When to make a Membic Theme

You would think that searchable reference of memorable links, with a standard feed connecting everything from newsreaders to social media to other sites would pretty much cover it. Almost, but not quite. This article talks about a couple of common needs and how to handle them using membic themes.

What else is needed?

There are two common situations where your profile might not be enough. The first case is when find yourself wanting a searchable reference and feed for a subset of membics you write. This can happen if you have specialized ongoing interests. For example you might have continuing interests in social justice and art. You can add “art” and “social justice” tags to each of the membics you write, but you might want to elevate one or more of these interests to have its own searchable archive and feed.

The second situation that goes beyond your personal profile is when you want to team up with friends or colleagues to collaboratively build a searchable reference archive with its own feed. You could all share an account, but that can be confusing to manage, and signing out and signing in to different accounts gets annoying.

Membic solves both these situations with themes.

What’s a Theme?

A Membic Theme is very similar to a profile. It has a name, an identifying image and a brief description. It has its own feed. When you create a theme, you are automatically set up as its Founder, which means you have full control over everything the same way as you do for your profile.

As a Founder, you can choose to have other members or not. It’s entirely up to you whether having other contributors would be appropriate. You can accept or remove members anytime.

How Theme Membership Works

Themes support three levels of membership:

  1. Members can post membics to the theme, or choose to remove membics they’ve written. They cannot change the descriptive information or anything else about the theme.
  2. Moderators are members who are additionally allowed to remove membics from anyone else if they feel a posted membic is inappropriate or off topic.
  3. Founders control membership and have full access to all information and settings.

At the top of the theme settings dialog, there is a tab for the administrative log which keeps track of all significant actions by Moderators and Founders. There is also a membership tab where you can see who is associated with the theme and at what level.

To become a member of a theme, you first follow the theme and then apply for membership. When a founder sees your application, they either accept or reject your membership application. A founder can later remove a member if things aren’t working out, or promote them to Moderator or even a co-Founder. Founders cannot remove other Founders, but anyone can resign to a lower membership level or resign from the theme entirely if they want.

Posting to the Theme

As a theme member at any level, you will see a checkbox for the theme when you are writing a new membic. If what you are writing is appropriate for the theme, check the box. The membic you write will automatically post through.

If you edit a membic, and uncheck the theme box, what you posted through will be removed from the theme.

If for any reason you inappropriately post through to a theme, and a Moderator or Founder removes your membic, it will be just as if you unchecked the theme box. There will be a note in the theme administrative log explaining why your post was removed. It’s important to consider the integrity of what membics are included in a theme so the theme continues to be useful as a resource.

Theme Keywords

Themes can optionally have their own keywords. If defined, checkboxes for those keywords will be presented when you check the theme while writing a membic. Custom keywords require slightly more consideration while writing, but can be very helpful for searching theme content. Especially for new visitors viewing your theme embedded within another site.

If you are not sure what keywords to use, it can be a good strategy to wait until you have at least a few dozen membics posted to the theme. That way you can get a better idea what tagging would be most helpful. In general, less is more. As the number of keywords increases, their utility diminishes. The goal is to have keywords that provide the maximum access for yourself and other visitors.

If you are ready to create a theme, click the add icon at the top of the themes page at https://membic.org

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When to make a Membic Theme

Feed Your Blog

Showing what you’ve been reading recently is a great way to add interest to your blog. By displaying links to other memorable articles you’ve read, you add breadth and perspective to your own writing. Here’s how to bling your blog using the feed from your membic profile or theme.

Simple WordPress Feed

With even just the most basic WordPress.com blog, you can add your recent membics to a sidebar on your page. Here’s how:

  1. In WordPress, choose Appearance | Customize. Then select Widgets, Add a Widget, and choose RSS (Entries from any RSS or Atom feed).
  2. On your membic profile or theme, click the share icon, then right click the RSS icon to copy the feed link.
  3. Paste your copied feed link into the WordPress widget RSS feed URL.

Done. Now anytime you write a new membic, the sidebar for your blog will automatically display it.

Blogger and Other Platforms

On Blogger, the setup is very similar to WordPress except you are adding a Feed “gadget” rather than a “widget”. As above, go to your membic profile or theme, click the share icon, then right click on the RSS feed link to copy it. Detailed instructions on wikiHow

RSS feeds are standard blog additions. If you are on another blog platform, just search for how to add a feed.

Website Blogs

If your blog is integrated into your website, you may want to check out Adding a Reading Page to Your Site as an alternate approach, depending on where and how you want to present what you’ve been reading.

