community

Compliments from Ton Zijlstra

While I wrap up Fraidycat 1.1.3 — which solves the conflict with Firefox’s ‘Strict’ Tracking — here are some kind words from someone who inspired the organizational aspects of Fraidycat, Ton Zijlstra.

A neat addition is also that it shows sparkline graphs next to the name of a blog, so there’s a visual cue as to the frequency of posting. This is something I’d like to see in other readers too. It’s a functionality that might be extended with an alert of changes in the normal posting rhythm. E.g. someone falling silent, or suddenly blogging up a storm, or covering a live event could perhaps stand out with a visual cue (such as changing the color of the sparkline graph). The sparkline is the only cue concerning the number of postings, there’s no indication of how many ‘unreads’ there are because Fraidycat doesn’t know that (as it doesn’t fetch content). This is a good way of preventing any type of FOMO cropping up.

I should also mention that the graphs are getting a subtle tweak in this next minor release. In Fraidycat, the graph is pink (or electric blue in dark mode) if it is showing two months of history and gray if it is showing six months of history.

But, if the site has been inactive for six months, there is no graph.

Example of sparklines in Fraidycat.

Up until now, it would show the pink graph if the blog had recent updates and the gray graph if the blog was stale. However, I’ve changed this.


In 1.1.3, the pink graph will show only if there are more than three posts in the last three months. Otherwise, the gray graph will show. This obviously makes sense, because we want to show the data at a scale where there is enough to see.

The wonderful side-effect of this, though, is that this makes it even simpler to discover inactive writers who have become active again. Previously, the gray graph only ever appeared at the end of the list. However, now when you see a brand-new post with a gray graph, it’s a visual indicator that a very infrequent writer has been sighted again. (I’ll leave it up to you to optimize which colors you mentally want to filter for.)

Here is an example of two sleepier blogs that posted today:

Example of inactive writers posting suddenly.


Key with Fraidycat is that it aims to break the ‘never ending timeline’ type of reading content that the silos so favour to keep you scrolling, and that most feed readers also basically do. Fraidycat presents all the feeds you follow (and it is able to work with a variety of sources, not just regular RSS feeds from blogs) in the same way: the name of the feed, and one line of titles of recent postings.

The pleasant effect of this is that it shows the latest postings of all your subscriptions, not just the latest postings. This means that regular posters, oversharing posters and more silent voices get allocated much the same space, and no single voice can dominate your feed reader.

I am thankful for Ton’s words, because his writings on (I kid you not!) ‘social distance’ were foundational - they really helped me feel confidence in Fraidycat’s sorting method. I am very sorry to Ton that his term got hijaaked!! I continue to use it with his original meaning.

(I’m also very glad for his OPML dump. I used it like crazy during testing.)

You can read some of my favorite takes from Ton’s work (who has been blogging for decades now) on my ‘Infostrats’. Another brilliant word he coined!!

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pwnage

Are.na Support

Thomas Tkatchenko has tracked down RSS feeds for Are.na and I’ve pushed out new rules to allow subscription using the user and channel URLs. (Also, a fix for Instagram, thanks to a report from makeworld.)

Simply restart your browser (or desktop app) and you’ll pick up the new rules. (Or wait an hour, the rules are automatically pulled in for those who UNDERSTANDABLY don’t want to read this stupid blog.)

If you’ve never used Are.na, there are the explore and examples pages to get you started. Other Fraidycat users can be found here. (A good technique on Are.na is to use that search box at the top of the page to search for other sites you like - this should bring up lists that will lead you to other sites with close coordinates.)

So, yeah - it’s that easy. Any other sites Fraidycat is missing?

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community

Cosplaying the Internet

While I’ve been trying to work through a few rejections of the last version from the Chrome Web Store, a number of hot discussions have sprung up around the Cat.

My favorite recent essay that touches on Fraidycat is “The master tapes” by Robin Sloan:

[Fraidycat] presents a lovely, anarchic opportunity: follow all the people you like, no matter what platform they’re using, without having accounts on those platforms. Basically, it’s an “RSS… or whatever” reader.

This comment - and the one at the end - that Fraidycat cosplays a different Internet. Yeah - wow. I guess that’s what is happening here. Can we just do this? Give the Internet the aesthetic we want?

In a way, I hope there is a lot more beyond Fraidycat. That there are more out there who want to take their own crack at piping raw Internet through their own designs. What if Fraidycat is the beginning? And there are other frontiers beyond the news feed, beyond friending, beyond my puny concepts?

I also just noticed that Robin’s blog throbs at the seams. Shyeah.


Yesterday, this little cat got a nice showcase on Hacker News. I really appreciated some of these incredibly effusive comments.

From skoodge:

I had read through the page and figured that it’s probably not for me, but then decided to watch the video based on this comment and it is absolutely amazing! It is not just incredibly well-produced, but at the same time whimsical and a poignant commentary on the current social network landscape.

Some people might be put off by the video’s style and it’s definitely not in the vein of the typical startup product launch, but exactly that makes it the most memorable product launch video in a long time for me, since it’s not afraid to show some personality.

Well, for one, Fraidycat isn’t a startup. It’s just my personal thing. A personal video goes with a personal thing. (And yeah - let’s no forget, major credit to @AngleseaTwo for being a sensational collaborator on this! He did the cats and most of the vid. Also just a true friend in every sense.)

Nevertheless, I love this comment! It’s great to connect in this way, where we share personal feelings for the Web like this. I get being cynical about the Web. I get doubting technology in general. But it’s here now - can we do better with it?


