Projecteur. Coder. Doer. Learner. Director of Web Engineering @10up.
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10 Rules of Internet

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In my years working in technology, I have learned a few things. These lessons have become oft-repeated refrains when speaking to people, so I thought I'd collect them so I have a link to send folks when needed.

  1. Given enough time, any object which can generate musical notes will be used to play the Super Mario Brothers theme on YouTube.
  2. Judging by their response, the meanest thing you can do to people on the Internet is to give them really good software for free.
  3. Three things never work: Voice chat, printers and projectors.
  4. Once a web community has decided to dislike a person, topic, or idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation. (See The Law of Fail.)
  5. Any new form of electronic communication will first be dismissed as trivial and worthless until it produces a profound result, after which it will be described as obvious and boring.
  6. If your website's full of assholes, it's your fault. (See the post on this topic.)
  7. Most websites treat "I like it" and "This is good" as the same thing, leading to most people on the Internet refusing to distinguish between "I don't like it" and "It's not good".
  8. When a company or industry is facing changes to its business due to technology, it will argue against the need for change based on the moral importance of its work, rather than trying to understand the social underpinnings.
  9. People will move mountains to earn a gold star by their name on the Internet.
  10. The only way to get useful feedback from people on the Internet is to ask questions that are actually answerable, instead of open-ended.

Bonus rules which apply equally on the Internet and off:

  • Never argue against logic with emotion, or against emotion using logic.
  • We hate most in others that which we fail to see in ourselves. (That's pretty much where this blog started, 14 years ago.)
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popular
1978 days ago
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jeremyfelt
1979 days ago
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5 public comments
expatpaul
1976 days ago
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Especially rule 7
Belgium
hiperlink
1978 days ago
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Actually misses the very important rule #34.
Budapest, Hungary
fabuloso
1978 days ago
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number 10 is true
Miami Beach, FL
cinebot
1978 days ago
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well said. rule 34 should be repeated for emphasis.

"Never argue against logic with emotion, or against emotion using logic." <--this is a life protip.
toronto.
ianso
1979 days ago
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All true, especially the bonus ones!
Brussels

The Golden Age of RSS

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One of the things I expected least to see in 2013 was that this year would mark the greatest flourishing of RSS reader applications in the decade since it first came to prominence on the web. But, with the death of Google Reader as a catalyst, dozens of alternatives and replacements have sprung up.

In just a few hours, with the help of many contributors from across the web, we were able to catalog over a hundred web-based RSS readers that are up and running today, and this doesn't include apps that run natively on your desktop, laptop, tablet, phone or gaming console.

So that's great news, but it drives me to a few conclusions:

  • Stop making RSS readers. I'm sure you've got a great idea, but find a way to update one of the better open source apps with your feature rather than trying to outmarket a hundred competitors.
  • Rethink the reading side of the experience. What we've largely ended up with is old-fashioned two-pane readers that clone Google's Reader (and Bloglines before it) or Pinterest clones that use a magazine layout which optimizes for skimming more than reading. Dave Winer, godfather of RSS, has long advocated a river of news (Stop Publishing Web Pages!) but oddly all these people have adopted his format without adopting his recommendations for reading.
  • What I need now is a blog reader, not an RSS reader. In my ideal blogging tool (see these notes from a few months ago), what you'd get when you visit Dashes.com is essentially a single-site RSS reader that could traverse my archives arbitrarily by tag or date or topic, and eventually it'd be able to transclude content from the sites I link to. This would also let us decouple our publishing CMSes from our templating systems.
  • RSS as a format hasn't much progressed since being frozen in its 2.0 format, despite supporting namespaces. How could we add a form of Likes or Reblogs (or even just tags/hashtags?) to have it more closely resemble the current web?

At the very least we can enjoy today as a milestone of unlikely success for a venerable format. And take the time to mark the date of that success!

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jeremyfelt
1992 days ago
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Lockdown

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Officially, Google killed Reader because “over the years usage has declined”.1 I believe that statement, especially if API clients weren’t considered “usage”, but I don’t believe belive that’s the entire reason.

The most common assumption I’ve seen others cite is that “Google couldn’t figure out how to monetize Reader,” or other variants about direct profitability. I don’t believe this, either. Google Reader’s operational costs likely paled in comparison to many of their other projects that don’t bring in major revenue, and I’ve heard from multiple sources that it effectively had a staff of zero for years. It was just running, quietly serving a vital role for a lot of people.

This is how RSS and Atom have always worked: you put in some effort up front to get the system built,2 and in most instances, you never need to touch it. It just hums along, immune to redesigns, changing APIs, web-development trends, and slash-and-burn executives on “sunsetting” sprees.3

RSS was the original web-service API. The original mashup enabler. And it’s still healthy and going strong.

Mostly.

RSS grew up in a boom time for consumer web services and truly open APIs, but it especially spread like wildfire in the blogging world. Personal blogs and RSS represented true vendor independence: you could host your site anywhere, with any software. You could change those whenever anything started to suck, because there were many similar choices and your readers could always find your site at the domain name you owned.