Your site platform may have feed capabilities that go beyond the basic functionality described here.

Multiple Feeds

To include only a subset of all your profile membics in your blog feed, create a membic theme. In your blog feed setup, use the RSS feed from your theme instead of from your profile. When you write a membic, you can choose whether it should post through to your theme or just to your profile. Your blog feed will reflect your theme posts.

Feed Formatting

To customize what goes into your feed entries, go to your profile or theme settings, then click the RSS Feed section. There you’ll find instructions on how to customize your feed URL to include specific parts of each membic, or change the display ordering.

The membics you write are one of the most relevant feeds you can add to your blog. Add a feed using the RSS feed from your profile on membic.org.

Feed Your Blog

Adding a Reading Page to Your Site

What you read shows a lot about who you are. How can you make your website reflect that? A list of links is so boring you won’t even read it yourself, and updating a website every time you read a good article just isn’t going to happen. Here’s how to add a compelling reading page to your site.

Give Reasons

The first step to a compelling reading page is to add a sentence why each link is important. If you can’t immediately come up with something, or you don’t think it’s worth writing a sentence, then your site visitors will probably be correct in thinking it’s not worth the time to look at. Take the time to describe each link. Your reading page is a reflection of you, and anyone visiting is going to find your notes at least as valuable as the links. Your reading page is a reflection of your analysis and insight.

You might think you are writing for other people. That’s not a good idea because you don’t know who your visitors will be. Write a sentence about why the link was important to you. That’s the best reflection of who you are and your expertise. It’s also the most generally useful.

Apropos useful, you might find your reading page more helpful than you initially expected. One obvious use is quickly pulling together recommended reading for someone else. Even more useful is enhancing your own memory. Have you ever wanted to reference an article you vaguely remember only to find it’s no longer easy to find via search? Now you can hit your own reading page and easily grab it. Articles stay easy to find because your notes are included with the link information. It’s like searching your extended memory.

Offload Maintenance

Even if you are a web designer, updating your site every time you read something memorable just isn’t going to happen. It’s a hassle. Fortunately the particular kind of hassle is programmatically similar for everyone, and it can be automated. After a one-time page setup, the only thing you have to do is write notated links. If you want to get fancy, you can also add your own custom tagging, but the main thing is your notes.

The easiest way to include a readings page on your site is to use an iframe. This is similar to including a video. Just copy the embed code to an appropriate page on your site and everything stays up to date. You can set link colors to match.

If your hosting doesn’t allow iframe embedding, or if you want to make a copy of everything you write, you can aggregate your content using RSS. There are a variety of plugins for transforming a standard web feed, check with your platform or hosting provider for available options. Whatever you use for your links, make sure there is a feed provided. That’s the key to keeping things connected, and for preserving the value of what you write.

Hubs, Not Silos

In terms of authorship effort, links with notes attached (aka membics) are a lot less effort than blog articles, podcasts, videos, and other media you might create, but they still work the same way – you write them in one place and they get automatically distributed everywhere else. The reading page on your website is one endpoint. Social media hubs and news aggregators are others. More on that in future posts.

You can create a reading page for your site at https://membic.org

Adding a Reading Page to Your Site

Multi-Author Link Microblog Example

Say you and some of your colleagues have an ongoing interest in resisting oppression. You read a fair amount of related material, and now you would like to share your selected recommendations with a wider audience. Your goal is to socially share new links as you find them, while maintaining a top recommendations page for reference. Here’s how:

Start Tracking

The first step is for you and your colleauges to start recording the links you would recommend. Set up an account on membic.org, then write a membic whenever you find something memorable. You’ll notice that creating a membic is slightly more involved than traditional social sharing. That’s because you are creating a log. Your impressions are important.

That’s worth saying again. Your impressions are important. It’s your judgement and expertise that transform a list of links into a compelling curated archive. The extra effort might seem like a hassle at first, but you are building value. You might find the additional detail also improves your social media posts. More on that below.

Put It On Your Site

Once you’ve created your first membic, the next step is to create a membic theme. Each theme is its own collaborative microblog supporting search, filtering, and download in a variety of formats. As a theme founder, you control who you want as members, moderators or co-founders.

Embedding a membic theme into your own site is straightforward. If you can embed a video, you can embed a membic theme.

If your hosting provider does not allow embedded content, you can still include your latest updates if they support RSS. Your theme’s RSS feed can also be used by news trackers and blog readers to let people know whenever you post something new.

Connect It To Social Media

The easiest way to share membics on social media is to click one of the handy share buttons after you save it.

