consistency helps me keep doing it.

I realize I’ll never be in the “list of most-followed Twitch channels” 🤣, but I’ve learned a HUGE amount about Wikipedia and the community, as well as about Vermont and many other topics. I’ve met some other Wikipedia editors through the process, including a couple who stop by the Twitch chats and offer comments. I’ve also learned a HUGE amount about live streaming  - and about Twitch. At some point I’ll publish a post with some of what I’ve learned.

In the meantime.. you can find me there on Twitch each night.. helping in some small way to keep Wikipedia up-to-date.

Facebook Adds Stories to iOS/Android Apps to Try to Kill Snapchat

Facebook stories

Facebook truly DESPISES Snapchat!

As documented in a blog post today, Facebook has now added "Stories" to their main mobile apps. Just like Snapchat, these stories:

  • expire after 24 hours
  • can be either images or videos
  • have all sorts of filters and effects you can add
    • this includes a "masks" feature similar to Snapchat "lenses" that can change someone's face
  • can also be sent directly to one or more of your friends
    • and just like Snapchat, the recipient can view the photo - and then view the photo once more in 24 hours
  • can be created by simply swiping to the right to rapidly access the camera

If you reload your iOS or Android app today, you should see that the top of the app has changed. You now have:

  • a camera icon in the upper left corner that lets you open the camera
  • a "Direct" icon that gets you to images or videos sent directly to you. (Yet another messaging inbox.)
  • a bar of icons of all the friends who have posted Stories so far

And, as mentioned before, you can now swipe to the right to access the camera. If you don't have this feature today, you should within the next day or so.

Cloning Snapchat again and again...

Adding "Stories" to the main Facebook app comes as no surprise. It's been clear for a while that Facebook was jealous of all the people using Snapchat and wanted to bring them back inside Facebook's shiny walled garden. Facebook had already rolled out "stories" in their other Messaging apps:

  • Instagram Stories
  • WhatsApp Status
  • Facebook Messenger "My Day"

Of these, Instagram Stories has been viewed as successful. The WhatsApp and Messenger launches have been very recent and so it's not clear how many people will use them.

How will Facebook differentiate from Snapchat?

In their blog post, Facebook notes that:

Over the coming months, we plan to introduce new ways for the Facebook community to create their own frames and effects that can be used on any photo or video created with the new Facebook camera. Our goal is for the camera to be a home to hundreds of dynamic and fun effects that give you new ways to connect with friends, family, and your community.

We hope that with the new Facebook camera, Stories and Direct, it will be easier than ever to see the world through each other’s eyes

While it is possible in Snapchat to create a custom "geofilter", this teaser from Facebook sounds like a great bit more.

Facebook, of course, has a huge userbase. As I wrote in my "Directory Dilemma" post a few years back, users will use an app for messaging if the people they want to communicate with use that app. And the reality is that Facebook is the center of many people's communication.

So on one level, Facebook doesn't need to differentiate from Snapchat. They simply need to provide this functionality... and hope that this keeps people from opening up the yellow ghost app.

And of course, Facebook still supports regular text posts, photos, links, all of which last longer than 24 hours. They also have Facebook Live video streaming.

This is just really a way to bring "ephemeral messaging" (messages that disappear after a period of time) inside of Facebook's walls.

How many places can people post "stories"?

The question to me is really:

how many places can people realistically post their 24-hour "stories"?

Right now people have at least FIVE major options:

  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Facebook Messenger
  • WhatsApp

... and any other apps that are copying Snapchat right now.

The reality is that users won't post to all of them. They'll choose one... maybe two... and that will be it.

Many people will probably choose to stay right inside of Facebook's walls and use that. Or, if they are already using Instagram Stories, they may stay there.

But what about Facebook Messenger?

One curious aspect of this announcement is bringing direct messaging BACK INSIDE the Facebook mobile app.

Facebook has spent a couple years now moving messaging OUT of the "Facebook" app. They have forced people to use Facebook Messenger to send and receive direct messages on a mobile device.

Now using the "Direct" inbox, we can send and receive messages inside the Facebook app again.

Granted, the messages can only be viewed twice within 24 hours - and they are in the form of images or videos. But we do have messages in the Facebook app again.

It will be interesting to see how Facebook evolves these many different messaging and "stories" channels they have.

Which will YOU choose?