The free, minimally restricted web-service-API era has come and gone since then. As Jeremy Keith wrote so well a few weeks ago (you should read the whole thing), those days aren’t coming back:

But [Facebook] did grow. And grow. And grow. And suddenly the AOL business model didn’t seem so crazy anymore. It seemed ahead of its time.

Once Facebook had proven that it was possible to be the one-stop-shop for your user’s every need, that became the model to emulate. Startups stopped seeing themselves as just one part of a bigger web. Now they wanted to be the only service that their users would ever need… just like Facebook.

Seen from that perspective, the open flow of information via APIs — allowing data to flow porously between services — no longer seemed like such a good idea.

(He also addresses RSS. Read it. I’ll wait here.)

This isn’t an issue of “openness”, per se — Twitter, for instance, has very good reasons to limit its API. You aren’t entitled to unrestricted access to someone else’s service. Those days are gone for good, and we’ll all be fine. We don’t need big web players to be completely open.

The bigger problem is that they’ve abandoned interoperability. RSS, semantic markup, microformats, and open APIs all enable interoperability, but the big players don’t want that — they want to lock you in, shut out competitors, and make a service so proprietary that even if you could get your data out, it would be either useless (no alternatives to import into) or cripplingly lonely (empty social networks).

Google resisted this trend admirably for a long time and was very geek- and standards-friendly, but not since Facebook got huge enough to effectively redefine redefined the internet and refocus Google’s plans to be all-Google+, all the time.4 The escalating three-way war between Google, Facebook, and Twitter — by far the three most important web players today — is accumulating new casualties every day at our expense.

Google Reader is just the latest casualty of the war that Facebook started, seemingly accidentally: the battle to own everything.5 While Google did technically “own” Reader and could make some use of the huge amount of news and attention data flowing through it, it conflicted with their far more important Google+ strategy: they need everyone reading and sharing everything through Google+ so they can compete with Facebook for ad-targeting data, ad dollars, growth, and relevance.

RSS represents the antithesis of this new world: it’s completely open, decentralized, and owned by nobody, just like the web itself. It allows anyone, large or small, to build something new and disrupt anyone else they’d like because nobody has to fly six salespeople out first to work out a partnership with anyone else’s salespeople.

That world formed the web’s foundations — without that world to build on, Google, Facebook, and Twitter couldn’t exist. But they’ve now grown so large that everything from that web-native world is now a threat to them, and they want to shut it down. “Sunset” it. “Clean it up.” “Retire” it. Get it out of the way so they can get even bigger and build even bigger proprietary barriers to anyone trying to claim their territory.

Well, fuck them, and fuck that.

We need to keep pushing forward without them, and do what we’ve always done before: route around the obstructions and maintain what’s great about the web. Keep building and supporting new tools, technologies, and platforms to empower independence, interoperability, and web property ownership.


  1. Over the years, comma usage after prepositional phrases has also apparently declined.

  2. Then you spend twice as much time figuring out how to deal with poorly crafted feeds, ambiguities, and edge cases — especially for Atom, which is a huge, overengineered pain in the ass that, as far as I can tell, exists mostly because people always argue with Dave Winer and do their own contrarian things even when he’s right, because they can’t stand when he’s right.

  3. They never hear about it, and don’t know what it is if someone starts explaining it. To most “business” people, RSS might as well be NTP or SMB. “Something the servers do.”

  4. This plan is particularly problematic because Google+ is, relatively, a clear failure so far.

  5. Apple dragged Google into a similar war for extreme mobile-OS lockdown — that’s why Google had to do Android.

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jeremyfelt
1993 days ago
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1993 days ago
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jhamill
1993 days ago
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Google+ a failure? Only if you're not using it.
California
donmcarthur
1993 days ago
Arment, Gruber and Siracusa have adopted an "All Google Effort Is Bad" side-by-side with their "All Apple Effort Is Good" to such an extent that their criticisms involving either subject have no credibility. And that applies to this posting, clearly.
jhamill
1993 days ago
Indeed. I find it interesting that Marco never fails to take a stab at Google whenever he can while at the same time complaining of the people taking stabs at him.
adrianlafond
1994 days ago
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Still wondering why google didn't try pulling reader into g+. Virtually everything else has been duct taped into g+, so why not a rss reader, too?
Brooklyn NY USA
donmcarthur
1994 days ago
This is diametrically opposed to his stance vis-a-vis HTML5 vs. proprietary applications.
jhamill
1993 days ago
I think that was a mistaken lesson from Buzz. Reader users didn't go use Buzz so, I assume that they thought RSS wasn't important to their social network.
acdha
1993 days ago
I'm also assuming they used the incredibly half-assed G+ integration in Reader as a justification rather than correctly concluding that making it duck less would boost usage. Granted, all of G+ had that same we-have-to-beat-Facebook rush: it took a year to have working notification spam filters, mobile web support has actually gotten worse, etc. I'm curious how low usage has to stay before someone tries designing something people actually want to use.
jhamill
1993 days ago
@acdha the people who use G+ actually use it. The product has gotten better since launch.