Dave makes an interest point:

"More people are blogging. That's really cool. Now one thing to make sure of is that people can easily find out who you are from each of your posts. Simple things like your name. Sometimes hard to determine."

I deliberately don't put my details anywhere on the blog for two reasons:

  1. I like the minimal look and want to keep it as clean as possible, and
  2. as an introvert I've never been that good at self-promotion

Quite ironic, I've been told in the past, for someone whose URL is his name.

A big part of the #indieweb is the 'h-card' - markup designed to easily identify the author of a page or post - which underpins interactions between sites.

I have two versions of my h-card on the blog: a full one on the home page, and a partial one enclosed within a post, but they are both hidden. They can be found by indieweb technologies on other sites but are invisible to visitors.

Why?

I suppose ive always relied on the URL as an identifier but, with browsers increasingly de-emphasising addresses, is it enough?

I don't even have an About page.

With the Now page I outline what I'm doing but there is no indication of who is doing it, and with the webmention directory, I am instead drawing attention to others.

Maybe I need to rethink things.

Status

Indieweb adoption – how does a new way spread?Comments

A conversation cropped up in the #indieweb slack about how wide its adoption currently was. It surprised me to learn that there were, at most, around 10,000 sites that could currently be described as indieweb properties.

While Micro.blog supports indieweb technologies (so will technically boost those numbers as it grows) it was wondered if its members were "all 'actively' seeking out an indieweb presence" and whether this actually mattered.

Does having it but not understanding make a difference?

Of course not.

Everyone uses the web and email without having a clue about how they work, about the protocols behind them or the RFCs these protocols originated in.

People don't need to know and the indieweb will be no different.

An understanding is currently required solely because it's the only way to get it set up: implementing it yourself, either completely manually or in conjunction with a selection of plugins.

Stealth

When I wrote about mainstream social media adoption back in 2008 I said it would happen by stealth. People weren't actively seeking a social presence, they didn't wake up one day and suddenly think "I'm going to join a social network!"

They fell in to social, they just wanted to talk to their friends and family.

Widespread indieweb adoption will be the same, it will happen by stealth because someone with a bit of clout decides to implement it.

What if, for example, Automattic (the company behind WordPress) suddenly decided that all standard WordPress.com themes were going to include microformats2 markup and support webmentions? You've instantly got millions of people with an indieweb presence who haven't got a clue what it is or how it works, just that things are a little different.

Attempts at getting microformats2 markup into the WordPress core, however, have so far proved unfruitful.

Trigger

Ideas spread slowly, organically, word of mouth and person to person, until a tipping point is reached.

Even though something may be ratified as a W3C standard it doesn't mean everyone is going to start using it.

Maybe there needs to a trigger, a light bulb moment, a catalyst that galvanises the decision. What if something like Micro.blog takes off and starts getting a lot of attention.

What would it take?

If such a moment did occur any widespread adoption certainly wouldn't be couched in indieweb terms; there would be new terminology. Perhaps it would just be described as a new way to present your information to make it easier to identify, respond to, and to interact with other sites.

After all, if the indieweb becomes mainstream it's no longer indie.

Indieweb adoption – how does a new way spread?

In transition

In reply to: Perhaps I'm not quite reading your meaning properly, but I'm curious about the portion about your having turned off comments. I also notice your link

When I rebooted the blog last year I aspired to the goals of the indieweb but wasn't yet familiar with the #indieweb movement. I knew I wanted ownership of what I was doing but hadn't filled in the fine details.

Consequently, the site is in transition as I adopt different ideas and find how I've previously done things may have to change accordingly.

But, not all parts of the indieweb are for everyone and no one should feel they need to implement everything.

The core principles are enough.

My initial desire was to take full control of what I was doing, that's what was important to (and for) me and that's why I didn't mind outsourcing replies to Medium.

While opening things up to webmentions on all posts (not just the microblog) I still don't want the aggravation of handling local comments so that won't happen.

Those that want to can own their replies, for everyone else Medium is still a service that I support, especially in light of the decision to scrap advertising for membership.

In transition

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?

Verification, identity and freedom of speech

A lot has been written about account verification on social networks, especially Twitter, including my comments on Jason Calacanis' idea to open verification to all.

Details emerged recently of a new social network called Gab rapidly growing in popularity - no big deal you may think, new social ventures appear (and usually die shortly after) all the time. In fact, the news has gone quiet just as quick.

