Unfortunately, for larger responses it can feel very slow, whereas the web version feels quite fast. But this is perceived speed because it shows you each word as it arrives and not just the whole response when finished (after all it is a completion AI that generates the response word by word).
So now, I have added streaming support to it. It now feels almost too fast :) The CLI has a few nice things such as readline support (i.e. you can go back to old queries with the up key) and it keeps all of your conversation in a text file. All of this in only 100 lines of PHP.
It is open source (Apache License 2.0). Thus it includes the four freedoms (run it for any purpose, modify it, distribute it or a modified version).
There is no centrally controlled server, similar to e-mail (or ActivityPub): to send and receive e-mail, you need to have an account on a mail server. In Matrix, these servers are called homeservers.
When you send messages, these messages are first sent from your client (computer or phone) to the server, from the server to the recipients’ servers (in e-mail, you manually list them, in Matrix, these are all other people in the room), and then the messages are delivered to the individual participant’s clients. The benefit of this is that the client (like a mobile phone app) doesn’t need to be connected when the server receives the message and can catch up when it comes back online.
For this reason, Matrix account addresses look similar to e-mail (or Mastodon) addresses but they have the format @username:server.tld. Starting when a member of a homeserver joins a room, their homeserver will maintain a full, up-to-date copy of the chat room. Any message sent by others in the room will be sent to every participating homeserver. For this reason, joining a room can take a while because the server needs to (partially) populate its local copy from other homeservers. Because of the real-time nature of chat, the messages are exchanged very quickly between the homeservers as soon as that connection has been established.
A Matrix server can also be run in unfederated mode where it will not communicate with other servers on the internet, thus enabling a closed community. This decision can also be made on a room-by-room basis.
Matrix rooms can be either unencrypted and openly discoverable, or end-to-end encrypted and invite-only. Because the server has no knowledge of contents or encryption keys, the latter need to be shared between the individual client software of a user. This is established through a verification step in which you use your other/old client to establish trust with the new one. Until this has happened, any encrypted communication is inaccessible.
For the above reason, there is a wide selection of clients for mobile and desktop, different operating systems, text based, etc. We have developed a WordPress plugin called Chatrix that allows embedding Matrix inside a WordPress post or page which allows something like we demonstrated in this GIF:
One thing that I like very much about my family is the anecdotes and stories. One thing that I am bad at, is reciting them.
So I had this idea to create something like a private Wikipedia for my family, where each person has their own page and family members can contribute to the stories, biographical data, and media.
Initially, I set up a MediaWiki, i.e. the same software that Wikipedia uses. It turns out, it’s not that easy to configure. The new Wiki editor is much better than directly editing wiki syntax but the complexity is high for a small project like that. Also, uploading media is quite a pain because of the importance of licensing metadata. In a private wiki, you’ll want the UI to get out of the way.
So, since I work with WordPress a lot, I had the idea to use WordPress for it. There are a number of wiki plugins for WordPress but they all seemed overly complex and not really geared towards a use case of users collaborating on creating a site.
WordPress has the advantage that you can set it up very quickly and got many options for setting it up. Plus, when you have already multiple blogs (e.g. for family members) on your domain, it’s easy to just add another blog to your WordPress multisite. The plugin works on a standalone blog, too.
A big motivation for building the Friends Plugin is to be able to follow what my friends and family are up to. Probably the most important “follow technology” is good old RSS.
While mostly used for public posts, there are many examples of how it can deliver posts not meant for the public: the solution are individual RSS feeds per subscriber, for example paid podcasts, or like the Friends plugin gives specific feeds to friends that can contain private posts.
Now reality is that (no longer) every platform has RSS feeds. It’d be easier if they just provided themt but alas. There are plugins for the Friends plugin itself that make use of projects that have built custom parsers for specific services: Fraidyscrape and RSS Bridge.
Now unfortunately, a lot of friends and family post to Facebook or Instagram. It’s just impossible to follow these friends outside of the platforms.
They don’t provide (authenticated) RSS feeds. That would solve all of this.
They rate limit and quickly block IPs (especially Instagram) that try to read a few posts unauthenticated.
It’s unintuitive, developer centric and needs approval to get an API key, so it’s not something every user of the plugin can be asked.
Their HTML is scrambled with random class names, preventing any classic scraping.
