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We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the emptiness of the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
Here’s a ‘story’ created using Storify:
I used the ‘Storify This’ bookmarklet to pop up an editor with bits of info for the story:
The UX of the tool is straightforward, a drag and drop means to pull elements into a storyline, and optional text sections between them.
Storify attempts to help us pull bits together we find in the stream, tie a string around them, and throw the new collation back into the flow.
You can see the result of that story here, and of course this story starts with a Storified embed as well.
The Bottom Line
Storify is a tool geared to web-based writers, in a sense like my use of Tumblr. And like Tumblr, it publishes my ‘stories’. See http://storify.com/stoweboyd. So this is a backwards entrant into the changing publishing tools space.
We are clearly moving past the days of a clear delineation between reading, writing, and commenting. In a stream based world, everything seems to start as a response to something else, and every word we post spreads out through the ether and sparks a dozen reflections.
The product Amplify tried to tap into this, and has done so to some extent, although that is too tied to the feeling of ‘bookmarks with annotations’.
Storify attempts to help us pull bits together we find in the stream, tie a string around them, and throw the new collation back into the flow.
I think that there is promise here, but I see obvious parts missing:
In a perfect streaming world we could collate bits together like this, and the meta data about the existence of that collation would stream back to the components. This is like the social gestures on Tumblr, where I see a note whenever someone reblogs or likes a post of mine. And that chain of gestures continues outward, so I am informed when my post is reblogged, even from someone else’s blog.
So, Jason Calacanis should know that his tweets are appearing in my story, and I guess the response through Twitter is appropriate, since he may not have a Storify account to be notified through. But the mechanism to let him know should be more like a retweet than a mention.
In a world of information fragments, flotsom and jetsom hurtling through a streaming world, there should be a uniform way to indicate that a ‘post’ has been reused: either in its original independent form, or as an element of a larger collation. In this case, that a tweet (or a group of tweets) were added to a ‘story’.
Just as Twitter today keeps tabs of how many times a post has been retweeted (do they?) and Tumblr indicates how many times a post has been reblogged, we need to keep the history of things that are included in others.
I did an experiment on Storify, and adding a story (my Calacanis story) to another story (my Storify story) does not lead to some more elaborate presentation — like a nesting in an outline — and does not lead to a ‘reposted’ indicator anywhere.
While it sounds complex, there reality is simple: reposting and reuse of posts in other people’s stories — tweets, blog posts, bookmarks, whatever — should be indicated on both sides of the reuse, and in a consistent fashion. This is a return to the Tumbleback idea I floated in 2009 (see Tumblebacks: A Call For Interoperable Tumbling). Since it is more general than just ‘Tumbling’ I am proposing to rename tumblebacks as postbacks, in a nod to the old blogging technique of trackbacks. Note however, the distributed history issue was never handled in trackbacks, so more work is needed.
One last thought: Storify has a minimal analytics capability set up, tracking the clicks onto stories, but I would like a more complex analytics view, showing which story bits are getting accessed.
WordPress is following the lead of Tumblr and other blog platforms (like Typepad) and adopting at least one part the ‘poststream’ model that Tumblr pioneered. The Tumblr poststream model has two ‘sides’:
The Outside View — When Tumblr users are looking at other Tumblr-hosted blogs, they see several controls that are not visible to non-users. Along with the blog content, they see ‘like’, ‘reblog’, ‘follow’ and ‘dashboard’ icons, like this:
The ‘like’ button (the heart) is a way to create a haptic gesture that winds up on the post’s ‘notes’ list, a history of all the ways that the post has been touched by others.
The ‘reblog’ button makes a copy of the post on the user’s blog, and adds that action to the original post’s notes history.
Clicking the ‘follow’ adds the blog to the user’s list of followed blogs, which is a perfect segue to the second view in the poststream model.
The Inside View — When the user logs into Tumblr (or when they clink on ‘dashboard’ after being logged in), they are presented their Tumblr dashboard, which aggregates posts from all the blogs that the user is following, plus posts from their own blog, and notes that other users’ actions have left on posts. Here’s the third page of my Tumblr dashboard from this morning (I wanted to show a note and the page controls):
The ‘like’ and ‘reblog’ controls are displayed on all the posts in the poststream, and work in the same way as described.
