For my second entry to the Graviton Hackathon, I created an image-first content management system (CMS) for creators called NightlightCMS. It provides a very simple interface to add new images and display them in a Masonry-style layout on the home screen. I think of it as more of an Instagram alternative rather than a WordPress alternative.

The bad press around Instagram got me thinking: Do social networks really make the world a better place? In at least one case, certainly not. Is there a better way for creators to share their work online and really own it? I think social networks have their place for less tech-savvy folks but perhaps we have some better alternatives as the typical web content creator becomes more sophisticated.

Instagram makes it easy to get your images online by providing an easy-to-use mobile app. What if we could do the same but allow creators to publish to their own web properties so they have full control over how their content is displayed and what is displayed next to it? This is where I am heading with NightlightCMS. Providing an easy-to-use app is not too difficult. The piece I still need to work out is an easy, cheap (nearly free) way for less technical users to host their own site.

The other important function that Instagram and other social networks provide is aggregation. You can follow people and get a summary view of updates from everyone you follow. Is there an alternative we can offer that doesn’t involve posts from troll farms mixed into our feed? I think it is high time to re-visit our old friend the RSS feed. I know, I know, it is clunky, difficult for not technical folks to use, etc. That’s all the more reason to give it some love. After I finish implementing the basics, I think RSS support will be the next feature for NightlightCMS.

RSS gives us just about everything we need. It is just missing a few friction-reducing features:

  • A “follow” button. Don’t make the user copy and past a feed URL. I think Google has already caught on to this one:
  • Better and more consistent support for cover images
  • Modernized feed reader apps
  • User awareness – I think RSS feeds would be more popular if people knew they existed and how they worked. Unfortunately there are no million dollar ad campaigns pushing RSS feeds. 🙁