So in the end, the content of my friends and family is locked in. It would be a solution for them to create their own blog (IndieWeb style) and share their content that way. But I am realistic enough to understand that the hurdles are great. They are already connected to their friends inside Facebook or Instagram. They get lots of likes and responses there. They are used to the UI and the apps. It’s just not good for anyone who doesn’t want to join the Facebook ecosystem and be exposed to their ads.
… we just don’t realize it. If you think about it, most of the social network services are specialized RSS Readers that combine consuming with creating. (Just to be clear, these social networks don’t provide RSS feeds, what I’m saying is that what they do could be done with RSS feeds.)
Take Facebook, for example:
If you follow someone, you’re subscribing to their RSS feed.
If you like a page, you’re subscribing to their RSS feed.
If you become friends someone, you’re subscribing to their RSS feed and vice versa.
If you view your timeline, you’re looking at all posts by your subscriptions (usually modified/filtered by Facebook).
If you post something, it’s added to your RSS feed and the people who are subscribed to you (via follow or friendship) get your post in their feed.
Twitter is similar, they just limit the post format to “status”. Instagram limits the post format to “image”. Tiktok to “video”.
By using post formats, you can also create different types of content and consume the same kind of incoming content combined. See the screenshots above, showing the main, combined feed, an image feed and a status feed.
Also, commenting on posts is built in to WordPress. With a friendship based approach you can even open up comments just to friends, which can reduce the usual “spam problem.”
What’s still missing for is the convenience of single-purpose apps. The cool thing is that these apps would talk to your own server which handles retrieving of followed content vs. this being relayed to a third party (who then knows the follow patterns of everyone on their platform). With Sunlit, micro.blog has implemented something like this for photo sharing inside their micro.blog platform but I believe this could be done for “RSS” as well.
The Indieweb movement follows very similar ideas to what I described above. The concept of webmentions allows you to respond to a post by posting to your own server, sending a ping to the original article. While the WordPress + Friends approach might be a bit more integrated, I see webmentions as a reasonable bridge between the worlds.
All in all, I believe having a personal blog is good for the health of internet. It’s unfortunate that in their history, personal blogs have this huge focus on “being public.” I believe it is equally well suited to be a place for more private communication, and especially a place where you can consume the web the way you like.
The one thing I didn’t want to do, though, is to connect my site to WordPress.com. For the most part because I didn’t intend to use any of the functionality that requires the WordPress.com connection.
The difficulty in this: normally, you can’t actually use Jetpack until you connect the site to your WordPress.com account. This behavior is in place so you can enjoy a friction-less experience after the connection is established (i.e. you can activate any of its features whether or not it needs the connection).
In my case, the connection is not needed for using the Slideshow block since it works with the local media library.
So, I present not a hack but an official way to use Jetpack without a WordPress.com connection: it’s called Offline Mode.
You activate it by adding a constant or filter to your wp-config.php, for example:
define( 'JETPACK_DEV_DEBUG', true );
While it is intended for local installs and actually development, it is useful if you just want to use a single feature of Jetpack that doesn’t require the connection.
Many people say that Jetpack is slow because it’s so big. It is indeed huge from a file size and feature perspective, but also it’s very optimized, so that it will only load the PHP or JS code it needs. The other files lay dormant in your file system and don’t contribute to the loading or rendering time of your site.
There is something that I feel is not right with today’s web structure. We, as the population of the web, create so much content that ends up on servers of large companies. We could own our data.
Therefore, I’d like to help reduce everyone’s dependency on third party platforms for their online activity.
You use your own server for publishing and interact with other people’s content on their server.
Since everybody follows this method, your content only reaches the people it is meant for, without involving a third party in the distribution.
You interact using the same means of today: web UI, mobile apps; the difference is that they don’t talk to a third-party server, neither for publishing nor getting and interacting with others’ content.
Note: in the following text I use the word “server” somewhat synonymous for the WordPress+Friends setup but it there could be alternative implementations. Also, server doesn’t mean “a dedicated machine somewhere,” you just need web space where you can install WordPress, which doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. For example, wpfriends.at is hosted for €1,90/month incl. domain.
Separation of Content
Today, separate social networks exist for different types of content; for example short content has its home on Twitter, Instagram is for photos. Facebook is a mix of this but allows for private content. Instant messengers like WhatsApp (or Facebook groups) are very clear about who the content or conversation is for.
