This advice works both ways:
This advice works both ways:
On the sad state of Google search today:
How did a site that captured the imagination of the internet and fundamentally changed the way we communicate turn into a burned-out Walmart at the edge of town?
Years before becoming Prime Minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak wrote this report, Undersea Cables: Indispensable, insecure.
Right now, there’s a whole bunch of social networks coming (Blewski, Freds, Mastication) and one big one going, thanks to Elongate.
Me? I watch all of this unfold like Doctor Manhattan on Mars. I have no great connection to any of these places. They’re all just syndication endpoints to me.
I used to have a checkbox in my posting interface that said “Twitter”. If I wanted to add a copy of one of my notes to Twitter, I’d enable that toggle.
I have, of course, now removed that checkbox. Twitter is dead to me (and it should be dead to you too).
I used to have another checkbox next to that one that said “Flickr”. If I was adding a photo to one of my notes, I could toggle that to send a copy to my Flickr account.
Alas, that no longer works. Flickr only allows you to post 1000 photos before requiring a pro account. Fair enough. I’ve actually posted 20 times that amount since 2005, but I let my pro membership lapse a while back.
So now I’ve removed the “Flickr” checkbox too.
Instead I’ve now got a checkbox labelled “Mastodon” that sends a copy of a note to my Mastodon account.
At least it used to. At some point that stopped working too. I was going to start debugging my code, but when I went to the documentation for the Medium API, I saw this:
This repository has been archived by the owner on Mar 2, 2023. It is now read-only.
I guessed I missed the memo. I guess Medium also missed the memo, because developers.medium.com is still live. It proudly proclaims:
Medium’s Publishing API makes it easy for you to plug into the Medium network, create your content on Medium from anywhere you write, and expand your audience and your influence.
Not a word of that is accurate.
That page also has a link to the Medium engineering blog. Surely the announcement of the API deprecation would be published there?
I have an account on Bluesky. I don’t know why.
I was idly wondering about sending copies of my notes there when I came across a straightforward solution: micro.blog.
That’s it. Syndication enabled.
It gets better. Micro.blog can also cross-post to other services. One of those services is Bluesky. I gave permission to micro.blog to syndicate to Bluesky so now my notes show up there too.
It’s like dominoes falling: I post something on my website which updates my RSS feed which gets picked up by micro.blog which passes it on to Bluesky.
I noticed that one of the other services that micro.blog can post to is Medium. Hmmm …would that still work given the abandonment of the API?
I gave permission to micro.blog to cross-post to Medium when my feed of blog posts is updated. It seems to have worked!
We’ll see how long it lasts. We’ll see how long any of them last. Today’s social media darlings are tomorrow’s Friendster and MySpace.
When the current crop of services wither and die, my own website will still remain in full bloom.
I’m not down with Google swallowing everything posted on the internet to train their generative AI models.
This would mean a lot more if it happened before the wholesale harvesting of everyone’s work.
But I’m sure Google will put a mighty fine lock on that stable door that the horse bolted from.
Back when the web was young, it wasn’t yet clear what the rules were. Like, could you really just link to something without asking permission?
Then came some legal rulings to establish that, yes, on the web you can just link to anything without checking if it’s okay first.
What about search engines and directories? Technically they’re rifling through all the stuff we publish and reposting snippets of it. Is that okay?
Again, through some legal precedents—but mostly common agreement—everyone decided that on balance it was fine. After all, those snippets they publish are helping your site get traffic.
In short order, search came to rule the web. And Google came to rule search.
The mutually beneficial arrangement persisted uneasily. Despite Google’s search results pages getting worse and worse in recent years, the company’s huge market share of search means you generally want to be in their good books.
Google’s business model relies on us publishing web pages so that they can put ads around the search results linking to that content, and we rely on Google to send people to our websites by responding smartly to search queries.
That has now changed. Instead of responding to search queries by linking to the web pages we’ve made, Google is instead generating dodgy summaries rife with hallucina… lies (a psychic hotline, basically).
Google still benefits from us publishing web pages. We no longer benefit from Google slurping up those web pages.
Google has steadily been manoeuvring their search engine results to more and more replace the pages in the results.
Me, I just think it’s fuckin’ rude.
Google is a portal to the web. Google is an amazing tool for finding relevant websites to go to. That was useful when it was made, and it’s nothing but grown in usefulness. Google should be encouraging and fighting for the open web. But now they’re like, actually we’re just going to suck up your website, put it in a blender with all other websites, and spit out word smoothies for people instead of sending them to your website. Instead.
Robots.txt needs an update for the 2020s. Instead of just saying what content can be indexed, it should also grant rights.
Like crawl my site only to provide search results not train your LLM.
It’s a solid proposal. But Google has absolutely no incentive to implement it. They hold all the power.
Or do they?
There is still the nuclear option in
User-agent: Googlebot Disallow: /
That’s what Vasilis is doing:
I have been looking for ways to not allow companies to use my stuff without asking, and so far I coulnd’t find any. But since this policy change I realised that there is a simple one: block google’s bots from visiting your website.
The general consensus is that this is nuts. “If you don’t appear in Google’s results, you might as well not be on the web!” is the common cry.
I’m not so sure. At least when it comes to personal websites, search isn’t how people get to your site. They get to your site from RSS, newsletters, links shared on social media or on Slack.
