Category Archives: Tech

Internet Explorer Goes Chromium

I never thought I’d see Microsoft throw in the towel on their browser engine. Or that, by the time it happened, I’d see that as a bad thing.

But it’s true: like Opera did a few years ago, Microsoft is dropping not only the old Internet Explorer engine, but the newer Edge engine, and will be building Edge on Chromium going forward. That means Edge, Chrome, Opera and Safari are all built on the same codebase. (Chromium split from Apple’s WebKit a while back, but they still have a lot in common.)

Monoculture is still a problem, no matter who runs it. We’re already at the point where webdevs are treating Chrome like the defacto standard, the way they did IE6 back in the day.

Firefox is going to be even more important in the future, ensuring that the web continues to be built on interoperable standards instead of one stakeholder’s goals.

Mozilla is a non-profit organization, and like many, they’re running a year-end donation drive. Now is a good time to contribute to their mission to keep the internet and the web open. (I’ve already made my annual donation to them.)

I think I may want to finally shut down or retool that old Alternative Browser Alliance site I ran during the Second Browser War. The last time I made a significant update to it, Chrome was the new upstart.

Who are phone notifications for?

Phone notifications aren’t just reminders. They’re interruptions, especially if you have sound or vibration turned on. That gives them a lot of power, and means they should be used responsibly.

In short, phone notifications should serve your interests as the person using the phone. Not the app’s. Not the service’s. Yours.

If someone you know sends you a message, you probably want to know that. If you put an appointment on your calendar, that reminder is going to help you. A shipping update, or delivery notice? Probably helpful as well. Completion of some long-running process that you requested or are waiting for? OK. App and system updates? You do want the phone to keep working properly, so there’s a case there.

If your friend tags you on a photo, or replies to your comment, or sends you a message, then yeah, Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Mastodon can justifiably notify you. It’s the start or continuation of a conversation between you and that other person. (Though you should still be able to mute it if you don’t want to talk to that person.)

But when Facebook starts pushing friend suggestions, or “did you see so-and-so’s comment on this conversation that you’re not part of,” or choosing to promote some subset of people’s broadcasts? That’s not in my interests, and that’s not in the other person’s interests. That’s Facebook advertising itself, because they’re desperately afraid they’ve lost my eyeballs.

It’s no different than the Black Friday through Cyber Monday ads that Amazon pushed into my notifications over Thanksgiving weekend.

We can pare down notifications, but it takes time, and not every app offers fine enough controls over which notifications it sends. And of course you have to re-do it every time you get a new phone, and every time you add a new app.

Advertising in an alert is, IMO, an abuse of the feature. We’re bombarded by so many demands for our attention as it is. Phone notifications should stick to those that help us do what we want, not those that distract us from it.

Trying to get at the features left out of the mobile app

I use extensive filters on Gmail to categorize mail the way I want. I pre-filter some things to look at later, prioritize some lists (like allergy or uptime alerts), and pre-categorize things that I may want to file away after looking at them.

The problem is, I can only change filters on the desktop site. When I’m reading on my phone, I need to remind myself not to archive or delete messages that I want to start filtering.

It occurred to me: I can label those messages “Change Filter.” I could even do it right away – there’s a “Manage labels” option on the Android app!

Nope!

I can’t add labels in the app, just change the download and notification settings for each.

So, website then…

Except I can’t get at the full Gmail website on my phone. Or my tablet. Google insists on showing a stripped-down mobile site, which has even fewer capabilities than the app.

I can’t fault them for starting with the mobile site. It is helpful to focus on the features that work best on small touchscreens, under-powered processors, and high-latency, low-bandwidth networks, and can be done by someone on the go, rather than someone sitting at a keyboard with a big screen and a mouse.

But if someone wants to use the functionality you’ve left out, and is willing to slog through the desktop site on their phone or tablet, you should at least let them get at it!

In this case I waited until I could log in on a desktop, then added the label. But not everyone with a phone has a desktop or a laptop. And as the balance keeps shifting towards phones as people’s primary internet access device, that’s going to be more and more common.

Sort of Blogging on the Fediverse

Over at Key Smash!, I’ve been helping beta-test the Pterotype plugin to hook up a self-hosted WordPress to the Fediverse. It gives WordPress an ActivityPub presence, so new posts and comments can be seen in Mastodon, Pleroma, and other ActivityPub-powered networks, and replies from those networks can come back as comments.

But Key Smash! is a simple test case. It’s at the top of the site, there’s no caching, it’s only got a handful of posts, and it hasn’t been bombarded by spammers for years.

So I’ve installed it on here. Older posts won’t federate, but new ones (starting here) should, and replies should show up as comments. With luck they’ll land in the moderation queue instead of the spam queue.

You may be able to follow the site by searching for this post’s URL in Mastodon/etc. Maybe. I need to report a bug in the handling of sites that aren’t at the top level: To find the site I need to search for @blog@www.hyperborea.org/journal – the first time. Then that search stops working, but I can find it at @blog@www.hyperborea.orgjournal instead. But that only works after I’ve searched for the first one.

Well, that’s part of why I set it up here: to help beta test.

Update: You can now follow the blog directly at @blog@www.hyperborea.org

Possibly Out-There Federation Idea

Now that Pixelfed federation and Pterotype are taking shape, I can hook up my photos and blogging directly into Mastodon and the Fediverse, but you know what would be even cooler?

Connecting them to each other.

A lot of my blog ideas grow out of photos or statuses that I’ve posted previously, as I find more to say or a better way to say it. And while it’s always possible to just post a comment or reply with a link, imagine posting them into the same federated thread.

Here’s a scenario we can do today:

  1. Photo of something interesting on Pixelfed, boosted to Mastodon. I believe we’re one update away from Mastodon replies and Pixelfed comments appearing together.
  2. Blog post on Plume or WordPress with Pterotype going into more detail about the photo. Comments and Mastodon/Pleroma replies can interleave right now. (Try it, if you want!)
  3. Another photo on Pixelfed as a follow-up. Again, comments and replies can interleave.

This is already pretty cool, but it still creates three separate discussions. The best I can do is add a “Hey, I wrote more on my blog over here: <link>” to the first discussion.

What if there were a way to publish the blog entry as a reply to the PixelFed photo? Or to publish the second photo as a reply to the blog?

And that opens up other possibilities where people can reply to other people’s photos and blog entries with their own. (Webmentions sort of do this, but they’re not going to create a single federated discussion.)

I’m not sure what form this interleaved discussion would take, or what the pitfalls might be. (Visibility might suffer, for instance.) Blogging and photo posting tend to be platforms for an original post that can have comments, rather than platforms where a top-level post can be an OP or a reply, and this would change that model.