A most pathetic surveillance tool.
I have been dumping time into Fraidycat—the tool I use to monitor the Web (blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Soundcloud, what have you)—in an effort to really increase my ability to stay up on reading you all. I’m going to be releasing Fraidycat on Nov 4th—but you shouldn’t feel any obligation to use it, because it’s geared toward my own purposes, but I hope it might inspire someone out there to design even better ‘post-feed’ tools for reading the Web.
Just a heads up, though. It sucks. Here’s why:
- It can only be used either as a web extension or a Dat website.
- Its ‘syncing’ powers are limited—so if I am using it on Firefox on one machine, I’ll need to use Firefox (and the same account) on another machine to keep my ‘follows’ in sync.
- You can’t post from it or anything, which is terrible.
- Fetching philosopher.life freezes the whole extension for like a minute.
The reason it sucks is because I am trying to make it an independent tool—it shouldn’t rely on a central website at all. (It also sucks because I suck, duh!)
The fortunate thing, though, about right now—is that everything else sucks, too! We traded all these glorious personal websites in for a handful of shitty networks that everyone hates. So using Fraidycat is actually a nice breath of somewhat non-shitty air, because you can follow people on all of those networks without needing to immerse yourself in their awfulness.
Here is what it looks like today:
So, yes, it does reward recency. But not as much as most platforms do. No one can just spam your feed. Yeah, they can bump themselves up to the top of the list, but that’s it. And, if I need to bump someone down manually, I can move them to the ‘daily’ or ‘weekly’ areas.
Imagine not needing to open all of these different networks. I tire of needing to open all of these separate apps: Marco Polo, Twitter, Instagram. My dream is that people can use the platforms they want and I don’t have to have accounts for them all—I can just follow from afar. Gah, one day.
The Shittiest Thing
And, actually, the worst part is that all of these sites are tough to crack into. For most blogs, I use RSS. No problem—works great. Wish I didn’t have to poll periodically—wish I could use Websockets (or Dat’s ‘live’ feature)—but not bad at all.
For Soundcloud and Twitter, I have to scrape the HTML. I’m even trying to get Facebook (m.facebook.com) scraping working for public pages. But this is going to be a tough road—keeping these scrapers functional. It sucks!
I wish there was more pressure on these sites to offer some kind of API or syndication. But it’s just abyssmal—it’s a kind of Dark Ages out there for this kind of thing. But I think that tools like this can help apply pressure on sites. I mean imagine if everyone started using ‘reader-like’ tools—this would further development down the RSS road.
I should say that I think we can do better than RSS. Or maybe just—we need more extensions. A few I’d like to see:
- A ‘live’ metadata tag. This could be of use on Twitch streams, for instance, to say whether the stream is ‘live’ right now. Also perhaps a time for how long the stream has been live and when it ends.
- Metadata for pinned posts or sitewide bulletins. Perhaps the site will be down for two months due to a medical emergency or vacation or something. It would be nice to have post(s) that could be flagged as an important PSA or something.
- Metadata for drafts or hidden material. I hide quite a lot of posts on my site, mostly comments to other blogs—and I notice Sphygmus has been doing this as well with TiddlyWiki. Sure you can offer multiple feeds. But I would love it if Fraidycat could said: “Sphygmus has 13 recent hidden posts—here are some sample titles—are you interested in seeing these as well?”
- Oh and I’m seeing more people doing public drafting and I used to not get it, but now I do, and it would be nice to mark drafts in the titles.
- For purely video content—like let’s say someday TikTok or Instagram stories could offer a feed—it would be nice to have a reasonable way to do this! Otherwise RSS will never be an option there.
I will get back to my other projects (indieweb.xyz, my href hunts) once this is released. I really appreciate Jason McIntosh’s recent post about Bumpyskies, partly because I just like to read about personal projects—and it’s difficult to write about them because self-promotion has become quite shameful—however, I don’t know how we get out of the current era of corpypastas without personal software that makes an attempt at progress.
As in ‘news feed’ not ‘RSS feed’. Part of the idea here is to move past the cluttered news feed (which is itself just a permutation of the e-mail inbox) where you have to look through ALL the posts for EVERYONE one-by-one. As if they were all personal messages to you requiring your immediate attention. ↩︎