1&1 Ionos

I’ve been using 1&1 for web hosting since 2003. The cost went up last year, but I’ve stuck with them, partly out of laziness and partly because they’ve been reliable. They recently went through a merger and renamed themselves as 1&1 IONOS. I’m all for this rebranding; searching for “1&1” has always been a crapshoot, whether it’s in Google, my email, or my Evernote database. Whoever decided to name the company using one digit, an ampersand, and no actual letters clearly did not run that past an SEO guy. I think that maybe the guy who named the company “1&1” was stuck in the old “telephone book” mindset, where he wanted a name that would float to the top of most sort orders.

“IONOS” is a name that actually contains enough letters to form a unique search term, so for that alone, it’s way better than 1&1. I’m not entirely on board with the whole name being in capital letters though. That makes it seem like it’s an acronym, and (as far as I can tell) it’s not.

Instapaper Premium

Speaking of changes in paid internet services, Instapaper’s new owner has started charging for premium subscriptions again. When they were acquired by Pinterest, they discontinued premium subscriptions and made all features available for free. But the new owner needs to make some money off the service, so they’ve re-instituted Instapaper Premium. I went ahead and signed up for it, at $30/year. As with Flickr Pro, I don’t mind paying for a service, if it means I don’t have to put up with ads or spam or having my data sold off, and if it means that the service has a sustainable business model that will keep it from going under.

more Flickr changes

I’ve been a Flickr user for quite some time. They’ve had some ups and downs over the years, but I have a whole lot of photos there, so I’ve stuck with them. I was happy when they were bought by SmugMug earlier this year. Not much has happened with that, but it looks like some stuff will be changing soon.

First, they’re finally ditching their tie to Yahoo’s login system. That’s long overdue. I’d really like to nuke my Yahoo account, but I’ve had to keep it a lot longer than I’ve wanted to, since my Flickr account is tied to it. They’re also making some other changes, which all sound good, but honestly, just getting off Yahoo’s login system is my main concern.

I’m pretty hopeful about Flickr’s future. The SmugMug CEO is saying a lot of the right things:

Unlike most photo sharing services, SmugMug is photographer-focused and has been for more than 16 years. We are privately owned and operated. We never raised venture capital to grow our business and we don’t make money selling our customers or their data to advertisers.

And:

At SmugMug, we also charged a fair price when others were pretending “free” was actually free. We work for you, not investors or advertisers. We don’t mine you or your photos for data to re-sell or advertise to you. Your data, and your photos, are yours. You’ve entrusted them to us to keep safe. We take that responsibility very seriously and so does Flickr.

That’s what I’m looking for. I don’t mind paying for Flickr Pro. I just want someplace safe and stable to put my photos.

broken links

I installed the Broken Link Checker plugin on my site today, and spent probably too much time fixing broken links. Doing blog maintenance like this feels like productive work, but really isn’t. But it’s kind of fun, and lets me stroll down memory lane a bit, rediscovering stuff like Get Your War On, which I’d forgotten about.

A lot of dead links can be easily replaced with ones from the Wayback Machine, and the plugin helps with that. But some of the links on this blog seem to have completely disappeared from the internet, which makes me a little sad. Nothing lasts forever, I guess, even an interesting review of The Two Towers from a newspaper in Las Vegas that apparently only existed from 2003 to 2005. Oh well.

I’ve been linking to Wikipedia, the NY Times, and Amazon a lot lately. I think (and hope) that those sources will be around for a while, and that they won’t mess with their URL schemes in a way that breaks old links. (For the most part, they haven’t, at least recently.)

The plugin has found more than 600 broken links so far, and I’m not even sure if it’s done crawling the site yet. I need to be careful about getting too wrapped up in this, or I’ll be doing it all day. (Or maybe all week.) I’ve actually talked myself into deleting some old posts, where the links are dead, and I didn’t really say anything interesting about them. That’s always been hard for me to do, but I’ve got more than 2000 posts on this blog, so it makes sense to cull some useless ones out occasionally.

Internet Annoyances

I’ve been getting increasingly annoyed with my cable TV and internet provider, Optimum. I vented a bit about them last year, and I guess it’s time to vent some more. In addition to all of the other things that bug me about them, they’ve just added a new one: ad injection. I was browsing on my iPad last night, and got a giant banner ad from Optimum, patting themselves on the back for giving me a free trial of The Movie Channel. This is on a page that would not normally have ads. Then, this morning, I got another banner ad from Optimum, on my desktop computer, again on a page that shouldn’t have had any ads.

