ABS Podcast – Episode 3: Privacy Today

Episode 3 of Avian Bone Syndrome Podcast deals with a very complex topic: privacy. In this time and age of always-on network access, the concept of privacy is quite different.
Join me on a journey that starts at an Italian supermarket and leads you to learn about the not-so-obvious ways that big corporations are tracking you online.

Add money to your likes: Flattr’s microdonation system

Many social networks today employ the concept of “favoriting” items: images on Flickr, Instagram and 500px; songs on SoundCloud; videos on YouTube and Vimeo; tweets on Twitter; repositories on GitHub; and so on….

When you “favorite” or “like” something, you’re essentially telling the author that you’d like more of that. Yet, when it comes to creative endeavors, it’s money that makes the difference: not only it helps cover the costs of production, but it also frees up time to produce more. That’s why many of us resort to selling prints, crowdfunding and other ways of raising money.

One of such other ways is Flattr. And it’s G-R-E-A-T.

The idea behind the Sweden-based company is both simple and genius: instead of actively sending money to an author, which can be complex and, in some cases, awkward, you can prepay your Flattr account using pretty much any credit card (in addition to Paypal) and the system does the rest. All you have to do is “connect” your Flattr account to your social network accounts, which usually only takes a couple of clicks for each. This allows Flattr to track your likes and pay creators.

The only slightly more complicated one is Twitter, but it takes just a couple clicks more: since the chirping network changed its terms and conditions, Flattr cannot directly track your favorites. The problem is easily worked around by using SuperFav: just connect it to both Flattr and Twitter, and you’re good to go.

Afterwards, when you favorite or like something on any of the connected social networks, that thing is said to be “flattr’d” by you and the author gets some money from your balance. You don’t have to do anything else, just top up your Flattr funds once in a while and then simply use your social networks as before. Neat, eh?

But it gets better. You can support as many artists as you like, and you don’t pay a cent more than what you want to. You can top up your Flattr funds as much as you want, and then set a monthly budget. At the end of the month, your monthly budget is equally divided between all the artists whose items you favorited or liked. You always know exactly how much you spend.

To make it even clearer: let’s say that you top up €15 and set your monthly balance to €5. During the first month, you “flattr” 5 authors, by liking their contents: each one gets €1. The next month you “flattr” 2 authors: each one gets €2.50. The next month you “flattr” 8 authors: each one gets €0.62. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up; and a little is better than nothing.
(Technically speaking there is a 10% fee that Flattr rightfully retains when paying credit out; but that’s of concern only to creators, not supporters.)

Why sign up as a supporter, you ask? Because you like what authors make and feel that their productions are worth a few cents. It’s great to get thousands of views or dozens of favorites on a photo, or 110,000 views on a video. But if you like those things so much, why not take a step further and buy prints, buy books or, even more simply, Flattr? And of course, you can sign up as a contributor too, so you can both give and receive.

And while you’re at it, give it a try by using the Flattr this button right on this post.


Twitter’s RSS feeds are broken, and will stay broken

What happens when Twitter switches from basic authentication to OAuth? Clients that relied on the former will stop working, until an update comes to add support for the latter. This has been called the OAuthocalipse and aside from minor glitches with some programs, it happened without much of a problem, much like the infamous millennium bug (ah, those were the good times: free Kevin!)

One of the lesser used functions of Twitter has been brutally smashed by the switch to the safer authentication method, however, and in a way it’s quite ridiculous. I’m talking about RSS feeds that are — or should I say were — generated from the timelines and so on. It was probably not very used, given the plethora of dedicated Twitter client, but as a very basic user who is mostly in read mode, I really appreciated it. Of course, to get a feed of your own timeline you had to log in, and how do you do that? With basic HTTP authentication, of course. Not anymore.

Now, I’m sure that some RSS aggregators will implement OAuth. Whether the one I use will do that or not is still unknown. In any case, all of this is ridiculous for two reasons:

  1. RSS is strictly a read-only system, so adding an extra layer of complexity (in that it has to be implemented from scratch whereas basic authentication is handled by virtually all HTTP libraries and frameworks) takes time and ultimately money. The result is that many clients will be able to happily access all sorts of password-protected feeds except Twitter’s.
  2. Twitter still shows an RSS badge in most pages’ sidebar, and carries the appropriate meta tags in the <head> section to advertise the feeds to the browser. As if that were not enough, one’s own friends’ timeline (ie. the “main page” you see when you log in) has three alternate feeds: your timeline, your mentions and your favorites. Needless to say, none of them work. So why keep them up?

I’m not the only one with this problem. Commenter #8 on this post, Dan Lyke, says:

I’m now considering whether I want to bother keeping my Twitter presence at all. Sure, I could write a Twitter reader of some sort that changed things into RSS, or run an app just for Twitter, but in a few hours Twitter has gone from being a part of my usual work flow to a freakin’ hassle.

I feel exactly the same way, and to me Twitter wasn’t even “part of my usual workflow.” I seldom write and I just use it to get updates from very few users / companies. I guess I’ll check it much less now that I have to open up the page, as I have no intention of using yet another program just for that. When I have some time I’ll probably end up writing a thin wrapper around OAuth to get an RSS feed out of my timeline, but right now I’m not thrilled about this.