If you have read this far... do you see yourself using the Facebook Stories?

Or will you stay with Snapchat? or Instagram Stories?

Or are you using WhatsApp Status or Facebook Messenger "My Day"?

Or do you just wish this whole "Stories" format would go away? ;-)

Please do leave comments here or wherever this article appears on social media.


P.S. There are many other stories about Facebook Stories appearing today.


Big News! 360° photos now available for any WordPress site via JetPack plugin

360 photo

For those of us experimenting with "360-degree photos", last week's announcement of Jetpack 4.5 had a hidden but awesome feature: you can use a shortcode to embed your 360 photo or video into ANY WordPress site (that uses the Jetpack plugin).

Here is why this is so huge - up until last month, the only sites that would display 360 photos were either:

  • Facebook
  • Google StreetView

That was it. Two effectively closed walled gardens of content.

As I mentioned in my reports into a couple of For Immediate Release podcast episodes, my concern was that only Facebook users would really get this benefit. I wanted the ability to display 360 photos on any website.

On December 15, 2016, WordPress.com announced that all hosted sites could embed 360 photos or videos. This was a great step forward in bringing 360 photos out to more sites.

Then just last week version 4.5 of the JetPack plugin was released and, somewhat bizarrely, while the announcement contains no mention of this awesome new feature, an Automattic staff person confirmed the inclusion of the support in a comment.

You can read all about this new capability here:

Now, since this Disruptive Conversations site is sadly NOT on WordPress, I can't show you the features directly here. However, I've gone ahead and embedded 360 photos on two WordPress sites I have:

Those were both taken using the Google Street View application on iOS. (And yes, sometime I need to write or record a tutorial about how to do this.)

I have included the shortcodes in the blog posts so that you can see how easy this is to do. You just:

  1. Take the 360 photo using the Google Street View app on your smartphone. (This will save it to your camera roll on an iPhone.)
  2. Upload the image to your WordPress site.
  3. Use the appropriate shortcode in your blog post.

That's it!

Of course, you need the Jetpack plugin installed in your site, but that's all.

Many thanks to Automattic's Jetpack team for bringing out this capability so that we could set our 360 photos free of the walled gardens and bring them to any WordPress site!

What do you think about this? Will you try some 360 photos now?

FIR Episode 68 Available Now – Artifical Intelligence (AI), fake videos, PR trends, blockchain and much, much more

Fir68 shel 660px

Yesterday I had an incredibly fun experience starting off 2017 - and now you can share in that: For Immediate Release (FIR) episode #68 is available for listening or download at:

http://firpodcastnetwork.com/fir-68-us-actually-say/

Host Shel Holtz (in the big picture above) brought in C.C. Chapman, myself and former FIR co-host Neville Hobson as the panelists and we had an outstanding conversation that ranged widely. As noted in the show notes, the main topics included:


  • The incoming press secretary for President-Elect Donald Trump has warned us not to expect business as usual when it comes to the administration’s relationship with the media. What does that bode for the press’s ability to hold the administration accountable — and will the philosophy extend beyond the White House to business?
  • Some businesses have begun preparing for unexpected criticism from President Trump while others have already had to respond. Crisis experts are advising companies to add presidential jabs to the list of potential crises for which they must prepare.
  • Five industries are under threat from technology, according to the Financial Times: travel agents, small component manufacturers and distributors, auto insurers, financial advisers, and auto repair garages. How can they prepare (or can they)?
  • Artificial Intelligence will soon make it possible to create fake video with little effort. Think fake news is a problem now? Just wait.
  • Edelman Digital is out with its 2017 trends report. Among the issues the report raises, the panel was particularly interested in bots and conversational experiences, blockchain, and over-the-top entertainment.
  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asked users what they wanted to see Twitter improve or create in 2017. He got answers (including one from longtime social tech leader Anil Dash). In the meantime, does Twitter know yet what it wants to be when it grows up (and will its recently announced live 360 video make a difference)?
  • Apple has published is first Artificial Intelligence paper.

It was fun to be part of the panel participating live versus the usual "tech reports" that I record each week for FIR episodes. And it was fun to have the kind of dynamic exchange that Shel, C.C., Neville and I all had. We've all known each other for a long time and so it all flowed quite nicely.

Speaking of a long time, this episode also marked the start of the 13th year of the FIR podcast! That's a remarkable bit of longevity for any podcast - and congratulations are really due to Shel for keeping it going as long as he has.