I did some searching, and yep, I’m not the only one seeing this. Here a DSL Reports thread about it. (TL;DR: Apparently, HTTPS Everywhere might solve it.)

I’ve seen ads from them on my phone, while using their WiFi hotspots, and that’s annoying, but not unexpected. But doing this on my home internet service is pretty horrible behavior. I haven’t experimented much, but I guess the ad blocker that I use on iOS doesn’t catch this, nor does uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger on my desktop. I think that being on my VPN might help, since I haven’t seen this on my Mac, and I have that set up so that it’s (almost) always connected to the VPN. And I think I still have my router configured to use Optimum’s DNS servers. I should probably change that, even if that won’t help with this particular problem.

Earlier this week, I read a good post on Troy Hunt’s blog about Pi-Hole. I’ve thought about setting up a Pi-Hole box on my network before, but it always seemed like it would be overkill. Maybe not, though, if my ISP can’t be trusted to leave my web browsing alone. It’s bad enough that they email me and call me, trying to up-sell me on faster internet service and more expensive TV packages. Now, that’s not enough, and they need to shove ads into my browser too. Ugh. (I’m not sure if Pi-Hole would actually help with this issue either, but it seems like it might be a good idea.)

So I guess that’s my venting for today. Optimum is the only option I have for internet access. (Verizon Fios is an option in my area, but my building isn’t wired for it.) And internet access isn’t really something someone in my profession can do without. So I guess I’m stuck with them for now.

Digg is probably done

I just found out that Digg has been bought by a company named “BuySellAds.” So… that doesn’t sound good. The previous owner, Betaworks, used it as a kind of “curated” news site, and it was interesting to check on once in a while. (But not interesting enough to check regularly.) The original Digg was pretty cool, but lost out to Reddit in the war of, umm…, sites that allow users to upvote and downvote stuff. (There’s probably a name for that category, though I guess Reddit is the only site left in that specific category?)

I guess the pending acquisition is why they shut down Digg Reader recently.

Betaworks also used to own Instapaper, which is a service I still use a lot. Instapaper is now owned by Pinterest, which worried me at first, but they seem to have mostly left it alone. (The Ten Years of Instapaper post on the Instapaper blog is interesting.)

Meanwhile, Facebook is still kind of horrible, but I’m still checking it every day. I have decided to delete the Facebook share button on this website though. Nobody was ever using it, and I assume it was pulling in some Facebook tracking code, so it seemed like a good idea to turn it off.

Amazon is kind of horrible too, but I placed two orders with them this week already, and of course just bought a new Kindle. Much like Facebook, they’re too convenient to just stop using them. (I mean, if Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos actually teamed up, super-villain style, and went on a mad killing spree, I’d reconsider. Until then, though, I need my cheap USB cables and Bloom County comics.)

Democracy and Facebook and other depressing news

I’ve mentioned here before that The Interpreter is probably the best email newsletter I get from the NY Times. I’ve been catching up a bit with my “read/review” email folder this morning, and saw a link to their video on democracy, from back in January. The video distills some themes that that have come up in their newsletter/column repeatedly over the last year. It’s all quite worrying.

Following a link on Twitter, I also saw their current article about Facebook use in the developing world, titled Where Countries Are Tinderboxes and Facebook Is a Match. I usually see Facebook from a very first-world perspective, getting annoyed with dumb ads and misleading memes, but those are usually harmless. It’s eye-opening to read about the effect that Facebook can have when it becomes popular in the developing world. I’m not sure how mad I should be at Facebook for this stuff, but they could definitely be doing more to mitigate the worst of it. There’s one quote in the article that states the problem with Facebook more succinctly and poetically than any other statement I’ve seen:

“We don’t completely blame Facebook,” said Harindra Dissanayake, a presidential adviser in Sri Lanka. “The germs are ours, but Facebook is the wind, you know?”

Yep.  As I mentioned recently, I use Facebook with a bunch of add-ons that strip out most of the evil stuff. There’s a new tool from Firefox that puts Facebook in a “container,” making it a little harder for them to track you, hopefully. I haven’t tried it, since I’m assuming it would be overkill for me, since I’m already using three add-ons to filter Facebook. There’s still too much good stuff on Facebook for me to consider dropping it, but I definitely don’t feel guilty stripping ads from it and depriving them of a little ad revenue.

Twitter too

After posting about Facebook a couple of days ago, I though I’d follow up with a quick post about Twitter. I’ve been using Twitterrific on both my Mac and iOS devices for some time now. Like Facebook, Twitter also has an “algorithmic” feed, by default. Twitterrific uses a straight chronological feed, with no ads or promoted tweets confusing things.

