Reader’s Setup: Josh Farmer

For those chomping at the bit for a setup that doesn’t belong in a magazine, here is a real-life setup submitted by my real-life friend, Josh Farmer. Josh is one of the best dads, husbands, writers, and editors I know. He also has a flare for the sarcastic.

Josh’s Setup:

1. What does your desk look like?

It looks like my kitchen table. After a Church’s Chicken tornado.

Josh Farmer's Setup

Josh Farmer's Setup

2. What is your current Mac setup?

PowerBook G4 15″ laptop and a 500 GB backup disk somewhere in my house . . . really need to find that thing.

3. Why are you using this setup?

Because in my 900-square-foot home, it’s all I’ve got right now (besides the bathroom, which is apparently my fault). I have four children under the age of 5 (no twins), I’m in full-time school, work part-time, do editing and ghostwriting projects on the side, and consume all things related to Apple, Macintosh, and LOLCats. w00t!!!!!11!!

4. What software do you use on a daily basis, and for what do you use it?

Farmer Screenshot

Safari for the Web; iTunes for music; iPhoto for pictures; Word for, um, words; InDesign for editing .indd files (upgraded from MS Paint recently). Tinker Tool handles any UI system changes I want to make, but that usually comes down to changing fonts. (Right now I’ve got Hobo, Arial, and Comic Sans in various places. They are extremely legible because each letter is different.)

I have also found that keeping all my applications open makes them readily available and cuts down on their startup time. But I have to keep my iTunes kinda loud to drown out the funny sounds my drive sometimes makes — it’s a difficult balance during the kids’ naptime.

5. Do you own any other Mac gear?

I have an original iPod (called a Walkman). Oh, yeah, and I also have a 4GB iPod. It’s blue because I like blue. But it’s so difficult to use. I can’t even get it to play. Every time I hold it, I push the hold button to let it know what I’m doing, but it still won’t work. I have a puppy named Macintosh, so that should count I think.

6. Do you have any future upgrades planned?

You already forgot my answer to question #3, didn’t you? Seriously, though, if something breaks I’ll obviously have to replace it. They say necessity is the mother of all loans, right?

More Sweet Setups

Josh’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

Reader’s Setup: Josh Farmer

The Link Post

Jorn Barger was on to something.

Back in 1997, when he coined the term “weblog”, his hope was that each site would contribute to the Web by amplifying the links its author liked best. And now, businesses, social networks, and publishing platforms are all thriving because we want other people to tell us about sweet stuff. And when we find it we want to share it too.

Community-run Sweet Stuff Aggregator1 will only show us so much. They excel at finding the stuff that may be interesting to everyone, but they are virtually impotent at promoting what would be truly fascinating to a few.

The sweetest stuff has to be unearthed and recommended by people we trust. Which is why everyone should blog. When you blog there are two types of entries:

  • The Post: your stuff.2
  • The Link: someone else’s stuff.

The Post is important because it’s where you give the world what you have to give. It doesn’t have to be cute, or complex, or mind blowing. Just genuine. (And preferably a good read.)

The Link is important too; this is where you become the Sweet Stuff Aggregator for your readers. The Link is a completely legitimate member of the weblog family and should be treated with just as much care as The Post.

But there’s a trick to The Link. By nature its intent is to send readers away from your site and over to someone else’s. Which means you’re not just a Sweet Stuff Aggregator, you’re also a Traffic Director…

And there is more than one way to aggregate and direct:

I. The Aside

As seen on: Geek & Mild / / Ignore the Code

The Aside

The Aside is a Link Post in disguise. It often looks and acts just like a short post on your website — except you’re talking about someone else’s stuff. When people click on The Aside’s title they stay on your site, going to The Aside’s permalink. (Though, when viewed on your website, The Aside may or may not display a post title.)

What makes an Aside count as a Link Post at all are two things: (a) somewhere in the text is a link, and that link is the focal point of what The Aside is all about; and (b) The Aside is styled, written, or in some other way treated different so as to set it apart from The Post.

By nature of its format The Aside encourages a full read of what you’ve written rather than a quick scan followed by a click on the Link. Which means it’s also a huge opportunity for clever and informed writing — more so than any other type of Link Post. Which is why The Aside is ideal for those who like to bring up and discuss content on the web as if having a conversation with friends.

