Be wary of nebulous titles as they forbode a blog post of meandering paths and uncertain destinations. As I look gleefully over his holiday break span full of plans to write all the posts rattling in my head and browser tabs left open for months, it too reminds me of this stack of unfinished intentions on my nedside table.
The books we will come back to.
Starts in the Feeds
To my last blogging breath I will maintain the all time power of being informed from many corners of the net, in a platform where he algorithm of delivery is of my own making. Yes Grandpa Web Man is again decrying the loss of favor to the humble RSS Reader. To which I will always described as the technology that when someone claims it will save you time, is the one tech promise that is not a lie.
I found myself in a last work meeting of the year making a case to my OEGlobal colleagues that for a new project website for a group of different organizations working together, a low hanging fruit of providing a useful service would be publishing a dynamic feed of news stories from their separate web sites, the old river of news concept. I spent maybe 10 minutes creating a new Inoreader account, adding about 8 feeds, and showing how the river could be flowed as a link or via an embed code.
They got the concept right away, one to me that has always been a first thought.
Something interesting came in as an email from Inoreader, letting me know that because several of the feeds were ones for which I was the only subscriber, it might drop from their procssing rounds if I did not login in the next2 weeks. Two of the feeds were from our organization’s sites.
This lead me to a Mastodon post of 200 proof sarcasm (well I thought i was potent, YMMV)
Ha ha ha, and yes a smattering of boosts. Yay. Though i did render a clever comment from an unheard of account (to which I am not following, I am a softie for clever sarcastic replies).
This was in many ways the essence of how the platform I will only refer to as twitter once worked. An unexpected helpful or clever reply became a new node I’d add to my streams.
The Read, the Thing, the Comment Bordering on Blog Post
And thus it was also in my RSS Reader yesterday I read the first paragraph of a Jon Udell post on Critical mass in the Goldilocks zone:
The use of the phrase “critical mass” in this NYTimes story about the enshittification of Goodreads stopped me in my tracks.https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/12/25/critical-mass-in-the-goldilocks-zone/
Well actually I cannot read the NYTimes story because of is $subscription wall (technically I have a new bookmarklet end around, also Yet to Be Blogged).
Jon jumps on the science of critical mass:
Nuclear physicists know they are dancing with the devil when they bring fissile material to criticality. They also know that the reaction can be controlled, that it must be, and that the means of control obey well-understood principles.
Social sites typically push toward supercriticality with no such understanding. If Goodreads enshittifies at 125 million users, why would another service expect a different outcome at similar scale?https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/12/25/critical-mass-in-the-goldilocks-zone/
And my mind immediately starts thinking of the comment I might write, and maybe reference one of the niftiest social book collecting, sharing sites, LibraryThing.
And <gulp> that’s right where Jon goes, citing the long web term success (and still viable) of LibraryThing:
LibraryThing was, and remains, a place where you make and share lists of books in order to connect with other people and with books — not primarily via friend relationships but rather book relationships. It’s a small business that’s kept Tim and his crew happily engaged in serving a few million bibliophiles, some of whom pay a membership fee to be super-cataloguers.emphasis added my me to https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/12/25/critical-mass-in-the-goldilocks-zone/
I guess LibraryThing isn’t on the Times’ radar because it hasn’t reached a critical mass of … what, exactly? Tens of millions of people? Hundreds of millions? I’m glad it hasn’t! That’s a recipe for meltdown. LibraryThing has been going strong, for almost two decades, in the Goldilocks zone: neither too little activity nor too much, just the right amount for meaningful experiences at human scale.
This Goldilocks zone, not too big, not too small, not too cool, not to hot, but just right is so inline with Jon’s long blogged wisdom (c.f trailing edge technologies). He makes the connection to Mastodon, asking more or less, is growing it by threading in (hah) other services necessarily a Good Thing?
It feels like the right amount of critical mass. For me, a billion people on Mastodon is an anti-goal. I would much rather see hundreds or maybe thousands of healthy communities emerge, each operating in its own Goldilocks zone. Many small and safe critical masses, instead of a few huge and dangerous ones, powering small businesses whose proprietors are — like Tim Spalding and his crew — able to maintain real relationships with their customers.https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/12/25/critical-mass-in-the-goldilocks-zone/
Steering This Post Back on Track
Okay, I got carried away with quoting for contex so I somewhat drafted this post as a comment on Jon’s post (but am already way off track). To pick up and note some tangents, I was reminded of what was “hot” a long web while ago with Chris Anderson’s 2004 published essay in Wired as The Long Tail
This got me to remembering the still resonating idea of the Long Tail, but alas I cannot read it on Wired (subscription wall). I found an interesting criticism in medium… but ran into another subscriber only barrier. Somewhere down the long tail of search results, buying investor article links, I found myself reading Chris Anderson’s Typepad blog which stubbed out in 2009.my comments to Jon’s post
It was the idea how the internet model of individual efforts, creations, activiity would bust open the centralized, monopolized corporate business models. I would be how a world wide network of self published web sites and software, migh compete and/or thrive even by being more nimble, networked like, than big companies.
