Year 9

When most of my peers and I started blogging with a proper content management system (CMS) like Blogger in 2000-2002, it wasn’t really clear what we were signing up for. Blogs were a new, hyper-public outlet for self-expression, a means of keeping in contact with friends, and for feeling the first waves of a democratic future where a student had as much right to virtual real estate as the multinational corporation that might one day hire him. Or not, depending on what he had posted.

Today, much of what a blog once offered has been decentralized by a slew of dedicated online services. Post your photos on Flickr. Keep a circle informed of your movements on Facebook and LinkedIn. Show off your art, photography, or design skills on any number of portfolio sites like deviantART. Share links and bits of media on scrapbook blogs like the ones popularized by Tumblr. Everything comes with social networking built right in. The standalone do-it-all blog has become something of a solitary pursuit as its necessity fades amongst newer internet users with a hundred other avenues for self-expression and communication. The word ‘blog’ is more strongly associated with a breed of continuously updated semi-commercial news and topical interest sites than it is with personal journals.

Perhaps the personal journal is a relic of the internet past – emblematic of our emotional reaction to a new technology, and the possibility of audiences larger than had been present before. Or perhaps they’ve disappeared under cover, gone to ground and reemerged with new names, part of our need to understand through categorization. So now there are motherhood blogs, cooking/dining blogs, birdwatching blogs, and so on. Once specific interests representing just a facet of their authors’ lives, these topics now serve to define their bloggers as amateur authorities through posts and reader feedback cycles so regular you can set your RSS readers to them, spurred on by commerce in the form of Google AdSense banners. The personal journal is dead because we reduce people to the one thing they do best.

So, nine years on and I’m still at it. Still not quite sure what I signed up for, but with some changes I’ll be making here this week, a little more sure of where I should take this.

Categories
Reviews

iPhone app review doublebill: Birdhouse & Twitbit

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)

Birdhouse / Twitbit – $3.99 & $4.99 respectively


Why Pay? It starts with a free app, Twitterrific or TwitterFon for most people, and for awhile it seems like you’ll never have a need for one of those “Pro” Twitter clients that your geekier friends talk about. Reply a message here, send out a cute quote there, it’s all good. Cut to a couple hundred followers later, and you’re riding the doubt train harder than a doped up pop star with 50 concert dates to deliver. You need a little something extra to keep your edge. You ask your live-in doctor for one of these:


Birdhouse is like a Twitter ninja. A ninja who’s spent his entire life learning to unsheathe his blade, stab a man, and put it away again in under half a second. He can’t climb walls, farts loudly all the time, and is 99% colorblind as well as good ol’ regular blind, but if the man you want assassinating is right there in front of him, there’s no one else you’d sooner hire.

You can’t read tweets or search hashtags in Birdhouse. You can’t see who’s mentioning you, and you sure as hell can’t see anyone’s avatar pictures. You can’t see anyone, period. But what you CAN do is train up a hundred of your best jokes, sharpen them on the stone of Favrd destiny, and then go out to cut some motherfuckers up. The downside: if you don’t have any jokes, it calls up your ex-girlfriends to make fun of your package.


Twitbit almost didn’t make it onto my list. Its first version was a little bit like Rain Man, you know, but I won’t get into specifics because people tend to send me hate mail when I talk about the retard in that movie. Suffice to say, Twitbit showed up a little over a month ago with a single winning trick up its sleeve: Push Notifications.

For example, you could be doing something else on your iPhone, like making a kick-ass playlist of Billy Joel and Air Supply songs, but if someone tweeted “@sangsara your music library sucks, faggot! Btw I’m sitting behind you on the bus”, you’d get it immediately as a pop-up on your screen. The rest of the app was a little behind the curve until a recent update added threaded DMs, a photo browser, saved searches, and many other refinements. The result is one of the best general purpose Twitter apps five bucks could want to buy. Plus, chicks dig the fat bird on a speech bubble-egg icon.


Birdhouse Rating: B
Twitbit Rating: A

Buy Birdhouse on the iTunes App Store.
Buy Twitbit on the iTunes App Store.




Birdhouse media:



Twitbit media:



Categories
Reviews

iPhone app review – Facebook

(This iPhone review and others like it have been moved to my new app review site, positivemachine.com. Why not have a look?)


Name / Category: Facebook / Social Networking (v2.5)

What it costs: Free



What it is: A way to overshare while on the go.



Why you should get it: Last week, I was induced to join a cult called iPRAMS, or iPhone Radicals Against MobileSafari. Our group believes that it’s no coincidence MobileSafari’s initials are MS, which makes the iPhone browser part of the conspiracy that began in 1997 when THAT other company bought $150m of Apple shares. Under my newly sworn vows, I can no longer use the browser to access Facebook’s mobile website on my iPhone. Thank heavens for this app which does exactly what the website does!


Why you shouldn’t: iPRAMS recognizes the independence and diversity of all iPhone users, which includes those who might want to use MobileSafari and the Facebook website instead. So if you want to help the devil spread a thinly-veiled mobile version of Internet Explorer 8, go right ahead.



“But I’m Not A Member of iPRAMS” Rating: 2/5

Download Facebook for free on the iTunes App Store.