II. The Out and About

As seen on: Waxy Links / Daring Fireball / Airbag’s Longboard

The Out and About

The Out and About is nearly the opposite in style and nature as The Aside. Its primary purpose is to unearth news and content on the Web and send readers there uninterrupted.

What especially sets The Out and About apart is its feed format. Because not only do the Link Post titles point directly to the linked-to content, but so do those in the RSS feed.

The permalink to your Out and About is either found at the bottom of your post, or else not at all.

The Out and About is a great way to aggregate Sweet Stuff and point readers in that direction with maximum ease and brevity. But don’t use it as an excuse to avoid adding your own clever and informed words.

III. The DoubleTitle

As seen on: Michael Mistretta / Justin Blanton / and formerly on

An Example of The DoubleTitle

The DoubleTitle is like a step-sister of The Out and About. Its name comes from the way it displays in an RSS feed, where you see not only the link-post’s title, but also a duplicate “sub-title”, directly at the top of the content. Like so:

Clicking on the main post title from within the RSS feed sends readers to your permalink. Clicking on the sub-title in the RSS article sends reader to the linked-to article.

The advantage of The DoubleTitle is that the reader is by default sent to your post’s permalink as their starting point — the same default behavior as all but one of the link-post types. The disadvantage is the redundancy of two repeating titles, plus the loss of the first line of the post, as seen here:

The DoubleTitle in Fever

Despite this, The DoubleTitle has become a common, accepted, and even preferred format for The Link.

IV. The DownUnder

As seen on: (RSS Feed) / Subtraction (Website) / Hivelogic / Ryan Gonzalez

The DownUnder

The DownUnder places the link to the external article at the end of the post, while the permalink to the link post is still in the title (virtually the exact opposite layout as The Out and About).

The advantages of The DownUnder: it avoids the redundancy found in The DoubleTitle, and it has a more clearly defined link target than The Aside does. The disadvantage is that because it’s not as common as The Out and About, readers may get confused as to which link is pointing to where. (Which one to your stuff, which one to their stuff?)

V. The TitleFree

As seen on Tumblr sites: Minimal Mac /


In The TitleFree the first ninety-or-so characters of the post usually make up the run-on title in the RSS feed.

Also, due to the “@usernames”, the “via usernames”, the nested links inside nested blockquotes, and so on, the reader must take great care which link they click on or they may end up somewhere other than the actual linked-to article you’re talking about.

However, The TitleFree — which commonly contains photos, quotes, links, and re-posted posts — looks fine in its native environment on your tumble blog, as well as in the Tumblr Dashboard. With a little bit of TLC, it could look good in an RSS reader as well.

An Aside Regarding The Out And About

So long as you’re aggregating sweet stuff, make sure you give everyone the biggest bang for their click.

Back in 2007, John Gruber experimented with his Linked List behavior in the Daring Fireball RSS feed. For years his links were pointing away from, but for a week he let them point to his site to see the reader’s response. People overwhelmingly disliked it.

Concurring, John went back to the original format, saying, “I personally prefer the original style, with links pointing away from, and most readers do too, so I switched it back. […] I’m convinced this is a better design, however. The point of the Linked List is to send you away from Daring Fireball to read or look at something elsewhere, and the feed format should reflect that.”

When The Link wasn’t as common as it is now, sending the reader away to the Sweet Stuff directly from the RSS feed made perfect sense. When readers were only readers, they would agree to let bloggers post something interesting and all they asked for in return was little bit of ‘why’ before being sent on to something sweet.

But now those readers are also bloggers, and – especially in the tech-savvy ring – a lot of those bloggers are publishing links, too. Even those without their own weblog are still aggregating Sweet Stuff on Twitter and Facebook.

When you read and write every day it’s helpful to know how you got somewhere to be able to give credit where credit is due; not only do you want to link forward to something great, you want to link backwards to where you got it from. Which is why the design and function of The Link on your website and in your RSS feed is so important. Like Merlin Mann once said, “If linkbloggers wrote more, shovelbloggers thought more, and a-listers cited more, the web would get 15% more interesting overnight.”

