Turning back the clockComments

In a kind of "end of chapter 1" post over at AltPlatform, Richard McManus has been able to articulate something that I've been going in circles around but never quite settling on.

"For me, blogging is primarily about connecting to other people around ideas and shared passions."

He goes on to say that he wanted to find a blogging community again.

I've mentioned the way blogging used to be a number of times over the past few months, the way conversations went back and forth between different blogs and bloggers but I didn't invoke the 'c' word: community!

I'm not exactly sure that's what it really is but I know where he's coming from and, in lieu of something better, it's as good a description as any.

Noise

He also points out that the indieweb principle of ownership can contribute to the problem of noise. If everything we do is posted on our own sites and syndicated out it can be a lot of information:

"I certainly don’t want a bunch of other peoples’ checkins clogging up my feed reader."

It's not, however, ownership that's the issue but the management of that which we own.

As I have written:

"Just as not everything needs to be pulled back to your own site does it all need to be pushed out and cross-posted as well?"

Taking possession of your tweets or check-ins or images is great, there's not a problem with that, but specific data types have their intended places; tweets belong on Twitter, check-ins on Swarm, etc. If one data type is cross-posted to a non-native destination it starts to lose its value and diminish the value of that destination.

This applies equally to our sites and feeds.

Own your data, yes, absolutely, but manage it properly and allow your visitors or subscribers to also manage it according to their needs. They should not have to struggle through a quagmire of tweets and check-ins just to reach a blog post.

Back to blogging

As I have made apparent in previous posts, and wholeheartedly agree with Richard, webmentions are the poster child of indieweb technology and are one aspect which can join myriad blogs into this quasi community he seeks.

His post title spells it out, he is "searching for an Open Web blogging model" but:

"the question is how to create a community around these Open Web developments, or at least feel like you’re contributing to the conversation, via blogging."

A set of tools is already there. I'd argue the real question is how to encourage its use when the social behemoths already make it so easy.

And that's why I like micro.blog but there's still such a long way to go.

We can talk all we want about ownership. We can preach about the untrustworthiness and potential demise of social networks taking our data with them to the grave, but billions of people demonstrate on a daily basis that this really isn't an issue for them.

It's like trying to turn back the clock but the world has moved on. Even a lot of old school, staunch bloggers have moved on.

Building that community is going to be hard.

Hard, but not impossible. I think it's a question of scale and expectations.

The old vs the new

We have an ideal way to link things together but support for webmentions is still very limited. Not only do we need to encourage more blogging but also encourage those bloggers to use a consistent means of communicating, whether that's webmentions or something else not created yet.

And we still need better means of discovery.

You can't feel like you're contributing to the conversation if no one knows who or where you are.

Blogrolls had a brief resurgence but that's all gone quiet. A number of people jokingly mentioned resurrecting webrings but are these stalwarts of the old web suited to the new?

Perhaps we need an entirely new model of discovery and consumption, one more suited to the modern, social web.

What form that takes, however, is beyond me.

Turning back the clock

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

Mulling Mark’s Manifesto

Reading Mark Zuckerberg's manifesto reminded me of something I wrote after watching his F8 keynote back in 2011:

"...watching Mark Zuckerberg talk about social is like watching Steve Jobs talk about Apple: the pied-piper plays his tune and we can’t help but follow (pun intended). There is an ultimate confidence in what is being presented."

There is an obvious total belief in what he says, and rightly so. There is a lot of truth to be taken from it but the cynic will have a hard time reconciling the vision and the current reality of Facebook with its over reliance on advertising.

How do we get from here to there?

Something I've said for years is that society is becoming more fragmented, not in this retreat from globalisation, but locally. Zuck states that there are "movements for withdrawing from global connection" but, even within these movements, there is no real consensus - just a feeling that the withdrawal should occur.

The 20th Century saw the nature of labour and our roles change. We previously worked locally to our homes meaning our colleagues were our neighbours. The local community was a true reflection of its members.

With modern ways of working and a shift in labour patterns we have separated the different aspects of our lives. We travel to work and spend 8 hours a day with our colleagues within a restricted social environment. When our shift ends we return home and, due to long days made ever longer by more distant commutes, spend increasingly less time with those beyond our households.

Local community no longer holds the same meaning or attraction as it once did.