Next week I'll be back to presenting my tech reports. I continue to enjoy doing so and will keep at it in the years ahead.

Meanwhile... please do give this episode 68 a listen - and please do send in any comments to the show.

Will Facebook Live Audio be good for podcasting? So many questions…

Facebook live audio

Will "Facebook Live Audio" be good for podcasters? Will it help us engage with our audiences? Will it compete with SoundCloud and other similar platforms? Or will it pull people away from traditional podcasts to keep people within Facebook's shiny walls?

On December 20, Facebook announced the impending release of "Live Audio", initially with five partners and then "early next year" to more people. There's been a great amount of discussion but as of yet I've not learned of anyone who has seen/heard one of these new Live Audio events. Here is the info I've seen so far or can speculate on:

  • Users will be able to go live with audio in a similar way to going live with video.
  • Live audio content will go out in News Feed.
  • Listeners can ask questions and leave reactions in real-time during the live audio stream.
    • Presumably listeners will also be able to leave comments and reactions after the event is no longer live. Will Facebook differentiate as they do with comments to Live Video events? (Comments during the event have a red dot next to them.)
  • Facebook users can easily share the Live Audio streams to their own feeds and friends.
  • Listening will occur inside the Facebook mobile application. There will be an important distinction between iOS and Android listeners:
    • iOS users will only be able to listen while the Facebook app is open (and the phone is not locked). The users can continue browsing through Facebook while listening.
    • Android users will be able to listen in the background while using other apps.
    • To me this means that Facebook has not yet integrated with the audio interfaces within IoS that allow other apps to play in the background or on lock screens.
  • Techcrunch reports that Live Audio streams will have a limit of four hours in length.

As far as a motivation for launching Live Audio, Facebook mentions the feedback that some publishers prefer audio as a format. They also mention that some people are in areas where Internet connectivity is too low to support Live Video. Writing over on The Drum, Sean Larkin notes that Facebook needs new advertising formats and points to a recent study from The Trade Desk showing that advertisers are looking to increase their spending on audio advertising. Audio streaming and podcasts were highest rated in that survey.

In many ways this seems a logical extension of Facebook's desire to be THE place where people spend their time on the Internet. Given the explosive growth in interest in podcasts, it seems to me only logical for Facebook to try to bring some of that attention inside their walls.

Granted, it seems Facebook's initial focus is on the audio version of "live events" versus on podcasts. But to me podcasts are an obvious extention of this tool.

My Questions

Given that we can't see the Live Audio streams yet, or the tools to produce them, I find myself with the following questions:

  • Will users be notified with special "Dan York is live" kind of messages? (I suspect yes.)
  • Will Live Audio streams show up in the new "Live" tab in the mobile app? (as Live Video streams do now?)
  • What tools will be available for streaming audio? For instance, will there be anything to help with audio levels?
  • Presumably we will have to use the Facebook mobile app to stream the Live Audio streams. Will it be able to work with any other mobile apps?
  • Will we be able to bring in intros, outros, bumpers and other audio effects? Or will it truly be raw, live audio?
  • Will Live Audio streams also be accessible outside Facebook's walls to traditional podcasting apps? i.e. would there be a RSS feed that could go into iTunes? Or will it only work inside of Facebook?
  • Will Live Audio be a place to host a podcast? Or will it be another distribution channel?
  • Will Live Audio help spread the interest in podcasts and audio streams? Or will it impact the usage of traditional podcasting apps?
  • What will the impact be on SoundCloud? Many of us have found that platform useful for quick, fast podcasts.
  • And on a techie note, could you start out in Live Video and when connectivity drops, could you drop to Live Audio? Or will they be two separate event types that need to be started separately? (I suspect the latter.)

So many questions!

Given my interest in using SoundCloud for rapid creation and distribution of podcasts, I'll be curious to see how well Facebook Live Audio might work for podcasting. It might be good... it might be too constraining.

What do you think? Are you interested in Facebook Live Audio?


P.S. Another interesting aspect - over on The Verge, Casey Newton notes the potential of Live Audio for "witnessing" events: "Live audio of police confrontations might be less conspicuous, and thus easier, to broadcast than video streams."

Do you use Docker Swarm? If so, how?