What piqued my curiosity with Gab, however, was that, while it may have started life as a hotbed of conservative rhetoric and insult, in reading about its structure I couldn't help noticing that it employs some of the ideas proposed by Jason Calacanis in his letter from the (Twitter) CEO:

Verification as standard to anyone who can demonstrate their identity, and the option to only show posts from verified accounts.

Gab's premise is in relaxing its editorial stance (beyond the standard banning of threats of violence, illegal pornography, and revealing personal information about others) thus placing the onus for dealing with trolls and harassment firmly on the users, providing a number of tools to make this possible.

Why verify?

Anyone on Twitter can now apply for verification but only certain types of account will get "the coveted blue tick" - if Twitter deems them of public importance. This would not be the case in Jason's vision and it is not the case with Gab.

As Andrew Torba, the network's CEO, tweeted in reply to me (11th September, now deleted):

Every user will have the choice to verify. Not a status symbol on Gab. Unlike here.

This highlights the different approaches to using verification for identification:

  • to avoid confusion and ensure public interest accounts are who they claim to be
  • as a means of confirming identity for all users

Anyone on Gab that provides a recognised form of ID will be verified, by necessity making the user's real name a requirement. 1

Freedom or licence?

While Gab may provide features such as filtering and muting to help users combat harassment is it right for a platform to divest itself of responsibility for the content it holds?

Freedom of speech or expression may be a right but must not be abused - there are limits and such freedoms are not intended to protect speech that is designed to incite hatred or cause harm.

The quote from Salman Rushdie on the homepage sets the scene:

What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.

What Rushdie is saying is that it is fine to have different opinions, to believe in different things and sometimes this is going to cause friction, even offence. Unfortunately, some extrapolate this as a licence to be abusive.

Offence is an unfortunate byproduct of such freedoms, not its raison d'être.

Why should social networks be such a special case? Just as we demand our freedoms we demand our protections and take pride in society's fairness.

Just because a user is provided tools to combat harassment is it reasonable to expect them to spend their time avoiding attacks?

If so many users leave the "entirely left-leaning Big Social monopoly" (that Torba argues isn't qualified to define what harassment means) what is it going to be like on a network that makes no attempt to maintain order?

Surely, it is the law that defines harassment and Gab's obligation (and others) to abide by it.

Verification as a means of identity is designed to hold users to account for their words and actions; with such a laissez faire approach it seems pointless implementing such a scheme.

Fair and just?

As with Jason's fictitious Twitter, being able to see updates from only verified accounts means we run into the problem I described previously: unverified accounts (for whatever reason) become second class citizens.

Hardly fair.

Besides, many will choose to see everything anyway, partly from the fear of missing out but also to ensure no one is attacking them from behind the filter curtain.

Torba states that anybody is welcome to express themselves on Gab but I can already imagine the "if you can't stand the heat..." and "you knew what it was like..." responses already.

Some might argue that the trolls should just be left to wallow in their self-made, toxic cesspits but we know from experience with the likes of 4chan that these things just don't stay contained.


  1. Unless the network is willing to become a custodian of identity, linking screen names to real people in the background, and users are willing to let it. 
Verification, identity and freedom of speech

Owning your words

A discussion earlier got me thinking about Twitter now allowing people to request verification of their accounts.

I wasn't going to submit an application as there are more well known Colin Walkers out there - from footballer and manager to cellist - but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained and I am verifying that I am me!

Why verify?

Verification was originally intended to stop confusion and to stop people passing themselves off as others. It is a defence mechanism designed to ensure you are talking to or about the right person.

But it has another side to it in that it ensures the person talking is who they say they are.

Twitter's verification guidelines advise that:

If the account belongs to a person, the name reflects the real or stage name of the person.

It is not a real names policy per se but does act as an approximation of identity.

Verify to protect

Jason Calacanis posted a mock message on behalf of Jack Dorsey, Twitter's CEO in which he sets a scene where verification is open to all - effectively as an identity mechanism - and those not verified would have their tweets blurred out by default, only visible if we chose to view them.

The intention is for everyone to be accountable for what they post and, by virtue of verification, identifiable. If a troll starts posting abuse so what? You can't see it anyway.

Does this go too far? Would it ever really sit well with Twitter's users? How many would quit the service over having their identity held to ransom in this way, being forced to verify their account or have their tweets obscured?

Part of the joy of Twitter is its openness and freedom, the ability to see tweets from complete strangers and to become involved in the conversations of others.

