Google Reader was officially stopped last summer and with it – many claim – the death of RSS. Which brings me to a question: how do we distribute things?
So. The internet is made up of islands, websites, with bridges in between them, links. It’s a crude metaphor because you’re essentially able to link any island to any other island which makes an awful mess of bridges if you try to think of it literally and physically. But, anyway. The tricky thing is either having a website that people purposefully visit on their own every so often (because they assume there is new content) or have a method that links the islands in a sort of tour group, a stream of new content from all the different sources at once. A pull and a push, if you will.
I’ve been fairly successful with the first here at Acrylo, and my few experiments with RSS really didn’t seem to pick up speed. This tells me my audience doesn’t know about / want RSS or they don’t have any good way of reading it. But, that’s fine. They can plug in Acrylo.ca and see new stuff. Easy enough. But is it good enough?
Social media has been the push in recent years, but I still don’t think it’s really there yet. It’s more like a blimp that hovers over all of these islands: the content is hosted off-site for the most part (although Facebook is trying to fix that) and what’s left is a stream of links to content. It’s not a stream of content itself, really. Twitter could be called content, but any look down the stream proves it’s a majority of links to things that aren’t contained solely in those tweets. There are some people for whom Tweets are the draw, but it largely seems to be a little pithy intro and a shortened link that goes who knows where. You follow the link and you repel from the blimp onto some other island where you can explore and move on from there via the bridges. When those run out, you teleport back up and start again. You see a master list of things that might interest you and you follow them with the assumption that they continue to post things you’ll like. But it’s not terribly good at long form text. Tweets themselves are 140 characters short but constantly linking to an external site with your long thoughts seems self-promotey and spam like.
Facebook is a bizarre hybrid of things. There are some feeds that use it almost exclusively, but for the most part it’s also a blimp, a blimp that has a picture and a blurb from each island. You might be able to get the entire content from just that picture (and don’t need to click through) but for any longer amount of content and you’re going to the source still. Probablematically, it’s also not very good for text. Although it allows you to write as much as you want, I haven’t seen anyone who uses it like that. People assume it’s a place for short thoughts and funny pictures. It’s primarily a visual exchange, with text and tags and people / friends tacked onto that. It’s also different in audience to Twitter: Facebook is for real life friends who you probably don’t like or care about, Twitter is for strangers that you do like and grow increasingly caring about. Which brings us to the strange hivemind that is Tumblr:
Tumblr is photocentric. There’s no way around that. My photo Tumblr: very popular. My short story Tumblr has followers in the two-digit variety. It’s a ghost town. And I can’t blame them because I’m guilty of it myself. I’ve found the small pocket of short writing Tumblrs and admittedly when they come up in my stream I usually scroll past them. I’ve gotten in this terrible habit of using the middle-mouse scroll thing to automatically scroll down rapidly. I’m consuming pictures in what could basically be called a strobe light waterfall. I feel like this cheapens everything, but the signal to noise ratio sort of allows for it; there are very few good, good Tumblrs and when you add in all the other blogs, you’re adding noise to even the purest feed. Inevitably, since you can’t follow a mass of 100% perfect streams, you have to concede quality.
The cool thing about this system is it’s almost entirely self contained. Tumblr hosts everything and everyone either reblogs from the inside or brings things from the outside in to reblog. Maybe 5% of them are consistently OC and the author is making the things that show up in the stream. This seem to be webcomics and artists moving over from DeviantArt. Cool, but it doesn’t help the long form text thing. It doesn’t really help writers.
These three are good, but they are communities made for something else, and while they can be good at distribution of the content itself, the people have to be willing to see those things come up in those places, and unfortunately, those are not the places. I’m a little unusual in that my FB is largely outside sources, but the people that I’ve talked to don’t want that – they want to see their friends and family show up. I can respect that, and I understand it, but it’s a shame because it takes Facebook out of the game from being a serious method of getting outside thing to people. Twitter is better, but you have to balance tweets and links. Some people can manage that, but it takes away from being just a longform writer. Tumblr has the perfect setup but the demographic of short attention spans.
Medium is sort of what I’m looking for, but I’m not sure about it yet. I can’t really articulate why, but it’s just missing something. Maybe I’ll find it later. Maybe they’ll add it later. It’s still young, so we’ll just have to wait and see. So far, the demographic of the writership seems uninterestingly “interesting” in the way TED talks have been going downhill. They’re pruned to be “radical” but it reads like the one doing the pruning is over 40 and so the definition of what is radical becomes slightly out of touch. One thing I’m not a fan of (even if I was invited to) is the permission to post thing. I understand that they’re trying to cultivate only the best, but like Twitter or Tumblr (or even WordPress), let the best rise to the top. Allow everyone to go for it, and if they remain in obscurity then that’s fine too. Being allowed to post is a silly metric for goodness in the first place. Give people a free platform and allow them to rise to the challenge.
In the meantime, welcome to Acrylo Island. We’ll figure out a way to bring our sunshine to you one of these days.