Online shift

Over the past decade we have used technology and social tools to rekindle our social connections but are enamoured by the ability to have global conversations at the expense of local ones.

Zuckerberg mentions the 100 million Facebook users who are members of "very meaningful" groups but when you consider there are 1.8 billion users overall this is a tiny percentage.

We should not be surprised as this mirrors the change in society offline with people far less likely to be involved in community groups, religious groups, sports clubs, town associations etc. Our social fabric has been in decline for some time.

The move online, while an undoubted boon for some, has not been the panacea we hoped for. It has brought a small percentage together in meaningful ways but has actually been a contributory factor in pushing others apart.

The plan for Facebook to use AI to suggest groups that may be relevant to us is to be applauded but must be employed carefully and consistently.

Online vs offline

Mark talks about dealing with someone as a whole person in order to have a more productive conversation but this is unlikely to happen over a social network. The framework doesn't really exist to facilitate it.

This highlights the importance of meeting face-to-face; only by interacting on a regular basis across a range of experiences can we truly engage with a whole person.

Something people used to do a lot more often.

It is good to see this recognised:

"we can strengthen existing physical communities by helping people come together online as well as offline. In the same way connecting with friends online strengthens real relationships, developing this infrastructure will strengthen these communities"

This will be the real challenge. No matter how invested we are in our online communities if this engagement doesn't translate then how effective can it be?

Some will argue there is no distinction between online life and offline - it is all just aspects of life - but those who exist in this state are, again, in the minority.

For most the distinction between on and offline is real and severe; once the computer has been turned off or the phone put away life continues in ignorant isolation of whatever just happened beyond the screen.

We must ensure that our "very meaningful" groups have offline extensions and are so compelling, so useful, so supportive that we are compelled to seek them out.

Only by continuing these relationships on this side of the screen can we hope to rebuild a true social framework.

Responsibility

The biggest issue with the manifesto for most is that Facebook is run for the benefit of Facebook; it is a business after all.

If Zuckerberg Is desperate to support a rekindled social infrastructure then Facebook has to entertain a degree of social responsibility.

The site can no longer focus on keeping users present purely for its own purposes, to consistently expose you to more ads, but this conflicts with the current business model and may hurt the bottom line.

To meet the aims of the manifesto Facebook has to choose exactly what it wants to become and be truly for it's users. If it can get past this shift then it may succeed, but that very shift will be its biggest challenge yet.

Mulling Mark’s Manifesto

Trouble at Mill

The Spanish InquisitionI wanted to write something erudite and pithy about the current state of affairs at Medium; about the arguments and how one event has been blown up out of all proportion into a huge, festering mess.

I wanted to but couldn't find the words to demonstrate how exasperated the whole thing made me feel.

The accusations, the insults, the recriminations, the personal agendas; and that's all after the event in an ongoing diatribe which has, sadly, diluted the original argument. It seems like one of those occasions where people end up fighting on principle but forget why they started fighting in the first place.

A discussion about plagiarism and "fair use" quickly devolved into a challenge of journalistic integrity before diving headlong into accusations of sexism initiated by those who feel they are helping but only serve to inflame an already incendiary situation whilst adding extra layers to this rather pungent onion that were never there to begin with.

People are upset, perhaps rightly so. They feel wronged but would rather continue mud-flinging than accept an official policy decision as final. They feel entitled so, when that decision doesn't meet their expectations, they feel slighted, aggrieved.

Lines have been drawn and sides taken but this is no longer an us and them fight, it's now them and them and them as more factions wade into battle incensed by some fraction of an argument taken entirely out of context.

To quote the sketch which gives this post its title, Medium has recently been feeling like a mill where "one of the cross beams has gone out askew on the treddle."

Streams drowning in self-help posts allegedly surfaced by unfair algorithms have caused friction but arguments such as those currently blighting the service only exacerbate any perceived problems. Arguments that end up dividing and alienating the community which they claim to support. Arguments which are ultimately self-defeating. Arguments which drive others away from the that very community.

Any intelligent debate has long since descended into Pythonesque farce.

Medium, to its credit, has been willing to offer explanation and transparency, recognises the frustrations of its participants and seeks ongoing feedback.

I just bet they didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition.

Trouble at Mill