Category Archives: Tech

Thoughts on Tumblr’s Escape from Verizon to WordPress

Wow. Automattic bought Tumblr from Verizon for less than $3 million. Considering Yahoo bought it for $1.1 billion back in the day…

Yahoo really squandered it. And Verizon, I think, just wanted to get rid of it.

At least it’s going to an actual social media company not to another conglomerate. And one that’s more responsible than the big two! I was half expecting Verizon to try to monetize it into the ground and close it once everyone but the die-hard users had given up on it. But they found a blogging company for Tumblr, just like they found a photography company for Flickr. That’s encouraging. And Matt Mullenweg (who turns out to be a long-term Tumblr user as well!) understands that Tumblr and WordPress are different types of experiences, so they’re unlikely to try to merge them into a single service.

Though apparently they’d like to move the back-end to WordPress, while keeping the front-end experience of the Tumblr site and apps. I can sort of see the appeal: they’ve got over a decade of experience making WordPress scale, and they have to migrate Tumblr off of Verizon’s servers anyway. If they can run Tumblr on top of the WordPress infrastructure, it’s just a matter of adding capacity.

But it kind of runs the risk of creating a frankenblog. I guess it depends on how seamless the conversion is. If Tumblr looks and works the same from the user-facing perspective, it shouldn’t drive anyone away. If they try to turn it into a subset of WordPress.com…I’d expect another exodus.

Speaking of which, I doubt they’ll get anyone returning who left directly due to the adult content ban. Especially since they don’t plan on reversing it. But they might get back at least some people who left because they saw the ban as a sign of a dying platform. And they might be able to bring in new users, who knows? Having corporate overlords who actually understand and appreciate the space could be a big help.

Though frankly, even if all they do is keep it running in maintenance mode for those who are still there, that’s still better it would have been staying at Verizon!

As for me, I haven’t been active on Tumblr for a while. I took a final archive after cleaning up a bunch of old stuff, imported some posts here, and I’ve checked in to read maybe…once a month? I’m still in wait-and-see mode. We’ll see how the data migration goes, what they end up doing with the terms of service, whether they change the way ads and promoted posts appear.

But I am more confident that Tumblr will still exist next year than I was a few months ago!

Dear Twitter: Please Ditch the Clutter

Have you ever been to a Las Vegas casino? The main floors tend toward sprawling layouts, with lots of shiny distractions to entice you to stay and spend more time and money on the slots instead of helping you get where you’re going. That’s what Twitter’s new layout feels like.

When Twitter started out, the home timeline would just show me posts from people I followed. Now it also shows me

  • Posts they liked, but didn’t like enough to retweet.
  • Posts from people they follow.
  • A “Who to follow” box that I can’t seem to get rid of, which is also on the sidebar.
  • Advertisements – I mean “Promoted” tweets.

I get that ads are the business model they’ve chosen, but what’s with the rest of it? It’s not like I’m going to get bored if I don’t have more suggestions shoveled in front of me.

And I am going to get frustrated if I can’t find the stuff I’m actually looking for. Let’s think back for a moment to the early 2000s, back when there were a lot of different competing search engines. Google won not just because it was fast and accurate, but because it had a simple, fast-loading, no-nonsense home page while everyone else was trying to cram everything imaginable onto a “web portal.”

With that in mind, let’s look at what happens when we look at a specific post. The logical thing to do would be to show you tweet itself and the context around it: If it’s part of a thread, show the rest of the thread. If it’s part of a discussion, show the discussion. And that’s how Twitter used to work. But now you have to click through another link to see that context, and instead it wants to show you “Tweets from people like so-and-so.” How is that a useful default?

It’s like going to a page in a book and finding not the previous and next pages, but ads for other books.

I actually do like the two-click retweet button functionality, where you click and get a menu asking if you want to retweet by itself or quote-tweet it. Normally a two-item pop-up menu is a terrible idea for usability, but this is a case where introducing some friction in the process might give people a chance to consider what they’re doing.

But the rest of it feels like they’re desperately throwing everything they can think of at me in hopes of broadening my engagement with the site. And that reaches a point of diminishing returns. When you can’t use the site for what you’re trying to do, it ends up making you much less interested in coming back.

