To the start of something exciting…

Is Your Future Distributed? Welcome to the Fediverse!

As blogs died, RSS receded, and people owned less of what they posted and their relationships with others, the question was if the seeds of that dream of a distributed Internet would be forgotten. The Fediverse is fresh soil. Let’s see what blooms.

—Glenn Fleishman



Connections and connections and connections

Mastodon is making the web feel young again.

Once upon a time on an internet far, far away, I felt like a genius when I wired up Twitter to our blog to post real-time updates about the birth of our first child.

That kind of transparency today feels absolutely insane. We had a medical emergency in my family last week and set up an invite-only community on Band to keep friends and family updated. Not email blasts, which can be forwarded. Not Facebook groups. And for damn sure not the open web.

I ran a decade-long blog about the urban renaissance taking place in Newark, NJ. I built websites on the open source WordPress platform and avidly attended local WordCamps. I was an early believer in social media (user #68,743 on Twitter, back when it was Twttr). I stayed up to speed with Web Standards and RSS and believed “the future would be syndicated.” I drank all the Kool-Aid, holding out hope that tech would usher in a utopia of peace, transparency, even joy.

I can’t decide if it was the revelations first surfaced that Facebook was aiding genocide or when Donald Trump became the 45th president. I found myself reckoning with a web that has become consolidated to a few, impossibly wealthy and powerful corporations. The tools which I had hoped would bring about hope and change had become co-opted by misanthropes and con artists. I struggled to agree with Paul Ford’s optimism in his Wired piece, Why I (Still) Love Tech: In Defense of a Difficult Industry. Instead I found myself identifying more with his brutal diagnostic of our silly idealism:

People—smart, kind, thoughtful people—thought that comment boards and open discussion would heal us, would make sexism and racism negligible and tear down walls of class. We were certain that more communication would make everything better. Arrogantly, we ignored history and learned a lesson that has been in the curriculum since the Tower of Babel, or rather, we made everyone else learn it. We thought we were amplifying individuals in all their wonder and forgot about the cruelty, or at least assumed that good product design could wash that away.

And, yet. And, yet, this new fediverse. Disruption by way of decentralization.

I don’t think for a moment that tech is above the celebration of human cruelty. Not after this past ~decade. But maybe we’ve learned a little something new about how to take some more pragmatic steps towards a better world through tech? Maybe there’s a little space to hope again?

Let’s see what the future brings. 🐘


Filtering Things by Area

Things for iOS really is a thing of beauty | Cultured Code

I happened across this twitter thread when I was about to suggest to Cultured Code that they allow filtering by Area in their Things app. As it turns out, there is a way:


Posting Anything from Anywhere

Back when I was trying to make The Daily Newarker happen (which went about as successfully as trying to make “fetch” happen), I was trying to find clever ways to fit writing for the internet into the interstices of the day.

Please stop trying, I’m embarrassed for the both of us | Giphy

In 2008, my “smartphone” was a Blackberry Pearl 8100. Laughable by today’s standards, sure, but back then the pocketable, candy-bar shaped device felt sprightly and capable. The pearlescent little trackball in the center of the device for which it was named was a fun and useful way to zip the cursor around and edit large blocks of text. With it, I was able to browse through the morning’s news, copy links and quotes, tap out some commentary, paste the whole post into a web form and click Publish.

Discover, comment, publish—all while riding the Path train from Newark to Wall Street. I even made a game of seeing how many links I could post before the train slipped under the Hudson River and out of cellular reach before resurfacing in the World Trade Center.

This is what we thought the future looked like | RIM

When I transitioned to using an iPhone 3G the following year, this whole workflow was lost—writing text without cut/copy/paste meant I could never take the critical step of editing afterward. But after Steve Jobs strode on stage and foisted our touchscreen future upon us, there was no going back—all those clicky plastic keys seemed ancient by comparison.

“Are you getting it?!” | Daring Fireball

Cut/copy/paste did arrive two years later, but it would still take an additional six years before the iPhone 6s shipped with 3D Touch, a feature that (finally!) could turn the iPhone keyboard into a trackpad to move the cursor around the screen. Despite its usefulness, the feature remains so laughably undiscoverable that it still amazes friends and family when I show them how to use it.

All cursor, no trackball | AddictiveTips

So, finally, in 2019, blogging from a mobile device is starting to feel like a good idea again. Even better, the WordPress app for mobile has make blogging feel even more natural than the kludgey process I had strung together on the Blackberry.

Brings tears to my eyes… | WordPress

And just his past week, one last piece of the workflow snapped into place: drafting a blog from anywhere with a tap of the share sheet. In a brief exchange with the @wordpress twitter account, I discovered just how to do this.

And just like that, I can return to that old process of discover, comment, publish I knew so well ten years ago—all from the device in my pocket.

I think I’ll celebrate by blogging like it’s 2009…


Apple Form Factors

M.G. Siegler is revisiting the idea of an iPhone mini:

It’s sort of amazing for a few reasons, actually. First, ever since the dawn of the original iPhone, people have been clamoring for an “iPhone mini” or “iPhone nano”. This, despite that fact that looking at it now, that original iPhone is tiny. A 3.5-inch screen! The screen on my iPhone XS Max is 6.5-inches! As it turns out, Apple did make an “iPhone nano”, they just made it in hindsight…

I happily purchased the iPhone SE in 2016 when Apple re-launched their 4-inch smartphone with a then-current processor and upgraded storage, but nearly three years later, there’s no replacing it with a similarly sized model. I also miss the iPad mini, which I loved when it came out, but hasn’t been refreshed since 2015 — though a fifth iteration is rumored to come out again sometime this year.

I don’t know what draws me so much to these smaller devices, but I always love smaller tech — it feels less unweidly, easier to use.  Today I have no iPad and an iPhone X because I was on the couch using my iPhone SE and realized I wanted a bigger screen, an iPad for my pocket.  Since Apple doesn’t offer an iPad mini anymore, that meant a big iPhone.  And it’s always just a little too small for reading and light productivity, and a little too big for quick photography and one-handed texts.

MG links to a fellow who posted these mock-ups of an iPhone lineup that sizes “small, medium, and large” or “mini, iPhone, Max.”

The product marketing is clean and simple, but I suspect that Apple has entered a season where the measure by which they prioritize products (margins? units? high value purchasers?) is going to prevent the resurgence of small devices in the near future.

Not that these devices have to be “cheap,” but because I suspect they’re hard to price with thicker margins and sell effectively.  I’d happily spend some $800 on an edge-to-edge iPhone mini, but I think I’m in the minority.

Ben Thompson, on Stratechery (emphasis mine):

There is, of course, the question of cannibalism: if the XR is so great, why spend $250 more on an XS, or $350 more for the giant XS Max? This is where the iPhone X lesson matters. Last year’s iPhone 8 was a great phone too, with the same A11 processor as the iPhone X, a high quality LCD screen like the iPhone XR, and a premium aluminum-and-glass case (and 3D Touch!). It also had Touch ID and a more familiar interface, both arguably advantages in their own right, and the Plus size that so many people preferred.

It didn’t matter: Apple’s best customers, not just those who buy an iPhone every year, but also those whose only two alternatives are “my current once-flagship iPhone” or “the new flagship iPhone” are motivated first-and-foremost by having the best; price is a secondary concern. That is why the iPhone X was the best-selling smartphone, and the iPhone 8 — which launched two months before the iPhone X — a footnote.

Prioritizing the right product is, as I’m coming to understand in my professional life, not a trivial undertaking.  And the passionate minority of small phone-preferring customers, of which Seigler and I seem to be a part, appears to be just not a big enough opportunity for Apple to service.