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How WordPress .com’s Reader can become the Facebook we actually want.

Big claim, I know, though not unique, either.  I’ve been thinking about Facebook a lot, lately, because I deeply want to leave but don’t want to lose touch with the lives of so many friends and family members who now post to Facebook to connect with their wider social group. I understand why, I do it myself. Facebook is far, far more convenient than multiple phone calls or even emails and, frankly, we can keep in touch with a wider group of people than we possibly could have time to keep up with without Facebook.

As a housebound woman (if in multiple countries) over the last 14 years, I would have sunk deep into depression if it weren’t for my online communities – most of them, now, on Facebook. I’m not anti internet and I don’t believe that online connections aren’t real – they are (ask anyone who’s made a friend or been bullied online!) – but Facebook is just one of the platforms that I believe is dangerously powerful.

The main reasons I want to leave Facebook are:

a) The data theft. I don’t appreciate having to give up my privacy and have my details sold for someone else’s profit (sorry, Zuckerberg, but selling ads using the data is still selling the data);

b) The ease of false news and political manipulation by bad actors is just too destructive to our culture and I don’t want to be part of it;

c) Facebook no longer even shows me what I want to see! I have to jump through so many hoops, each of which gives FB more data, to make sure that I see all the posts that I want to and even after, for example, adding them as close friends and family, clicking the notifications bell, I still have to make sure to regularly visit people’s profile pages – especially if they don’t post often – to make sure I see their updates. Paid ads, though? They fill our feeds whether we ask for them or not!

Reasons a and b can be solved by leaving Facebook but c requires a replacement. I think that can be the WordPress Reader.

Let’s look at the basics that Facebook gives us, that we actually want (even if it’s not done well atm).

1. A ready-made, established platform that is “free”, easy to join and makes it easy to “like”and comment on posts, even if we don’t want to post anything;

2. An established platform that has enough people on it that is easy to find the people we want to find or invite them to join us;

3. A central webpage, or app, with a personally curated timeline that automatically updates with status updates and, sometimes, longer posts that people we know and love, or simply want to follow, want us to see;

4. The ability to easily post our own status updates, photos, longer posts, if and when we wish to;

5. The ability to easily re-post/share those posts if we, or the original person who posted it, wants others to see it;

6. Businesses – Some of us also want to follow the posts of certain businesses, news sources or communities which, increasingly, don’t even have websites or community forums anymore and rely solely on their Facebook page and (data sucking) sales and community tools.

There are likely others and if you think of them, please let me know and I’ll try to address them, but these are the main ones I’d like to address, here.

 

1. A ready-made, established platform that is free, easy to join, and makes it easy to “like”and comment on posts, even if we don’t want to post anything;.

I’ve been discussing this with various people for a while and the most common concern I hear is: “Isn’t WordPress a blog site? I don’t want to have to start a blog.”

First, yes, WordPress.com is website, running on the WordPress blogging platform (which is a separate thing), where you can start and run a blog (or multiple blogs) BUT, no, you do not have to have a blog to have an account with which to read and comment on other people’s blogs. In fact, here’s the post on the WordPress.com company blog from May, 2006, when the no-blog account was implemented in response to requests for it.

Second, if you ever post anything on Facebook, or Instagram, you are already blogging. Seriously. Short Facebook posts, or just pictures with short posts on Instagram can be said to be “micro-blogging”, but blogging it is. It doesn’t feel like blogging because Facebook rarely shows you your Facebook Profile page and it feels like you are publishing your thoughts into a stream of content from all over the place, rather than on a page or website that is devoted only to your musings, but you are actually posting to your profile page – and that’s a blog page but with a whole lot more information about you than you’d have to give to WordPress (set to private or not)!

Signing up is easy, free, requires much less personal information than Facebook and allows you to start curating your timeline without starting a blog. If you want to start a blog, you can, of course – a basic blog is free (with less obtrusive ads than Facebook) and all you will need if you just want your posts to come up in your friends’ feeds as they will only ever see the content in the reader so you don’t even need to bother with themes and colours and graphics etc. – unless you want to, of course!

Note: You can start as many blogs as you like using that WordPress account/profile and make each one as accessible and/or searchable as you like – you can even make your blog accessible only to those with the blog address AND with a password – or variations up to that amount of security.

Which brings me to:

2. An established platform that has enough people on it that is easy to find the people we want to find or invite them to join us.

“But everyone’s on Facebook, no-one has a blog anymore!”

This is the second most common reason people think leaving Facebook is an exercise in futility and, while hyperbolic, it’s a decent point. Lots of people do still have blogs but they are certainly out of fashion. In fact, I just did a clear out of the blogs I follow and found sooo many blogs that hadn’t had post for a year or five, but those people are very active on Facebook. So this one is up to us. If we want to get Facebook’s claws out of us, then we have to make an effort.

But isn’t WordPress.com just another big platform, like Facebook?

Yes and No. First, I’m advocating for a mass move to WordPress.com Reader, which is a feed reader, not just WordPress.com – you can follow any blog in WP Reader, you can only follow Facebook pages/groups/profiles on Facebook.

