Paolo Amoroso's Journal

misc

When I decide to buy a tech product or gadget, I know how to use it even before ordering or ever having held it in my hands.

How? As a side effect of researching the product.

To learn more, I download the manual or visit the documentation website and read it in full. Reviews, unboxing videos on YouTube, blog posts, and Reddit discussions are other valuable sources of information and tips.

By the time the product is in my hands, I know how to operate and find my way around it. Reading the manual also gives a heads up on any required setup steps, data I need to gather, decisions to make, handling precautions, usage quirks, and useful features.

This knowledge saves time when I want to get up to speed with a new gadget.

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I made a poll on Mastodon asking what's the preferred delivery format for online courses. Although having a mix of formats and material is a good thing, I advised those taking the poll to select the format that best matches their learning style and needs, the one they'd prefer to get the majority of the content in given a choice.

Of the 33 polled users, 55% said they prefer text, 39% video, and 6% audio. Although the sample is tiny, there are a couple of interesting takeaways.

Video is the default format, with many creators and course platforms focusing on or requiring this medium. But I strongly prefer text, to the point video is a deal breaker for me. I suspected I may not be alone, hence the idea of the poll.

The majority of the users who took the poll prefer text like me. This is unexpected, I didn't think there may be so many. Another interesting takeaway is there's a small but significant preference for audio, possibly related to the popularity of podcasts.

I hope this bit of insight will help course creators, who seem to take video for granted.

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We love their success stories.

They are the creators who made it. The major tech sites, blogs, and podcasts feature these creators as case studies and invite them as guests. Their products make millions of Dollars; their books sell tens of thousands of copies; their newsletters have tens of thousands subscribers; they have huge and engaged social followings.

We sincerely admire these creators, buy their products, share their stories, and genuinely cheer up the success they deserve. But are they inspiring? Is there anything we can learn from them and apply to our creative journeys?

Not for me.

These successful creators feel distant and hopelessly unreachable. They seem closer to the fictional heroes of the movies and novels I love than to actual people.

My impression is these creators have something I don’t and can’t have. They are outliers, unicorns. Experienced professionals with unique skills and high-demand products that nail a niche, as well as massive, existing audiences with “buy first, think later” raving fans.

These creators discuss how they designed their landing pages and dissect the growth hacks they implemented. But my impression is they are so talented, charismatic, and well known they could have launched their products any other way with the same outcome.

They could throw anything at the wall and it’d still stick. Yes, they started from zero. But their talent blasted them to where they are.

Instead, the stories that inspire me most are those of the underdogs.

The lesser known, ordinary folks at the other end of the spectrum. The creators who sell a few hundred copies of a book; make a few hundred bucks or so per month off their creative work; publish newsletters with a couple hundred subscribers; and have fewer than a few thousand Twitter followers. Those who earn enough to pay a bill or two or buy a new laptop.

These underdogs show the way to realistic, rewarding goals within reach with reasonable effort in the short to medium term. Not in a lifetime of sweat, creative drive, and luck.

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When I run across a well written or insightful post, I can quickly discover other content from the same author and enjoy more of their interesting thoughts or projects. What I do is tremendously effective.

How do I do that? What's my secret?

I click links.

I start from the initial article or post and click any links that may lead to more of the same content. For example, if the article or post is published on a blog, I go through the navigation bar, sidebar, header, or footer where content is typically organized. Social profiles are other good starting points for links.

I specifically look for these publications or resources by the author:

  • blogs
  • newsletters
  • books
  • personal websites
  • GitHub repos
  • Twitter profiles
  • podcasts
  • videos, especially talks and screencasts

Once there, I repeat the discovery process, usually in depth-first order.

Interesting people tend to share content by other interesting people, so I click also promising links in the content itself and browse blogrolls to review the quoted or linked authors. Then I start the process again for the new authors.

It's amazing how many gems this helps me uncover.

It's trivial. And it's what we did in the early days of the web.

But many no longer do it. Social platforms trained them so effectively not to click on or read anything beyond the snippets and bits of content the algorithms feed them, these users are less and less familiar with the open web and other content formats or platforms.

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With a group of friends, in April of 2022 I did a dream trip to view the launch into space of astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

We flew Turkish Airlines from Malpensa, Italy, to Miami, USA via Istanbul. Although the airline food was better than average and the staff helpful, a number of issues made the flights unpleasant and stressful: broken, confusing, and limited website and mobile app that didn't issue boarding passes, forcing us to long lines at check-in desks; hard, uncomfortable seats that hurt our butts; unresponsive and miscalibrated touch screens of the in-flight entertainment systems; tight margins for connecting flights; delays that forced us to mad rushes for chilometers at Istanbul's airport to catch connecting flights at impossibly far gates; too many passengers not wearing face masks, or wearing them incorrectly, while the flight crews didn't care much.