You can see that wakeupfromthedramscene has started following my UnderpaidGenius blog. Other notes also are displayed, although their are none in this page of my poststream: reblogs, likes, and answers to questions (any text post that ends with a question mark allows for answers to questions to be accumulated).
WordPress Adopts (Part Of) The Outside View Of The Poststream Model
WordPress announced (without any reference to Tumblr) support for ‘like’ and ‘reblog’ — a subset of the outside view.
Today we’re introducing a new like and reblog feature enabled across the whole of WordPress.com. When you’re logged in to WordPress.com and viewing a post you’ll notice a new link in the admin bar at the top of the page. If you really enjoyed the post then you can click the “Like” link to signify this. This will then show the author how many readers liked the post.
Once you’ve liked the post, the link will change to “You like this” and you’ll be presented with some new options via a drop down menu. You can also access this menu at any time in the future by hovering over the “You like this” link in the same way other menu items work.
Wordpress offers up a list of the posts that the user has ‘liked’ but doesn’t seem to implement anything like the outside view. However, I have to imagine that they will trend in that direction, simply based on competitive pressures.
A Growing Divide In Blogistan, And The Need For Tumblebacks
I guess that all WordPress users will be happy with the new features. But as soon as they become used to ‘like’ and ‘reblog’ they are going to experience a real annoyance: when they land on a Tumblr blog post they will not be able to ‘reblog’ or ‘like’ it. Why? Because the competitors in the blog platform space do not seem to want to play together nicely.
When I first started to gripe about this divided world, last year, David Sippey of Typepad said that he would be willing to support the development of some interoperable means to support cross-platform interoperability, which I started to call ‘Tumblebacks’. But I got nowhere with the folks at Tumblr.
I would like to expand briefly on what I think is called for.
- A convention — like trackbacks — needs to be established, so that a message can be sent by one platform, like Typepad, to another, like Tumblr, on behalf of an author. I propose we call this ‘tumbleback’, plural ‘tumblebacks’.
- Let’s say I want to reblog a post from a Tumblr blog on my Typepad blog. I might use a Typepad bookmarklet that is Tumblr-aware. When I select a post on a Tumblr blog, and use the reblog capability in the bookmarklet, it would a/ post the reblog on my Typepad blog, and b/ send a message to Tumblr, indicating the reblog.
- The cross-platform reblog would look much like a regular, within a single platform reblog, with the name and URL of the source blog displayed.
- The message sent from Typepad on my behalf would be received by Typepad, and the fact that I reblogged the post could be included on the ‘notes’ history associated with the source blog post. This means that readers of the original post would see that I had reblogged it.
- Tumblr might send a message back to Typepad including information that would allow Typepad to display the notes history of the source blog on the post I created. Alternatively, this could be provided by an API. Likewise, as other Typepad users reblog my post Typepad could pass these notes along. In this way the full reblog history (and favorites or likes, as well) could be maintained at the original source post, and shared by everyone.
- I think some new microsyntax is called for, that would indicate the platform, author, and other metadata associated with these cross-platform trails. More to follow on that.
- The addition of downstream reblogs and likes/favorites could be added to the streams of participants by the various services.
It’s a non-trivial technical challenge, and can’t be simply accomplished with RSS, as some have suggested. But most importantly, we need a united Blogistan, not three or ten separate worlds, all implementing essentially similar services but not in an interoperable way.
We should all exert pressure on these vendors to agree to interoperability around the blogstream social dimension of blogging. I would be happy to participate in a working group on the subject, and I have had some support — like Michael Sippey — but otherwise, nothing.
While the vendors may think that their interests are served by non-interoperability, consider the instant messaging marketplace, where the three major players — AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft — effectlively lost their importance when web 2.0 generation social tools came along. Had they done the opposite back in the late 90’s and early ’00s — created an interoperable set of standards for IM and opened that platform up for developers to build on — they might have benefitted from the social revolution instead of being sidelined by it.
The blog vendors may wind up in the same spot.
