Facebook Bloggers as Blogger of the Year??

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I’ve been a fan of Dave Winer’s for years, and I’ve always enjoyed his “Blogger of the Year” post because I would normally learn about a new blogger or be reinforced about a feed in my reader. Not only that, but it was an annual reminder that blogging is a worthy endeavor in itself despite how out-of-style it is to call yourself a “blogger” or your personal site a “blog” in 2014.

This year, I was sad to see the BOTY award go to Facebook bloggers…

So, in 2014, Facebook has picked up the ball for blogging. It’s definitely not what I imagined, and I’m not comfortable with where it might be going. But for now, in 2014, the bloggers this year, that made a difference to me, came to me through Facebook.

via Blogger of the Year (2014).

I’m not disappointed out of some sense of the original blogging holding up expression on Facebook as some sort of selling out or a slap in the face to the “indie web.” Dave certainly isn’t the first to espouse the benefits of blogging on Facebook as an enjoyable experience compared to what blogging has become on a web dominated by clickbait and Squarespace sites. For instance, my good friend Wayne Porter once had a great blog (and he helped hire me to run one that he started back almost 15 years ago). Now, he posts a number of great posts and thoughts and links on Facebook. I still get to see those and frequently respond there with others. But it feels different and I don’t know why. It doesn’t feel like Wayne’s old blog any more than Dave’s posts feel like his work on Scripting.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s neat to see Batman pop up in Metropolis to help out Superman in a random issue of a DC comic. However, it never feels like a Batman comic. Batman has his own space(s). That’s where I really get to see his successes and neuroses. I want that experience in the people that I’ve “subscribed” to in my feed readers and really value as sources of quality content and information. That can happen on Facebook, and it certainly does in the case of Wayne and Dave, but I miss the good ole days of personal blogs (and I still think we’ll go back to them in the near future) as the place to read blogging.

I could argue with myself that reading in a feed reader is somewhat akin to what Facebook provides (without the wider audience). I’m altering the experience of reading Dave’s Scripting.com site by subscribing to it in Fever or Feedly or FeedWrangler. I’m not going to the site and seeing the way he deliberately structures content, images, outlines, and information. I’m possibly missing out on comments from other readers. That’s all true. However, Facebook seems like a different blog reading experience to me because of their algorithm. I’m presented with what Facebook wants me to see based on my previous actions and those of others. That’s great for some, but I don’t want a curated algorithmic blog reading experience.

Heck, I even miss Robert Scoble’s blog (the King of Facebook evangelism in 2014, who I blame for all of this).

Years ago, Dave started talking about the notions of rivers in blog reading. From what I remember, I’ll paraphrase him as saying that RSS Readers like the now defunct and much missed Google Reader weren’t that great for blogging because they treated blog reading like an email inbox with unread counts etc. Blog reading became yet another thing to do (or hire an intern to do) for us back in the day. Rivers of information, however, should have flowed by us. We could dip in when we needed or wanted to, but there wouldn’t be the need to read every post. Twitter helped push this paradigm ahead (I still remember trying to read every tweet that I’d missed while sleeping back in 2006). To me, it feels like blogging and blog reading on Facebook distorts this notion of a river or stream of posts and info even more because posts that you see are derived by some magical algorithm in the sky that curates what you see based on math that we’ll never be privy to know.

I’m probably wrong here, and it really doesn’t matter. The world spins on, continues to go around our star, and our way of sharing thoughts and ideas will continue to change along with our still young species. But the idea of my Batmen and Supermen blogging on Facebook makes me sad. Being able to express that here on my blog makes me happy.

Now I just hope Wayne and Dave don’t unfriend me on Facebook, so that I can continue reading their posts there.

Another Digital Divide Coming

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Niels Ole Finnemann, a professor and director of Netlab, DigHumLab in Denmark, said: “The citizens will divide between those who prefer convenience and those who prefer privacy.”

via The Future of Privacy | Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

I’ve long said that as the web continues to evolve, particularly as a social medium, we’ll see privacy and the idea of a federated web help shape a new digital divide.

On one side, there will be people who choose convenience and ease by utilizing networks akin to our current ones (ie Facebook). They’ll trade their privacy and data for connections for social connections in a walled garden with pretty flowers.

On the other side will be the federated web by those who are able (either technologically or financially or both) to have and sustain their own web presence that they own and control.

This isn’t a geek vs non-geek distinction as it has been since the web started or something like we have in 2014-2015 where people who care about things like federation or privacy are outsiders.

Now we just need to kill apps.

Brian Greene on the State of String Theory 2015

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Much as the sonorous tones of a cello arise from the vibrations of the instrument’s strings, the collection of nature’s particles would arise from the vibrations of the tiny filaments described by string theory. The long list of disparate particles that had been revealed over a century of experiments would be recast as harmonious “notes” comprising nature’s score.

via Why String Theory Still Offers Hope We Can Unify Physics | Smithsonian.

Shortest Day of the Year

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Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship Christmas Service

The Sun is directly overhead of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere during the December Solstice.