Docker swarm page

UPDATE – 20 Nov 2018 – I wrote this back in 2016 as I was just experimenting with Docker. Since that time, not only did Swarm emerge as Docker’s tool for container management/orchestration/clustering, but we also saw the emergence and then domination of Kubernetes as a tool for container orchestration.  I’m leaving this post online, but at this point the examples are quite prominent for how Swarm and other tools can be used.

—-

Do you use Docker Swarm? If so, how?  I have been incredibly intrigued ever since reading about the release of Docker 1.12 earlier this week.

As Benjamin Wooten writes, now with only two commands:

  • We get a deployment platform which gives us resilience, robustness, failover and fault tolerance for our containers.
  • We get load balancing and a routing mesh which makes service discovery simple.
  • We can use our server resources more efficiently with various allocation strategies.
  • We can scale containers up and down with one command.
  • Communications within the cluster are secured with dynamically rotating certificates.

Ever since, I have been reading more, such as this piece about setting up a swarm with Raspberry Pi systems.

Now I am curious… how are any of you reading this using Docker Swarm? What are doing with it?  I am intrigued and curious to do more…

Join the DNS Security team at the IETF 96 Hackathon this weekend…

IETF 96 Hackathon

If you will be in Berlin, Germany, this weekend and are interested in putting your coding or documentation skills to good use in helping make DNS more secure, please plan to join a group of about 20 of us at the IETF 96 Hackathon who will be working on DNS-related projects. The Hackathon is at the InterContinental Hotel from 9:00am – 9:00pm on Saturday, July 16, and from 9:00am – 6:00pm on Sunday, July 17. (You don’t have to be there the whole time – some people come and go.)

NOTE: you do NOT have to be attending IETF 96 to participate in the Hackathon. It is separate – and free – but you do need to register to attend. We welcome other developers in the Berlin area who want to join us during the weekend.

Details can be found on the IETF 96 Hackathon wiki page.

We have a group of 20+ people who will be working on a variety of DNS, DNSSEC, DPRIVE and DANE projects. There are some projects that could use some additional help (including non-coding help such as documentation and user testing). You are also welcome to bring other projects to the Hackathon.

You can see the list of projects and ideas on the IETF wiki hackathon page – although you need to scroll down to find the DNS section.

The GetDNS crew has a number of projects underway, including TLS interfaces, a Universal Acceptance review and RFC5011 testing. Rick Lamb plans to make BIND work with smartcards without patches. I plan to work on the code behind the weekly DNSSEC deployment maps. I’m sure others will bring some projects, too, by the time it begins.

A good group of “DNS people”  have now done this for the past several IETF meetings. It’s been a great experience and moved a number of DNS-related projects forward.  We would definitely welcome anyone else who wants to join us, even if just for part of the time.  Bring your coding and documentation skills and help make DNS better!

P.S. And of course you can also join in with the many other excellent projects happening at the Hackathon, too, including some great work on TLS implementations.  We here at Deploy360 just happen to be focused on DNS…

Instagram Embraces The Algorithm – Switches From Showing Newest First

Instagram

Some big news in the social media world this morning was that Instagram is embracing the algorithm. Instead of seeing posts from Instagram accounts you follow in "reverse chronological order" (newest updates first) you now will see them in an order determined by Instagram. As the company wrote in a blog post today (my emphasis added):

You may be surprised to learn that people miss on average 70 percent of their feeds. As Instagram has grown, it’s become harder to keep up with all the photos and videos people share. This means you often don’t see the posts you might care about the most.

To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.

The order of photos and videos in your feed will be based on the likelihood you’ll be interested in the content, your relationship with the person posting and the timeliness of the post. As we begin, we’re focusing on optimizing the order — all the posts will still be there, just in a different order.

Note that important part:

To improve your experience, your feed will soon be ordered to show the moments we believe you will care about the most.

Your feed will "show the moments WE believe".

Instagram decides.

You have no say in the matter.

Now, of course, Instagram's parent Facebook has been doing this for years now. Twitter, too, has recently embraced the algorithm saying in February that users would start seeing "the Tweets you’re most likely to care about" at the top of your timeline..

Algorithms are not necessarily bad.

I wrote about this topic over on Ello a month ago in a post "Sometimes Algorithms Help Us" [1].