So, separating content makes for a more homogeneous experience when consuming the content, also you have a good grasp of where (and for whom) you want to publish your content.
On your own server, you can separate out different types of content as well (in WordPress this is called “post formats”). You can also post something privately, only giving access to authenticated users.
The key is to connect the different types appropriately. By fetching the content from your friends and placing them in such “buckets,” you now have the option to view everyone’s content from multiple perspectives: everything from a single friend (or a group) across content types, or everything across friends of just one content type.
By continuing to use specialized apps for different types of content, you keep the benefits but exclude the third-party having full access to the content since they now talk to your own server.
The possibility to publish on the Internet by using your own server (most of the time: rented web space) is well-established since blogging was invented. It can become clunky when you interact with others: how do I respond?
That’s why there are several reasons why platforms are appealing:
It’s easy to connect with others on the same platform.
Leveraging network effects is easier since the platform knows who is connected to whom.
Spam is usually under control.
Thinking back to the era of blogging, we had lots of interactions with others using comments and pingbacks. What mainly led to its demise was automated spam which reduced everybody’s willingness to be open for interaction. Commenting meant moderating spam.
So one of the core features of the Friends plugin is to solve the authentication problem between people you know and trust.
When you decide “to become friends” with someone, it means that you both get (low privilege) accounts on each other’s servers.
You can give them permission to see your privately published content, or not. When you want to respond to their post, you are automatically authenticated on their side.
This means that you could close comments for unauthenticated users (thus eliminating spam) but keep the discussion open for your friends.
Using your own server still has a learning curve. Getting started with a self-hosted WordPress and installing the Friends plugin is not as trivial as creating an account on a social network.
While it has become considerably easier to register a domain, get webspace connected, and a WordPress installed, there are still many further steps until you really can get started.
So, reality is that your friends likely won’t be migrating off third-party networks. Possibly never.
To still allow yourself to disconnect, the Friends plugin allows you to follow your friends across different (possibly third-party) channels including popular social networks like Twitter.
You can subscribe to someone on Twitter and their messages will be aggregated on your server under their user, in the respective post format.
This means that you can either view all the content (that you follow) for a single friend, or you can view the aggregate type of content, e.g. all the short messages your friends posted across services.
Not only for “real” Friends
Many use social networks to not only follow people they know and trust, but also to follow the news or celebrities. Despite the name of the Friends plugin, it can also do that.
You can subscribe any supported content (some out of the box, for others you can extend it with plugins) but not go into the friendship realm.
Your server takes care of fetching the content from various third-party sources and you can then consume the content in the way you see fit:
The local “Friends UI” on your own server,
an RSS reader,
or more specialized clients like mobile apps.
One side-effect of this could possibly be that this removes our content from being wrapped in ads and websites trying to have us spend as much time as possible on their site.
We’d all spend a little money for domain and server every month or year for our own gain. We don’t need to put ads to our content.
For journalistic content it is already not uncommon for tech publications to provide an ad-free RSS feed as part of their paid subscription.
You can use your server to store more things, for example:
How far along the way is the Friends plugin? It’s already well usuable for your own purposes. Like I said above, you can establish friendships between servers and consume your friends’ content, even from third-party social networks.
There is still a lot to do, especially around commenting and notifications. Better tools are needed for leveraging network effects, like search your friends+ posts and explore their friends (if they allow you to do so).
Here are my conclusions after about two weeks of usage:
While limited in their range, colors work well for diagrams, illustrations and screenshots. Photos can look a bit awkward but it’s definitely better than greyscale.
Before this e-reader, I haven’t read comics on a device but with color it’s quite fun. The clipping tools in the UI are useful to get rid of white borders around the actual comics.
It’s not very suitable for night time reading (which is my main use case), the minimum brightness is high, there is only white backlight.
With the strong white backlight it feels like an LCD screen which kind of diminishes the idea behind eInk.
The technology seems to use two layers: one “common” 300dpi greyscale, and one around 150dpi color layer. This results in a pattern overlaying the whole screen making the screen less crips when reading text.
Pocketbook readers are rather slow. I always wonder how they do scrolling and inertia so much better than Kindles but feel so. slow. navigating through the UI.
Overall, I think color eInk is technology well worth exploring, especially when no backlight is necessary and it doesn’t need any battery power (think photo walls)
I am torn whether I’ll keep the Pocketbook Color as my main reading device because using the reader in the dark is like turning on the light in the room.