rambling thoughts on blogging and silos

Alec Couros posted a quick throwaway on Facebook (I’d link to it, but Facebook doesn’t work that way)

couros-facebook

It got a lot of likes, and then the comment thread kind of exploded. I posted several comments and replies, and realized that was a silly way to post that particular discussion because it’s exactly the kind of thing we are talking about as killing blogging and personal publishing.

I’ve pulled my comments together below. They’re from various bits in the conversation, so don’t necessarily flow as a single post. Whatever.

I’ve been thinking about the web we lost a LOT lately, but keep having a nagging feeling that some of it is nostalgia and romanticizing the good parts while overlooking the less good. I think we should learn from what was good (and so, so much was very good), learn from what wasn’t as good, and move forward to build new goodness on modern tech.

I don’t miss Reader. There are alternatives. I miss interesting people publishing coherent posts on diverse topics, rather than scattered like birdshot splattered across disconnected algorithmic streams on corporate silos.

I’ve been digging Medium. Haven’t posted anything there, but it seems like a great mix of people and ideas (if a little heavy on the entrepreneur-fu articles). But I wonder what will happen to all of the posts after Verizon/Nokia/Facebook/Google buy it (eventually. It’s the exit strategy of every web company on the planet now). Will it be shuttered? Improved? Stagnate and die?

Reader isn’t the problem. People just stopped owning their words, publishing on their own websites. The internet archive for the last 5 years or so will largely be a gaping hole of dark matter where corporate silos like Facebook used to be.

And if someone didn’t have tech skills, they didn’t have a voice. And if they didn’t want to put their thoughts out on the open web (where they could be used out of context, doxxed, harassed, etc) they weren’t part of the conversation. There were reasons why the blogosphere (even the edublogosphere and openblogosphere) was dominated by white male professionals.

Readership is down by a few orders of magnitude as well. Back in the olden days, I often had thousands of people reading posts. Now, maybe 100 on a really busy day. Not sure what that means – I cross-post to Facebook and twitter, so I assume people just read the snippets there and don’t click through to read the full thing. Summary blurbs, short attention span, moving on…

desocialmediafacating

I’ve been frustrated by how much time I burn away fidgeting with social media. Lately, it’s been essentially a form of self-regulation or soothing as it feels like civilization is melting down. Trump stumbles to pronounce a 5-letter acronym fed to him on a teleprompter? Ugh. To Twitter! etc.

The world isn’t melting down. I need to snap out of the pattern of just pissing away time on social media. So, I’ve deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone and iPad. And I’ve added a handy /etc/hosts file to my Mac that will block everything (even MySpace and Orkut! Thank Jebus!)

Anyway. I’m not deleting any accounts. I’m not disappearing. I’m (hopefully) just snapping out of this pattern of fidgetting with social media rather than doing literally anything else that is more interesting and productive and relevant to anything – even nothing. Life is too short for that kind of bullshit.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 8.15.36 AM

comments on facebook

These comments were started in response to a friend, who was taking a stand against Facebook and their take-it-or-leave-it end user license agreement (EULA). They’re not the most profound comments, nor the most well-crafted, but I think they need to exist (also) outside of Facebook’s corporate walled garden. Ironically, after I posted the first comment, the Facebook iPad app prompted me to take a survey about how (un)comfortable I was with the state of Facebook, with specific questions asking about the algorithmic feed. So, I filled it in to indicate that I am very (VERY) uncomfortable with the algorithmic news feed…

From the Facebook post that triggered my responses:

OK, then: I do not give Facebook or any entities associated with Facebook permission to use my pictures, information, messages or posts, both past and future. With this statement, I give notice to Facebook it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, or take any other action against me based on this profile and/or its contents. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of privacy can be punished by law (UCC 1-308- 1 1 308-103 and the Rome Statute). NOTE: Facebook is now a public entity. All members must post a note like this. If you prefer, you can copy and paste this version. If you do not publish a statement at least once it will be tactically allowing the use of your photos, as well as the information contained in the profile status updates.

