I got a tumblelog

I got a tumblelog. Domain wise it’s part of my static site at Basu::shr. Behind the scenes it’s a basic Tumblr weblog with a nice looking theme and little else. I already have a proper weblog (this one) and a static website. I also have Twitter and Identi.ca accounts and I have a Friendfeed which pulls in updates from lots of different services that I use. So why yet another weblog?

The answer is that the web, especially the so-called Web 2.0 has been becoming more UNIX-like as time goes on. There are lots of different webapps out there, and the best ones focus on doing one thing and doing it well. It’s up to others to pull these webapps together via their APIs in a manner similar to the way UNIX shell scripts work. While this is in general a good thing, it can be a hassle for someone like me who would like to keep together all his/her online activity.

For a while I really wished there was One Great Webapp to Rule Them All. It would be this one great system into which I could put all my status updates, my pictures, videos, links, conversations and it would automatically send them out to whichever specific webapp they needed to go to. And much to my delight I found one just like that: Posterous. You send an email to Posterous containing whatever you want to post and Posterous can be setup to direct to a number of different webapps. This is a really cool thing, using email as a web equivalent of UNIX pipes. I tried it for a few days, and while I was happy for to start with, I came to realize some interesting things.

The first thing that I realized was email for all it’s flexibility and usefulness, it can be a bit tedious for some activities. If all you want to do is send out a 140 character update or post a video, it’s just a bit too much to switch to a mail client, copy/paste a link or type a message, select a recipient and then hit ‘Send’. Secondly, for conversation oriented media like Twitter, sending out your message is only half the problem and it makes no sense to use one tool to send out a message (email) and another to see incoming messages (another app or webapp). Add in the fact there are lots of small applications or browser extensions that do a really good job of putting on an easy-to-use layer on top of web services and email starts to lose its silver lining.

However, the greater realization I had was I that I didn’t necessarily wanted all my online activity pulled into one place. For example, this blog is about technology and my experiences with it and it’s not something that my liberal arts friends particularly care about. On the other hand, readers coming to this site to read about my adventures with programming languages probably don’t want to know all that much about what how the dining hall food is today or how tired I am after my creative writing class (things that go into my Twitter stream). I wouldn’t want to mix those two because the result would simply be a mess. I also don’t want to add things like cool videos, art or articles I find to either of these two unless I do want to blog about it (in which case I will write a post about it) or I really want my friends to know about it (in which case I’ll twitter it). By yesterday morning I decided that I still wanted to have an online, accessible record of stuff I found interesting (if anyone else really wanted to see) but I didn’t want to just dump it into the other streams.

Thus came about the tumblelog. I could have just stuck to my Posterous but I like Tumblr better, in part because of the gorgeous themes (which I hear can be used with Posterous, but I couldn’t find an easy way to do it) but also because it seems that Tumblr, especially the bookmarklet, processes excerpts from websites in a smarter way than Posterous. And I already had a Tumblr account that I started a few months ago, but I really didn’t use till now.

The way things stand now, here is how I currently use my multiple web services:

  • The ByteBaker for long-form tech-oriented articles
  • Twitter and Identi.ca for really short observations, ideas and messages
  • Basu::Shr::Weblog as a tumblelog for recording interesting things I find online, mostly videos and images
  • Diigo for interesting links that I want to keep a record of, but don’t care to actively share
  • Friendfeed to pull together everything about (plus a few others) for anyone who’s interested

Considering that this isn’t the first time that I’ve done this dance, I won’t be too surprised if I changed this setup again soon. At the current moment, the services and the tools around seem stable and useful and I’ve been able to use them with very little mental overhead (which is very important for me). Only time will tell if this works out, but I hope it does. On a related note, I’ve also started decoupling Facebook from my online presence because I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with their “Walled Garden” approach, but that’s a matter for another article.

I’m going on a Facebook diet

Before I say anything else, let me make it clear that I think that Facebook is a very interesting social and technological phenomenon which will continue to impact our society (for better or for worse) for years to come. However, on a personal level I have come to the conclusion that I need to go on a Facebook diet.

By lowering the barrier to instant, informal communication Facebook has made it very easy to get in touch with your ‘friends’ on the network, whether or not they want such a connection to exist. While this is a good thing in some cases, I have found that in my case at least, it encourages patterns of communication that I would otherwise avoid. At the same time, I found it difficult to use Facebook as more broadcast-oriented medium which in turn means that the ratio of time spent to people reached is rather small (especially in relation to my blog and proper forums). The net result is is that I spend an inordinate amount of time on activities that are, simply put, worthless.

Facebook has an almost unique ability to encourage short, but often pointed and intense discussions. But this is not its main purpose and there are far less fruitful things to do. In particular, the Chat application can be quite distracting and very irritating for users on both ends, especially since you often sign on and make yourself available without actually wanting to do so. From a technological perspective Facebook Chat is the perfect example of being just good enough and can become succesful because it is simply more insidiuous than existing IM applications. But from a personal productivity perspective, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Finally there is the fact that Facebook blurs the line between private and public like almost nothing else before it. While it can be very empowering and interesting if you consciously decide to put parts of your life on public display, it can also be very disconcerting and disturbing if you are someone who places a higher value on privacy and would prefer to be left alone. While I personally don’t mind placing significant aspects of my life on display (and am quite careful about what I do and don’t put online), I know that other people don’t feel the same way, and I continually find myself questioning whether or not I should engage in some conversation or the other.  I would rather not have to think about this. I would love to live in a world where everyone is conscious of their privacy and properly sets their privacy settings. But lacking such awareness, there are ample opportunities for misunderstanding and confusion which makes communication all that much more difficult. Once again, dealing with those difficulties is not a good use of my time.

Keeping all the above in mind: I can’t help but come to the conclusion that in many ways it’s best if I go on a Facebook diet, hopefully resulting in more productivity on my part and less intrusion on others’ activities. In particular, I’m completely giving up on Facebook chat, most applications (including all games), messages (which are an adhoc, half-assed, proprietary reimplementation of email anyway) and photos. I’ll also be commenting only if I know the person really well and might even start removing people who I don’t really know all that well. I started mirroring my blog on Facebook Notes a few months ago, hoping it would spark more conversation, but that has not been the case and so I’m going to stop that as well. I used to check Facebook whenever I sat down at a computer, but that will stop as well.

What this means for my friends is:

  1. I will not be responding to any messages you send me on Facebook (use email or IM)
  2. I will not be putting any photos up (though you are welcome to put my photos up
  3. I will probably ignore any application/quiz invitations you send me
  4. Please don’t depend on event invitations to let me know that something is happening
  5. I’ll still be using my Wall, but don’t expect a response in less than a few hours

I would still like to use Facebook as a discussion medium (as opposed to a communication medium) but only if the time/energy investment pays off. Without Facebook as a major time sink, I plan on refocusing time and effort on this blog, my website ( http://basushr.net ), email for direct communication and involved conversations and Identi.ca/Twitter for more informal, short length communication.

Communicate Away!