From code_duck:

I like this idea. I’m very tired of trying to sift through publishers (individuals too) sorted by some opaque, perennially ineffective algorithm.

Twitter, for instance - I follow hundreds of people, but my notifications are literally 100% Rick Wilson. I have absolutely no idea how they made this decision, but it’s way off the mark.

On Instagram, there’s an account that’s my favorite. I’ve liked every photo they post. They haven’t shown up in my feed for months. Checked their account and they’ve been posting new content daily for 3 weeks. Meanwhile my fees shows me pics of some guy I don’t care about at all walking his dog in vacation.

This is so reassuring - to see that others feel this loss of control. I don’t know to what extent you regain this control with Fraidycat - but this should be part of our effort. To give everyone adequate tools.

To me, this is the value of Fraidycat’s importances. It’s the simplest way to control the signal.

One of the next questions is: what other (useful) sliders are there? Sure, I can add all kinds of sliders - but are there other controls that could help us tune the personal algorithm better?

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release

Fraidycat 1.1.2 — Open Your Eyes

A major bug, reported by Jason McIntosh, was causing Fraidycat to clam up. Blank screen. Yipes.

(Oh, also: this update is now going out on @fffraidycat, if that helps.)

Try to keep in mind with this string of releases that I am trying to cover a good amount of operating systems here and support for a dozen social networks. The point right now is to get this thing stable for you, so that the core logic is close to bug-free.

So I was very glad to get Jason’s help on this one - his large corpus of follows has been a great thing for me to dump into Fraidycat. Thank you, jmac!


Here’s what’s new:

  • Further fixes to prevent broken follows from giving you a blank page. (#79)
  • A bug with external URLs was causing posts to go missing on link blogs like Waxy or Pinboard feeds. (#74)
  • Added tab scroll arrows to allow more than a single screen full of tags.
  • Fix OPML import from Inoreader. (#75)
  • Fix for problems with duplicates appearing. (#73) This is an ongoing issue - because Fraidycat’s fetcher has to stay synced with its HTML dashboard.
  • Slashes now can be used in tags. (#77)

Tomorrow marks four months since the inital crummy prototype came out as an extension. Keep in mind that this is just the beginning. Thanks to all of you who are following along, offering encouragement and help. It’s a bit overwhelming to have some attention right now and I hope I can live up to the promise.

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release

Fraidycat 1.1.1 — Told You So

Of course an emergency update has to be rushed out, in a pathetic attempt to save face.

I feel gratitude in the depths of my very bosom today - and also in the folds of three of my knuckles - today for the good work of my beloved friends Eli Mellen, Joe Jenett and Emma Humphries. They reported some serious issues with the Firefox extension. The new version is out already - and I was able to catch the Chrome extension prior to publication.

The symptoms are thusly:

  • A blank page at https://fraidyc.at/s/ - which is the new URL to your follows page.
  • Broken links for certain importances (Frequent, Occasional, etc.) which left Joe futilely clicking a dead page.
  • Duplicate entries for certain follows. I am not confident that this is fully fixed, so please reopen this if you happen to spot it again!

No updates to the desktop app.

(The sounds of sincere bowing, groveling and skittering across the floor can be heard for the final hour of this post’s duration…)

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release

Fraidycat 1.1 — Wouldn’t Take a Bath

After two months of grueling work, a grumpy but very tough cat emerges.

I was really doubting that this would come together. This was a tough one. You’ll see why in a moment. If you don’t care then, just grab a cat:

And, of course, source code is here for your inspection.


Two main goals with this one:

  1. To speed up the parser. I follow philosopher.life and it stalls the extension every few minutes while it downloads 30 megs worth of wiki.
  2. To separate the scraper. I’ve already encountered issues with Twitter and Instagram changing things - and I don’t want to re-release every time this happens.

Turned out to be an enormous struggle to get through these. It basically amounted to rewriting everything. But I’m there. Fraidycat can follow a 30 meg feed without sweating. And I now have a rule file that lets me update scraping rules on a moment’s notice.

Beyond these changes, though, I managed to fit in loads of extras.

  • A new dark mode.
  • New sorting and view options. (Found on the right-hand side of the follows list.)
  • Expand all option so you can see all the titles of all follows at once.
  • Show updates options which lets you turn off a follow getting bumped to the top if they edit a post.
  • Twitter threads are also now collapsed and additions to the thread are treated as updates.
  • The original author is now shown on retweets.
  • Twitch support. In fact, Fraidycat now shows when a follow is ‘live’.
  • Kickstarter projects and user/company profiles can be followed.
  • Pinterest support. You literally no longer need to visit Pinterest. You probably weren’t already.
  • YouTube user URLs now work. (i.e. https://www.youtube.com/user/562Steezy)
  • Github users and projects can be followed.
  • Initial support for Facebook - right now it’s just public user pages. And be advised - it kind of sucks.
  • LegibleNews.com support. This was me. I asked for this.
  • New FOLLOWING animation.

My list literally has hundreds of items on it - these are just the major ones. I expect some polish is still needed. So please stop by the bug file cabinet if you hit something. I’m glad to help.


Next up: I am working on the visual design further. I’m not entirely happy with how Fraidycat looks. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to fix it - but I have some ideas I want to try, especially to improve the post titles area. (The area you click to expand.)

THANK YOU to everyone in this list who submitted bugs and who helped brainstorm solutions.

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