Now it seems quaintly archaic with the web holds of the four or five pillars of Big Tech (is it GAFA or FAANG?). Even more, one cannot even read the 2004 article without hitting the Wired paywall (insider hint, use the internet archive to read Wired).
Down the search results I found a criticism published in Medium What Everyone Got Wrong About ‘the Long Tail’ but it too is only available for upgraded Medium members. Ouch I hit my head on another paywall. At least I could rad enough to find a link I had to click for “The Obligatory Long Tail Slide,”– the the beauty being this was on Chris Anderson’s old TypePad blog at https://longtail.typepad.com/. And in line with the desiccation of the web of individuals, the last post on December 11, 2009 labeled Hiatus reads:
The hiatus, like for many, is permanant.
But as Jon had noted in the case of LibraryThing, its not impossible ad maybe not uncommon, to interact with a software or company web site and end up in conversation with a person who is making the thing.
Then I remember a few weeks ago when I used the feedback link from a nifty audio web service called Sodaphonic to let them know there was some bug in the CSS in their embed code. What a pleasant surprise to get a quick personal reply from Stuart, the person who makes the tool.my comments to Jon’s post
I remain convinced there is sill plenty of thriving and not so greediness out there/here on the web’s long tail.
And like I have zero influence in what the fediverse becomes, the idea of bigger and mass, to m comes back to yet another favorite line:
I too am not eager for the arrival of Threads to Mastodon, going to Edward Abbeys line about growth for the sake of growth.my comments to Jon’s post
And with grand irony, a search on Abbey’s quote lands me in the enshitified space where Jon’s post began. An ironic web wins me every time. Well if you can read the link amongst the add and paywall cruft.
Because Reading Comments Yields Gold Nuggets
Further down in Jon’s comments someone notes that the person behind LibraryThing is not on Mastodon to which Jon replies:
Yeah I noticed that too, so I am following him this way: @firstname.lastname@example.org://blog.jonudell.net/2023/12/25/critical-mass-in-the-goldilocks-zone/#comment-625986
One might just gloss over, but what I catch is:
- Someone is not on Mastodon, probably implying Twitter only
- But Jon suggests there is a way to follow a twitter account?
- I have to investigate, I go to https://bird.makeup
And wow, this is neat! It looks like you can enter a twitter account and get a ActvityPub feed to follow in Mastodon.
So I try with my long time RSS friend and colleague and fervent twitter sharer, Laura Gibbs, @OnlineCrsLady.
And by doing a search in Mastodon on
@email@example.com I can follow and see Laura’s tweets in mastodon.
I can’t send replies, but a least I can read bird people in fediverse space. Also note the indicator that this is an Automated account.
I find this insanely useful and would not have known of this had I not been scanning comments in Jon Udell’s blog, Happy web accident number 55629.
Also checking to see if Stephen Downes is reading all the way down, hi Stephen!
Back to the LibraryThing Past/Future
I recall making a LibraryThing account and sure enough I was able to login, and it was as maybe I last used in 2009. There are so many good things in here to list, how easy is to look up and add a book to your collection, its use of tags, the way you can traverse across to oher users who have added the same books.
Yep I had no done much, I can see remnants that in January 2007 while working for the New Media Consortium, I saw LibraryThing as a means to share books in a more useful manner than the email listserv it started from — that history (brief) is still siting there. Ask if oher critical mass mega sites have that kind of legacy as a service.
Oh, and you might see new books added like today. That stack of books in the opening photo of this post? It took me 2 minutes to add them and I am already seeing connections and recommendations sprout from this.
What is missing from LibraryThing? Ads and paywalls.
This wandering part of discovery is what happens to me out here on the forgotten long tail of the web, when I get link curious. It’s what Jon cleverly phrased as:
neither too little activity nor too much, just the right amount for meaningful experiences at human scale.https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/12/25/critical-mass-in-the-goldilocks-zone/
I’m with the Goldilocks web. You?