I wish I could use TweetDeck on my phone.

It would be simpler.

Firefox Thinks It’s Running an Older Version Than Last Time (But Isn’t!)

I finally upgraded to Fedora 30 today, and when I launched Firefox for the first time, it complained that I was running an older version than the last time I’d used it, and needed to create a new profile.

Using an older version of Firefox can corrupt bookmarks and browsing history already saved to an existing Firefox profile. To protect your information, create a new profile for this installation of Firefox.

Wait, what?

OK, Firefox did release two emergency updates yesterday. Maybe Fedora 29 got 67.0.4 and Fedora 30 got 67.0.3, and DNF decided it was important to downgrade to the Fedora 30-provided version?

No, both were still on 67.0.3. So what could be going on?

A quick search turmed up a Reddit thread on the problem that pointed me to the solution: Look for the compatibility.ini file in my Firefox profile, and delete the LastVersion line.

It worked! Firefox launched happily, with all my settings and everything.

I made a note of the version that was in there before, and the version that got placed when I launched it, and that cleared up what had caused the confusion.

Apparently, Fedora built the F30 package earlier in the day than the F29 package! 🤦‍♂️

Fedora 29: 67.0.3_20190619204842/20190619204842
Fedora 30: 67.0.3_20190619113000/20190619113000

So it was technically “older” … just not in any meaningful sense.

My Rule of Thumb for Preventing Notification Overload

To keep myself from getting distracted by too many notifications on my phone, I ask myself the following questions whenever a new category pops up:

  • Will I need to act on it? (Likes/favorites are nice, but I don’t need to respond.)
  • How time-sensitive is it? (“Your ride is here” is more time sensitive than planning a get together for next weekend.)
  • How important? (“Server down” is more important than a project update. A conversation is more important than a newsletter.)
  • Is it actually for me, or is it an ad for the app service?

Then I turn off what I don’t need, turn off sound on the less urgent ones, and customize sounds for the most important ones.

So I hear when a text or instant message comes in, but not email or social media. When I pick up my phone I see emails, mentions & replies, but not favorites or boosts, etc.

It helps me a lot with alert overload. YMMV.

Mobile Firefox Frustrations

I’ve been using Firefox for Android as my main mobile browser for a few weeks now. There are a lot of things I like about it. It works well overall. Unlike Chrome, it supports extensions, so I can install (for instance) Privacy Badger and HTTPS Everywhere. The share menu option includes the two most recent apps instead of just one. Things like that.

But there are a few things that I find incredibly frustrating:

  • PWAs aren’t as stable as Chrome.
  • Auto-fill is inconsistent and interacts badly with scrolling.
  • It’s slower than Chrome, though I’ve found that turning off web fonts helps a lot.
  • Private mode UI differs only by the color of the search bar, so whenever I use it, I have to double-check whether I’m actually in private mode or not.

Plus I miss a few Chrome UI features that just streamline common actions:

  • When clicking on the search bar, if you have a URL in the clipboard, Chrome offers to load that URL. (This is particularly helpful for opening email links in private mode.)
  • Auto-fill an entire address form at once
  • Clear the last X minutes of history

On the PWA front: These are packaged web applications that can be “installed” locally and used offline, powered by whichever web browser you used to install them. When I switched browsers, I also reinstalled the PWAs I was using on my phone and tablet, switching them from Chrome-powered to Firefox-powered. These amount to a couple of Mastodon instances and Twitter. (I don’t want to install the full Twitter app on my phone so I’ll be less tempted to get caught in infinite scroll.)

On Firefox, Mastodon’s PWA frequently logs me out. Every other day at least. Sometimes it stops being able to load any new statuses, and I have to close the app entirely and re-open it to get back to normal. (Fortunately that’s fast.) Twitter…well, it worked for a couple of days, then it got into a redirect loop where it kept switching between the regular UI and the login screen. I considered reinstalling it through Chrome, but finally decided I was better off without Twitter on my phone anyway.

Despite these issues, I’m going to stick with mobile Firefox for now. We’re entering another period of near-monopoly in web browser engines, and it’s important to keep a viable alternative going to ensure that the future of the web isn’t built on a single stakeholder’s goals.