The reality is that algorithms can help us sort through the deluge of content that is exploding on all the social services. As I wrote in that Ello post referencing first blogging and then Twitter:

The deluge of content became too hard for one person to handle

Algorithms can help us sort through the deluge and try to bring to the surface the most interesting and useful items.

The big question is - who is in control of the algorithm?

Is it ME, the user?

Or is it the service/platform?

And in that case how will they potentially manipulate the algorithm toward their own ends?

The problem is that there is a great potential for abuse on the part of the service/platform. As I noted in my recent post about Facebook Reactions, Facebook manipulated users newsfeeds back in 2012 as part of an experiment about moods.

Beyond that, I know many folks, myself included, who just assume that Facebook and now Twitter (and now Instagram) will use the algorithm to manipulate our feeds to show us more advertising and sponsored posts.

They have to, really, in order to pay their investors given that advertising is really their only revenue source.

And this is the problem - the algorithm is a "black box". We, the users, have no idea what is inside of it or how it works.

The corporation is entirely in control.

They are the gatekeeper of the content we see.

Ideally we would have some degree of transparency and control. We would at least know how the algorithm is affecting what we see. But we don't for most of these services.

In their blog post today, the folks at Instagram write:

We’re going to take time to get this right and listen to your feedback along the way. You’ll see this new experience in the coming months.

I hope they do listen - and I hope they do help us at least understand how the algorithm will shape what we see.

Perhaps they'll take some inspiration from Facebook that still provides (at least for the moment) the option to change to see the most recent updates:

Facebook news feed

Although I thought I saw somewhere some stat that only a very few people actually use that option.

Meanwhile, all we can do is embrace the algorithm ourselves... we have no control over the Instagram platform. That is entirely in the hands of the corporation (Facebook) behind it. If we are to continue using it, we are subject to their whims and desires.

Welcome to our brave new world where the corporations are the gatekeepers of what we see.

And, in truth, the algorithm just may help us find more interesting and relevant images within the deluge of Instagram photos.

What do you think? Will embracing the algorithm help make Instagram more interesting and useful? Or do you see this as a cynical attempt to merely get more advertising visible to us?

P.S. Many more stories about this change are appearing on Techmeme.


[1] Note to self: need to pull that post out of Ello's walls and publish it here on the open web.

Do Facebook Instant Articles Support The Open Web… or Facebook’s Walled Garden?

Facebook instant articles

Will Facebook's impending opening up of its "Instant Articles" on April 12 to ALL publishers of content help the "open web"? Or will it just keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny walled garden?

As Facebook's launch announcement says in part:

We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem—slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones. This is a problem that impacts publishers of all sizes, especially those with audiences where low connectivity is an issue.

...

Facebook’s goal is to connect people to the stories, posts, videos or photos that matter most to them. Opening up Instant Articles will allow any publisher to tell great stories, that load quickly, to people all over the world. With Instant Articles, they can do this while retaining control over the experience, their ads and their data.

It sounds great on many levels and blogging pioneer Dave Winer has written passionately about "How Instant Articles helps the open web" (also published on Medium). He went on to document his Instant Articles (IA) feed and to talk about how his blog posts now automagically stream out to Facebook Instant Articles along with other services: Oh the places this post will go!

The beautiful part about Instant Articles is that it is based on good old RSS feeds ... and so with a few additions to the markup of your RSS feed you could be ready to go technically to start publishing Instant Articles. (There are a number of other steps you need to do, though.) Even better, and a point Dave definitely makes, Facebook Instant Articles will update when you make changes to your original text - something that doesn't happen with services (such as Medium) where you can syndicate your articles after you write them... but they don't update.

As Dave notes in "How IA happened from my point of view" by quoting me (in my comment left on Medium), I think this a great step in allowing publishers to easily get their content into Facebook's Instant Articles. My quote said:

"I have expected that Facebook would be focused on keeping everyone inside their shiny walled garden and thought I understood that Instant Articles involved putting your content on FB’s servers… which I now understand it *does*, but via caching of an RSS feed. Which is VERY cool!"

In my previous quick reading about Instant Articles, I had understood that it involved publishers loading their content onto Facebook's servers - and so I thought that we who publish would be forced to load our content onto FB's servers separate from our own websites.

In other words, I thought we would need to publish twice.

This, to me, would NOT support the "open web" that exists outside the big walled gardens of content that we are seeing now evolving.