Your website is a non-communal, isolated starting point for your readers. If they follow your link, clicking the back button in their browser will return them to their starting point again, if need be. A feed reader, however, is more like a router piping in a whole community’s worth of stuff. If you follow a link out from your feed reader there is no back button to starting point; it’s buried in the feed reader.

Beginning from an isolated starting point is especially great for the times when you’ve sent me to something I find unusually sweet. Once I’m there chances are good I’ll want to: (a) re-read your comments about why you sent them there in the first place; and/or (b) link to it myself and credit you for the find.

If I got to the article directly from an Out and About Link in my feed reader then it’s up to my memory to remember who sent me there. Not a big deal if I’m eating lunch and am only taking the time to visit one or two new links. But that’s not how I most often consume stuff the Web.

The way I read online is that at some point in my day I will open up my feed reader and read through the latest stuff. I rarely read articles in my reader — instead, I open them in Safari in the background. After I’ve combed through my feed reader I then go to the open tabs in Safari and start reading.

At this point it’s not uncommon to have a dozen tabs with a dozen articles ready for me to read.3 Which is why – depending on your site’s posting rhythm and personality – sending people directly to your linked-to article is not necessarily the best design. Here’s why:

Since my feed reader is filled with sites and folks I’m familiar with, the majority of the open tabs in Safari are websites I affectionately recognize. But if I come to a tab with a site I don’t recognize my first thought is usually, what is this? Why am I here?

Because I don’t always remember exactly who’s link post I read to send me to that article, nor what it was they had to say about it that prompted me to visit, it’s a lot like coming back to a conversation without being able to ask, “Now, where were we?”

In an email, reader Jacob Pogson explained his similar reading workflow:

Some sites (eg. Coudal Partners) basically are all links. However, one is required to click particularly on the link within the post to go to the link, rather than just follow the post. I do not find that annoying. It is inefficient, yet I don’t mind having Safari go the the Coudal site and sit waiting for me to further direct it to the link.

I like to have the mental starting block of Coudal, before I follow the link; it’s almost like a context to the link. Similarly to you, I end with a whole lot of tabs (on a good day) that are the result of following articles/links from NetNewsWire. Changing to Safari is also a mental change to ‘serious’ digestion mode, where I have decided something requires another look.

This is exactly how I like to read on the Web. I am not so much concerned about reading quickly and efficiently, as I am reading with interest and intent.

The Out and About is efficient; it’s ideal for the power user who’s primarily interested in what is being aggregated more than who is aggregating it or why they are. My fear is that if more and more Cool Stuff Aggregators start linking with The Out and About, there will be an increasing disconnect between the aggregated and the Aggregator.

Which is why, when I switched from The DoubleTitle, I went to The DownUnder and not the Out and About. The DownUnder is a cleaner design, the post’s title sends readers to my link post’s permalink by default, and it has a very discernible click target — if you’ve read the title and the commentary in the feed reader, the link to the Sweet Stuff is right there if you want it.

The Why

Before linking something up, think for a moment…

Was it worth your time?

What makes for the best of the best, personally recommended link links is that it’s a selection of only what you find most inspiring and engaging. It’s the kind of stuff you would bring up at dinner:

“I saw this fascinating chart on The New York Times today about how we spend our time. Did you know it only takes 4% of Americans to keep our country running at night?”

You would never talk to your mom about the fifty free Photoshop brushes you found online today. Well, hopefully you wouldn’t.

Is it worth my time?

When I click your link it’s a commitment. I’ve agreed to let you post something interesting and all I ask for in return is little bit of why before being sent on to what you’ve deemed as something sweet.

And if I’m going to trust you to be my personal Sweet Stuff Aggregator, I want to know you’re not wimping out on me and just re-linking the same stuff everyone else is buzzing about. I want to know that you’re linking to it because it grabbed you — even if just for a second — and that you are confident it will grab me too.

But more than the what is the why. Noteworthy things will always have a way of getting discovered.

  1. See Alex Payne’s Essays, Fever and the Future of Feed Readers and CSAs; Gush for Je‘
  2. The reason it’s called “The Post” and not “The Article” is because not everyone publishes articles to their weblogs. Many people publish video, audio, and/or photography in addition to or instead of article.
  3. And I’m a lightweight feed subscriber with picky taste about where I spend my time.
The Link Post

By far and away my favorite thing to write is an in-depth review. And based on feedback, they are also, by far, your favorite thing to read.