Why not advocate for any other feedreader? Because the reason Facebook flourished wasn’t just by keeping everyone inside their platform (though that helped, even if it was immoral, imo), Facebook flourished because they are a platform. WordPress makes it really easy to use the Reader to read any blog but also to make your own posts using the seamless interaction of the Reader and Platform.

3. A central webpage, or app, with a personally curated timeline.

This is what my WordPress Reader from the iOS App looks like on my iPad:

And this is it using the Chrome browser:

On the menu on the left of both screens you can see that the “Followed Sites” is highlighted and that’s what you’ve got: the latest posts from ALL the sites you follow – not just some of them according to an algorithm, not skipping some because you haven’t gone to directly to their page in a while, just the latest posts from the sites you follow.

The rest of the menu options achieve various things:

“conversations” – this is where you can find all your comments and the conversations you are part of;

“discover” is a selection of posts from the WordPress.com platform curated by the WP.com team

“search” searches for content on the WordPress.com platform only

“my likes”shows you a timeline of the latest posts you’ve “liked”, very handy!

Under all those, you’ll see “tags” and this is something WP has over Facebook, and is, essentially, what hashtags on twitter developed from and used exactly as you would use them on Instagram, except the tags are hidden from view (much nicer!) You can see there, that most of my current tags are medical/spoonie related and I use these to browse all posts on the WordPress.com platform that the writer has tagged as such.

You can add blogs from outside the WordPress.com platform to WP reader by clicking “manage” in the Followed Sites section and pasting in the full blog/RSS feed address of the site you want to follow, then clicking the site when the search brings it up underneath. For example, in the picture below I have added the blog feed of The Majority Report with Sam Seder (they still use feedburner!):

And it now appears in my Reader timeline:

You can get more info on feeds here.

4. The ability to easily post our own status updates, photos, longer posts, if and when we wish to.

Posting on the WordPress app or website is really easy – unless this happens:

Where was I? Oh. Right. You simply click the “+ write” logo either at the bottom of the App or the top right of the webpage (where you will be offered a list of your blogs from which to choose) and type and insert pics away. (For detailed help, click here).

Here’s a kitten-free, screenshot of the app’s writing page, on which I am writing this post.

It really is easy to pick up – and, remember, you had to learn how to post to Facebook, too!

5. The ability to easily re-post/share those posts if we, and or the original person who posted it, want others to see it;

This is something WordPress beats Facebook in, hands down, and for one reason: you can share it outside of the platform! You can share anything you see in WP Reader (unless the original poster has the privacy of the post set against it) anywhere you want – a private email, paste the link in Messages, Twitter, Reddit, even Facebook. Facebook keeps you trapped in Facebook (except for email which they know most people think is inconvenient and so no real competition.)

If you do want to share something within the WordPress.com platform, you have two options:

If your source is coming from outside the platform, you share it just as you normally would be TO your WordPress blog as a post with a link, just as you are posting it to your profile page when you share on Facebook.

If you want to share someone else’s blog post – say your friend is having a book launch and you want to share the news: that’s when you use WordPress.com’s wonderful re-blog button. This creates a post for your blog, where you can make a comment, but embed’s the original post in a truncated form which requires the reader to click on to get the full post. I love this feature because it lets me share great posts without feeling like I’m stealing content – there is no doubt who originated the post! (Note: it is easy to make it so that no-one can reblog your posts, I notice most people seem to block that, these days, but I think that’s a pity because it helps the Reader platform grow – it’s the principle Facebook used to grow.)

 

And finally:

6. Following Businesses and Communities

Whether you think it’s sad or not that Facebook has captured the internet life of so many people, the fact is that it has. So many businesses have chosen to do away with any website at all, let alone a blog, and take advantage of the sales and community building tools Facebook provides. And it’s fair enough, really – they’d be stupid not to, considering the wealth of targeting data Facebook collects and allows businesses to buy from them, in the form of targeted advertising.

It’s a tricky one. I love my online communities and they are ALL on Facebook, now. For example, a few months ago I paid to access a series of educational videos and access to a community based on a gardening blog I’ve been following for a while as we wait and plan for our house to be built. They were quite open that the community for which we are paying an access fee is actually a Facebook group. For this reason, I almost didn’t purchase the product but I know that this is the way the world is going and it was a really cheap, one-time, life-time membership which has already become a monthly subscription for new members.

What to do? I’m still working it out. I don’t want to be targeted by businesses that want to profit from over-consumption. I also want to stop being a conduit to all my friends for any business that wants to profit from them. But my communities are important to me. So I have an idea that I could “unfriend” actual profiles of people and only follow businesses and joins communities/groups. I’d keep in touch with those people either by persuading them to come to WordPress Reader and/or make their own blog and/or send my posts as emails and just email back and forth to individual responses, which is inevitably what happens when people subscribe via email. It’s surely not a bad thing to return to letter writing, even if by email, but it would be more time consuming – my friends with children couldn’t possibly keep up!

 

So, again, it is all down to us to make the moves. What do you think?

Would you/Have you considered leaving Facebook?

Would you consider starting a blog on WordPress.com, in place of posting on Facebook?

Would you at least sign up to WordPress.com to use WP Reader and comment on others’ blogs?

 

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