I thank Dave for helping me understand that Facebook very nicely chose to base IA on the consumption of RSS feeds. This allows us as publishers to create our content once and syndicate it out to Facebook Instant Articles.

This is good and very much in line with the IndieWeb thinking around "POSSE - Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere" that I very much believe in. I applaud Facebook for making it so easy for content publishers to make our content available as Instant Articles.

BUT...

Is the existence of Instant Articles good for the open web?

Right now, when I post a link in Facebook to an article on one of my sites:

when people follow that link they view the article on MY site.

On MY web server, running somewhere out on the distributed, de-centralized and "open" web.

(Which, yes, is increasingly getting centralized in terms of content hosting providers, but let's leave that for a separate article. The point is that I currently do have multiple choices for where I host that content.)

People can interact with my site, see my content there, potentially leave comments there on the site, etc.

My site, and the content on that site, is not dependent on Facebook.

The key point about viewing Instant Articles is:

Reading "Instant Articles" keeps you ENTIRELY within Facebook's walled garden.

You read the Instant Articles inside of your Facbook mobile app. You comment and interact with the article inside of Facebook's app.

All the interaction happens within Facebook's mobile app.

Yes, as a publisher I can get analytics about my content, including via other services such as Google Analytics.

And yes, all the Instant Articles content is pulled in from my website out on the "open web". But while that content is pulled in using "open protocols",

the content is cached (stored) on Facebook's servers and made available through Facebook's own networks.

Over time publishers might start to ask:

Why not simply publish everything DIRECTLY inside of Facebook?

With Instant Articles, Facebook is already serving out my content from their servers... why don't I simplify my workflow even more by just publishing all my content natively inside of Facebook?

And if I were Facebook that would be what I would ultimately want. Even more content exclusively inside MY walled garden that would keep people staying inside those shiny walls.

Yes, User Experience Matters

Having said all of this, I do understand WHY Facebook is doing this beyond the obvious desire to keep people in their walled garden:

The mobile user experience of reading/viewing content has a HUGE need for improvement!

Even with the push by Google and many others to make the web "mobile-friendly" there is still a huge amount of room for improvement.

We need to speed up the "mobile web" and to improve the user experience.

Facebook is trying to do this with Instant Articles. Google is trying to do this with "Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)", which I'll be soon writing an article about. Apple would like to do this with Apple News.

All of those efforts, though, do speed up the mobile web ... but only for users of specific apps / browsers / etc.. Each of the efforts creates a better mobile user experience, but within their own walled gardens.

And I do understand that from Facebook's point of view the mobile user experience isn't as seamless as it could be when people are in the Facebook app and then follow a link out to a completely different look-and-feel and a completely different user experience.

It can be jarring. And it may not work all that well.

Instant Articles will bring a significantly better user experience to users of the Facebook mobile apps.

As a user of those Facebook apps, I can see that being a good thing. Admittedly I sometimes do not follow links I see in my NewsFeed because I know from experience that the site linked to loads slowly and I don't have time at that moment to wait to view that article. I want to see it NOW.

But is the price of a better user experience worth the continued centralization of content within large walled gardens?

And will anyone really care... as long as they can read their article as fast as possible?

Will I Publish Through Facebook Instant Articles?

Of course!

I'm not stupid! The reality is that right now a huge amount of the audience I want to reach is within Facebook's shiny walled garden - and uses Facebook's NewsFeed as a primary way of getting much of their content. I am there myself and do get a large number of links that I visit on a daily basis through what I see in my Facebook NewsFeed.

Like Dave Winer already does, I'm working to see what I can do to make at least a few of my sites accessible via Instant Articles by the April 12 launch. (For instance, I see WordPress plugins for IA already emerging and FB themselves provides some guidance for content management systems.)

I'll do it because my end goal is to get my content seen by the people who I want to reach.

And right now, Facebook is the way that so many people consume content.

I have to go where the conversation is happening.

Do I worry, though, about the long-term effects this may have on the "open web"?

Absolutely.

And I think you should, too.

We Need An Open Internet

We need an "open web" ... and a far larger "open Internet" ... where we don't have to ask permission to communicate, connect, collaborate and create (what many of us call "permissionless innovation").

The centralization of content, both in terms of publishing of content and consumption of content, is a very worrisome trend.