If you want automatic social sharing, you can use a social media management tool (I like Hootsuite) to connect your theme’s RSS feed to your social media accounts. For safety, membic will queue things up to avoid overwhelming anyone.

Done

After you’re set up, anytime you or your colleagues post a new membic to your theme, it will be forwarded to social media, reflected on your site, tracked by news readers, and added to your searchable reference archive.

To try it out, or for more information, sign up for a free account at
membic.org.

Multi-Author Link Microblog Example

Publishing An Academic Reading List Using a Membic Theme

Just finished helping translate an academic course reading list into a Membic Theme. It continues to amaze me how much of our societal knowledge is in pdf file format, and how many of those cost money to access. At least publishing a recommended reading list provides some indication of what’s worth it.

Why do this

The reading list in this case was for a course that had gained interest outside of the academic institution, so having everything on the university network pointing at local library resources wasn’t the best way to communicate. On the other hand, there wasn’t a handy appropriate website to put it on either. Converting the reading list to more generally accessible links and putting those into a membic theme seemed like a good way to go. Membic themes look good, are searchable, and can be easily embedded into a web page later as needed.

Links to pdf files can usually be viewed just by clicking them, so that works just fine. For files that are not immediately viewable, linking to a site where they can be downloaded (possibly for a fee), feels less than optimal and a bit of an unmerited endorsement. But with rare exceptions, most of the download sites provide an article abstract, so if you already have an account with a different archive you can retrieve the article without too much difficulty.

In short, a membic theme seems like a good match for presenting an academic reading list.

Challenges

The biggest thing that got in the way was the queuing. The Membic site is set up to automatically queue bunches of membics created on the same day so that followers and feeds get updated at a steadier, more absorbable pace. Generally that’s a great feature, but when the goal is to quickly put up an entire reading list, those updates are not important and queuing gets in the way. I opened an issue on that, so before the next reading list theme creation, there will be a way to skip the feed queuing.

Another drawback was the high percentage of sites that do not allow automated retrieval of article listing information. I think returning article abstract details would facilitate more sales, but apparently most publishing organizations feel that access from a server rather than directly from a person should be shut down. That seems limited. If anyone is aware of a reference article archive that supports automated access, definitely let me know as I’ll prefer them. In this case it wasn’t much of a problem since the reading list already had title, author, and other info, so filling out the membic details manually was quick.

The last drawback was the order the articles were presented. The default membic presentation is most recent first, but in this case it was desirable to always have the syllabus be the first thing listed. Because the search view goes by rating first and then recency, the solution was to make the syllabus link 5 stars and everything 4.5 stars. That put the syllabus always on top when the theme was accessed directly. That’s a perfectly reasonable use of stars, but perhaps not the most intuitive mechanism.

Benefits

As expected, the resulting reading list has it’s own permalink, looks good, is searchable, and can be easily updated. That compares favorably to the average reading list page.

Because each membic includes a description why the article is important, the level of depth and usefulness of the overall reading list is enhanced. It’s possible to include why an article is important in a conventional reading list display, but it’s unusual. The reason why the article is important becomes part of the searchable text, which helps find things in addition to providing guidance.

Keywords turned out to be more useful than expected. Some of the articles were example cases, and being able to set up keywords for the theme meant I could just check off the appropriate reading category for the membic, making the articles searchable by category.

Conclusion

Using membic.org for article reading lists works pretty well. For a long list, the queuing skip feature will be a big help, but I would do this again for another course.

Publishing An Academic Reading List Using a Membic Theme

Growing Beyond All-In-One Social

Recently people are paying more attention to how their social network information is used. Facebook has been getting the most press (with good reason), but people are starting to take a harder look at their use of social media platforms in general. Seems like a good time to revisit some of the basics about what the deal is and how to work with it.

What’s the deal?

All-in-one platforms concentrate everything you share and see into one tidy package. Usually for sale. You might understandably feel slightly betrayed having everything you’ve ever shared or visited fed into AI/PsyOps to promote consumerism, authoritarianism, or anything else people will pay for, but that’s the deal.

Even if you value your privacy somewhat, and recognize the risks of making everything you do readily accessible to anyone claiming to be doing marketing, you are still probably going to choose to have a social media account. The key is is to control what you publish, manage your interactions, and try maintain enough perspective to avoid being sucked in by Pavlovian conditioning, random reinforcement and other tactics.

Here’s a few tips that might help, both on the receiving and posting ends.

