How to follow the complete output of journalists and other writers?

In a digital era with a seemingly ever-decreasing number of larger news outlets paying journalists and other writers for their work, the number of working writers who find themselves working for one or more outlets is rapidly increasing. 

This is sure to leave journalists wondering how to better serve their own personal brand either when they leave a major publication for which they’ve long held an association (examples: Walt Mossberg leaving The New York Times or Leon Wieseltier leaving The New Republic)  or alternatively when they’re just starting out and writing for fifty publications and attempting to build a bigger personal following for their work which appears in many locations (examples include nearly everyone out there).

Increasingly I find myself doing insane things to try to follow the content of writers I love. The required gymnastics are increasingly complex to try to track writers across hundreds of different outlets and dozens of social media sites and other platforms (filtering out unwanted results is particularly irksome). One might think that in our current digital media society, it would be easy to find all the writing output of a professional writer like Ta-nehisi Coates, for example, in one centralized place.

I’m also far from the only one. In fact, I recently came across this note by Kevin:

I wish there was a way to subscribe to writers the same way you can use RSS. Obviously twitter gets you the closest, but usually a whole lot more than just the articles they’ve written. It would be awesome if every time Danny Chau or Wesley Morris published a piece I’d know.

The subsequent conversation in his comments or  on Micro.blog (a fairly digital savvy crowd) was less than heartening for further ideas.

As Kevin intimates, most writers and journalists are on Twitter because that’s where a lot of the attention is. But sadly Twitter can be a caustic and toxic place for many. It also means sifting through a lot of intermediary tweets to get to the few a week that are the actual work product articles that one wants to read. This also presumes that one’s favorite writer is on Twitter, still using Twitter, or hasn’t left because they feel it’s a time suck or because of abuse, threats, or other issues (examples: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Lindy West, Sherman Alexie). 

What does the universe of potential solutions for this problem currently look like?

Potential Solutions

Aggregators

One might think that an aggregation platform like Muck Rack which is trying to get journalists to use their service and touts itself as “The easiest, unlimited way to build your portfolio, grow your following and quantify your impact—for free” might provide journalists the ability to easily import their content via RSS feeds and then provide those same feeds back out so that their readers/fans could subscribe to them easily. How exactly are they delivering on that promise to writers to “grow your following”?!

An illustrative example I’ve found on Muck Rack is Ryan O’Hanlon, a Los Angeles-based writer, who writes for  a variety of outlets including The Guardian, The New York Times, ESPN, BuzzFeed, ESPN Deportes, Salon, ESPN Brasil, FiveThirtyEight, The Ringer, and others. As of today they’ve got 410 of his articles archived and linked there. Sadly, there’s no way for a fan of his work to follow him there. Even if the site provided an RSS feed of titles and synopses that forced one to read his work on the original outlet, that would be a big win for readers, for Ryan, and for the outlets he’s writing for–not to mention a big win for Muck Rack and their promise.

I’m sure there have to be a dozen or so other aggregation sites like Muck Rack hiding out there doing something similar, but I’ve yet to find the real tool for which I’m looking. And if that tool exists, it’s poorly distributed and unlikely to help me for 80% of the writers I’m interested in following much less 5%.

Author Controlled Websites

Possibly the best choice for everyone involved would be for writers to have their own websites where they archive their own written work and provide a centralized portfolio for their fans and readers to follow them regardless of where they go or which outlet they’re writing for. They could keep their full pieces privately on the back end, but give titles, names of outlets, photos, and synopses on their sites with links back to the original as traditional blog posts. This pushes the eyeballs towards the outlets that are paying their bills while still allowing their fans to easily follow everything they’re writing. Best of all the writer could own and control it all from soup to nuts.

If I were a journalist doing this on the cheap and didn’t want it to become a timesuck, I’d probably spin up a simple WordPress website and use the excellent and well-documented PressForward project/plugin to completely archive and aggregate my published work, but use their awesome forwarding functionality so that those visiting the URLs of the individual pieces would be automatically redirected to the original outlet. This is a great benefit for writers many of whom know the pain of having written for outlets that have gone out of business, been bought out, or even completely disappeared from the web. 