Huge, centralized walled gardens such as Facebook today can make Instant Articles "open to everyone" ... but tomorrow they could start to play much more of the "gatekeeper" role, determining:

  • precisely "who" gets to publish content to the Facebook audience (which they are already doing in a way through the process of applying for Instant Article access);
  • whether that content gets to be seen by all Facebook users (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm and could do even more now that Facebook Reactions are out);
  • whether that content gets to be seen for free - or for a price (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm for displaying Pages content and letting you "boost" content).

Yes, I'll publish through Facebook Instant Articles (assuming my feeds get approved) because it will help Facebook users more easily view my content.

And I'm glad that Facebook chose to use RSS as the base to allow us to easily publish our content as Instant Articles without having to create a separate mechanism for publishing to Facebook.

I just worry that in then end this will only help keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny and pretty walled garden ... versus interacting with the many other sites and services that make up the larger open Internet.

What do you think?

Will you start publishing your content as Facebook Instant Articles? Do you think that we as content providers have much of a choice if we want to reach people on Facebook? What do you think this will do long-term?


An audio podcast about Facebook Instant Articles is also available:


UPDATE #1 - In a bit of synchronicity, Dave Winer published a new post - Who should support IA and how - at about the same time as I posted mine. He suggests that IA should be used as essentially the improved plumbing to make the mobile user experience better across different platforms and walled gardens. I don't disagree.. but I wonder how many of the other walled gardens (ex. Twitter, Medium) would actually support Facebook's protocol. (Sounds like a topic for another blog post...)

Bernie Sanders Advertising On Snapchat Before NH Presidential Primary

Yesterday my teenage daughter clued me in to something that Senator Bernie Sanders' campaign is doing that none of the other Democratic or Republican presidential candidates seem to be doing: advertising on Snapchat!

Once you take a photo in Snapchat, you have the option to swipe to the right to cycle through a series of "filters" that you can add to your photo before you send it to someone or post it to your "story" on Snapchat. These filters include things like your location, the time of day, the outside temperature and, interestingly, the speed in MPH you are currently traveling! (Along with a warning not to "snap and drive!)

One of those filters here in Keene, New Hampshire, (and I'm assuming this is active for all Snapchat users in New Hampshire) lets you add in an image about Bernie Sanders:

Bernie snapchat final cropped

Once you've done that you can then make other changes to the photo before sending it on to another Snapchat user (or users) or posting it to your "Story". It also adds a "Bernie" campaign logo to the top of your image.

At first I was puzzled about whether this was an ad or something coming from Snapchat itself (which I thought would be bizarre) but then when I tried it myself I noticed that for a brief moment the word "SPONSORED" appears when you are applying the filter:

Bernie snapchat sponsored

And of course when you look closer you see in the brown part on the bottom:

GEOFILTER PAID FOR BY BERNIE 2016 (not the billionaires)

... leaving no doubt that this was an ad from the campaign.

In playing more with the filters, I've seen no sign of ads from any other candidates.

It's quite clever in that yesterday it said "2 DAYS TO GO!" and today it says "1 DAY TO GO!" I'm going to guess that tomorrow there will be something about "today is the day".

Here's what the full image looks like when posted in Snapchat (the actual image is just of a street in downtown Keene ... but notice the Bernie logo on the top and the image on the bottom):

Bernie snapchat final

Presumably Snapchatters more creative than I am could take selfies or other photos that make better use of the Bernie filter. :-)

Kudos to the Sanders team for trying something like this. In this year's NH Presidential Primary, we've seen a HUGE amount of social media usage... but so far this is the first I've seen of Snapchat usage.

I would be curious to know, of course, if there are any stats to find out how many Snapchatters actually used the filter ... but I'm not sure how you ever would get that info. (Presumably Snapchat can deliver that info back to the ad purchaser, in this case the Sanders campaign.)

I suspect if this is successful we'll see more usage in the upcoming primaries. The use of "geofiltering" to restrict the filter availability is also intereseting as it allows the campaigns to limit their spending and also very specifically target their messages.

I should note that in order to use this filter, I had to turn on Location Services for Snapchat on my iPhone. I had not done so as I honestly don't use Snapchat all that much... but once I did I then had these filters.

Have any of you reading this seen Snapchat usage by other campaigns?


UPDATE - 9 Feb 2016: And here's what the Snapchat filter looks like on Primary Day itself:

Bernie snapchat primaryday cropped