Below: Facebook iPhone app

Below: Facebook site in MobileSafari

Is it the little things that count?

Awhile ago, a friend working overseas who I don’t get a chance to meet very often told me that he checks in on this blog every now and then when he wants to know what I’m up to, and usually comes away disappointed. I think he specifically said that he doesn’t care about what gadgets I’m after, what I thought about films I’ve seen, or what I find interesting, etc. Now, this is not the kind of talk many friends get away with, but because I only have to be insulted once every 18 months or so, I let it go.

But the thought that someone might be more interested in reading narratives on the minutiae of everyday lives – months after the fact! – rather than the critical choices that express our personalities, continues to strike me as strange even now, several weeks on, in the middle of the night.

There’s always Twitter and Facebook if one wants status updates, but that can’t be what he meant. Who would want to trawl through half a year’s worth of anyone’s Twitter stream? Microblogging, like the worst supermarket sandwiches, is generally worthless and meant for immediate consumption. Unless you’re a fake celebrity account with carefully crafted witticisms (see @CWalken), chances are your lifestream’s value as entertainment is virtually null after 48 hours.

Before I started thinking about this, my view was that Twitter presents microscopic detail from which a more complete picture of a life can be fabricated. In this story, blog posts are overviews; providing structure. Also, keep in mind that the two accounts of time spent (the descriptive report and the vocalized introspection) will coincide at some point. For example, if you hear a lot about my activities, you’d be able to discern a pattern that indicated my tastes. Conversely, if I told you how I felt about theatre, you would know not to look for me in a Sunday matinee.

I wonder if the opposite is true. Twitter and status updates are not detail, they’re noisy overviews. The most coherent image one can put together will still be a best guess estimate. Real detail resides in thought and writing. The way most of us use Twitter, with truncated phrases and inhibited rhythms, it’s no substitute for going without a word limit. In much of today’s communications, you can’t be sure whether it’s the voice or the format you’re hearing. It’s the reason why I can skim a friend’s blog posts from years ago and remember how they used to be. It’s also the reason I keep my own.

After having tried to keep my different interests in separate blogs, and failed, it’s come back to this. I’m grateful now for having one single place that periodically captures the things I’d like a future version of myself to know I once considered important, and for friends to know today, however unappreciative they might be.

Coming back, and Blip.FM

If you’re reading this on the website and not through my RSS feed, you’ll notice a new widget above the main blog text, under the Flickr photos, for a new service I discovered this morning via Leo Laporte’s Twitter. The intention is not to make this look like a MySpace page, but it’s nice having someplace to show off all the things I’m doing online. Qik video, the new multi-author Haiku Log, and all that.

About a year ago, I split up my blog into this one and blast!, which is reserved for links to things I find, with little additional writing and no original content such as photos I’ve taken, movie reviews, or whatever. Of course, it’s exceedingly easy to post to a tumblelog like blast!, and the idea of being “productive” on a daily basis can be very gratifying. This main blog has only suffered as a result; consigned exclusively to “long form writing” and Matters of Great Import – I almost never felt inclined to start a post. I suppose I intimidated myself.

Well, hopefully that will soon be changing. I’ve equipped myself with the latest version (3.0) of Ecto, a sleek and awesome blogging tool for Mac OS X, and BlogPress for the iPhone. The intention is to post more frequently, and more freely, for my own benefit (I have terrible, terrible, clinically decaying memory, and looking back on any record of my life is usually a revelatory experience).

I also recently made the decision to open up some previously locked accounts to search engines and the public, out of a desire to see if I would get stalked, and feel my online privacy violated in the way that young people are becoming increasingly immune to. This should all tie together nicely and see mundane elements of my daily life filling this page, and my mutilated body in a gutter by the end of the year.

So what was that about a new widget up top? Ah yes.

As a music discovery and sharing service, Blip.FM goes places one-time web favorite Muxtape never even thought possible. Yes, you can put up handcrafted playlists of great music to share with your friends, but by taking on the best elements of Twitter and other social networks, it also means that the experience of listening to what your friends (and like-minded/like-tasted strangers) have discovered is virtually automatic. In other words, it’s a Push model.

Say I’ve just gotten up earlier in the morning than I have in weeks, maybe months – true story today – and upon seeing my bedroom all lit up with warm daylight, I think of the music video for The Roots’ Birthday Girl (starring Sasha Grey, but that’s another story) and want to hear it. I go to http://blip.fm and search for it. Blip finds an MP3 of the song somewhere online, I suspect blogs and free file hosting sites, and starts playing it. I write a short note and “blip” it, which is very much like “tweeting” something. Now, Birthday Girl starts appearing on the Home pages of all my “followers”, or contacts. What this creates is an infinite playlist of music I probably want to hear. The site identifies with people with similar tastes, which makes it easy to make new friends and replace the ones you’ve suddenly discovered a distaste for.

Blip also integrates with Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr, and a raft of other online presence apps and blog platforms, so you can push out instant-play links to all your contacts. I only hope they’ve sorted out the legal side of their business model and stick around longer than Muxtape did. There are links to buy the songs you’re hearing, and I’ve read something about them winning additional VC funding, so things look sorta positive.

My DJ name is Brandmaster Flash, a reference to this man, of course.