And, my responses:

No. By using Facebook, you give them the right to do everything outlined in their EULA. You don’t have to like it, but you agreed to it by activating your account. I’m seriously considering nuking my Facebook account (again, for maybe the third time) because of Facebook’s creepiness and overreaching, and their messing around with privacy and experimentation with algorithms – I can’t trust their algorithmic news feed because I have no idea how it works (but I do – it is obviously optimized to maximize eyeball-time rather than to act as a news feed). But Facebook is where many of my extended family exist online, and where many of my non-online-innovation friends hang out. So, I’m stuck. Nuke my FB account to withdraw from corporate greed, or keep connected with friends and family, while choking back the distaste. Sigh.

I’d guess that unless FB is reclassified as a utility rather than a proprietary social network, there’s not much hope. It’s completely their game, and if we don’t like it, we have to leave. Or, governments have to step in to say it’s more than a social network and needs to be regulated to ensure we have fair and equitable access to the information managed on our behalf. It’s now the biggest news publisher, with no transparency on editorial oversight over the algorithms. Kind of a scary thing to have in a democracy…

and so, here we are. Democracy vs. Capitalism. When many (most?) people are unclear about the definitions of either. When everyone is a lottery ticket (or a TLC reality show contract) away from being a millionaire, they identify with successful capitalists and against “the people” (who are then recast as freeloaders and bums). When popularity and fame are equated with democratic representation, we’re left with reality show dropouts as viable contenders for the most powerful governmental position on the planet. Holy shit this is scary stuff.

Why Facebook (kinda) won

Mike Caulfield has a good post about how Facebook and siloed social media got traction in ways the blogosphere circa 2005-2008 never maintained. He has a good point about the user experience – people aren’t going to go look at 10, 100, 1000 different websites with different graphic designers, publishing models, and navigation structures. That’s where the simplified UX of Facebook comes in. A single stream, pulling stuff from everyone a person cares about. And that jerk from junior high.

But, if it was just about having a streamlined user experience and consistent email-like interface, RSS readers solved that a decade ago. Google Reader was that. Fever˚ still is that for me. I don’t think that’s why Facebook is where every non-geek hangs out. I think there are a few reasons why people are there:

  1. Because non-geeks don’t want to publish openly. They want to share things with their friends, and only their friends. I also see this with instructors and students – many just want to share with people in their class/section/group. That’s why the LMS is still so core on campus – it’s basically a clunky version of the Facebook UX pattern – share stuff with the people in a small context, and only those people. Ask non-HTML-syntax-nerds about how they share things. Many will say “share? Why would I do that? That’s so high school! Why would I want people to know that?” Or “OK. Maybe my friends would be interested in photos of my vacation. But I sure as hell ain’t posting them on the web!” Or some variant. Facebook soothes people into thinking they’re sharing only with people they’ve let into their groups. That’s something that the blogosphere never did, and it’s something that held back a lot of people from participating in the open blogoweb back in the olden days.

  2. Because normal people don’t want to think about stuff like domains, or backups, or updates and patches, or plugins and modules. They just want to see what their friends and family are up to, and maybe post some clever photos. And, although webstuff is way easier to manage than it was back in the dark ages, it’s still not as easy as it needs to be for dad to use it.

  3. Because that’s where everybody is. Facebook feels like a place. It’s tangible. That’s also something that the distributed blogothingy never achieved. It’s something different for every participant or observer. Facebook is Facebook. Everybody is there. Because there’s a “there” there.

So, we can either fight against Facebook and insist that everyone leave it and do things The Right Way™ – or come to terms that for the vast majority, Facebook (or the siloed design pattern represented by Facebook) is what they are comfortable with. And that’s OK. That doesn’t stop anyone from doing things more openly. The web is what we make of it. If we think there are better ways, and that openness is important, we need to continue modelling and exploring. But we can’t expect people to follow. Or to even be interested. Or to not think we’re freaks for doing things out in the wilderness.

And maybe, part of our explorations will involve finding ways to make the wilderness more approachable. Maybe we’re building trails and national parks so city folk can experience things they wouldn’t otherwise experience. I’ve got some ideas about that, and am hoping to get the chance to help build some stuff…

PrivacyFix

I just tried out the new PrivacyFix extension, which checks your privacy settings and also estimates how much Facebook and Google make off me each year.

