found drama

get oblique

getting Prismatic

by Rob Friesel

Last week, Prismatic opened their virtual doors for 24 hours, letting anyone with a Twitter account sign-up. Having heard about it from friends a few times, and having seen it pop up in in my Twitter stream way more than a few times, I decided to try it out. The premise intrigued me: a service that builds a relevant and personalized news feed for you, just by watching what you’re interested in, and what your ambient relationships are also interested in.

After the first couple days, I’m feeling positive about it. The signal-to-noise ratio of the headlines in the home feed is good; anecdotally, I’ve found myself clicking through on about 50% of the articles so far. Not too many false positives. There are plenty gems in there: amusing stuff, inspiring stuff, interesting stuff, useful stuff… And the layout was a snap to figure out.1

What I’m still trying to figure out though is… well: How do I interact with Prismatic? How do I make it better for myself? And just how is it going to feed back into my daily activity?

Right now it seems mightily passive. Hop onto Prismatic, scan the headlines, click the interesting ones… Then what? Go back to the Prismatic tab and start hitting buttons?

interacting with an article on Prismatic

The “X” I’ve got pretty well figured out. “I don’t like this story.” Dismiss it. Delete it. Expunge. Fewer stories like this, please.

The “+” I’m a little wary of. “Favorite this story.” Favorite is kind of strong, don’t you think? An interesting story doesn’t make it a favorite. A funny story doesn’t make it a favorite. Inspiring might qualify. (Might.) It’s a question of semantics. In time I might be able to look past the choice of words. Maybe tap into an API and syndicate the day’s reading and/or favorites over onto my blog? “Link Dump” style?2

Then there’s that speech bubble. “Share this story.” Comment on it. Join the discussion. And this is (for me) what’s causing the most friction, though it’s friction that comes out of my own habits, and how I’ve historically shared via Twitter and (to a lesser extent) Facebook.

An explanatory aside: it is not that I do not share links via Twitter or Facebook. It’s that typically when I share something, I want to be sure I’ve read the thing3 and have 2¢ to add to the thread: a reaction, an agreement, a quibble, etc. Sometimes that fits in the 140 character limit, often it does not.4 What that’s become for me is like second-level sharing. Items go into the Delicious.com5 with their remarks and their pull-quotes6 so that they can be rounded-up and posted as a Link Dump every 24 hours or so. Links that fit certain key interests (i.e., programming, fiction writing) might get double-coverage; these links will also appear on Tumblr blogs that I set up as dedicated to that subject matter.78 Those Tumblr blogs are then configured to tweet (some of) those posts.

Right there is where things get a little complicated. The tweets link to the Tumblr post as a way of getting visibility around my own thoughts/comments on the original article/post/etc.9 that it links to. But it seems disingenuous to tweet something about what someone else wrote, only to link to my remarks on it, forcing whoever is on the other end of the clicking to then click through again to see what it was I was ranting about. And but again: the comments are too big for Twitter so… what options are there?10

Back to Prismatic: I find myself tempted to tweet more of the articles/posts that I see pop up on Prismatic than I am tempted to tweet articles/posts that I see anywhere else. Why is that? Is it because I believe that I will somehow make Prismatic “better for me” if I do my remarking-and-snarking through their little pop box? The answer is… possibly? I’m certainly feeling ebulliently optimistic about Prismatic as a great new source for discovery, and I want to see it succeed. Selfishly speaking: I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut for finding the good new stuff to read, and Prismatic seems like the answer. But my current model is working well for me, and I’m hesitant to “engage with content” in some other way just because it’s convenient for Prismatic.11 Especially when I’ve already more/less determined that that “other way” (i.e., tweeting) doesn’t really give me the platform that I need to say what I need to say.

This should not be that hard.

This cannot be that hard.

Maybe I’m making this too hard.

Maybe what’s really happening here is some wishful thinking. Back in’s heyday, it was one of the daily morning stop; RSS feeds went into NetNewsWire because I first saw those blogs in, not the other way around. I would check’s home page, look at the trending/popular articles and click through on quite a few of them. It was great for discovery. It was great for “social bookmarking”. It was great for that daily round-up link dump post. It had it all. And these days it’s like I’m pulled in a dozen different directions. Prismatic for discovery. Findings for quotes. for links. Twitter for the ambient discussion, and Tumblr for… “long tweets”. And in the background, this blog: curated as a collection of those things, and as a platform for writings like this one. The friction isn’t necessarily “from” Prismatic alone. Prismatic and Findings are both sparkling new darlings which both do (and do well) something that I used to look to for.12 It’s that signal-to-noise ratio again, and it probably always will be.

As for Prismatic, it’s already found its way into my routine, and I’m grateful for the work those guys did to put something so intriguing together. I’m anxious eager to see how to grows and where it goes from here. And if you need me, I’ll be here, here, and here.

  1. Also: the up/down-arrow keyboard short-cut is money. []
  2. Acknowledged: after some poking around on Prismatic, I did see that a click-through on a story is enough to mark it as “read”. So they are tracking what you read and/or what you favorited. []
  3. Though there’s also the inevitable “#todo” tagged posts… []
  4. I have a style I like to follow with these, and it tends to be just-enough-too-wordy for Twitter. []
  5. Gasp! How old school! In all seriousness: I have yet to find a suitable replacement for my Delicious-through-Postalicious-to-my-blog link dump pipeline. has sucked for “discovery purposes” for years now (even their recent redesign etc. hasn’t saved them there) but I haven’t found anything that beats it for the above automatic link posting purposes. (And don’t tell me “Pinboard!” I hate it when you tell me that.) []
  6. Admittedly though, lately I’ve been smitten by Findings as a way of collecting and curating big buckets of quotes. That said, I don’t know if its API will work for link dumps. (Nor is it really positioned as a “social bookmarking service” (whatever that means) anyway.) []
  7. I.e., !undefined, not non-fiction, Not Exercise, and ambulothanatophobia. []
  8. This is a decision a second-guess on a more/less daily basis. If I’m putting the extra effort into getting the comments together and double-posting anyway — why not just post those same bits as fully-fledged (albeit short) posts right here on this blog? But that’s a lamentable post for another day. []
  9. Semi-snarky hat-tip to @garannm (this) who has me second-guessing every single “article… no wait: post! no wait…” mention I’ve made in the past two-ish weeks. []
  10. Here is an example tweet that captures what I mean: too much to say to just tweet my comments, but my comments don’t mean much without reading the original link, but you’ve got to click to the Tumblr before you get to the link… and that’s assuming you actually can figure out which link to click to get through to the original source. []
  11. Did that come off as adversarial? I sure didn’t mean it to… []
  12. But stagnated and it never recovered. The sad story that is… Let us not discuss that here. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night; weekend homebrewer. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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