Twitter, unlike Facebook, has allowed third-party clients to access the service via a supported API and present their own interface to the service. (Facebook’s feed can be altered by monkeying with their web page, via browser add-ons and stuff like that, but there’s no way to write an authorized third-party Facebook client, using a supported API.) But Twitter has been slowly backing off on their support for third-party clients over the last few years. The most recent issue is described here. (The description on that page is clear enough that I won’t try to restate it here.) I hope Twitterrific and other third-party apps remain viable and useful for the foreseeable future. I really kind of like Twitter. I follow some interesting people there, and I’ve found a lot of interesting stuff via my Twitter feed.

On a related but more general topic, the Mozilla Internet Health Report for 2018 is interesting. (Though I think they got a little too creative with their page design…)

I’ve also been following a few threads around alternatives to Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc. One thought is that RSS is ready for a comeback. I’ve mentioned that recently. I haven’t really been able to talk myself into checking my The Old Reader page regularly just yet. I need to clean up and organize my feed list before I’d consider it to be really useful. Maybe the next time we get a rainy day, I’ll look into that. I’m mildly curious about things like micro.blog and mastodon, but I’m not sure either of them has enough momentum to really go anywhere.

Facebook adjustments

Even after all the Cambridge Analytica stuff and Zuckerberg’s 10 hours of testimony in DC this week, I’m still using Facebook. I’ve known for a long time that a lot of the free stuff on the Internet involves a tradeoff between privacy and convenience, and I’m generally careful of what I share and what I don’t, and which apps and services I use and which ones I avoid.

On the desktop, I use Facebook in Firefox, with uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, and FB Purity all installed and running. On iOS, until recently, I’ve just been using the regular Facebook app. But I switched to using an app called Friendly recently. It’s pretty good, though it’s got a few rough edges. It does ad blocking (after a $2 in-app purchase), and lets you re-sort your news feed chronologically, and some other little tweaks. I’ve also recently set FB Purity to sort my news feed chronologically, so now I’m seeing stuff that way on both desktop and iOS. It’s funny how different Facebook looks when you’re seeing stuff in simple date/time order, rather than whatever order their algorithm decides to use. I’ve also reviewed and tweaked my privacy settings a bit. This page at iMore has some good advice for that.

I’ve been reading a comic book called The Private Eye recently. It’s a science fiction comic set in a world where there’s been a major internet privacy meltdown, and society has essentially reconfigured itself in a way such that personal privacy is a core value, and is taken to extremes. It’s a really interesting take on the subject of privacy and trust, and it makes me wonder what our world’s going to look like in 100 years.

Ben Thompson has a good overview of the Zuckerberg hearings at his site. A lot of interesting stuff has come out of all this, but I agree with Thompson on the bottom line: “The most likely outcome of Facebook’s current scandal continues to be that nothing will happen.”

TidBITS redesign

I’ve been reading the TidBITS newsletter for years. They’ve been publishing it for 28 years; I’ve been subscribing to it for more than ten. (I’m not sure how long exactly, but at least since 2002.) They just unveiled a new design and back-end after many years under the old design and system. The new system is based on WordPress, which isn’t surprising. Lots of websites (including mine) are running on WordPress these days. The design looks good. I haven’t seen any hiccups with the back-end yet, so hopefully they’ve done a good job with that. TidBITS has always been a good source of Apple news and analysis, better in general than most of the more modern web sites. (I won’t mention specific sites, but I’m thinking of certain sites with a lot of “top ten” listicles, sponsored content, and more space devoted to ads than articles.)

I’m always interested in how sites like TidBITS remain commercially viable. I doubt they make much money from ads these days. They probably get a modest amount of money from their membership program. And they have something called the TidBITS Content Network now too, which is interesting. They used to run Take Control Books also, but they sold that off a while back. I should probably pay them for a one-year membership. I keep meaning to do that, but I never quite get around to it.

I like the newsletter model for this kind of content, and I wish more people would use it. I’d love to find a Windows newsletter that’s as good as TidBITS. Years ago, I used to subscribe to Windows Secrets and that was pretty good for a while. It looks like they’re still around, but as a paid newsletter only, and it appears that none of the original contributors to the site are still involved. I found a recent post on Woody Leonhard’s site that runs through a little of the history of Windows Secrets. It used to have a lot of good content, from people like Woody, and Brian Livingston, and a couple of other good tech writers whose names I can’t remember now.