Tumblr’s David Karp explains on the Tumblr blog:
Inspired by Wordpress’ seriously clever use of Loren Brichter’s new Tweetie options, we’re launching our own Tweetie and Twitterrific compatible API. This Twitter-like API should make it easy for a lot of existing Twitter clients to start supporting Tumblr.
The really cool thing - because our following models follow a lot of the same principles, we’ve been able to take advantage of a ton of native features:
- Retweeting = Reblogging
- Replying = Reblogging w/ commentary
- Favoriting = Liking
- “@david” = ”http://david.tumblr.com/”
- Conversations = Reblogs
To try out Tumblr in Tweetie 2, tap “Accounts” → “+” → enter your username and password → tap the gear icon → enter “http://tumblr.com/” in both fields.
For Twitterrific, tap ”Sources” → “Edit” → “Add a New Account” → enter your username and password → tap ”Advanced” → set “Base URL” to “http://tumblr.com/” and disable “SSL”.
I confess I am more drawn to the Tumblr example since I maintain a number of active Tumblr blogs. I will leave aside the tactical issues of that integration for another post, one probably only interesting to Tumblr heads. For this post I want to focus on the ups and downs of this use of the Twitter API.
Karp’s handwave equivalences in the post, where he equates ‘@david’ and ‘http://david.tumblr.com’, conceal a host of real semantic differences in the various platforms involved in this seeming convergence of many sorts of ‘microblogging’. As just one example, David Karp is ‘david.tumblr.com’ at Tumblr, but not ‘@david’ on Twitter (David Noël, in Germany). But that’s not central.
What is central to this discussion is the differences in tumbling and twittering. The two systems share (for all intents and purposes) the open follower model, where any user can opt to follow any other. (One caveat is blocking followers, but leave that to one side as a nit.)
There is also a loose equivalence between reposting and retweeting, which was more tight before Twitter reworked the semantics of retweeting. (Note that the adoption of Twitter fundamentals as the basis of a trans-microblogging suite of social conventions suggests a new reason for Twitter to not fool with semantics of core operations, like reposting/retweeting. But I will leave the Retweet Fail controversy to one side, too.)
But some social gestures and other semantics don’t equate nicely across the tumbleblog/Twitter divide. For example:
What I have proposed is a new convention, called Tumblebacks, which would require extension made to these companies APIs, so that cross-following, cross-streaming, cross-posting, and cross-gestures would be supported.
But these issues aside, there seems to be a real possibility of a mashed up mixed up world, based on tumbleblogging platforms leveraging the Twitter API.
But there is a hidden problem. All of these systems are unintegrated.
I recently wrote a post calling for a cross integration of the user experience of tumbleblogging platforms, and not I can include Twitter, as well.
Here’s the issue: I can’t follow a Typepad blogger (or blog, more correctly) inside of Tumblr, or vice versa. I have to login to two different systems, and interoperability is manual, at the best. I have to manually cut and paste stuff from Michael Sippey’s Typepad-hosted blog into my Tumblr-hosted Underpaid Genius blog. And I have two different sets of followers and people that I follow in Tumblr and Typepad. Oh, and in Twitter, too.
This is analogous to the wonderful world of instant messaging, where AIM, Yahoo, and MSN have fought for years to not support a general protocol for instant messaging interconnection. At one time telephone companies would not allow calls to people outside their own network, either, and the US Government gave a monopoly to Bell to solve that mess.
What I have proposed is a new convention, called Tumblebacks, which would require extension made to these companies APIs, so that cross-following, cross-streaming, cross-posting, and cross-gestures would be supported. For a detailed discussion of the proposed convention, see here.
Various companies — Six Apart, Postling, Soup.io, and others — have expressed an interest in discussing this convention, and seeing where it would lead. One contact at Posterous — I can’t find the tweet — expressed puzzlement about the idea, and said they weren’t a microblogging company. He said something like ‘We’re a real blogging company,’ or the like.
Tumblr’s John Maloney and I have had an email exchange about the Tumblebacks Convention, but he seems to think that these other companies are principally or only interested in getting their hooks into the large and growing community of Tumblr users.
[Update: John Maloney emailed today (18 Dec) following this post to say he was only making a wisecrack, and he and his team are going to take a long look at Tumblebacks and circle back with an official response.]