Turns out, my privacy settings are pretty decent already. And, it looks like Google makes less than a dollar per year off me. Facebook makes nothing. The guy that wrote the article on Ars Technica clocks in at $700 per year going to Google, through advertising etc… Wow.

I’m running PrivacyFix, in addition to Ghostery and AdBlock, on all computers that I use.

on facebook’s blanket license

fblogoFacebook recently revised the terms of service for their website. They have a right to do so. I have a right not to like the new terms. Here’s the snippet that put the last nail in the Facebook-as-content-application coffin for me:

Licenses
You are solely responsible for the User Content that you Post on or through the Facebook Service. You hereby grant Facebook an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to (a) use, copy, publish, stream, store, retain, publicly perform or display, transmit, scan, reformat, modify, edit, frame, translate, excerpt, adapt, create derivative works and distribute (through multiple tiers), any User Content you (i) Post on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof subject only to your privacy settings or (ii) enable a user to Post, including by offering a Share Link on your website and (b) to use your name, likeness and image for any purpose, including commercial or advertising, each of (a) and (b) on or in connection with the Facebook Service or the promotion thereof. You represent and warrant that you have all rights and permissions to grant the foregoing licenses.

Previously, I had stopped using Facebook’s Flickr application because it was designed to suck copies of the photos into Facebook’s server farm rather than linking to my copy of the photos on Flickr. When they changed that design so that it was just a link, I was cool with connecting Flickr and Facebook again. Now, the revised terms appear to mean Facebook thinks it can do whatever it wants with any of my stuff.

Nuh uh. Don’t think so. Now Facebook is simply to maintain that portion of my digital identity – I guess to keep in touch with people I chose not to keep in touch with for decades anyway… Wait, why do I still have a Facebook account?

Actually, to be completely honest, I’m not sure when that quoted clause was added. I just noticed it today after giving the terms a full read because of the recent brouhaha about the terms of use. The clause could have been there for weeks, months, years. It doesn’t matter. That’s the clause that makes Facebook inappropriate for hosting any of my content.

I’m usually fine with granting licenses to websites, because their terms of service usually include some form of limitation on their use – most often something like “… for conducting the daily operation of the website…” or somesuch – basically, granting a license for the service to store the content and publish it online as part of what the website actually does. For comparison, here’s the relevant bits of the Flickr/Yahoo! terms of service:

CONTENT SUBMITTED OR MADE AVAILABLE FOR INCLUSION ON THE YAHOO! SERVICES

Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Yahoo! Services. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services, you grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:

  • With respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo! Services solely for the purposes of providing and promoting the specific Yahoo! Group to which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo! Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Yahoo! Services.
  • With respect to photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services other than Yahoo! Groups, the license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such Content on the Yahoo! Services solely for the purpose for which such Content was submitted or made available. This license exists only for as long as you elect to continue to include such Content on the Yahoo! Services and will terminate at the time you remove or Yahoo! removes such Content from the Yahoo! Services.
  • With respect to Content other than photos, graphics, audio or video you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services other than Yahoo! Groups, the perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, publicly perform and publicly display such Content (in whole or in part) and to incorporate such Content into other works in any format or medium now known or later developed.

“Publicly accessible” areas of the Yahoo! Services are those areas of the Yahoo! network of properties that are intended by Yahoo! to be available to the general public. By way of example, publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services would include Yahoo! Message Boards and portions of Yahoo! Groups and Flickr that are open to both members and visitors. However, publicly accessible areas of the Yahoo! Services would not include portions of Yahoo! Groups that are limited to members, Yahoo! services intended for private communication such as Yahoo! Mail or Yahoo! Messenger, or areas off of the Yahoo! network of properties such as portions of World Wide Web sites that are accessible via hypertext or other links but are not hosted or served by Yahoo!.

Flickr/Yahoo!’s terms are much more restrictive, and I’m completely comfortable with them. The unrestricted blanket license claimed by Facebook is just plain evil.

Facebook considered harmful?

Walking across campus this morning, I passed a couple dozen students with laptops open, sucking the wifi network. I wasn’t trying to snoop, but I noticed that well over half of them had browsers open to Facebook. It struck me that they are spending much of their time pumping content and data into a proprietary commercial venture. And they’re fine with it. I’m pretty sure they’re capable of understanding what it means to provide so much information about themselves – what they like, who they know, what they’re doing, the music they listen to, the books they read, their vocabulary, things they’re selling/buying, etc…

But, I fear they don’t actively think about what it means to give this personal data so freely to a commercial venture that has one singular purpose: to profit from their information, in any way possible.