The December Solstice occurs when the Sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, when the North Pole is tilted furthest – 23.5 degrees – away from the Sun.

via TimeAndDate.com

At 6:03 PM EST last night, our geographic location was the furthermost position away from the sun that it will be until next December. I was lucky enough to be singing Christmas carols with my wife, our girls, and members of our faith community at Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship.

Solstice has long been a sacred day for those of us in the northern hemisphere and marks the “extreme of winter” or Donghzi in Chinese. It happens to coincide with major times of festivals in modern and ancient religions on purpose, as we continue to come to grips with our humanity while wrestling with concepts of existence, death, and faith in times of darkness.

Here’s to the lengthening of days and the spreading of candelight to remind us of the angels of our better natures as our mother planet makes yet another orbit around her own parental star. We are a young and curious species, indeed.

Should Churches and Non-Profits Worry About Page Views?

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When I’m working with clients, the topic of page views often comes up.

Page views are requests that are made to load a specific HTML page on the web. In the early days of the www, we didn’t have great metrics or analytics to measure statistics up against the more mature offline world, and page views became one of the default ways to tell if a site or page was successful. It’s a terrible metric that is easily gamed, and those of us who work in marketing know that page views are not valuable to determine a site’s health.

Yet, we continue to fixate on them from terrible “clickbait” Buzzfeed headlines to Communication Ministers constantly checking a site dashboard to see if the latest Christmas Cantata podcast post has more links than last year’s version.

Ev Williams, founder of Blogger and Twitter and now Medium, has an interesting point for churches and non-profits to ponder as we head into the new year…

I would rather have fewer people stop by and read something for five minutes that makes them think than a million people stop by for five seconds because of a catchy headline.

The optimistic part of the message is that advertisers get this too. Brand advertising has never worked on the Internet anyways, because banner ads don’t work. So whatever the form factor is, people have to be actually engaged in something for it to be meaningful.

via Q&A with Evan Williams, co-founder of Medium and Twitter.

Or as Cory Haik writes,

Purely chasing pageviews is a fool’s errand. In the short term, it gets you a bigger comScore number. But those calories are empty.

The clients I like to work with are groups that have a mission to make the world a better place in some fashion. For those clients, I like to keep reminding them that thousands or millions of page views mean next-to-nothing compared to actually engaging a few people and impacting their lives. So the answer to my question in the title of this post would be a flat out “No.”

As the web continues to mature and change, we’ll certainly move away from the page view as the venerable metric of a site’s success. Attention, engagement, sharing… those are much better metrics. Particularly for the types of clients that want to change the world.

Don’t Use Admin As Your WordPress Username

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We create, host, and manage a number of sites for churches, non-profits, community groups, and businesses. As a part of that, we also spend a good deal of time “behind the scenes” keeping these websites safe and secure. Our clients often don’t realize how much work that entails in 2014 / 2015 with the ongoing proliferation of sophistication and the sheer numbers of bots and bad folks looking to exploit poorly constructed sites or social media accounts to use for other nefarious purposes (nor should they).

Setting up a WordPress site on your own is not hard to do. You have to find a host, click a few selections for your server, then run through the install. It’s gotten tremendously easier over the years. However, if you’re setting up a self-hosted WordPress site, you have to take security seriously.

For example, the screenshot above is just a small sampling of the attempts to “brute force” access to this site from this morning. There are hundreds of these everyday for this site and I see thousands daily for some of our larger clients. You’ll notice the attempts are all trying to gain access to the site with the username “admin.” Before WordPress 3.0, the default for new site installs was to use “admin” as the username. Combine that with the terrible passwords that most people online use, and it’s not hard to see that with enough permutations, the math is there. It’s fairly easy to buy a list of the most commonly used passwords on the web if you know the dark parts of the web to look, as well.

Here are my surface level and generic recommendations if you do decide to set up a WordPress site for your church, group, or business after about a decade of working in this area…

1) Don’t use admin as your login username for WordPress or for any other account whether it will just be you logging in or a team of people.

2) Don’t use a short or “dictionary” phrase password. Use something unique to you and combine numbers, letters, etc as much as you can. That’s not fool proof and there’s research showing that doing so isn’t as effective as it was previously, but it’s still a good practice. Even if you’re “bad at passwords” as most humans claim to be, figure out system for a stronger password. It’s worth your time and it’s important no matter how small or large your site or social media account will be.

3) Use a good plugin such as Sucuri to keep track of security audits, reviews, and monitoring. Again, it’s worth your time and easy to set up email alerts for certain events.

4) Keep track of installed plugins and make sure that no one has installed a plugin that is actually a piece of malware or using your WordPress install for nefarious purposes. This is important especially if you are working with a number of people on a WordPress site and sharing a common user account rather than setting up various users (which you should do for a number of reasons).

5) Update, update, update. Keep your WordPress version, plugins, and themes as updated as possible. That usually means at least a couple of times a month.

Of course, there are many other things to consider but I get this question frequently and wanted to make my initial thoughts easy for others to find. Setting up a WordPress site is a great idea and it’s not terribly difficult. However, do it the right way and make sure you are keeping your brand, visitors, and users free from any potential threats that you can avoid with a little time investment.