However, my interest is on behalf of users, like me, who are decidedly not better off in a divided world.
We, the users of all these products, which form the paving stones of our shared online city, we would be better off with Tumblebacks implemented.
The vendors of Twitter and tumbleblog clients — like Tweetie, Tweetdeck, Blogo, and Twitterific — may be the place where will see Tumblebacks first implemented.
Imagine this scenario:
Most important, the user experience for both me as an active tumbler and twitterer is consistent and intuitive, and the experience of those who are approaching this outside the stream — a casual visitor to Michael Sippey’s blog, for example — displays the full richness of the interaction going on, with reposts, likes, and other social gestures displayed on the individual posts (and tweets?).
So I guess this latest chapter is an indication of things to come. Two clients developers, Tweetie and Twitterific, create a way to do something cool, that makes the user experience richer and better, and the vendors start to move in a great direction. But we also need a strategic vision, not just tactical advances. And Tumblebacks — to be implemented in the broadest general manner — will require strategic alignment from all the microblogging companies, and we will be the final beneficiaries of their commitment.
In particular, I suggested a construct I called ‘tumblebacks’ as part of reblogging, based on an analogy with trackbacks. But I left out the issue of cross-platform following.
My sense is that cross-platform following can mostly be achieved by RSS subscription, although following does include a notification aspect. For example, in both Typepad and Tumblr I can expose the list of those that I am following, and those that are following me. Various platforms need only to notify each other of following and unfollowing, and the identities involved, and then cross-platform following semantics works.
In an earlier post today, regarding Typepad’s release of Micro, a new ‘micro blogging’ implementation on the Typepad platform, I called for interoperable tumbling between blog platforms:
Reblog is not built in to every blog, so even if I am an active Typepad Micro user, I can’t reblog every post of every Typepad blog. It requires the blog’s owner to change to a Micro template, like Chroma. This is a major problem, and will slow the adoption of Micro. At the very least Six Apart should add a reblog capability to the bookmarklet, so that users can reblog all Typepad blog posts. This might even be extended to support reblogging of other blogging platforms’ posts, like Tumblr, Moveable Type, and Wordpress, for example. Ultimately, interoperable reblogging and favoriting are going to be demanded by users. It is a social good for interoperability of this sort to exist. In fact, I am going to kick off a project in Microsyntax.org calling for conventions to be considered that will support this.
I would like to expand briefly on what I think is called for.
I will be contacting representatives of Typepad, Tumblr, and perhaps other tumble blog companies to discuss these ideas, and invite them to participate in a Microsyntax initiative to define conventions (and perhaps de facto standards) to allow such interoperability to work.
As I said, this would clearly be in the public interest. We should not have a divided world between various emerging tumbling platforms, despite near-term business interests of the competing companies. I saw this happen in the instant messaging world, and the resulting fragmentation benefited no one, not even the vendors who refused to do the right thing.
Six Apart has made an announcement of new capabilities for Typepad:
[via Announcing TypePad Micro]
As part of our ongoing rollout of the NEW TypePad we are pleased to
announce new social blogging features and the launch of TypePad Micro:
a completely free level of TypePad focused on easy sharing of text,
photos, and videos.
A new form of blogging is emerging — somewhere between the status
updates of Facebook and Twitter and the full-length posts of classic
blogs — focused on being easy, fun, and connected. Think of this middle
category as a bridge between blogs and social networks, tapping into
the connectedness of networks with the freedom, control, and
independence of blogs.
TypePad Micro is built for this growing form of blogging, making it
easy for people to curate compelling content from the web — be it text,
photos, or videos — and share it in real-time with people on their blog
and to Facebook and Twitter. We very much see this form of blogging as
a complement to, not a competitor of, these services. Many bloggers
have friends and followers on these great networks but often want to
post more than 140 characters, or share photos and videos, with their
own narrative and their own design.
TypePad Micro comes with a beautiful new theme, Chroma, custom built for this streamlined form of blogging and a new feature: Reblog,
which makes it easy for your blog’s readers to re-post items from your
blog on a blog of their own (think of it as the blogging equivalent of
This micro release of Micro is an effort to go after Tumblr, to catch up to it’s phenomenal growth. And in part, it does so.