On top of that, our baggage didn't arrive with the return flight. Most of us got the baggage soon, but one of my friends is still waiting for his.

I'm not sure I'll ever fly Turkish Airlines again.

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Ever since trying the IndieWeb I realized something the tech elite rarely thinks about, if at all. The IndieWeb needs a lot of work to be useable by ordinary people, let alone considered an option. Manuel Moreale reached similar conclusions:

Personal sites are not going to “come back” because they never “went away” to begin with. At one point they were the only available tool and that's why they were everywhere. But at that time the web was also dominated by tech oriented people and those same people still have personal websites to this day. They've simply become a minority. Today's web is filled with people who are not tech savvy—or nerds—and they are content to use social media platforms. They never cared about having a personal site. It was never a thing for them.

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Platforms like Stoop Inbox and Feedly want to be the inbox for newsletters. They provide a unified inbox for reading email newsletters outside of email clients and optimized for the format.

This is great for readers. But these platforms swap the subscribers' email addresses with addresses generated and owned by the platforms, thus hijacking the relationship between authors and subscribers.

So why don't Gmail, Outlook, and other email client vendors adapt their products to improve the newsletter reading experience straight at the source?

Keeping newsletters in the inbox maintains email decentralized and gets rid of yet another gatekeeper.

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Do you dream of being a celebrity or influencer? Careful what you wish for.

My name is Paolo Amoroso and I'm on Twitter as @amoroso. My last name is the same as that of a few major celebrities such as an Italian singer, at least one football player, and a politician.

From time to time my Twitter profile receives reactions intended for the celebrities, as the users unintentionally mention my handle or don't remove it when replying or quoting. Up to last year, in these cases I got at most several dozen reactions.

One year ago today the wildly popular football celebrity Alex de Souza, who has 3 million highly-engaged Twitter followers, unintentionally mentioned me in a tweet instead of a football player by the same last name.

All viral hell broke loose.

De Souza tweeted overnight. Opening TweetDeck the following day, I was greeted by thousands of reactions, mostly likes, but also dozens of retweets including some by users with over 100K followers.

The TweetDeck notifications column seemed a special effect straight out of The Matrix, with new items countinuously dropping for a while. Scrolling down the notifications page on the Twitter website didn't show all the reactions and I bumped into an error or two. I could no longer access my previous notifications and it took me days to clear the extra ones.

I muted de Souza's profile as well as those of the users who retweeted him. Things seemed to improve and the dust settled. But my Twitter notifications remained broken and unusable for a while.

All this because of a single tweet. I can't imagine what celebrities and influencers face daily on Twitter.

If you think this drive-by engagement may have brought some advantage, all I got were fewer than 20 new followers who misunderstood who I am. My online properties linked from the Twitter profile got no traffic at all. I'm sure there's some lesson here on how walled the social gardens are, how overlooked the open web is, and how few links the users click.

Also, there's zero overlap between my interests and the world of football — I'm possibly the only Italian who doesn't follow football.

Having been Twitter-famous for a day, I considered getting a limo or something. But I ended up mothballing my Twitter profile in complete obscurity.

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This is the laptop bag for my Lenovo Yoga N26 11.6” Chromebook. Nothing fancy, just a cheap Amazon Basics shoulder bag that does the job.

What makes the item interesting is it's the only product I ever bought after clicking an online ad.

I had googled and searched extensively Amazon, eBay, and other retailer websites without coming across anything that met my requirements. Then, on an unrelated website, I saw an Amazon ad for that bag. It was exactly what I wanted, it seemed 3D-printed from the spec in my brain. I immediately clicked the ad and bought the product.

The event is even more remarkable considering I've been surfing the web for almost three decades. Yet none of the countless ads I was served were compelling enough to lead to a click, let alone a purchase.

The first reason I nearly never find ads that match what I want is that, although I don't use ad-blockers, I tune out ads and hardly notice them.

But, even when I do check out the ads, nothing matches my interests or needs. All I get is braindead remarketing that follows me across the web to push stuff I already own or researched and discarded.

Putting aside for a moment the security and privacy issues with online advertising, I'd love ads that drew attention to stuff I really want, like the Amazon one. Yet, despite all the tracking, personalization, machine learning, and advanced technologies the advertising industry deploys, the results are irrelevant or underwhelming.

I can't think of anything more inefficient than the online advertising industry.

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I love the Discourse discussion forum platform. It's fast and smooth, has a clean design, works nicely on mobile, and supports Markdown.

But Discourse is missing by design a feature that gets in the way of my workflow: it doesn't allow marking read in bulk all unread messages. This makes it difficult to keep track of what I want to see and skip what I'm not interested in.

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