It’s OK to miss a post

The social reward for checking posts like a gambling addict is real, and social networks reward that behavior, but social networks are the social equivalent of junk food – fine in moderation provided you balance it with other social contact. If you have other social contact, missing a post is no biggie. You’ll catch up on anything important when you connect.

When you share on social media, you are connecting to an audience that includes only a subset of your friends (along with robots, lurkers, and other people you didn’t even realize were there). Not all your friends will see your post, even if they are on the same social network. And you are probably not going to see everything your friends post either. That’s all OK.

To maintain perspective, make sure you are connecting outside of social media for a reasonable percentage of your total social time. What’s reasonable is up to you, but every couple of months or so, self check you’re still comfortable with your balance.

Have more to show

Consider sharing more thoughtfully. Seriously consider appropriate recording. If you write articles or create other media, that should be somewhere on the net in addition to being shared on social media. There are platforms for writings, music, videos and other media (for memorable links, make a membic). If you’ve never recorded anything outside of a social network, try going back over your posts for the last month to see how you are presenting and what your voice might be. Adjust as needed to make sure you are happy with how you are coming across.

Recording deeper artifacts separately over time creates a searchable archive reflecting a powerful aspect of you independent of any filtering your social net decides to apply for its visitors.

Read other sources

Social networks can be helpful for alerts about events and news, but you owe it to yourself and others not to endorse anything you haven’t actually looked into. Not everything actually comes from where you would expect, and the reasons behind posts can be equally surprising. Don’t despair, a little analysis can make your social network perusal much more interesting.

Sometimes people fall into relying on social networks for news because they don’t have time for other sources. Take a timeout for few minutes to learn about RSS, and try out an RSS reader. You’ll probably gain your time back, and more. As a side benefit, you’ll be able to easily follow any of your friend’s blogs without having to visit their site to check if anything’s new. An RSS reader is a primary phone app.

Make time to stay in touch

Continuing on the theme of underutilized old-school technology, consider your calendar. If you have trouble making the time to stay in touch with extended family, far flung friends, or other acquaintances, put it on your calendar. For increased success, schedule contact sometime that’s not a holiday.

On holidays, if you have some time, reflect back on rewarding social interactions you’ve had over the past year. You might find they weren’t on social media.

Growing Beyond All-In-One Social

What About All Those Articles?

As you read through news related to what you do, you probably glance at hundreds of article listings per month. Out of those hundreds of articles, you probably select dozens that seem worth reading. Out of the dozens of articles you read, maybe a handful are worth remembering.

In That Case

Based on your perspective, what were the most noteworthy news articles you read last month? Last year?

Having a fast answer to those questions gives you a sense of agency, direction, and perspective. A mechanism enabling that capability enhances your working memory, allowing you to easily find references and improve your feel for trends, focus areas, and patterns.

Knowledge In, Knowledge Out

At the time of this writing, it’s not viable to train an AI to reliably detect articles you think are worth remembering. There are automated services that will tell you what you should be interested in, but if you want to read and think for yourself, you are going to need to read and record link references yourself. Preferably just after you’ve finished reading an article so you don’t have to skim through it again later just to remember why it was memorable.

To save a memorable link reference, you’ll need to save the URL (or equivalent reference identification), and the reason why you are saving it. For retrieval, an overall rating and tags are extremely useful, but the most important thing is to record why you are saving the link. Your notes will trigger your memory later. They’re the foundation for insight and perspective.

The Flow

If you are going to record memorable links, you need a quick and easy way to do it. A handy button that doesn’t work in all situations is going to skew your memory towards only the sources that support the handy button. There are two reliable ways that work across all devices and sites:

  1. Copy Paste: Copy the link location, open your link archive tool, paste in the link, add your reason why you are saving it.
  2. Mail it in Copy the link location, mail it to yourself with the reason why it you are saving it.

Use whichever you are more comfortable with for your situation at the time.

The Reward

Once you’ve recorded a few dozen entries, things get interesting. An extremely low noise, tightly curated expert selection of article links, each with your reason why it is noteworthy, is compelling content. That content reflects you well. It can be added to your website, made into a website on its own, serve as an RSS newsfeed for interested readers, and post through to social media channels as you want.

For your own reference, instant access to your most recent memorable links and your top rated links can be illuminating. Searching through your memorable links by text and/or keywords quickly pulls up references when you want them. Exporting a selected subset of the links you’ve remembered can form the basis for your own article or other analysis.

Membic

Membic is a free, open source, full data access tool built from scratch for managing memorable links. It handles everything described above and extends those capabilities to enable collaboration with friends or colleagues. To start getting perspective on what you read, try it out at membic.org

What About All Those Articles?