The inclusion of the ‘reblog’ social gesture (or function, if you are a functional thinker) is perhaps the single most important aspect of this release. The ‘reblog’ and the ‘like’ gestures are two minimal touches that make Tumblr what it is. Mostly the impact of these social gestures are invisible to people who don’t have their own Tumblr accounts, because behind the open public face of tumbler is second open public sphere, but only seen by Tumblr users. I refer to this as ‘behind the veil’, since it also public, but occluded.
In this social plane of Tumblr, I receive a torrent of posts from those Tumblr blogs I am following, and I can see the social gestures related to the posts I have created. Whenever someone reblogs a post of mine, or ‘likes’ it, that appears as a message in the stream.
As a result of this social stream behind the Tumblr veil is a rich world, where a Tumblr user may spend a great deal of time, reading, examining pictures, seeing reblog notitfications, and so on. Here’s my stream for my /Ambivalence Tumblr blog, leaving out the posts from those I am following:
This is the principal user experience of Tumblr, bathing in the stream of images, text, links, and social gestures flowing from those you follow.
To have it work, you need the ‘reblog’ and ‘like’ social touches (or the Micro ‘favorite’ I guess), as well as a stream view behind the veil. Typepad implemented the stream view sometime ago, and has now closed the loop.
It seems, though, at present only the new Chroma template supports reblogging, which seems odd. Why can’t I just add reblog to my existing Typepad blogs? My sense is that Six Apart are maintaining a conceptual distinction between micro blogging — which Chroma is designed for — and macro or long format blogging. I think this is a meaningless distinction, and that the important thing is the stream behind the veil, for any sort of blog. It represents a new and richer social dimension to the blogging experience.
Here’s a Chroma blog that I created:
It took only a minute to change an existing blog to the Chroma template, and it offered the very cool feature of offering me three color schemes based on the tones in the photo I uploaded as the banner image. You can see the ‘Reblog It’ button at the bottom of the first post.
Note that this post was created in what I consider the most common fashion for ‘tumbling’. I went to my /Ambivalence blog selected a picture I posted there, and I used a Typepad bookmarklet to select that image to post in the /Edgewards blog on Typepad. This is how most Tumblr blog posts are made, aside from reblogging existing Tumblr posts.
I used Typepad’s bookmarklet:
Perhaps this is the only place where Typepad Micro doesn’t operate like a tumblr blog: the posts aren’t typed. In Tumblr, image posts are different from video, audio, quotes, links, and text. Typepad posts, even in Micro’s Chroma template are all the same. In Tumblr, if you descend down into the guts of the template language (a subject too technical and detailed for this post), each of these post types can be managed differently, with different fonts, styling, and layout. Although I have not tried to dive down into Chroma’s template, it doesn’t seem like the system is typed. I predict that Typepad will have to be extended to meet the sophistication available to designers in Tumblr.
Six Apart has added some of the small touches that make Tumblr a rich experience externally, like the ability to create a gallery in photos in a single post, by uploading a series of photos or URLs:
At first inspection, Typepad Micro might add up to something very similar to the internal social experience of Tumblr. The combination of a streaming experience for logged in users and the ‘reblog’ and ‘favorite’ gestures could lead to an experience nearly as rich as Tumblr. However, there are some serious caveats:
[Update: I learned that Six Apart has in fact set things up so that every blog can have reblog enabled. I have turned this on for /Message, too.]
Six Apart has a long way to go to provide an experience as rich and social as that offered by the much younger Tumblr. But I have to say, they have given me hope that I won’t have to port my /Message blog to Tumblr in order to ultimately have the same depth of experience surrounding my tech blogging as I do on /Ambivalence, where I tumble everything else. Note I don’t say that I blog on /Ambivalence, because the experience is so different, so much more compelling and deep, that it is really something completely different.
I dream of logging into Typepad to have a cascade of other tech writers’ thoughts and commentaries stream past, being able to reblog and comment on these posts in a one step fashion. To be in the stream is just a better experience than wandering around, or reading from RSS tools. Six Apart might be on the way to get me there. I hope so.
I plan — as you might expect — to convert this blog over to Chroma, or something like it, just as soon as I explore the implications in a bit more depth.