Hello, Nomad

I've had the idea for a long while of a place where I could microblog over SMS [1]. For a while, I thought Twitter could be that. I think I gave up on it when I was in Africa, because Tanzania wasn't a supported country. Anyways, the idea's persisted but I've been increasingly less keen to use Twitter [2], which is a whole other blog post in and of itself.

Last month, I followed along with someone engaging in an interesting experiment in SMS publishing. It made me realise that I wanted something similar. My time commuting on the bus gives me time to think, so I wrote up a functional spec over a few days figuring out what I wanted, while paring down to the lightest version of what I could get; then, over the course of a night, I got a basic prototype up and running. It took another few hours another night to move everything over to Heroku, Postgres, and DigitalOcean's spaces, but now it's up and running, and I have a friend [3] helping on it too.

I'm calling the project Nomad because it's meant to be a place where I can post while on the go. Whether that's wandering through the city or the backcountry (assuming there's signal) or where have you, I wanted to be able to publish to my own platform this way. I wrote a quick set of bullet points in my notes about why I wanted to build this:

  • MMS as the only mechanism for publishing: it's simple technology with a low barrier to entry that comes with a clear separation between publishing/creation and consuming; posting doesn’t require interacting with the site.
  • RSS should be a first class citizen. I'm still working on this, which is mostly a case of figuring out how to get images to show in the body. There's something with CDATA, but I haven't had to programmatically use XML in a while and I just haven't had time to work on it.
  • Open access: anyone can subscribe using a standard format and consume it in their preferred manner (IFTTT, email roundups, desktop app, web app).
  • Slow, deliberate interactions should be the norm: there's no following count except via RSS, there’s no likes or reposts or other interactions on the site. When, for example, I want to reply to something that Wally has posted, I'll just reach out to him directly on Signal.

There's still a lot to be done; the post pages could use better semantic markup, I need to figure out how to get images displaying in the RSS feed so people don't even need to visit the site directly. Things at work means I probably won't be able to spend much time working on it, so I got it to a good place where I could use it on a daily basis. I filed a bunch of issues in the Gitlab repo marking things I wanted to do, so I don't forget later.

It's been a lot of fun to build, and I've got a few ideas to see where I can take it. Until I have more time for it, I'll just keep using it as is and take the time to see what I like and don't like about it.

[1]I'm going to say SMS a lot when I really mean either SMS or MMS.
[2]In fact, I've departed for other places.
[3]My friend Wally.

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