Currently, there are nearly 30,000 words worth of software and hardware reviews hidden on this site. And until today there wasn’t a one-stop-spot for all the reviews I’ve written. Which is why I felt it was high-time these articles became first-class citizens by receiving a dedicated table of contents page.

A Dedicated Table of Contents Page for Reviews

Reader’s Setup: Ian P. Hines

Ian P. Hines is a 23-year old technology geek and Baltimore Enthusiast. In the daylight hours he’s a Neighborhood Liaison in the Office of the Mayor of Baltimore, MD, but by night he’ll likely be found coding, scripting, and tweeting away. In September he’ll be having his first child, a boy. He’s been blogging since 2003.

Ian’s Setup:

1. What does your desk look like?

Ian Hines

Ian Hines

Ian Hines

2. What is your current Mac setup?

I’m currently using a 13″ MacBook (White), circa early 2009, as my sole computer. I kept it basic – 2 GHz Intel Cor Duo, 2 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM – as an exercise in relative minimalism, despite my inner geek urging me to go with the Pro. Backups are done via BackBlaze, which continuously syncs changed whenever I’m connected to WiFi.

When I’m on-the-go, which is most of the day, I’m stuck with (and I mean that) my BlackBerry 8703e(s) (I have two, one for work and one for personal use), courtesy of a two-year Verizon contract. Lets be clear: older BlackBerrys are terrible for anything except email. Period. The newer ones (I’m looking at you, Tour!) might… just might… be up to snuff, but I’m not holding my breath.

The personal BlackBerry isn’t going to be around for too much longer, as it seems to be feuding with my Mac. They aren’t talking at all, and I just can’t have that sort of tension in my life. But more on that in a bit…

3. Why are you using this setup?

I can’t say enough about how much I love the simplicity of this setup (sans BlackBerry).

A few years back, when my first ever laptop died, I made the decision to switch back to a tower. What an awful idea that was. One of the best parts of living in a city is all the great free WiFi (with associated coffee!), and having a desktop meant that I couldn’t bring my work with me. I was desk-bound, and experience has taught me that that just doesn’t work for me.

Now, with the baby on the way, I’ve taken up the challenge of dramatically reducing the amount of excess furniture in the house; the desk space was among the first things to go. These days it’s just me, my MacBook, and the couch. Or the chair. Or the coffee shop. That’s the thing… I work where I want and I love having that flexibility. I’ve found that the freedom to change my scenery has really helped me creatively, and I think that’s been reflected in my fresh approach to the web over the past several months.

4. What software do you use on a daily basis, and for what do you use it?

I’ve taken to using Spaces to keep my desktop strictly organized. I currently have twelve spaces, most of which are always active:

  • Space One is strictly for browsers. I’m a Safari 4 guy (a recent convert from Firefox 3).
  • Space Two is for social applications. Here you’ll find Tweetie & Adium opening at login.
  • Space Three houses NetNewsWire, though I think I’m about to catch a Fever.
  • Space Four is for the more formal correspondence, via Address Book & Mail.
  • Space Five is for the outsiders.
  • Space Six is the junk drawer, filled up with Stickies (galore?).
  • Space Seven runs iCal, which is used to access my Google CalDAV Calendars locally.
  • Space Eight runs iPhoto, and when I’m feeling particularly ambitious Lightroom.
  • Space Nine is the jukebox: iTunes,, and PandoraFM.
  • Space Ten is where the magic happens, via Coda & Transmit (three cheers for the Panic Sale!).
  • Space Eleven is dedicated solely to Mint, because an app so beautiful deserves one all to itself.
  • And finally, Space Twelve for imaging with LittleSnapper & Photoshop CS 4.

In the background you’ll find these standbys: BackBlaze, Caffeine, Google Quick Search, & Growl.

5. Do you own any other Mac gear?

Sadly, no. My wife, however, is running a late-2008 unibody MacBook 13″, which replaced the white MacBook that we lost in a burglary last September. But I personally have been without any Mac peripherals since my fourth generation iPod finally died in 2007.