Jason also writes:

"We are going to still allow anonymity on Twitter, because we all know that some voices need to be heard without revealing their identity. From political dissidents to parody accounts, anonymity has a place on the service"

Forgive me if I've missed something, but if unverified accounts were blurred out by default then that "place" becomes a ghetto for second-class Twitter citizens whose voices are actually silenced until we deign to hear them.

Hardly a welcoming act for those users who are potentially the most vulnerable.

Tweet quality

Twitter has launched new ways to control your experience including a quality filter to remove "lower-quality content, like duplicate Tweets or content that appears to be automated" from the feed.

An interesting proposition.

Twitter advises that it uses a number of quality signals such as account origin and behavior. It would be good to know exactly what this involves.

Are individual accounts graded and would this be included in account origin? Would known troll accounts have their visibility downgraded based on their behaviour?

Could the number of blocks or reported tweets a user receives be an account quality signal with those repeatedly penalised being hidden?

It is arguably a better system than a blanket hiding of all tweets by unverified users.

Update

It occurred to me that as an algorithm is in place to automatically decide what tweets should be hidden, could this same algorithm not be used as the basis for further action?

By establishing patterns and consistent behaviour could it not be used to identify potential problem accounts?

Twitter finally has a live tool at its disposal but needs to demonstrate it is fully committed to solving its abuse problem.

Owning your words

Stranger in the same land

Any gamer who has created and played the same character for any length of time will tell of the attachment they have for it, they can't help but get invested emotionally.

Be it Dungeons and Dragons or its more modern online equivalents, the ability to take control of, and ostensibly become, another "person" and escape to another world - albeit temporarily - is an attractive proposition.

Normally you will only ever see things from one side: it's you versus the world and everything it can throw at you but World of Warcraft broke with this convention allowing you to play from either side. Alliance or Horde.

The difference is that each side are "heroes" fighting for the survival of their people and just happen to be at war with the other guys. It's a classic example of the "red v blue" gaming paradigm: each with their own perspective and convinced of the righteousness of their cause.

This was obviously something Duncan Jones was keen to reflect and portray in the Warcraft movie: the characters were just trying to live their lives whatever side they were on; Alliance or Horde.

He deliberately didn't want the Orcs seen as the bad guys.

The switch

This attachment creates an allegiance to your chosen faction and switching from the Alliance to the Horde was something I swore I'd never do.

Until I did!

I didn't just start a new character but transferred the one I had been playing, developing, and become invested in for so long.

For years.

It may sound crazy, and you may be thinking "it's only a game" but the shift is like moving to a different city, changing jobs and losing contact with everyone you know all at the same time.

The disorientation is more than tangible.

The landscape is familiar but the view is from a completely different perspective. The landmarks are there but your old haunts are forbidden just as other areas, long out of bounds, suddenly open up.

It is like waking up in a parallel world - the same yet not the same.

There is a cognitive dissonance at play where the identity you have built for so long, its loyalties and allegiances, are instantly diametrically opposed to the person you have become.

Now that you have awoken it is almost as though you are fighting through the fog of amnesia, trying to remember who you are; trying to rebuild your sense of identity: fragments appear and pieces of the jigsaw gradually fit together as you explore.

You meet characters that act as though they have known you since the beginning, but you have no clue who they are or where you met. You feel the constant urge to apologise, to say that you just don't remember but have to accept as fact that this is your life now and, for all intents and purposes, always has been.

That old you no longer exists, never did.

Stranger in the same land

Authorship, identity and the wider web.Comments

Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance” - Eric Schmidt.

idWhen Google's Search Plus Your World (SPYW) first launched the company was taken to task over unduly prioritising Google hosted content - probably rightly so - and had to back down a degree or two.

With Authorship tied to Google+ it seems that we are heading back in that direction so the company have to be careful or might find themselves back in the firing line of the regulators.

Putting a face to the name

As has been said before, Google is trying to remove the faceless nature of the web with Authorship. While it is currently seen as having a quasi-SEO benefit - an author's image next to an item in a sea of blue links makes it pop out - a lot of this advantage will be lost once more "authors" sign up.

By attempting to use Authorship as a "quality" measure, we are outsourcing an element of trust: recognising that content is linked to a verified account provides an impression as to its quality.

qualityThe act of just connecting an account to content, however, is not strictly a demonstration of quality but it is a demonstration of the author's willingness to be publicly and visibly linked to that content as if to say "I'm proud of this" or "I'm right, this is the result you want."

Whether, on the whole, we can infer any degree of quality from this scheme remains to be seen but the implied threat within Schmidt's statement above means that we see a fundamental shift in the way SEO operates: those that don't sign up to Authorship being penalised rather than those that do seeing a benefit.