And isn’t it an uncomfortable feeling to think that there’s a third party service that you absolutely must appease? It’s the same kind of justification used by people who are still on Twitter even though it’s now a right-wing transphobic cesspit. “If I’m not on Twitter, I might as well not be on the web!”
The situation with Google reminds me of what Robin said about Twitter:
The speed with which Twitter recedes in your mind will shock you. Like a demon from a folktale, the kind that only gains power when you invite it into your home, the platform melts like mist when that invitation is rescinded.
We can rescind our invitation to Google.
When we imagine future tech, we usually focus on the ways it could turn humans into robotic workers, easily manipulated by surveillance capitalism. And that’s not untrue. But in this story, I wanted to suggest that there is a more subversive possibility. Modifying our bodies with technology could bring us closer to the natural world.
Wanna get angry all over again?
(Now do Geocities!)
No one says “information superhighway” anymore, but whenever anyone explains net neutrality, they do so in terms of fast lanes and tolls. Twitter is a “town square,” a metaphor that was once used for the internet as a whole. These old metaphors had been joined by a few new ones: I have a feeling that “the cloud” will soon feel as dated as “cyberspace.”
Today was a good day. The weather was beautiful.
Jessica and I did a little bit of work in the garden—nothing too sweaty. Then Jessica cut my hair. It looks good. And it feels good to have my neck freed up.
We went for a Sunday roast at the nearest pub, which does a most excellent carvery. It was tasty and plentiful so after strolling home, I wanted to do nothing more than sit around.
I sat outside in the back garden under the dappled shade offered by the overhanging trees. I had a good book. I had my mandolin to hand. I’d reach for it occassionally to play a tune or two.
Coco the cat—not our cat—sat nearby, stretching her paws out lazily in the warm muggy air.
It was a good day.
I wish more publishers and services took this approach to evaluating technology:
We scrutinize third-party services before including them in our articles or elsewhere on our site. Many include trackers or analytics that would collect data on our readers. These may be standard across much of the web, but we don’t use them.
AMP succeeded spectacularly. Then it failed. And to anyone looking for a reason not to trust the biggest company on the internet, AMP’s story contains all the evidence you’ll ever need.
This is a really good oral history of how AMP soured Google’s reputation.
Full disclosure: I’m briefly cited:
“When it suited them, it was open-source,” says Jeremy Keith, a web developer and a former member of AMP’s advisory council. “But whenever there were any questions about direction and control… it was Google’s.”
As an aside, this article contains a perfect description of the company cultures of Facebook, Apple, and Google:
“You meet with a Facebook person and you see in their eyes they’re psychotic,” says one media executive who’s dealt with all the major platforms. “The Apple person kind of listens but then does what it wants to do. The Google person honestly thinks what they’re doing is the best thing.”
Opening up my RSS reader, a cup of coffee in hand, still feels calm and peaceful in a way that trying to keep up with happenings in other ways just never has.
Video visions of aspirational futures made from the 1950s to the 2010s, mostly by white dudes with bullshit jobs.
An entire generation of apps-that-should-have-been web pages has sprung up, often shoehorned into supposedly cross-platform frameworks that create a subpar user experience sludge. Nowhere is this more true than for media — how many apps from newspapers or magazines have you installed, solely for a very specific purpose like receiving breaking news alerts? How many of those apps are just wrappers around web views? How many of those apps should have been web pages?
Instead of doing what the competing browsers are doing (and learning from years of experience of handling Web Push), Apple decided to reinvent a wheel here. What they’ve turned up with looks a lot more like a square.
When I’m evangelising the benefits of building on the open web instead of making separate iOS and Android apps, I inevitably get asked about notifications. As long as mobile Safari doesn’t support them—even though desktop Safari does—I’m somewhat stumped. There’s no polyfill for this feature other than building an entire native app, which is a bit extreme as polyfills go.
With push notifications in mobile Safari, the arguments for making proprietary apps get weaker. That’s good.
The announcement post is a bit weird though. It never uses the phrase “progressive web apps”, even though clearly the entire article is all about progressive web apps. I don’t know if this down to Not-Invented-Here syndrome by the Apple/Webkit team, or because of genuine legal concerns around using the phrase.
Instead, there are repeated references to “Home Screen apps”. This distinction makes some sense though. In order to use web push on iOS, your website needs to be added to the home screen.
I think that would be fair enough, if it weren’t for the fact that adding a website to the home screen remains such a hidden feature that even power users would be forgiven for not knowing about it. I described the steps here:
- Tap the “share” icon. It’s not labelled “share.” It’s a square with an arrow coming out of the top of it.
- A drawer pops up. The option to “add to home screen” is nowhere to be seen. You have to pull the drawer up further to see the hidden options.
- Now you must find “add to home screen” in the list
- Add to Reading List
- Add Bookmark
- Add to Favourites
- Find on Page
- Add to Home Screen
As long as this remains the case, we can expect usage of web push on iOS to be vanishingly low. Hardly anyone is going to add a website to their home screen when their web browser makes it so hard.
If you’d like to people to install your progressive web app, you’ll almost certainly need to prompt people to do so. Here’s the page I made on thesession.org with instructions on how to add to home screen. I link to it from the home page of the site.
I wish that pages like that weren’t necessary. It’s not the best user experience. But as long as mobile Safari continues to bury the home screen option, we don’t have much choice but to tackle this ourselves.