Of course, from a website, it’s relatively easy to automatically cross-post your work to any number of other social platforms to notify the masses if necessary, but at least there is one canonical and centralized place to find a writer’s proverbial “meat and potatoes”. If you’re not doing something like this at a minimum, you’re just making it hard for your fans and failing at the very basics of building your own brand, which in part is to get even more readers. (Hint, the more readers and fans you’ve got, the more eyeballs you bring to the outlets you’re writing for, and in a market economy built on clicks, more eyeballs means more traffic, which means more money in the writer’s pocket. Since a portion of the web traffic would be going through an author’s website, they’ll have at least a proportional idea of how many eyeballs they’re pushing.)

I can’t help but point out that even some who have set up their own websites aren’t quite doing any of this right or even well. We can look back at Ryan O’Hanlon above with a website at https://www.ryanwohanlon.com/. Sadly he’s obviously let the domain registration lapse, and it has been taken over by a company selling shoes. We can compare this with the slight step up that Mssr. Coates has made by not only owning his own domain and having an informative website featuring his books, but alas there’s not even a link to his work for The Atlantic or any other writing anywhere else. Devastatingly his RSS feed isn’t linked, but if you manage to find it on his website, you’ll be less-than-enthralled by three posts of Lorem ipsum from 2017. Ugh! What has the world devolved to? (I can only suspect that his website is run by his publisher who cares about the book revenue and can’t be bothered to update his homepage with events that are now long past.)

Examples of some journalists/writers who are doing some interesting work, experimentation, or making an effort in this area include: Richard MacManus,  Marina Gerner, Dan Gillmor, Jay RosenBill Bennett, Jeff JarvisAram Zucker-Scharff, and Tim Harford

One of my favorite examples is John Naughton who writes a regular column for the Guardian. He has his own site where he posts links, quotes, what he’s reading, his commentary, and quotes of his long form writing elsewhere along with links to full pieces on those sites. I have no problem following some or all of his output there since his (WordPress-based) site has individual feeds for either small portions or all of it. (I’ve also written a short case study on Ms. Gerner’s site in the past as well.)

Newsletters

Before anyone says, “What about their newsletters?” I’ll admit that both O’Hanlon and Coates both have newsletters, but what’s to guarantee that they’re doing a better job of pushing all of their content though those outlets? Most of my experience with newsletters would indicate that’s definitely not the case with most writers, and again, not all writers are going to have newsletters, which seem to be the flavor-of-the month in terms of media distribution. What are we to do when newsletters are passé in 6 months? (If you don’t believe me, just recall the parable of all the magazines and writers that moved from their own websites or Tumblr to Medium.com.)

Tangential projects

I’m aware of some one-off tools that come close to the sort of notifications of writers’ work that might be leveraged or modified into a bigger tool or stand alone platform. Still, most of these are simple uni-taskers and only fix small portions of the overall problem.

Extra Extra

Savemy.News

Ben Walsh of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk has created a simple web interface at www.SaveMy.News that journalists can use to quickly archive their stories to the Internet Archive and WebCite. One can log into the service via Twitter and later download a .csv file with a running list of all their works with links to the archived copies. Adding on some functionality to add feeds and make them discoverable to a tool like this could be a boon.

Granary

Ryan Barrett has a fantastic open source tool called Granary that “Fetches and converts data between social networks, HTML and JSON with microformats2, ActivityStreams 1 and 2, AtomRSSJSON Feed, and more.” This could be a solid piece of a bigger process that pulls from multiple sources, converts them into a common format, and outputs them in a single subscribe-able location.

Splash page image and social logos from Granary.io

SubToMe

A big problem that has pushed us away from RSS and other formatted feed readers is providing an easy method of subscribing to content. Want to follow someone on Twitter? Just click a button and go. Wishing it were similar for a variety of feed types, Julien Genestoux‘s SubToMe has created a universal follow button that allows a one-click subscription option (with lots of flexibility and even bookmarklets) for following content feeds on the open web.

Splash image on SubToMe's home page

Others?

Have you seen any other writers/technologists who have solved this problem? Are there aggregation platforms that solve the problem in reverse? Small pieces that could be loosely joined into a better solution? What else am I missing?

How can we encourage more writers to take this work into their own hands to provide a cleaner solution for their audiences? Isn’t it in their own best interest to help their readers find their work?

