Welcome!

Hi! You have reached the online home of Michael McCallister. I write about technology, software, and the Internet in a variety of venues. At this site, you can learn more about me and my life, buy my books, find where you can see me at any given moment, and read some thoughts on the writing life. My main blog, Notes from the Metaverse, continues on at WordPress.com.

This site is not-so-new anymore, but you’ll see changes in it from time to time, with a big one coming down the road.  Watch this space! I built this site myself, with the incredible assistance of the global WordPress community. Any errors on this page are mine alone. Spot something? Contact me.

By the way, if you’re looking for the former CEO of Humana Health, that’s someone else. I’ll stop there.

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Followup: Decentralized microblogging, and owning your space

Reece Manton's Indie Microblogging project
Manton Reece’s Indie Microblogging project is a big success on Kickstarter

As I was starting to write the last post, WP Tavern published this piece about Manton Reece’s successful Kickstarter campaign  to support both his new book, Indie Microblogging, and its associated micro.blog service. I thought this was pretty cool at first, but looking deeper, I’m even more excited. You see, Manton Reece thinks a lot about the web, and along the same lines as I do. He also posted comments on the news of Medium’s economic troubles. The money quote will sound familiar if you read my post:

The message is clear. The only web site that you can trust to last and have your interests at heart is the web site with your name on it.

Reece’s plan is to help get the web back to its basic principles, allowing anyone to claim a space of their own to communicate with the rest of the world, find an audience, or a tribe. Depending on their motivations, they can be laid-back conversationalists, or folks who want to band together to change the world.

A diagram of Zooko's Triangle - a theory of th...
A diagram of Zooko’s Triangle – a theory of the qualities of naming systems (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, most online conversations take place on Twitter and Facebook, properties of corporations big and small, funded (as Ev Williams of Medium noted yesterday) by other corporations using advertising to achieve their own ends. Like the Web luminaries that organized last year’s Decentralized Web Summit, Reece thinks we need to get back to the Web as the most important communications tool ordinary people have ever had access to.

A quick summary of the promise of Reece’s idea: The Micro.blog project focuses on giving people ownership of the kind of messages now seen on Twitter. It doesn’t seek to replace Twitter, as it allows posting to both your website and other sites. At the same time, if Twitter filed for bankruptcy tomorrow (a realistic possibility, judging from the occasional gloomy forecast of the tech press), you’d still have your tweets.

I really look forward to seeing the results, and learn more about this project. Check out the links, and consider supporting the Kickstarter to get your own e-book.

Medium restructuring: Why writers need a homebase

This afternoon, I was over at Twitter spreading the word about WordCamp Waukesha (later this month!) and noticed that “Medium” was trending. Curious, I clicked to discover a bunch of stories in the tech press about the blog site founded by Ev Williams was laying off a third of its workforce! This was a surprise, and I said so (sort of):

The extra commentary that made Medium trending was about what you would expect: gloom and doom for another high-flying tech company. It’s a standard theme in the tech media world: Rises and falls are bread-and-butter stories. The “mogul goes bust” is as interesting as the “making of a mogul.” Since layoffs are still unusual (if not exactly rare) in tech companies, especially smaller ones like Medium, today’s events looked like the beginning of the end to a lot of people.

When the music’s over, turn out the lights … or not?

Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter.
Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Williams’ comment that ad-driven web content was a broken model got most of the attention, probably deservedly so. Not exactly a secret to any publisher these days. Ads never fully supported newspapers, and that whole thing has gotten worse. But as the media industry endlessly consolidates, and commercial television becomes ever more dependent on the corporations who fund them, and so many bottom-feeders and click-bait purveyors dominate the commercial web… well, you’re going to get the kind of content that they want (including dreadfully run-on sentences).

Later, I read Ev’s full announcement. Actually, he described this situation much better than I did (if you ignore the passive voice parts):

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet. It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to. The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.

What really stuck out most for me were the ones he followed up that quote with (emphasis mine):

We decided we needed to take a different — and bolder — approach to this problem. We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention. We believe there are millions of thinking people who want to deepen their understanding of the world and are dissatisfied with what they get from traditional news and their social feeds. We believe that a better system — one that serves people — is possible. In fact, it’s imperative.

So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people.

Hey, there are still idealists in the world! It will be interesting to see if this happens. As a professional writer, I’m all for paying us what we’re worth (that’s another unusual happening in our corner of the world). I look forward to seeing what Medium comes up with as far as that goes. As I noted, however, there’s a more important lesson here: If you’re a writer (or creative person of any sort) who wants to make a living at this craft, you really need a place on the web that you can call your own.

WordPress: A writer’s room of one’s own

So it comes back to what drove me to Twitter this afternoon in the first place: letting people know about the first WordCamp Waukesha. I won’t be there on Friday, January 27th, but I know that the WordPress community of southeastern Wisconsin is a helpful and friendly lot. You should go if you can.

As I type this on January 4, 2017, I am marking my 11th anniversary as a WordPress user. While I haven’t done much lately at Notes from the Metaverse, I haven’t completely given up on commenting there on tech topics. I use WordPress on this site because it’s a solid platform and easy to use. The fact that it’s free and open source software is important too.

No matter what platform you use, whether you build your site like I have, or hire someone to do it, the real question for every writer is whether you have a place where every bit of content is there because you want it there. And you can keep that content (or toss it) as you wish.

I like Medium, both as a reader and a writer. Heck, you may be reading this post on Medium now! I’ve even pointed to several pieces that help you use Medium effectively as a writer:

I used to say that every time I went to Google Plus, I came away smarter. I didn’t know that Medium had that as a goal, but that’s something I learned today too. But the site still belongs to the Medium Corporation. Today might be a harbinger of eventual doom for the site, or the beginning of a new day over there. But if all your writing is there, think about what happens if doomsday comes.

Do you publish on Medium? What do you think of the changes today? Have you made a firm decision not to have a website? I’d really like to hear your reasons. Comment away!

New at WPMU: Building WordPress on Docker

Hey all, Docker logoI have a new story up at WPMU.org: “A Guide to Building WordPress on Docker for Windows, Linux and OS X.” If you’re a developer interested in testing new themes or plugins, Docker is a great way to set up a test environment.

As the title suggests, the post covers the process for getting things going on Windows, Linux and Mac. I walk you through, step by step, mostly using the command line.

Writing this was fun, as was the research going into it. I’m interested in knowing what you think of the story. Comment here, or (even better) on WPMU.

I’ve got some other news to share with you, but it will have to wait until the New Year… in the meantime, I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season, whatever you’re celebrating.