Branding

Trust, reputation, identity - content creators will be (and already are) relying on Authorship to help establish personal branding, but by limiting the "verified" accounts for Authorship to Google+ is too restrictive on different levels.

While we have the ability to search with or without social signals and, currently search on Plus is separate from traditional blue links, introducing greater emphasis on Google based signals could get them in more trouble with the regulators.

Monopoly

Google has a monopoly on AuthorshipEnabling content creators to visibly connect their work to an online identity via Authorship is a fantastic idea and someone does indeed need to tackle the faceless nature of the web but maybe Google should think about opening Authorship to avoid the inevitable cries of "monopoly!"

As mentioned above, Authorship (and the concept of Author Rank) could be seen as having an implied SEO threat if you do not have a Google+ profile: no profile = poor search engine visibility, but is that really the case?

A post by Ruud Hein at Search Engine People tries to flesh out this statement by saying that a "verified online profile" doesn't just have to mean a Google+ profile. While nothing in Schmidt's statement precludes the use of other identity providers, the current reality is that Google+ is the only option available.

What if...

What ifWhat if Authorship, and consequently its associated Google Juice, wasn't solely reliant on a G+ profile and that other, trusted identification systems were permitted?

Should Google allow us to establish Authorship with a Twitter profile, for example? Perhaps Twitter could extend the verification process (maybe even for a small fee) to become more trusted - who we are, what we do, what is our field, etc. and this could then be relied upon by Google to establish a meaningful identity that we can hang Authorship upon.

What if academics, professors, researchers, etc. could use their EDU credentials as the basis of a trusted identity for the purposes of Authorship? How about business professionals using their LinkedIn profile?

Any web-wide system needs to be as inclusive as possible to both work and be seen as reliable or trustworthy.

tl;dr

Google should be applauded for trying to standardise, or make sense, of identity on the web so that we have a system we can trust - Authorship is such a system. However, being both a "search provider" and a "service provider" can lead to potential conflicts of interest which need to be resolved.

Images by Daniel*1977, aithom2, urbanwide, libraryman (cropped)

Authorship, identity and the wider web.

Thoughts: Inverse influence.

When the influencer becomes the influenced.

Inverse influenceI have written before about how we might "play a role" on social networks based on what is expected of us.

Influence is normally considered as the ability to affect the thoughts, actions and ideas of others but what if those actions create a feedback loop and thus affect our own behaviour?

Inverse influence

We may seek to influence and, in this regard, are reliant on the responses of our audience to determine what is popular or where our expertise appears to lie.  Problems arise when we allow ourselves to be unduly driven by audience response.

By reacting to our audience - and placing too great an emphasis on its feedback - we are in danger of becoming the ones influenced where the actions we seek to influence may instead determine our path.

Image by Sean MacEntee (flipped)

Thoughts: Inverse influence.

Influence redefined.Comments

Is it time to forget the numbers game in favour of a more meaningful measurement of our social influence and should this be service specific?

If a tree falls in the woodsWhen I wrote "The 3 R's of Influence" I suggested that the true measure of influence is a combination of reach, reputation and relevance.

Reputation is closely linked to identity and has, interestingly, been touched on elsewhere with regards to the Google patent for multiple identities or pseudonyms. Relevance is obvious - people will interact more with content that is relevant to their interests and current circumstances such as time or location.

Which leaves reach

Reach is a literal figure - an idealised "potential", a social pyramid scheme.

I wrote that:

Our reach is a combination of our direct first level connections and those secondary connections exposed to our content by re-shares, retweets, etc.

The important word here is "exposed" but this is often overlooked in the quest for quantitative scores rather than qualitative.

Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder, has remarked that reach on it's own isn't enough and that, perhaps, a new statistic should be used to more accurately measure influence on Twitter such as retweets.

We know that the number of followers isn't a reliable metric and reach on its own is an incongruous statistic. Klout attempts to nulify the impact of pure numbers by examining the ratio of engagement to audience - penalising those who amass followers without also increasing engagement - but even this isn't enough.

Just because someone retweets your content and they have 1000 followers, it doesn't mean that all those 1000 followers are effectivly "reached" by your tweet.

Visibility and exposure are key here - someone can only be influenced by something if they read it which is why Williams states the dream metric "is how many people saw your tweet". This means that they must be online and have had the initial tweet or any retweets visible in their timelines whilst "active" on the service.

If a tree falls in the woods...