And Facebook isn’t alone – we’re using Google Docs and the rest of the Google Apps suite, essentially teaching Google’s advertising engine with the most intimate and powerful data about ourselves. The Google Toolbar tracks what we search for, and what we see.

Universities are also guilty in this – we compel students to publish their content within the confines of the sanctioned LMS, where it can evaporate at the end of each semester. We provide them with email addresses, web space, etc… all of which evaporate when they graduate, and are not truly “theirs”.

It strikes me that an entire generation of our upcoming best-and-brightest minds are developing in an environment where they are comfortable not owning their own information, and even worse – they are comfortable with corporate entities mining every bit of minutiae about themselves in order to make a buck. In a “best case” scenario, these students simply aren’t aware of what this means, and this becomes an education issue. In a “worst case” scenario, they are aware, consenting, and active participants in this.

This scares the hell out of me. These students will be forming our governments in a few years, and running our companies.

How do we steer this ship onto a more wholesome, individual-centric course, where individuals not only want to own their own information, but also to effectively control who has access to it, and what they can do with it?

on the power of banality

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, but haven’t taken the time to put it into words. Most recently, a post by Jennifer Jones nicely sums up why Twitter is important, and I think it goes even further than that.

Twitter is important because it makes many of the intangible human connections more readily available to people who are separated by distance. I often feel more closely integrated with the people on my Twitter stream than I do with people who work in my department. Why is that? I see those people every day. But – the people on Twitter are constantly reinforcing my connection with them, and vice versa, through the unceasing flow of status updates.

But, why is this important? I think this brings the real, visceral connections that are an essential part of a vibrant community (whether online, offline, or blended) into the forefront. I can tap into my Twitter contacts and ask questions, float ideas, or just shoot the shit. Things that are largely outside the domain of a traditional “online community” resource. The always-on nature of Twitter, and the strong sense of vibrancy and vitality, are what make it so compelling to me. At almost any time of the day or night, my Twitter stream is active, with people posting tidbits on a stunningly broad range of topics.

Sure, many of these are purely banal things like “I’m bored” or “heading out to the pub” – but those are important if only because they help reinforce a connection. I may not care that someone is going to a pub (especially if they’re in another city/country/continent and I can’t tag along), but by seeing their status update, it makes me mindful of them. I think about that person, even if briefly, and the sense of community is strengthened.

So, Twitter is valuable for so much more than simple “nanoblogging” – which is how I initially perceived it. It is important to me because it makes the sense of community and connectedness more tangible. And Twitter isn’t the only tool to help on that front.

One of the reasons I’m a raving, rabid Flickr addict is that I can follow the photos from my contacts. If they do something and post a picture, I see it. I may not have bothered to go hunting to find the picture, but the fact that Flickr streams it to me helps me keep up to date on what dozens of people are doing. I am more mindful of these people, and feel more aware and connected.

Tools like Flickr and Twitter are powerful because they are informal. It’s much quicker and easier to post a simple status update for something that wouldn’t warrant a full blog post. It’s simple to shoot a photo and hurl it up to Flickr – even if it’s not a great photo, it’s an easy way to share what’s going on in a person’s life.

One thing that newcomers to these tools often mention is how simultaneously noisy and empty they seem. Viewing the public Twitter update stream is a confusing and uninteresting activity. It’s not until you find the people that you care about – in real life – that these tools really start to get interesting. It’s not about “contact whoring” or trying to collect the most “followers” – it’s about finding the people you care about and maintaining a state of mindfulness. Something that is surprisingly easy to do with these various banality broadcasting engines.

I’m still thinking through how these tools compare with Facebook. I do know that Facebook has a decidedly different “feel” to it – with the endless flow of zombie-bites, pokes, application requests, and the like. Facebook has become annoying enough that I might check in on it once per week. I usually have Twitter and Flickr open in tabs all the time.  Facebook is evolving into a monolithic environment – the “applications” are so tightly integrated that they might as well be compiled into the kernel of FB. Small Pieces Loosely Joined is basically thrown out the window. Although I can integrate other resources, they become awkwardly sucked into FB, often providing redundant information or functionality (do I post status updates to Twitter, or to Facebook? do I post photos to Flickr or Facebook? etc…). I should be able to do these activities in one place, and one place only, and have the information pulled seamlessly together. Facebook just ain’t it.

MySpace vs. Facebook: Who Cares?

Danah Boyd published an article comparing the demographics of MySpace and Facebook. The conclusion? Geeks, jocks, and preps head to Facebook. Stoners, goths, and bangers head to MySpace.

So… Essentially all cliques are steadily moving into personal and social publishing spaces. And they’re finding where they feel most comfortable.

facebookers vs myspacers

I’m not seeing the problem. Do we really expect the various groups of kids to all flock to the same communities online? It sure doesn’t happen offline.

The key is that they’re reading and writing much more than they would have been without becoming active in online publishing. That’s fantastic, no matter where they do it. I’m quite sure there are large groups of kids who are most active in other online communities like Nexopia and the like. So what? The goal isn’t to collect them all into one big bin, but to let them find their voices, however they need to do that.

The take away message for me isn’t that there is some socioeconomic segregation of youth, but that we need to remember that not all youth hang out at the same place. This isn’t new. It’s been going on for decades (centuries)? but us “web 2.0” types seem to forget that it’s a natural part of being a kid, and assume that everyone’s playing in the same sandbox. That just ain’t so, and it’s not necessarily a bad (or good) thing. It just is.

Photo attributions:

Blogging vs. Social Networking

I've been posting to my blog far less frequently than ever before, in the entire history of this blog. Why is that? I'm still busy doing stuff. I'm still active in all the same places. The only shift lately is that I've also been much more active in social networking sites, specifically Twitter and Facebook.

Now, both Twitter and Facebook are essentially social networking systems. They are about forming and building connections between people, rather than publishing content. So, that shouldn't have an impact on my posts here.

The only thing I can think of is some kind of defusing effect that activity on social networking sites may have – I post there, and it satisfies the social component of posting here. Posting here doesn't affect posting there.

So, I'm starting to think about the relationship between social networking and blogging. They're definitely related, partially overlapping activities, but they also have their own subtle difference. Blogging is (for me) about personal knowledge management. Capturing the content and context of what I'm doing. Social networking is about context more than anything. Which looks at first blush to be purely banality. And yet, it affects me on a deeper level.

I was in Vancouver for an "eCOP" pathfinding meeting, and found that I flipped open the MacBookPro during breaks. What did I check first? It wasn't email. It wasn't my blog (or blog stats, or blog referrals). It was Twitter. I felt more connected to my distributed community of edubloggers (and others) because they're always there with me, no matter where I am. That's powerful stuff. Now, how to better make sense of that? Or does making sense of it suck the soul out of it?

I've been posting to my blog far less frequently than ever before, in the entire history of this blog. Why is that? I'm still busy doing stuff. I'm still active in all the same places. The only shift lately is that I've also been much more active in social networking sites, specifically Twitter and Facebook.

Now, both Twitter and Facebook are essentially social networking systems. They are about forming and building connections between people, rather than publishing content. So, that shouldn't have an impact on my posts here.

The only thing I can think of is some kind of defusing effect that activity on social networking sites may have – I post there, and it satisfies the social component of posting here. Posting here doesn't affect posting there.

So, I'm starting to think about the relationship between social networking and blogging. They're definitely related, partially overlapping activities, but they also have their own subtle difference. Blogging is (for me) about personal knowledge management. Capturing the content and context of what I'm doing. Social networking is about context more than anything. Which looks at first blush to be purely banality. And yet, it affects me on a deeper level.

I was in Vancouver for an "eCOP" pathfinding meeting, and found that I flipped open the MacBookPro during breaks. What did I check first? It wasn't email. It wasn't my blog (or blog stats, or blog referrals). It was Twitter. I felt more connected to my distributed community of edubloggers (and others) because they're always there with me, no matter where I am. That's powerful stuff. Now, how to better make sense of that? Or does making sense of it suck the soul out of it?