I’ve curated portions of a journalism page on  IndieWeb wiki to include some useful examples, pointers, and resources that may help in solving portions of this problem. Other ideas and solutions are most welcome!

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Transitioning from Pocket to PressForward

I’ve recently been attempting to own all of my online bookmarks and online articles I’d like to read to replace services like Pocket and Instapaper. While I feel like I’m almost there using PressForward, there are still one or two rough edges.

One of them is creating a simple mobile workflow to take headlines from Twitter and get them into my reading queue. Previously I had used an IFTTT.com recipe to take things I “liked” in my Twitter stream to strip off URLs and put them into Pocket for reading later. In fact, very few of my thousands of likes in Twitter are traditional “likes” because I’m really using that functionality to indicate “I’d like to read the article linked to in this Tweet at a later date”. Somewhere in the past couple of months I’ve mused to at least one person on the PressForward team that it would be nice to have a simple indicator to send articles from Twitter to PressForward like this, but even if I were building it all by hand, this would be a bit further down the list of priorities. What to do in the erstwhile?

RSS has long been going out of fashion, particularly among the major social silos who want to keep you in their clutches, but it dawned on me to check to see if Pocket or Instapaper provide RSS feeds. Sure and gloriously enough, they do! In fact, Pocket has an unread feed, an archive feed, an all items feed (that includes both of the other two), and as a lovely additional touch, they’ve even got the ability to make feeds private. Instapaper has RSS feeds too, though they were a bit more hidden and took a right click/view source along with a manual completion of their base URL. The nice part is that one can take these RSS feeds and plug them straight into one’s PressForward RSS feed et voilà there they are on my own site! (From the viewpoint of PressForward, this is also very close to being able to nominate items directly from Twitter.) While this is more of a PESOS feed, the result is a no-brainer and provides a near real-time experience that’s more than adequate for my needs (at least until yet another silo goes down).

And as added bonuses, if I feel like using Pocket or Instapaper from time to time, I can do so without loss of data along the stream and the small handful of people with whom I interact on Pocket won’t notice the fact that I’ve disappeared.

For the millionth time, G-d bless RSS, a wonderful tool I use every single day.

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Hoorah, hooray!

In a project which I started just before IndieWebCamp LA in November, I’ve moved a big step closer to perfecting my “Read” posts!

Thanks in large part to WordPressPressForward, friends and help on the IndieWeb site too numerous to count, and a little bit of elbow grease, I can now receive and read RSS feeds in my own website UI (farewell Feedly), bookmark posts I want to read later (so long Pocket, Instagram, Delicious and Pinboard), mark them as read when done, archive them on my site (and hopefully on the Internet Archive as well) for future reference, highlight and annotate them (I still love you hypothes.is, but…), and even syndicate (POSSE) them automatically (with emoji) to silos like Facebook, Twitter (with Twitter Cards), Tumblr, Flipboard, LinkedIn, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Reddit, and Delicious among others.

Syndicated copies in the silos when clicked will ping my site for a second and then automatically redirect to the canonical URL for the original content to give the credit to the originating author/site. And best of all, I can still receive comments, likes, and other responses from the siloed copies via webmention to stay in the loop on the conversations they generate without leaving my site.

Here’s an example of a syndicated post to Twitter:

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I’m now more resistant to a larger number of social media silos disappearing with my data. Huzzah!

What’s next?

 

Read posts nearly perfected! was originally published on Chris Aldrich

I’ve just noticed that the metadata PressForward scrapes is enough to allow highlights and marginalia from Hypothes.is on the original web page to also appear in my copy on my own website! How awesome is that?

Example: http://boffosocko.com/2017/01/19/obamas-secret-to-surviving-the-white-house-years-books-the-new-york-times/

#ownallthethings

PressForward and Hypothes.is Work Great Together was originally published on Chris Aldrich

PressForward as an IndieWeb WordPress-based RSS Feed Reader & Pocket/Instapaper Replacement

PressForward as an IndieWeb WordPress-based RSS Feed Reader & Pocket/Instapaper Replacement

As many know, for the past 6 months or so, I’ve been slowly improving some of the IndieWeb tools and workflow I use to own what I’m reading both online and in physical print as well as status updates indicating those things. [1][2][3]

Since just before IndieWebCamp LA, I’ve been working on better ways to own the articles I’ve been reading and syndicate/share them out to other social platforms. The concept initially started out as a simple linkblog idea and has continually been growing, particularly with influence from my attendance of the Dodging the Memory Hole 2016: Saving Online News conference at UCLA in October. Around that same time, it was announced that Pinterest was purchasing Instapaper and they were shutting down some of Instapaper’s development and functionality. I’ve been primarily using Pocket for several years now and have desperately wanted to bring that functionality into my own site. I had also been looking at the self-hostable Wallabag alternative which is under heavy active development, but since most of my site is built on WordPress, I really preferred having a solution that integrated better into that as a workflow.