6. Do you have any future upgrades planned?

Considering I’m currently running my mobile web on the antiquated 8703e (thanks, Verizon!), an iPhone 3GS is looking pretty good right about now. My Verizon contract expires in November, though if the rumors of a Q1 Verizon iPhone are true that won’t really matter.

I also plan on adding a 500 GB Passport Hard Drive for photo storage, as I prefer to keep the internal drive pretty clutter free.

More Sweet Setups

Ian’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

Reader’s Setup: Ian P. Hines

Thanks to all of you who have given feedback regarding the new link-post behavior in the feed. The consensus has very much been in favor of the new design for link posts.

There has also been a lot of encouragement to add a glyph to the front of each bionafied article’s title; done. Not only is the glyph helpful for quickly identifying a feed item as either a link or an article, but it also makes the articles a little bit more special.

And for any of you who also are exploring the depths of your RSS and link post behavior, this link is to the most comprehensive list of HTML glyphs I’ve ever seen.

Every HTML Glyph You Could Ever Want (and Some That You Wouldn’t)

This plugin by Jonathan Penn is the foundation for how I’m able to make adjustments to my RSS Feed Behavior.

It uses a custom field named linked_list_url (which you have to initially create yourself). If that field is populated when you publish a new post then that post’s template tag, the_permalink_rss, gets defined as the linked-to URL you pasted in.

Since the_permalink template tag stays unaltered there is a lot you can do with calls, functions, if/else loops, and more to get your link posts formatted just the way you want in your RSS feed and on your website.

Additionally, the kind and clever John Stansbury shared with me an edited version of the Press This bookmarklet that works directly in tandem with Penn’s plugin. This version of the bookmarklet adds the linked_list_url custom field to the Press This publishing window and auto-populates that field with the URL of the website you were on when you clicked the bookmarklet. It works on the iPhone, too, though it’s not iPhone optimized.

I’ve posted the code for the bookmarklet as a plain text file here.

Save this file as .php and drop it into your /wp_admin/ folder. Leave the “-cf” addition so the file stays in tact if you ever upgrade automatically. Also, you’ll need to edit the Javascript in your Press This bookmarklet’s address so it references the new press-this-cf.php file.

Linked List URL Plugin for WordPress

Testing a New Design for Link Posts in the Feed

Link posts outnumber articles on three to one. And I’ve been considering a change for how link posts show up in the RSS feed.

Up until today, a link post could be identified in my RSS feed by its duplicate “sub-title”. RSS Feed Item

If you arrow out or click on the item’s primary title link you arrive at the post’s permalink here on Clicking the “sub-title”, which is in the body of the post, takes you to the linked-to article.

This isn’t a new technique. And how it’s done is actually quite simple — the sub-title is hand written into the post’s body, and on link posts are coded to not display the main title.

What I like about this design for the RSS feed is that the default “ element for the article points to rather than to the linked-to article. (This is the same as how, Subtraction, Justin Blanton, and many others do it, but is the opposite of Daring Fireball or Waxy Links.)

More and more weblogs writers are adapting link posts as part of their publishing routine. But most of them do not post dozens of links every week.

This past July, John Gruber posted 200 linked list items to Daring Fireball. Andy Baio posted 136; and Jason Kottke, 146. I, on the other hand only posted thirteen. If you add June in there too, then John, Andy, or Jason each posted more (or nearly as many) links as I have in the entire life of this weblog (367).

Which is why, in my opinion, the behavior of a link post in its RSS feed should not be defined based on the type of post it is, but rather by that post’s relationship to the website publishing it.

Authors who publish only a handful of links may want to consider a different type of link post behavior in their RSS feed, as compared to those who post half-a-dozen per day.

In my interview with John Gruber, his attitude towards his Linked List was that it’s not the individual links that are important so much as it is the whole day’s worth:

As for what I link to and what I don’t, it’s very much like Justice Stewart’s definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” There’s a certain pace and rhythm to what I’m going for, a mix of the technical, the artful, the thoughtful, and the absurd. In the same way that I strive to achieve a certain voice in my prose, as a writer, I strive for a certain voice with regard to what I link to. No single item I post to the Linked List is all that important. It’s the mix, the gestalt of an entire day’s worth taken together, that matters to me.