Measuring

Since the acquisition of Trendly we have been waiting for Twitter to roll out first-party tweet analytics but this has only materialised for advertisers. I proposed that:

influence cannot be accurately measured externally from the data source as there is a limit to what can be gleaned from what is publicly available. The service hosting the data (be it Twitter, Facebook or Google) has a better understanding of exactly what happens to that data including other factors such as link tracking.

Williams suggests that part of the reason Twitter has been aggressively policing access to the API might be to ensure that it gets better data as it has been unable to effectively measure activity due to the use of third party clients.

The introduction of the built-in t.co URL shortening service enhances the ability to track reactions to tweets. Even if a tweet does not receive any replies or retweets Twitter is able to count the number of clicks the shortened address receives and, therefore, gain an indication of its popularity. This is an ideal source of data to feed the #discover tab and could contribute to an individuals influence on the site as well as providing useful metrics for advertisers.

Twitter Card

Twitter Cards

The rise in social curation has lead to a number of curators becoming "social stars" in their own right with large followings and high influence scores. All too often this celebrity is at the expense of the content creator as links are wrapped in increasing levels of URL shorteners with no attribution provided.

Frequently, a curators tweets are reshared by their audience without those followers even visiting the link simply due to the "reputation" of the curator. The curator's influence is increased with no reference to those creating the content.

Twitter Cards will change this.

A quick test has shown that Twitter Cards will resolve the shortened URLs and still display the card information associated with the link which includes the Twitter username of the author, potentially increasing the likelihood of the originating author being followed rather than the curator.

It remains to be seen if Twitter Cards will provide any SEO benefits but I would imagine that having the rich snippet text associated with each tweet will enhance the effect of each external back link generated in this manner.

Time for change

We cannot rely on a single system to calculate influence for all and we also cannot rely on a single score to reflect our own influence and reputation across the whole social web; moving to service specific grading may be a viable alternative.

Each service host is far better placed to measure true activity within its own walls so, while they may not disappear completely, follower numbers might only contribute to an influence score for that particular network based on a wider range of factors.

Is it time for a change?

Influence redefined.

Who do you think you are?Comments

Remember who you areThere are some arguments that won't go away and that over the value of social media seems to be one of them.

Sarah Lacy over at Techcrunch has suggested that those complaining about how the social web does or doesn't work are actually using it incorrectly. She has received a varied reaction and, while I may not see eye to eye with the full post, I would be inclined to agree that some have lost sight of what they set out to achieve on the social web.

As I posted recently, the value you get from social networks is very much determined by your usage scenario. To all those who say that the social web does not work for them I would say that the 500 million people happily sharing, updating and playing games on Facebook don't seem to be complaining. What have they achieved that others have not?

They have found themselves.

It may sound a bit zen and esoteric but your average user on Facebook is there for a specific purpose and the service itself fits that purpose perfectly. They are there as a private individual sharing photos and updates, catching up with their friends or playing games. Usage is casual and many are actually following their "flesh and blood friends" and relatives.

The complications occur when social media is used for business and those involved are not differentiating between business use and their personal activity. We need to decide who we are and why we are using the social web. We need to ask ourselves which hat are we wearing at any given time as our goals and expectations will differ.

Personal or business

For the vast majority, personal use is just for fun - there is no pressure. Conversations are purely ad-hoc and genuine, there is no pretention or sales pitch distorting how they communicate. Value is quickly achieved under these circumstances as expectations are simple and easily met.

Business users will also not have problems when a specific purpose is defined; be it brand management, monitoring the competition or a customer service channel. The goals are set and results clearly identifiable.

Ideally, we should be in a position where we can segregate our usage based on the role we are undertaking - the easiest way to achieve this would be to create a different account for each purpose. Separate accounts, however, are not always possible especially for those in startups or for those people whose persona IS their work - this is why the announcement of the new group functionality in Orkut caught the imagination.

Too much

Those crying foul tend to be the new media revolutionaries, the mavens, the gurus who are trying to do everything and be all things to all people. It is impossible for these people to separate business and private use as the two are intrinsically woven. By necessity they are spreading themselves across the social web - an all ecompassing brand - but are being spread too thinly. The ability to interact efficiently can be lost; the balance between broadcast and engagement skewed until, eventually, the audience can become embittered.

Constantly riding the crest of the social wave can only be achieved by allowing the avenues of least effect to ebb away. Attempting to maintain the flow across all services will only result in the wave crashing beneath us.

Image by m kasahara

Who do you think you are?