Standards

NetNewsWire - RSS Reader for macOS and iOS

NetNewsWire is a free and open source RSS reader for Mac, iPad, and iPhone.

Some might criticize the decision to be macOS-only, but as with most decisions, there are tradeoffs. Focusing on the Apple ecosystem allows NetNewsWire to feel like a native app (because it is)! Like other well-run open source communities, there is a clear Contributor’s Guide and Code of Conduct. It supports syncing with a Feedbin account, but can also be used with purely local subscriptions.

I use NetNewsWire every day on both my MacBook Pro and my iPad, and it’s so easy to use I sometimes forget that it’s even there. Without great clients for RSS feeds, consuming them would be more work and make it easier to default to algorithmically-generated, attention-stealing feeds.

Accessibility - improving everyone's experience online

Accessibility (often called “a11y” by those who want to sound cool, because of the eleven letters between the first and the last) is the name given to the tools and processes used to make the Internet more accessible to people with visual, auditory, physical, or other disabilities. But improving a site’s accessibility doesn’t just make it better for people with disabilities; it often makes it better for all users.

If you’re new to accessibility, a quick search will reveal a ton of acronyms and terms: WCAG, AAA, AA, WAI, Section 508. If this makes you feel overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Here are some resources I’ve found to help with a gentle introduction to accessibility:

  • Empathy Prompts - Helps you build empathy for others who may experience the web differently through a series of prompts that anyone can implement.
  • Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) A project of the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium); the WAI has developed the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), which form the basis for legal guidelines in many jurisdictions.
  • Follow people like Eric Bailey and Adrian Roselli.

I had been meaning to talk about this eventually, but a kind note from Jay pointed out that this site itself had some accessibility challenges, particularly the contrast between some of the text (grey text on a white background) made it hard to read. I’ve since updated the site’s theme, to hopefully mitigate the issue. I used a color contrast extension for Firefox to automatically check the page.

There are a ton more helpful resources on accessibility, and I hope to mention many of them in the future. If you have any suggestions, please reply in the comments or contact me.

Solid - Giving users control of their data

Solid is a family of standards and protocols, along with software implementing them. It was designed to give users control over their data, while creating a decentralized network of computing resources known as pods. Co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee, it is a great example of rethinking our reliance on big monopolistic social networks and data silos. There are several existing providers that allow users to register their own pods, or you can run the software yourself.

I don’t have any hands-on experience with Solid, but I do remember running across it last year. I’m glad to see it’s still going strong and seems to be doing well. I’ll be interested to dig in a bit more and learn about it.

(h/t Cal Newport’s blog) If you don’t already follow Cal’s work, you should!

Fastmail - Email, Improved

Fastmail is an email service offering a privacy-focused, user-centric alternative to free email providers like Gmail.

It has everything you would want from an email service: web and mobile apps, contacts and calendar support, integration with other clients using IMAP and CalDAV/CardDAV protocols. And it has nothing that you don’t want, like ads or being tracked along with the rest of your web activity. It even has a streamlined feature to import all your email, calendars, and contacts from Google and many other email providers.

Although it’s not free, you pay per user account, not per address or domain. Because Fastmail supports custom domains, all of my domains forward to the same account, using wildcard, so I have effectively infinite email addresses but only pay for one account. I even have my Gmail account set up to forward to Fastmail, as I transition the email address on all of my online accounts to use Fastmail address(es).

Because email is a core feature and product for Fastmail, they care a lot about email standards, and even helped develop a new protocol, JMAP, which has been accepted by the IETF as an Internet Standard (RFCs 8620 and 8621.

I’ve talked before about Hey, which seems promising for me once it supports custom domains and some other features. But for now, Fastmail is the email service I use every day.

RSS - Build your own news feed

RSS is an open standard for syndicating web content, including news articles or blogs. Subscribing to one or more feeds allows you to automatically receive new content, and control what you see and in what order. As a bonus, you don’t have to worry about a social media site’s algorithm hiding or prioritizing items.

There are many popular RSS services and client applications. I use Feedbin—which also allows you to subscribe to Twitter feeds and email newsletters—along with the free and open-source NetNewsWire for macOS and iOS. I’ll have posts on each of these in the future. Google ran a popular RSS web client called Google Reader, but shut it down in 2013.

There’s an RSS Feed for ImprovingThe.Net. I’d encourage you to subscribe!