The intense frequency of the Daring Fireball, Waxy, et al. links warrant a more direct-to-link style of RSS behavior.

I am not convinced that this is also the best feed behavior for But based on a lazy poll I did on Twitter it seems a lot of people wish it were. The advantage to the DF-style link post behavior is primarily that it saves a click. But according to the feed and click-through stats, the majority of this site’s readers seem have no trouble clicking directly on the sub-header and going directly to the linked-to article from their feed reader if they want to.

Moreover, the primary reason I prefer this site’s current link post behavior is that it falls in line with my own feed reading habits.

The way I read online is that at some point in my day I will open up my aggregator and read through what’s new. I rarely read an article in my reader. Instead I open up the interesting stuff in Safari in the background, and then go to Safari’s open tabs and start reading.

At this point it’s common to have a dozen articles ready to read. Which is why being sent directly to someone’s linked-to article is not the best design.

Since I’m reading articles by folks I’m familiar with, the majority of the open tabs in Safari are websites I recognize. But when I come to a tab with a site I don’t recognize my first thought is usually, “What is this? How did I get here?”

Not because I’m confused, but because I don’t always remember exactly who’s link post I read and clicked through to that sent me to whatever it is I’m now staring at. Nor do I remember what it was they had to say about this link that prompted me to visit. It is very much like coming back to the middle of a conversation without being able to ask, now, where were we?

Through an email dialog, Sean Sperte gave me some wise input, saying that when someone clicks on the title link it indicates their desire to read more. Which means it is up to the author to decide what “read more” means. Does it mean, go to the link I’m talking about right now? Or does it mean, this trail is best begun on my site. On I think the latter is more appropriate.

Which Brings Us to the New RSS Format Experiment

Though I’m not too keen on moving to a DF-style format for my link posts, I am certainly wanting to move away from the duplicate “sub-title” design. My desire is to make the link-posts very easy to use and read while maintaing a clean design and logical behavior.1

In truth, I have always had these goals but they were not easily attained in WordPress. To implement this new feed and on-site post formatting required the use of custom fields. No problem if you publish from your WordPress web interface. But I don’t. I am a hard and fast MarsEdit user.

Unfortunately, MarsEdit has never had support for custom fields in WordPress. Which meant that for me to change my link-post behavior in the RSS feed I would have to publish all link posts from my WordPress Web interface. And that just isn’t going to happen. But praise the Lord, the latest builds of the 3.0 alpha, which I’m fortunate enough to help with testing for Daniel, now support custom fields in WordPress.

Which means that with this new feature in MarsEdit all I needed was a simple plugin, a few tweaks to my site’s theme and RSS code, and now a world of opportunities for RSS link post behavior have opened up.

The previous formatting for a link post in the RSS feed looked like this (as also seen in the screen shot at the beginning of this article):

  • Main Title (pointed to
  • Sub Title (duplicate text as Main Title, and points to the linked-to item)
  • Commentary, additional content, etc.

The new, experimental, formatting looks like this:

  • Main Title (points to
  • Commentary, additional content, etc.
  • Visit This Link ➚ (points to the linked-to item)

New RSS format

The design and behavior on has remained unchanged. (Though the back-end code has not.)

Since this is a new design, and the duplicate “sub-titles” were very good at allowing for quick identification of a link post, I am debating over the need for another way to quickly and easily identify a link post versus a full-length article. Sean Sperte does this by placing check marks next to his “asides” posts; Gruber places a star next to his articles. As of yet, I haven’t implemented any type of identification.

Feedback Please

As readers who interact with this feed every day, I would be delighted to hear your guys’ feedback (positive or negative) on the new format. And especially if you encounter any problems with the feed.

Subscribe to the RSS Feed here:

Email me here:

  1. Some people have commented on the current feed format as being more friendly to page views. While this is true, it has nothing to do with why the feed is formatted this way. Those that have been reading this site for any length of time know that I’m not into gaudy ads, non-legit pageviews, or un-interested readers. This whole site has been built with care for the readers and for the author. Having a link-post behavior that sends readers here first is not a gimmick but rather a design decision that I think suits the personality of the best.
Testing a New Design for Link Posts in the Feed