Posts in: rss

Not two weeks have gone by since my lament on infrequent posting and lo, there is a new — short! — article from Applied Divinity Studies: On the Experience of Using a Guest Pass at an Elite Gym. I’m not sure it is about an actual gym experience, but the lesson is broadly applicable.

The Iconfactory’s Project Tapestry is interesting and pretty, but feels like reinventing the wheel and throws RSS under the bus (emphasis mine):

Blogs, microblogs, social networks, weather alerts, webcomics, earthquake warnings, photos, RSS feeds - it’s all out there in a million different places, and you’ve gotta cycle through countless different apps and websites to keep up.

What in the world are they on about? RSS feeds do collate all of this. How is what they want to do any better than textcasting? I can see how it’s worse — it would be view-only, without posting and editing.

Thank you for reading a draft of this

That draft being the thing that you are reading now.

Last year I wrote about my approach to blogging but maybe I should have a post pinned up top that specify exactly what kind of a blog this is. Because “blog” has become a suitcase word, meaning different things to different people. To name a few:

  1. SEO-optimized clickbait farms, à la BuzzFeed and HuffPost (which is Joe Q. Public’s idea of a blog)
  2. A topic-oriented mix of long articles and link posts, à la Daring Fireball and (which is my idea of the default “blog”)
  3. Carefully cultivated collections of essays, the owners of which sometimes emphatically insists that they are not blogs, à la Maggie Appleton and Gwern Branwen (Substack and Medium may also fall under here)
  4. Stream-of-thought title-less short posts interspersed with longer but still underbaked articles, à la Dave Winer (and much of the community, present company included)

Numbers 1 and 4 are as far apart as you can get but there is some blurring of the lines between 2 and 3. Had I ordered the list by amount of polish rather than word share, I would have flipped them. I could also have subdivided number 3 into essay collections calling that call themselves “digital gardens” and those that do not, but they are all more similar in content than they are different in style, so lumped they were.

Many authors of Number 3 blogs-not-blogs are amusing for their insistence on having other people read their work before they post it. They like to thank them in a post-scriptum, doing the double work of name-dropping and seeding future links. Here is Nabeel Qureshi doing it last week; there you see Paul Graham also thanking a bunch of people, some of them the same.

This approach writing on the internet goes hand-in-hand with the call for quality over quantity: better to polish your one big piece for months than churn out articles week after week without any of them having much chance of being widely read. Wrong assumptions aside, And here is the aside: people who espouse this view take it for granted that the chief reason why someone would post their writing online is for it to be read widely, or if not widely then at least by people of influence. That is writing in order to be read. An alternative framing — my framing, in fact — is that writing is beneficial for its own sake, to develop thoughts, keep records and improve speed, and if someone online has any benefit from seeing what you did and/or has good comments, then great. But ultimately the main audience for my writing are the future me-s. quality over quantity in online writing leads to inevitable slowdown and year-long pauses, to no-one’s benefit. My RSS reader is full of dead feeds that started out this way; see: Applied Divinity Studies (last posted December 2022), Fantastic Anachronism (last posted February 2023), Everything Studies (last posted January 2024, after a year-long break).

John Nerst, the author of Everything Studies has a good excuse — he is writing a book — but then so were Tyler Cowen, M. John Harrison, Allan Jacobs and many others closer to the stream-of-thought school. Would not the period of research and writing be the perfect time to share some of the thoughts and drafts with others?

And here we come to the paradox of going for quality-over-quantity when writing-to-be-read. If nothing you write is good enough to be posted, it will never be read. If you’re fine writing in any and all circumstances and sharing posts that are just good-enough-for-government-work, well, the area under the curve of your stuff being red over time will only increase. It’s the roundaboutness of blogging.

The Verge lists top 5 RSS readers and gives an honorable mention to the Mac/iOS-only Reeder, but how on Earth is NetNewsWire not there? Is being free and open source a mark against it? (ᔥDave Winer)

Ada Palmer doesn’t blog much, but whenever she does it goes right to the top of my reading list. Today’s text was about censorship. The key point:

The majority of censorship is self-censorship, but the majority of self-censorship is intentionally cultivated by an outside power.

In particular:

If we believe that the purpose of the Inquisition trying Galileo was to silence Galileo, it absolutely failed, it made him much, much more famous, and they knew it would. If you want to silence Galileo in 1600 you don’t need a trial, you just hire an assassin and you kill him, this is Renaissance Italy, the Church does this all the time. The purpose of the Galileo trial was to scare Descartes into retracting his then-about-to-be-published synthesis, which—on hearing about the trial—he took back from the publisher and revised to be much more orthodox.

There are more recent examples as well, from the 1950s comic book scare to the modern-day school library controversies.

By the way, I have just started reading the first book of Too Like Lightning, her sci-fi trilogy, and two chapters in I am completely hooked.

A proposal to reform the NIH intramural program that makes a whole lot of sense. (ᔥTyler Cowen who recently linked to another new-to-me science blog that is quite good. A Blogroll update is long overdue.)

Feature suggestion for a microblogging service: a “Do Not Post” button. Get all those poison darts and built-up steam out of your system together with the satisfaction of a button click, without the anxiety or guilt.

Oh no, wait, it already exists.

Luke Burgis on prolific Substack writers:

At some level, the pure volume of writing—especially if you’re halfway decent at it—is perceived by some people as actual knowledge, even if you’re not saying anything at all, or even if you’re making ridiculous arguments riddled with fallacies.

Every once in a while, some 6,000 word word salad will land in my inbox from a figure like Freddie deBoer or Matty Yglesias or Richard Hanania—and I stay subscribed, just so I know what’s going on (maybe I shouldn’t)—and I think, “Lord, have mercy. Who has time to respond to all of these things? Or who would actually want to make themselves that miserable? I sure don’t!” And then I get back to work.

Feeling the same, I unsubscribed from most newsletters long ago.

Three pieces from last week about the long-gone, the recently deceased, and the actively dying:

What a great year for the Internet!


While writing about Facebook, Ernie Smith of Tedium repeats what many — most? — people who use it despite knowing better tell themselves:

To be clear, I knew Facebook was a really undesirable thing to have in my life (it’s pissed me off plenty in the past), but it’s a necessary evil, because it captures people in your life that you would lose contact with entirely if you did not have a presence there. But it’s really troublesome to me how much of that stuff is getting flooded out by literally dozens of pieces of unrelated junk.

I haven’t had a Facebook account for 10+ years, yet I have kept (intermittent, once-every-few-years) touch with elementary and high school friends and distant family members. Sure, I don’t know where everyone’s been for their summer vacation, whether my nieces and nephews twice-removed have new pets or which new schools they are going to, and I certainly don’t know whether someone I barely knew at high school has a new job (though there is always LinkedIn for that one). If “losing contact” means not knowing all of that, well, so be it. But keeping track of the ins and outs of people’s lives is not a prerequisite for asking them for help and advice if and when needed, nor helping out when asked.

So what, exactly, is the tradeoff here?