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I've never used flexbox or grid and never taken the time to learn them. We'll, that's not entirely true — I have made the occasional change to WordPress themes to make then more responsive by changing the number of columns in a grid when viewed on mobile, but that's it, I've never built something with them.

I often think I'm missing out and that they might make life a lot easier seeing as how I make a lot of individual margin, padding and positioning adjustments. But then I think is it really worth it to learn them and completely rebuild the site just to take advantage?

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Whilst listening to the audiobook of Stolen Focus by Johann Hari last night, in what would be a drastic turnaround having built /reader, I found myself wondering about scrapping RSS and manually visiting the sites I want to keep up to date with.

It would be more casual, a slower experience. I would likely binge on a number of posts from each site rather than read each as (or close to when) it was published and pulled in by /reader.

It made me ponder how my reading would change? How would my reaction to posts change? How would the breadth of my reading change? Is it inevitable that things would drop off? Would I abandon sites more easily? Would I remember to visit? Would I have to seriously rethink the number of blogs I read in order to do them justice and spend quality time with them?

Then I read Robin Sloane's idea for a new web distribution protocol, Spring '83, where updates would be shared as small 'boards' and a resulting collection of boards would look like a magazine rack or the small ads from a newspaper.

This has me thinking about how /reader could evolve and encompass multiple ideas:

  • subscribe to RSS feeds as usual
  • each feed has a 'block' that shows under certain circumstances
    • maybe a block only shows if there are, say, three new posts
    • perhaps a block shows until it reaches an expiry date based on the pubdate of posts
  • post contents would never be shown, only links to the site or maybe individual posts
    • reading must happen at the source site itself
  • as Robin says (and demonstrates with his 'newsletter') "presentation is a form of content" so abstracting the content from how it is meant to look is sometimes/often doing it a disservice
    • like any such app /reader forces my chosen styles onto all content

One of the biggest issues with /reader has been getting it to display posts sensibly and reliably after I split them to only show the start in a summary tag. Removing the requirement to display them locally would greatly simplify matters.

Forcing a visit to the source could be a double-edged sword. It would prompt a slow down (hopefully) giving items proper consideration in their home environment, but also remove the element of convenience which could mean less being read.

I could just be mentally over-engineering all of this and a similar effect could be gained by only showing titles/links in /reader thus also forcing consumption at source. The idea, however, of presenting items in blocks rather than as a river of news intrigues me as it is a different approach to feed consumption with less of an emphasis on the actual consumption itself within the reader — more of a notification system.

I wonder whether, instead of building a new protocol, an extension could be added to RSS via a namespace (I've got the somewhat predictable spring:board in my head) that would achieve a similar result — a board's content could then be distributed along with posts so that the choice of consumption could be made at the reader end with boards being ignored if not supported or the reader is not in that mode of operation.

I may mess around with an alternative view for /reader to see if I can make something workable and sufficiently visually interesting.

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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog