A forgotten anniversaryComments

I had envisaged that I would write something profound on the 1st December: the one year anniversary of me not posting to Twitter.

But I didn't.

I had completely forgotten it until reading Vincent Ritter's post about micro.blog in which he also mentions "quitting Twitter" in December last year:

"In December of last year, 2016, I decided to not post to Twitter anymore. Eventually taking an archive of all tweets and then deleting them from Twitter."

Unlike Vincent I didn't take an archive, just deleted everything and marked my account as private.

Boom, done!

But I haven’t abandoned Twitter completely - I occasionally use it to conduct searches about breaking news, traffic, football matches - and still can’t bring myself to delete my account.

I thought it was because I still considered it part of my online identity, having had a presence there for almost 11 years, but that’s actually not it at all.

I realised that the only reason I keep my account is because the mobile search experience when not logged in is so poor!

Twitter makes great stock of the numbers of tweets seen by those who aren’t logged in, maybe aren’t even users, viewing them embedded elsewhere on the web. Yet when visiting their own site in a mobile browser it is almost impossible to find anything useful.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever tweet again; I’m even less likely to reinstall their app.

Still, it has it’s place and I get what I need from it, when I need it, without having to get mired in the feed.

A forgotten anniversary

Self portraitsComments

I’ve been listening to a podcast conversation between James Shelley and Patrick Rhone in which they discuss Patrick’s decision to go ”nonline” - defined as:

”No longer found on, made available to, or primarily accessed or contacted through the Internet.”

It doesn’t equate to offline, which implies someone has disconnected completely, just that they won’t be leaving physical traces, such as tweets or blog posts, or engaging in online conversations. A “read only mode” is the great way it’s described.

Patrick explains how he misses the early days of social when status updates meant status updates, they were about what you were doing, where you were - even the clichéd “what you had for lunch” posts.

The argument is that these, as boring or banal as they might seem, are an insight into you as a person and what’s going on in your life. Not retweets of what someone else is doing or saying.

Interestingly, journalling has taken over for him - the analog equivalent of these old status updates - and I can see the obvious extension from one to the other.

Patrick talks of the importance of looking back in order to reflect and remember, something we don’t do on social networks and rarely do, in any proper sense, on blogs.

I always refer to my blog as an ongoing conversation with myself so am often referencing old posts but usually as evidence to back up what I’m currently thinking.

Is that always the most constructive thing?

What I have been doing, however, is going back through the write365 project posts 1 on a regular basis to see what I was saying as they were often intensely personal and reflected my state of mind at the time.

And I think it all ties in with my struggle over pen and paper - not just what I’m writing but how.

While flicking through some of those old posts (they were all written offline and saved to Dropbox) I came across one called “Self portraits” in which I wrote that we...

”are telling our stories day by day here on social networks. The difference is most don't actually realise what we are doing or understand the potential significance of it...”

”We paint a self portrait over the course of months, years...”

and that...

”Our self portraits can only be judged on the paint we have used, the brush strokes and techniques employed, the settings we have placed ourselves in and, ultimately, whether we have signed our work. So, what story do we want to tell? What impression do we want to give?”

Listening to James and Patrick immediately connected, reaffirming the idea that a big problem online is that we are frequently telling the wrong stories.

We can tell the stories we think other people want to hear. We can tell skewed stories as we are often not truly honest with ourselves. We tell other people’s stories rather than our own, without comment, without opinion.

What use are the wrong stories and are we doing ourselves a disservice by telling them?

It’s something I’ve been conscious of for some time but only recently decided to really take proper action on.

I’m tired of telling the wrong story.


  1. The write365 project was my take on writing something, anything, every day for a year. I aimed for an average of 300 words but with no restrictions on what it was about. This was conducted on Google Plus so is no longer available online as I deleted my account. 
Self portraits

On leavingComments

Jeff Mueller wrote some thoughts about the trouble with Twitter in which he explains how he's on hiatus (again) but can't bring himself to leave the network completely.

"I usually return because I miss my friends’ voices. They don’t congregate anywhere else. Leaving Twitter means leaving them. It means isolation. I’ve not even been away a week, and I already miss my friends."

He says he's met some good friends and clients there so what will he miss out on if he leaves completely, who won't he meet in future?

I get his point but liken it to leaving school when you're a kid because your family moves to a different area, or changing job.

Sometimes you've just got to move on.

You make new friends and explore new opportunities wherever you end up and can't live life on what ifs.

We say "stay in touch" but never do. Maybe we'll send a couple of emails back and forth but they soon dry up. Occasionally there will be those with whom the bond is strong and you stay connected no matter what but out of sight is, all too often, out of mind.

There have been people I've only spoken to on Twitter, Google Plus, Medium, some of whom I would have called good friends. But I don't talk to them any more since leaving each of the services.

A few emails and DMs were sent but soon stopped and I couldn't help but realise that the relationships only existed in the context of the services themselves.

But, just like the kid who melodramatically thinks their life is over if they have to move away from their friends, I've forgotten the heartbreak of leaving and dived into new environments and experiences.

The thought of leaving is much worse that the reality.

On leaving

Shrinking the circles

When I wrote about Dunbar's Number a few years ago I was approaching it from the perspective of someone who was firmly ensconced in the social world.

I argued that, while Dunbar's Number was repeatedly touted as evidence that we should focus on the quality of connections not quantity, our "friendships" on social networks did not reflect the type that Dunbar was talking about.

As such, his number did not directly relate to social networks.

More recently, however, I wrote:

”It's ironic that the more we are supposedly connected the more distant we become. Perhaps we are widening the circles of acquaintanceship too far.”

I didn't expand on this at the time, it was a bit of a throwaway comment, however I thought I needed to come back to it.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the circles of acquaintanceship are the social layers within which the degree of our relationships decreases with distance.

The first circle only five people: your spouse and other closest family member and, perhaps, your best friend or two. They form your inner circle, those who you know most about.

The next circle contains fifteen people: maybe some of your wider family and more friends but who aren’t in your immediate circle of trust.

Next come circles of 50 and 150 with the intimacy of the relationships reducing as the circles expand.

And so on, as I wrote before:

”This logic extends beyond the limits of Dunbar’s number and it has been suggested that circles of acquaintanceship continue to 500, 1500 and beyond. Coincidentally, 1500 is apparently the number of faces we can easily recognise.”

But Dunbar’s Number was originally designed to apply to communities, villages, tribes. The online environment, however, is radically different hence the argument that Dunbar’s Number doesn’t apply here because the relationships we have are usually much more distant those offline.

Facebook limits users to 5000 friends and arguments exist over whether this is just an arbitrary number.

I’ve remarked in the past that Facebook, more than any other social media property, is firmly based in network science so maybe it’s no coincidence that 5000 would be the next circle of acquaintanceship after 1500.

So, whether you believe that it was a deliberate figure or necessitated by scaling issues, it was an interesting decision. One much to the annoyance of some popular folks who easily hit that limit, necessitating that Facebook had to add unilateral following alongside reciprocal friending.

For once, here, I find myself commending Facebook on a decision.

Perhaps the problems with social networks are due to playing the numbers game: more friends, more likes, more everything. Because of this we lose focus, lose the connections with others amongst the flow of data.

Dunbar may not apply directly but we should be taking the same approach with how many connections we have.

We are trying to cast the net too wide.

Shrinking the circles

Making the darkness conscious

I read this article arguing that Facebook should be regulated in the same way AIM was when the ill-fated AOL & Time Warner merger happened.

AOL was forced to open up the relationship data between individuals in AIM to allow third parties to interop. You could finally use your social graph in other apps.

This was all years before the major social networks we know today were even considered, let alone became the force they are now. The term 'social graph' wasn't even in anyone's vocabulary.

This was and is a big thing for the open web - it's not just the data that should be your own, transferable between different systems, but also your relationships. How two people converse on the web should not be solely controlled by a single company.

It instantly reminded me of a post I wrote back in August 2010 when I asked "are social platforms the next Microsoft?"

Microsoft was criticised and, eventually, censured for abusing its monopolistic position and forced to allow other browsers the same access to Windows as Internet Explorer while offering users an immediate choice of which one they used.

I wrote that Facebook and Twitter were acting like Microsoft of old, abusing their position and (effectively and literally) stealing the ideas of smaller startups who were unable to compete.

As such I wondered if this could put them at risk of censure themselves.

Fast forward seven years and they are still at it, especially Facebook which has made a not so subtle point of copying everything that Snapchat pioneered while amassing over 2 billion monthly users.

It's as though the reach and impact of social networks has been grossly underestimated; surely, those silly online services are nothing more than time sinks?

Wrong!

But it's only now that those pesky Russians are implicated that the need for some kind of regulation is being taken seriously. Maybe the Cold War never really end - it just moved online.

We've seen time and again that social networks can be dangerous places with equally dangerous degrees of influence.

Facebook has a de facto monopoly with a wider reach than any media company, no, any company in history. Connecting the world is theoretically a good thing but divisions will always exist - trying to force a utopian ideal upon everyone ignores those divisions and only causes resentment and an eventual explosive backlash when that resentment can no longer be contained.

As Carl Gustav Jung wrote:

"One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious."

We have to recognise and experience both sides in order to rationalise the whole.

Facebook and Twitter have been too reactionary: only acknowledging a problem after having it repeatedly pointed out to them. Then, of course, the issue becomes a priority with the promise of more hires to police it and the best minds to come up with a solution.

But then something else becomes a problem - subsequently a priority - and, before you know it, this "crack task force" is allegedly working on three, four, five issues with little evidence that any are actually being resolved to any degree of satisfaction.

To not realise, or blatantly ignore, that these systems which can be incredible forces for good can also be remarkably destructive is irresponsible, if not negligent, especially so as the warning signs have been obvious, and repeatedly pointed out, for years.

But Jung's quote above concludes with:

"The later procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular."

With this in mind, perhaps it's unsurprising that regulation has not yet occurred.

Making the darkness conscious

Pondering Doc Searls’ Thoughts about bloggingComments

John shared a post by Doc Searls from back in February that I had missed - Doc blogs in a couple of different places and this was one I didn't have in my feed reader.

In it Doc shares his thoughts about blogging now in contrast with how it used to be at the "dawn of blogging's golden age."

A couple of points really connected with me.

Firstly, he remarks that this "age" "seems to have come and gone: not away, but... somewhere."

I'm not sure if that's wishful thinking or an allusion to a recent rekindling in old school blogging, people trying to get back to how they used to write and interact, having got temporarily lost in the social age.

This leads to the next point which struck home:

"We lost something big when Twitter and Facebook replaced blogging for many bloggers. The biggest loss was readership."

He goes on:

"I had a very strong sense of connection with those readers, and that's gone now."

This is exactly how I feel the landscape has changed, and as I've mentioned before. The chances were that much of our readership also used to be bloggers so the author/reader relationship was widely reciprocated.

Even those that weren't bloggers used to be heavily engaged, regular commenters who would leave substantial replies to posts. It was common to say that the comment sections on blogs were just as, if not more, valuable than the posts themselves.

Such was the care, thought and consideration put into them.

You felt like you knew your readers and those bloggers, in turn, that you were a reader of.

But social killed much of that.

Social platforms claim to be powered by engagement but it's the wrong kind of engagement, the minimum social actions which are more advertisements for presence and "me too" curation fodder showing off the supposed breadth of someone's reading.

It's ironic that the more we are supposedly connected the more distant we become. Perhaps we are widening the circles of acquaintanceship too far.

We used to focus on our comment sections and those of a select number of blogs we subscribed to, and the intimacy we experienced with our core contributors gave a real sense of community.

That feeling is often replicated in the early days of new platforms and services when user numbers are low and you would see the same names and avatars all the time. Think Twitter, FriendFeed, Buzz, Google+ - even though it was called a wasteland the initial sense of community was amazing.

Each had that "new frontier" aesthetic for their devotees; the untamed badlands to be shaped in our image until they, the great unwashed, discovered it and suddenly the quaint little settlement, where everybody knew everyone else, became full of noise and traffic and strangers.

You can't argue when Doc says that it's "harder to blog when there is very little sense of connection anywhere outside of tweets and retweets, which all have the permanence of snow falling on water."

Such a powerful statement.

But I keep coming back to the notion that the golden age has not gone away, but... somewhere!

Where exactly? Doc says he's "not sure yet" but I think he's got an inkling which is why he phrases it in such a way.

Here's what I think:

The where is with those like himself who, despite it all, kept posting to their blogs even if the engagement wasn't there because it was what they understood and believed in.

It's with the backlash against the new tribalism of social networks, the desire to return to proper conversations rather than playground name calling and increasingly dangerous rhetoric.

It's with those who strive for an open, connected web allowing people to express themselves outside the walls and control of silos and corporate control.

There are pockets of "where" spread across the web - we just need to find them.

Pondering Doc Searls’ Thoughts about blogging

The confusion about the indiewebComments

Alex Kearney wrote about her first two years of indieweb. It makes for a very interesting read.

One thing that really came through was the confusion people feel when looking to "join the #indieweb" - it illustrates a common misconception that sites have to implement every bit of technology going.

Dave Winer said in a blog post that the indieweb community "chose such an inclusive name, but have an exclusive approach" giving RSS as an example, arguing that this established web technology has been ignored.

He obviously has a vested interest because RSS is his baby; I also thought some of his initial comments about JSON Feed were particularly harsh.

Such a comment understandably hasn't gone down too well in some quarters and there is a sense of defensiveness. But there is also a move for the community to look at itself, especially the wiki, in order to identify why these confusions and misconceptions arise.

When new technology is introduced it threatens the status quo whether it intends to or not.

Incumbents can reject 'new' because the status quo is how they've always done things and see no reason to change.

Conversely, the inventors of 'new' will have done so because the status quo doesn't meet their needs or they feel there is a better way.

It's a tricky situation but doesn't need to be either/or.

It's not all about the tech

At its core the indieweb has a set of principles such as owning your data, building tools for yourself and dogfooding them on your own site. The principles even state that user experience design is more important than protocols.

I wrote recently that the indieweb:

"promotes and relies on the open web but recognises that the closed web exists, plays a large part of people’s lives, and tries to integrate with it"

So much of what is discussed and developed as part of the movement relates not to the replacement of social networks and data silos but the integration with them whilst retaining ownership.

That doesn't sound very exclusive to me.

The problem, however, goes back to the perception that the indieweb is effectively insular because of the knowledge required to implement all the various technical elements. Plugins can only take you so far.

The community wrestles with the self-realised existential crisis that it is, currently, a developer community not a user community.

What to implement?

Look back at the principles above.

Okay, they talk about building tools but put the emphasis on the experience before protocols.

For me the indieweb is an idea, a way of doing things rather than the specific technology used to achieve it.

When examining how to establish the number of indieweb properties that existed it was suggested you could:

"consider a page part of the IndieWeb if it has a microformats2 class or advertizes a webmention or micropub endpoint."

This is looking at it from a technical perspective - an obvious indication that the page or site has implemented some form of identifiable indieweb technology. Not all are required, just one.

Yet there is still a problem, and that is the apparent insistence on the implementation of specific technologies as implied by the guides and documentation.

So much for design over protocols.

It is entirely possible for a site to be considered part of the indieweb and conform to its principles without any of these elements being present.

Stepping back

Just as the likes of Winer can seem too close to an established technology so proponents of a new way can be too focused.

Perhaps this is because many of the indieweb developers have been involved for a number of years and, psychologically, moved beyond the initial stages. They can see the destination and are driving full speed to get there.

Perhaps the principles become obscured by the need to get the tools ready for the next generation but they haven't even begun the journey so see completely different scenery.

In the drive to create systems that are simple enough for anyone to use (and we are nowhere near that stage) the how has become more important than the why.

Fortunately, the community already acknowledges the need to step back and view things from a user's perspective rather than that of a developer.

The confusion about the indieweb

Feedback loops

Communities are often accused of being feedback loops. We naturally gravitate towards things, ideas, people that support or confirm our opinions.

Filter bubbles are blamed for divisions in opinion and society, just look at what happened during the US election and the run up to Brexit.

Being a Google property, Google Plus has long been considered a hotbed of anti-Apple (or, at least, anti-iOS) rhetoric where Android can do no wrong.

It's only natural.

Highly engaged and devoted Google Plus users are far more likely to have Android phones and people get very passionate about their platform of choice.

For some reason I clicked on the link to see the all time most popular posts on my blog. The top three posts, and by some margin, all had something in common:

  • they were all about Google Plus, and
  • they were all shared on Google Plus

Communities just love reading and talking about themselves and the platforms they run on.

All social networks go through a "meta" stage when the biggest topic of conversation is the network itself. We expect this while everyone gets used to a new way of doing things and deciding, as a collective, if that way is adequate or can be improved.

But my example above really brought home just how self-reinforcing these things can be. For these three posts to be the most "popular" purely because of a loop effect is... Worrying? Disappointing?

I'm not exactly sure of the emotion or the words I need to describe it, but I know that it's not the way things should be.

Feedback loops

What’s in a name?

I have been wondering recently if the name of this blog, Social Thoughts, is still relevant or valid.

When talking about 'social' in the context of the web we are normally referring to social networks - the mainstream players like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - but I haven't been writing about them very much lately.

But then I remind myself that being social on the web is far more than engaging on these networks or silos.

Being social online predates the web, just go back to bulletin boards where people came together in one place because of a mutual interest or purpose, communicating and sharing over impossibly slow dial-up connections.

Then we had forums and chat providing a multitude of ways for people to connect. They were actually the social networks of their day - predominantly enclosed "spaces" with specific rules and access requirements.

And then came blogging.

Eli took my framing of the subject to be that "the indieweb is more social network-y than the big-name social networks because those are each self contained" - and outside them the network is more, perhaps, genuine. Maybe he's right.

Maybe it's just that the openness grants us certain affordances that the more self-contained networks never could.

But what of social thoughts?

Originally this was just meant to mean my thoughts on social - simple and clean. Over time, however, it has taken on a new dimension.

Our thoughts are our most private of things; in internet parlance they are like the posts of a single member in their own silo - inaccessible to others.

A lot of them we wouldn't want to share, and rightly so, but it's no fun only playing in your own sandbox, and we are inherently social animals. We want some of our thoughts and ideas out there, we want them exposed to an audience.

And that's where social comes in.

Just look at the etymology of the word: social is derived from the Latin socialis and socius meaning ally, friend, companion. By sharing our thoughts we are seeking discourse with our intellectual allies, those with similar beliefs and ideals, those who can appreciate or build on them.

We seek to become part of something, whether as the seed or the gardener, looking to grow our thoughts and ideas into something useful, meaningful.

So, while I may not frequently write about, or now even engage on, social networks I am being inherently and deliberately social.

The name still applies, albeit in a different way.

What’s in a name?

Taking on the networksComments

While listening to the audio from a presentation by Tantek Çelik in 2014 (video on YouTube) I was struck by his contrasting the experiences offered by social networks and blogs/RSS readers.

He argues the most pivotal reason that social networks took over the web was they had "an integrated posting and reading interface" where you could see what everyone else was doing and instantly reply or add your own updates in situ.

But if you were reading blogs you would "go over to your feed reader, you'd read your feeds ... and then you go to a completely different interface ... to write a blog post."

Bang! Like a sledgehammer to the head.

It seems so obvious, too obvious, that we don't really see it until it's pointed out.

In situ!

The process we go through to read and write on the web is ridiculously disjointed and has been for too long.

Convergence

It's only now, in 2017, that something like Micro.blog is trying to blur the lines - there is the combined reading and posting interface but the content is hosted on your (micro)blog so you are reading other people's blogs and instantly replying or posting on your own.

It's a start but it's still not there. It's only for microblogs and only for those people actually on the service.

He goes on, however, to say that the silos are running out of ideas but here we are nearly three years later and the position is, sadly, even more entrenched with Facebook rapidly approaching two billion users.

That's over a quarter of the world's population.

Crazy!

The #indieweb movement takes us a little further by allowing us to interact with other "full" blogs from our own but we still have to go to one location to read, get the link for that then return to wherever it is that we write in order to respond.

Integrated

Why didn't the open web grow in the same manner and why, three years later, are we still asking the same questions? Tantek talks about learning from the silos and applying some of their best features to personal sites but it is scratching the surface.

Hearing him talk about integrated interfaces, my initial reaction was a combined feed reader/blogging environment.

It is becoming increasingly popular for enthusiasts to host their own web-based RSS readers so, surely it is a logical step to integrate this with your blog.

If you are able to read other's posts without your own environment then any action you take on them, like with Micro.blog, could be instantly posted to your blog and distributed from there.

Likes, mentions, replies, RSVPs, any type of webmention or length of posting could happen from within the reading interface - all from your own property.

Some people use browser extensions or bookmarklets to take certain actions directly from the source page, rather than returning to their own, but this is still only one part of a solution.

The Browser

Jonathan LaCour pointed me towards some thoughts he had written on the subject but I wanted to get my own down before reading his post.

He makes a number of similar points to those above but states that the browser itself is an ideal vehicle for uniting the consumption and creation experiences as they are the delivery mechanism.

I would argue that we would be better served by our own hosted solutions as we could then access them from any browser regardless of whether it was capable or personally configured.

Still, as he says, the building blocks are all there; it just needs someone to put them all together.

Taking on the networks

To syndicate or noComments

Realising that I had not cross-posted a few of my recent items to Medium got me thinking.

After mentioning that I was not reading much there either I find it curious that there should be such a change in my online behaviour in so short a space of time.

This wasn't a deliberate act, I forgot to change the options on the Medium plugin for these posts, but I still don't feel compelled to go back and do it.

Although POSSEing your content to other places isn't a requirement for having an #Indieweb property they generally go hand in hand.

Most people will still engage on the same services they have been using, or reply to other people's posts, but just make sure that they are putting the original items on their own site.

It can, therefore, be surprising when someone says they won't be syndicating their posts.

Returning to the subject of display and distribution, however, not syndicating your content - or, at least, not syndicating all of it - makes a good degree of sense.

If distribution or syndication doesn't work then don't do it, simple. Keep things where they are, where they look how they should, within the context in which they were created.

Some content types work well when distributed so, if it's not a chore to do it, why not? Use these as the bait to the blogging hook.

Hand in hand with data ownership we should be leading by example to encourage more direct site visits rather than viewing via a third party service.

To syndicate or no

The gap between the extremesComments

Dave Winer's post "I want my old blog back" throws up some interesting questions.

He discusses how his blog used to look before succumbing to the lure of Twitter which became the de facto home of short status-like posts for many of us.

With the launch of Micro.blog, especially the self-hosting option, we can reclaim the micropost for our own and, should we desire, list them right alongside our long form pieces.

But there are problems.

As Dave says: "everything needed a title to make Google Reader happy"

I enjoyed using Google Reader and was sad to see it shut down but, while it did a lot to popularise RSS and therefore consumption of blogs, it also did its fair share of harm.

Insistence on post titles among that.

Manton Reece, creator of Micro.blog, continues this complaint. The service wants your self-hosted micropost RSS feed to not have individual item titles (my custom feed doesn't even include the field) although it will treat just the date as though it were an empty title.

Status updates on Twitter and Facebook don't have titles, they don't need them. By not wanting titles in feeds powering Micro.blog Manton hopes to force more RSS readers to properly support them rather than duplicating the content.

It is not a difficult concept but most RSS readers have taken their lead directly from Google Reader and insist on titles.

Things need to be more flexible.

The middle ground

But it's not just microposts that suffer. As Dave continues:

There was a gap, items that were longer than 140, or had multiple links, but were too short to get a title. There was no place for them.

And he's absolutely right.

While blog themes will generally hide titles for status posts (if they have them) there is nothing to cater for the middle ground, those posts in-between. Admittedly, we can do what we like on our blogs using custom themes and CSS but the problem lies not locally but in the distribution and syndication.

The obsession with titles is a limiting factor but one we know is unnecessary due to our addiction to status updates on social networks.

We could put these posts on Facebook but why should we when the idea is to get everything all together on our own sites.

In its attempts to be more social, treating replies as new posts, Medium allows you to publish without titles yet still insists on using the first line as one.

How else?

Is it just logistics? After all, we need a way to reference these posts so how do we do it without a title of some description?

Do we need a better way of displaying and distributing this type of content?

The gap between the extremes

Ownership and control: how much do we really have?Comments

The ideals behind the #indieweb and, to an extent, Micro.blog are about ownership and control: you own your content, not the network, not the platform, not a silo.

But let me play devil's advocate for a moment.

I wrote back in 2010 that the real social currency is relationships. Not likes, not retweets, not the number of followers but the actual relationships we have with them.

It is the relationships between people, relationships between us and our interests, relationships between data points and their intersections.

Big data.

The value of a social platform lies within its graphs, social and interest, the connections between its users, what they like and how that relates to others. Trends, patterns, spikes, correlations - everything that makes the data useful.

Who owns what?

What do we mean by ownership? Do we associate it with having control over our data or just mean having a copy of everything we post should the services we use disappear?

If it's the former we are deluding ourselves.

Even though we may hold the original version of our posts or photos, and even hold the keys to our base online identity, how much control do we actually have?

As soon as we pass our data to platforms or silos, as soon as we express our interests and connect with others we are handing control of so much more than our posts to those platforms.

Ownership extends far beyond the items themselves to the relationships and data points surrounding them as there is no way for us to own that.

Should we also be asking how much of this we need to own?

Do we need to hold every post, or reply? Is there really value in retaining everything? Or, is it merely our vanity?

Control

We claim to be taking back control from the silos but, if we cross-post in the name of distribution, they still have the power to mine our data (of which we freely hand them a copy) and use it for their own ends.

Unless we keep all our data within a silo of our own we will never have full ownership and total control but that flies in the face of the interactivity the indieweb movement tries to promote.

Ownership and control: how much do we really have?

The duality of microbloggingComments

Further to the points I made in "Self-hosted microblogging - where does it fit?" I've been having more thoughts on how best to use Micro.blog and fit it into my own online ecosystem.

As I carry my microposts on my own blog I opted not to use the two free months hosting reward from the Kickstarter campaign - although that is still an option I could exercise later - it was the different approach of being self-hosted that really interested me more than just the social networking side.

There is a duality to the service between hosted accounts and self-hosted that impacts what I do psychologically and introduces a second, virtual duality.

There are two approaches to data publishing and use as discussed on the #indieweb site:

  • POSSE, Post (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere
  • PESOS, Post Elsewhere, Syndicate (on your) own site

The self-hosted side of Micro.blog takes items from your own site and publishes them to the network (POSSE) but using the iOS app makes it feel like a PESOS environment where you post to the network and it then feeds back to your own site.

There is an element of cognitive dissonance and takes a bit of getting used to.

The actual process is that the iOS app posts to your site using XMLRPC or micropub (depending on the type of site) which then pings the Micro.blog servers letting them know a new post is available. Micro.blog then pulls in that new post via your sites RSS feed.

Except for replies - which are held solely on the server (at least for now) which I feel is right, having written:

"Webmentions may provide reply notification to your blog but the conversation itself is purely, and should be, a social construct thanks to the context of its creation."

Holding back

Another duality exists in the nature of microblog posts which comes back to where you post influencing what you post.

Using the app with full view of the timeline is more likely to encourage social or conversational entries as opposed to posting off-network. It's an interesting challenge to maintain consistency even though everything is effectively coming from your own property.

For someone who backed the service and is, therefore, a de facto beta tester I'm not posting anywhere near as much as I could or should be.

I find myself resisting the urge to post so as not to have platitudes or socially oriented posts fed back to the blog. Context, in this regard, has a lot to answer for!

It's very much in my head and I need to either get over it or come up with a way around it.

I could just accept that I won't be posting directly to the service very much or separate the microblog from the long form posts. I like the juxtaposition of different post types, however, so think removing them from the main flow would be a loss.

It's going to take some time to settle on a compromise.

The duality of microblogging

Valuing the right things

Chris Aldridge queried my current approach in making the blog an #Indieweb property but telling people to reply on Medium - it's anathema to the ethos of ownership.

My response was that the blog is in transition, moving from one phase to another.

And I think a lot of the confusion is down to value: what is the value associated with what we do on the web? It's not always obvious, not the same for everyone, and not even the same for the same person at different times.

Stats and reach vs ownership and control.

When I first started blogging properly in 2003 I had total control, total ownership, and a static IP address from my ISP meant it was easy to self host at home.

I had the blog on SharePoint running on a server sat in my dining room. All my email was handled by my own Exchange Server - again at home - the MX records pointing to my static IP.

Although I had total and full control I didn't really value it; I was doing it because it was the geeky thing to do. I valued the nerd-factor.

I learnt quite a lot though.

When SharePoint was no longer a viable blogging platform (was it really ever?) I moved to WordPress. My wife had been trying to get me to switch for a while but I had been so invested in my own setup and mistook the value in what I had done technically for what mattered.

At that point the value was actually in having a modern, purpose built blogging platform.

Blogging was (and largely still is) a numbers game and a few lucky people became six figure bloggers - they were there at the beginning and seized an opportunity to turn it into a meta business - making money blogging about making money from blogging.

Then the rise of social meant that numbers were more important than ever. Reach, influence, followers, all these things were purely about increasing the what and bypassing the why.

We got sucked in.

When social really started catching on around 2008 I became involved in a lot of very interesting conversations and my "online stock" was reasonably high in certain circles. But everything I wrote about and stood for was predicated on promoting the mainstream adoption of social.

Guess what? Social got adopted, and how! I became lost and didn't know where to take what I was doing.

People drifted away, moved on to the next thing, while the conversation moved from blogs to social networks.

Rather than realise the value of what I had I lamented what I had lost so the drive behind what I was doing changed. I placed more value on the audience than control, first with Google Plus and then (to a lesser degree) with Medium.

That's not to say there isn't value in those places but the relative value is so individual that we can't discount things completely.

In an attempt to recreate the audience I got away from what made blogging special and I'm not too proud to admit it. This realisation was key to understanding what I should be appreciating.

It's taken me a while to get here but I'm glad I've arrived.

Valuing the right things

Who am I? Who does the web think I am?Comments

One of the biggest issues facing us on the web is identity. Who are we or, perhaps more accurately, who does the web think we are?

We have become an amalgam of usernames, email addresses and profiles, and who we appear to be depends on which instance is being viewed.

You may say that this is no different to offline life where we are "different people" when interacting with family, friends or work colleagues - and you'd be right. But, even against this backdrop, we have our birth certificate, driving license and passport: officially sanctioned ways to say "this is me."

We need this for the web.

Half way house?

I'll admit I am conflicted about different aspects of the #Indieweb like comments, replies and other cross-site actions.

When relaunching the blog last year I deliberately removed all commenting functionality as I didn't want the hassle of handling them at my own site. I did have to re-add a simple comment loop to account for webmentions (how Micro.blog will let you know if replies to posts) but still don't really want to go beyond that in order to support additional elements.

Without the various cross-site actions is it a bit pointless going the #Indieweb route if I'm not all in?

I don't believe so and here's why.

The most important aspect of the Indieweb is owning your identity, your proper identity as mentioned above. Everything else stems from that. And, the most stable way of creating an identity is by owning your own domain and all that's connected to it.

Owning your content is a key part of this but that is not entirely possible without your own site.

Controlling who you are and having a fixed identity (not one framed in the context of a social network) is liberating.

Being able to sign in as you on another web property - literally as your domain - rather than as an external and fragmented instance of you, e.g. your Twitter account, is fundamental to what the Indieweb is all about.

We may be able to associate our domain based identity with these external aspects of ourselves by way of rel="me" links but, what if everywhere allowed you to sign in with a single account.

Truly you

What if you were truly you on Twitter or Facebook, if accounts on disparate services were actually all the same identity. Everything related back to a single point. Your single point.

No confusion, no ambiguity.

It won't happen as these silos want to control this identity, have it feed back and work for them.

So, we should support those services that, in turn, support this ideal. Beyond that, we can always dream.

Who am I? Who does the web think I am?

Suffering from consumption

Before we knew the cause of pulmonary tuberculosis it was referred to, rather generically, as consumption - a term that has it roots as far back as Hippocrates around 460 BC.

The disease would literally appear to "consume" the body with a sufferer's weight crashing as the illness took hold.

Now we are the consumers, our voracious appetites barely whetted by the media streams flowing past our eyes.

But the weight of content is not diminished by our efforts no matter how much we consume. We are addicted and can't get enough despite the never ending glut.

So we still suffer from consumption.

We are consumed by our insatiable need while our focus and attention wither rather than our bodies. Not content with what's on offer at the table we cross the streams, pulling bite-sized morsels from an array of feasts.

None is a hearty meal and we are not sated by such snacking leading us to an ever widening search.

We cannot keep picking - we should be picky.

We must exercise self discipline.

We will only find what we need when we resist the temptation of these tiny treats and opt for something more substantial.

Suffering from consumption

Self-hosted microblogging, where does it fit?

With the official rollout announcement of Micro.blog to Kickstarter backers I find myself thinking about exactly how I'm going to use it and what impact it may have on my current activity.

It also brings back to mind the issues related to cross-posting I previously considered.

Micro.blog is a social platform, there's no getting away from it and more on this later, but one where users have the option to own their content - at least their original posts as opposed to replies they might make directly on the service.

The self-hosting of microposts creates a multi-layered environment where intent and purpose are key. New posts will originate from your own blog (syndicated into the social feed) or from within a client application (then posted back to your own property) and I can see where you post influencing what you post.

Conversations become something separate, their own thing held entirely within the social platform. Webmentions may provide reply notification to your blog but the conversation itself is purely, and should be, a social construct thanks to the context of its creation.

Audiences

By self-hosting microposts they are already being cross-posted which gives a duality to the content and, perhaps, a distinct separation between intended audiences.

I have fully embraced microblogging as another means of posting to my blog, and will continue to do so even if Micro.blog closes or I decide to stop using it. This extra layer, however, makes me think about these different audiences and how the different types of post are exposed to them.

As a social channel also becomes a distribution channel I wonder (and worry) about the duplication of content and exactly how connected, or separate, the blog and microblog should actually be.

A visitor to the blog will see all post types but a follower on the social platform needs the link shared for a full post in order for it to be visible. This, however, creates that duplication for the direct visitor.

There is already a division of sorts in that the main RSS feed does not include the short form items but should this extend to the site itself?

A first world problem if ever there was one but one that, I feel, deserves at least passing attention to preserve the experience of each audience.

Engage

For a blogger, like myself, the intent is usually to merge these audiences wherever possible, converting followers into readers.

But this will only happen with a subset of the former.

Any conversion from follower to regular reader, however small, relies on engagement within the social environment.

Despite my recent dissatisfaction with social networks I see Micro.blog as an opportunity to begin again and define an environment that is more conducive to sensible, tolerant discussion.

The ownership and enhanced proximity to our words (because they are also held on our own sites) combined with the "safety first" approach to community management means that this should become an environment we want to engage with rather than just a self-promotional link dump.

If that was the only reason to use it then we might as well stick with Twitter.

Self-hosted microblogging, where does it fit?