Enter PressForward

I’ve been looking closely at PressForward for the past week and change as a self-contained replacement for third party services like Pocket and Instapaper. I’ve been looking around for this type of self-hosted functionality for a while.

PressForward was originally intended for journalists and news organizations to aggregate new content, add it to their newsroom workflow, and then use it to publish new content. From what I can see it’s also got a nice following in academia as a tool for aggregating content for researchers focused on a particular area.

It only took a minute or two of looking at PressForward to realize that it had another off-label use case: as a spectacular replacement for read-later type apps!

In an IndieWeb fashion, this fantastic WordPress plugin allows me to easily own private bookmarks of things I’d like to read (PressForward calles these “Nominations” in keeping with its original use case). I can then later read them on my own website (with Mercury f.k.a Readability functionality built in), add commentary, and publish them as a read post. [Note: To my knowledge the creators of PressForward are unaware of the IndieWeb concept or philosophies.]

After some playing around for a bit and contemplating several variations, configurations, and options, I thought I’d share some thoughts about it for others considering using it in such an off-label manner. Hopefully these may also spur the developers to open up their initial concept to a broader audience as it seems very well designed and logically laid out.

Examples

The developers obviously know the value of dogfooding as at least two of them are using it in a Pocket-like fashion (as they many not have other direct use-cases).

Pros

PressForward includes a beautiful, full built-in RSS Feed Reader!

This feature alone is enough to recommend using it even without any other feature. I’ve tried Orbit Reader and WhisperFollow (among others) which are both interesting in their own rights but are somewhat limited and have relatively clunky interfaces. The best part of WhisperFollow’s premise is that it has webactions built in, but I suspect these could easily be added onto PressForward.

In fact, not just hours before I’d discovered PressFoward, I’d made this comment on the WordPress Reader Refresh post announcing the refresh of WordPress.com’s own (separate) reader:

Some nice visual changes in this iteration. Makes it one of the most visually pretty feed readers out there now while still maintaining a relatively light weight.

I still wish there were more functionality pieces built into it like the indie-reader Woodwind.xyz or even Feedly. While WordPress in some sense is more creator oriented than consumption oriented, I still think that not having a more closely integrated reader built into it is still a drawback to the overall WordPress platform.

Additionally,

  • It’s IndieWeb and POSSE friendly
  • It does automatic link forwarding in a flexible/responsible manner with canonical URLs
  • Allows for proper attributions for the original author and content source/news outlet
  • Keeps lots of metadata for analyzing reading behavior
  • Taggable and categorizable
  • Allows for comments/commenting
  • Could be used for creating a linkblog on steroids
  • Archives the original article on the day it was read.
  • Is searchable
  • Could be used for collaboration and curation
  • Has Mercury (formerly known as Readability) integrated for a cleaner reading interface
  • Has a pre-configured browser bookmarklet
  • Is open source and incredibly well documented
  • One can count clicks to ones’ own site as the referer while still pushing the reader to the original
  • Along with other plugins like JetPack’s Publicize or Social Networks Auto-Poster, one can automatically share their reads to Twitter, Facebook, or other social media silos. In this case, you own the link, but the original publisher also gets the traffic.

Cons

No clear path for nominating articles on mobile.

This can be a dealbreaker for some, so I’ve outlined a pretty quick and simple solution below.

No direct statistics

Statistics for gauging ones’ reading aren’t built in directly (yet?), but some scripts are available. [4][5][6]

No larger data aggregation

Services like Pocket are able to aggregate the data of thousands of users to recommend and reveal articles I might also like. Sadly this self-hosted concept makes it difficult (or impossible) do have this type of functionality. However, I usually have far too much good stuff to read anyway, so maybe this isn’t such a loss.