Federated, decentralised or distributed

As is so often the case, especially when Twitter appears to be struggling, another social network takes its turn as media darling and "saviour" of microblogging.

Currently, that dubious honour falls to Mastodon but, this time, there is a difference.

And I don't mean in a good way.

There is a curious duality happening with Mastodon, even within the same articles: although it is described as federated or decentralised it is still discussed as though it is a single network.

It is discussed as though a distributed network, as if it is a singular thing Well, it is but that thing is a platform not a network.

You only have to look at the language being used, and the apparent misunderstanding of it, to realise there are problems.

Models

We need to look at the traditional definitions of various terms to see what is going on.

Firstly, a distributed system is one where components on networked computers communicate and interact with each other in order to achieve a common goal.

The term federated usually relates to local governments or organisations where they are "formed into a single centralised unit, within which each state or organisation keeps some internal autonomy."

Decentralised means "withdrawn from a centre or place of concentration; especially having power or function dispersed from a central location to local authorities."

On the face of it, a federated or decentralised network should be fine but when working in a way that is really distributed - network nodes rather than instances.

The problem Mastodon is experiencing, however, is that it is a loose federation - individual instances choose those they want to be federated with or which ones they will permit to federate with them.

While there may be connections between instances there is no guarantee that any given instance will be connected to another or even that existing connections will remain.

Together but separate

The root of the issue stems from instance autonomy: because they hold individual power and set their own terms, their goals and purposes are not aligned.

Rather than being elements of a larger whole they are a series of independent networks that just happen to use the same software and can, should their owners wish it, talk to each other.

Even the very term "instance" seems to be misconstrued, used synonymously with node when it should be interpreted as "self contained network."

An oft touted benefit of federation is that if a particular instance goes down you can move to another but you are only you on a single instance. Moving to another actually requires starting all over again.

Distributed identity is a major issue.

While you can be mentioned between instances their federation state (and with others) reduces the value of conversations as there is no reliable, shared public timeline.

For the best experience you must ensure you are on the same node as those you want to talk to in which case you instantly lose the benefits of federation and might as well be back on a centralised service like Twitter.

For all the benefits of being built upon established, open protocols the Mastodon group of networks suffers by being a disorganised jumble of confusing names, agendas and individual usage agreements.

This is, of course, assuming we want it to act like Twitter.

Most signing up would probably say yes.

Scale

Is it possible to run a federated network and have it function at scale? If we are judging it according to literal definitions then probably not.

Instances need to act more like nodes in the wider network offering redundancy, guaranteed connection and consistent identity.

Is that decentralised or distributed?

The spread of function and power between nodes is key. Any disparity and decentralised starts becoming federated with all its inherent issues.

Do we really need a network to scale? Unless it is a specialised, niche network then yes.

Metcalfe's Law tells us that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users so a generalised, all purpose network relies on increasing its userbase. Twitter's apparent inability to do this is what got everybody spooked and looking for alternatives should the worst happen.

Federated, decentralised or distributed

Putting an end to minimum social actionsComments

We love social media for the quick-fire dopamine hits it gives us although we know they are largely worthless.

We just don't want to admit it.

Likes, hearts, +1s, retweets, re-blogs, however we receive these "plaudits", they are the minimum viable social action: completely disposable and, in most cases, reliant on no other interaction to initiate.

When someone shares a link we can like or spread it without clicking, without knowing what it contains or what we are associating ourselves with.

But that is exactly what we are doing.

We are aligning ourselves with the unknown. Let that sink in for a moment.

Although many say in their bios that a retweet or re-share does not constitute agreement or support, unless they explicitly state that for each instance, the assumption is made and they are personally linked to that content.

It amazes me how many do it without considering or even realising the reputational damage it could do.

And, while, as the sharer, it's nice to get the "support" it is hollow.

Need for change

One thing I particularly like about the new Member's homepage on Medium is that there is not a single heart icon to be seen anywhere.

While it might seem like a small thing, and sound like a stats junky's idea of Dante's seventh circle of hell, this is actually quite a major deal.

At least it is for me.

One thing I used to enjoy with Google+ was that there was no automation, no way to cross-post from another network.

Every post or share had to be an explicit, considered action. What you chose to do with it was up to you.

So, why is having no hearts on the Medium homepage such a big deal?

It tries to reassert the notion of value, which is what the whole membership drive is trying to generate.

Items can't be recommended straight from the "feed" without at least being opened. What happens next is, again, up to the individual but the implication is that to recommend an item it has to be worth something.

The time must be invested to determine that worth.

Slow down

What if other social properties adopted a similar approach? What if Twitter insisted you followed a shared link before allowing you to like it or retweet? What about Facebook?

What if social networks actually made you slow down and think about what you were doing, what you were "agreeing to" and the implications that might have?

I'm not suggesting it would fix the problems we currently have but it could make a difference. The spread of abuse and misinformation could be slowed by the introduction of friction into the process. Bots solely used for trolling could potentially be silenced.

Okay, so people might get fewer likes but those they did get would be more sincere, more meaningful and that is a far better metric than numbers alone.

But it won't happen.

Networks rely on the feed's relentless pace to generate the rush that keeps people coming back.

Sanity always loses in a numbers game.

Putting an end to minimum social actions