Suggested Improvements

Adding the ability to do webactions directly from the “Nominated” screen would be fantastic, particularly for the RSS reader portion.

Default to an unread view of the current “All Content” page. I find that I have to filter the view every time I visit the page to make it usable. I suspect this would be a better default for most newsrooms too.

It would be nice to have a pre-configured archive template page in a simple linkblog format that filters posts that were nominated/drafted/published via the Plugin. This will prevent users from needing to create one that’s compatible with their current theme. Something with a date read, Title linked to the original, Author, and Source attribution could be useful for many users.

A PressForward Nomination “Bookmarklet” for Mobile

One of the big issues I came up against immediately with PressForward is ease of use on mobile. A lot of the content I read is on mobile, so being able to bookmark (nominate) articles via mobile or apps like Nuzzel or Twitter is very important. I suspect this may also be the case for many of their current user base.

Earlier this year I came across a great little Android mobile app called URL Forwarder which can be used to share things with the ubiquitous mobile sharing icons. Essentially one can use it to share the URL of the mobile page one is on to a mobile Nomination form within PressForward.

I’d suspect that there’s also a similar app for iOS, but I haven’t checked. If not available, URL Forwarder is open source on Github and could potentially be ported. There’s also a similar Android app called Bookmarklet Free which could be used instead of URL Forwarder.

PressForward’s built in bookmarklet kindly has a pre-configured URL for creating nominations, so it’s a simple case of configuring it. These details follow below for those interested.

Configuring URL Forwarder for PressForward

  1. Open URL Forwarder
  2. Click the “+” icon to create a filter.
  3. Give the filter a name, “Nominate This” is a reasonable suggestion. (See photo below.)
  4. Use the following entry for the “Filter URL” replacing example.com with your site’s domain name: http://example.com/wp-content/plugins/pressforward/includes/nomthis/nominate-this.php?u=@url
  5. Leave the “Replaceable text” as “@url”
  6. Finish by clicking on the checkmark in the top right corner.

Simple right?

Nominating a post via mobile

With the configuration above set up, do the following:

  1. On the mobile page one wants to nominate, click the ubiquitous “share this” mobile icon (or share via a pull down menu, depending on your mobile browser or other app.)
  2. Choose to share through URL Forwarder
  3. Click on the “Nominate” option just created above.
  4. Change/modify any data within your website administrative interface and either nominate or post as a draft. (This part is the same as one would experience using the desktop bookmarklet.)

What’s next?

Given the data intensity of both the feed reader and what portends to be years of article data, I’m left with the question of hosting it within my primary site or putting it on a subdomain?

I desperately want to keep it on the main site, but perhaps hosting it on a subdomain, similar to how both Aram Zucker-Scharff and James Digioia do it may be better advised?

I’ve also run across an issue with the automatic redirect which needs some troubleshooting as well. Hopefully this will be cleared up quickly and we’ll be off to the races.

References

[1]
C. Aldrich, “A New Reading Post-type for Bookmarking and Reading Workflow,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 22-Aug-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/08/22/a-new-reading-post-type-for-bookmarking-and-reading-workflow/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[2]
C. Aldrich, “Owning my Online Reading Status Updates,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 20-Nov-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/11/20/owning-my-online-reading-status-updates/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[3]
C. Aldrich, “Notes, Highlights, and Marginalia from E-books to Online,” BoffoSocko | Musings of a Modern Day Cyberneticist, 24-Oct-2016. [Online]. Available: http://boffosocko.com/2016/10/24/notes-highlights-and-marginalia/. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[4]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “Personal Statistics from 3 Months of Internet Reading,” Medium, 05-Sep-2015. [Online]. Available: https://medium.com/@aramzs/3-month-internet-reading-stats-f41fa15d63f0#.dez80up7y. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[5]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “Test functions based on PF stats for collecting data,” Gist. [Online]. Available: https://gist.github.com/AramZS/d10fe64dc33fc9ffc2d8. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]
[6]
A. Zucker-Scharff, “PressForward/pf_stats,” GitHub. [Online]. Available: https://github.com/PressForward/pf_stats. [Accessed: 31-Dec-2016]

PressForward as an IndieWeb WordPress-based RSS Feed Reader & Pocket/Instapaper Replacement was originally published on Chris Aldrich