In October 2017 Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated by planting an explosive in her car. She worked on exposing financial and political corruption, and worked on the Panama Papers. Last year October the murderers were convicted, while the court case against the political and business principal is still ongoing. Four months later Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak was gunned down alongside with his life partner Martina Kušnírová, possibly after his name leaked from freedom of information requests. Kuciak was also involved in reporting on the Panama Papers. In that case the gunmen have been convicted, whereas similarly to Caruana Galizia’s case, the court case against the principal, also a politically connected businessman, is still ongoing. That is to say both were murdered by the klept, to use William Gibson’s label, for their work on transparency. As someone who has worked on government transparency for some 15 years from a different angle, there are always some overlaps between my (net)work and European investigative journalists, the organisations they work with and the projects they work on.

A large part of this week I was in Valletta, Malta, for the EuroGeographics General Assembly. Tuesday afternoon I strolled around town, and made sure to visit the impromptu memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia that is on Republic Street in front of the courts of justice. Because the case is still ongoing, the corruption still in place therefore. And because upon arrival the very first Maltese newspaper I saw Sunday evening carried a headline about the assassination, still in the spotlight of attention five and a half years after the fact.

The improvised memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia, calling for justice to be done almost 6 years on. Located on the square in front of St. Johns Cathedral along Republic Street, facing the front doors of the Courts of Justice. (Photo by me)

The Sunday Malta Times of 19 March 2023, with a headline connected to the 2017 assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

This conversation on 11 August 2022 with GPT-3 describes an alternate universe in which I was a prominent business blogger. An interpretation of my two decades of blogging as generated by GPT-3.
(text in bold are my prompts to the GPT-3 algorithm. Coded text is the AI response. italic texts between () and are my comments on the algorithm output.)

When did Ton Zijlstra start blogging?
Ton Zijlstra started blogging in 2003.

(I started blogging in 2002 on Blogspot, but switched to my own domain in the spring of 2003, so this could be an understandable internet search outcome)

Why did Ton Zijlstra start blogging and what were the topics he blogged about?

Ton Zijlstra started blogging to share his knowledge and thoughts on various topics with the world. He has blogged about topics such as business, technology, and personal development.

(this is particularly bland meaningless text)

What is the most impactful posting he ever wrote on his blog?

The most impactful posting Ton Zijlstra ever wrote on his blog is "The Power of Connections".
In this posting, he talks about the importance of networking and building relationships with others. "The Power of Connections" was his most impactful blog because it helped him to connect with others and build relationships that have helped him both personally and professionally.

What are some of the awards Ton Zijlstra has won for his blog? Ton Zijlstra has won the Best Business Blog Award in 2006 and 2007, and the Best European Business Blog Award in 2008.

(No such posting exists, I did cover the topic though, but would not have created such a sales-pitchy title.
GPT-3 comes up with a question of its own here! This blog(ger) has never won or competed for awards.)

Of course he didn’t blog just on his own, he was part of a network of bloggers and their blogs that together had meaningful conversations. A great example of such a cross-blog conversation that garnered much attention is….
...the one on Ton's weblog on 13 September 2005, where he asked What is a blog?. This was picked up by Doc Searls, Stowe Boyd, Dave Winer, Robert Scoble, and many others, and is still being referenced today.
(This is intriguing, mentioning a specific date. No such posting exists on my blog, I did not even post on that date. My blog never asked "what is a blog", at least a search comes up empty, but it is a typical question from when we were blogging a lot about figuring out blogging, and the bloggers mentioned, while US centric, all would have had such discussions, that I would have been aware of in my feedreader. Where I in the prompt hint towards conversations in a network of bloggers, GPT-3 turns that into a single blogpost by me being ‘picked up’, phrasing it as amplification rather than conversation.)

There were instances where Ton’s blogposts carried over into academic research. An early example of that was…
...his weblogpost on 'the daily me', where he pointed out the potential dangers of a world in which we would only be exposed to information that we already like, and which confirmed our beliefs. This was picked up and elaborated on by danah boyd in her doctoral dissertation.

(The Daily Me is a 1995 term used by MIT Media Lab’s Nicholas Negroponte in ‘Being Digital‘, a book from 1995. boyd’s 2008 dissertation "Taken out of context, American teen sociality in networked publics" doesn’t mention it, although it references Negroponte’s 1995 book in passing. Blog conversations, including one in which my blog played a central role, were a key part of Lilia Efimova’s 2009 dissertation titled “Passion at work: blogging practices of knowledge workers. See the final image of such wide spread conversations, called the ‘big one’ by Anjo Anjewierden who created the image, at the end of this post)

Ton's blog has been a source of inspiration for many people. One of his blogposts that has been particularly popular, is the one in which he proposed the 10-90 rule: for every hour you spend creating content, you should spend 9 hours connecting with others. This blogpost has been referenced by many people, and has been translated into several languages. Ton Zijlstra's blog has had a significant impact on the blogging community and has helped to shape the way we think about blogging and its role in our lives.

(Ha, this phrasing is all so brand-me blogging and bland in tone (which reflects a lot of blogging)! Online search surfaces a 10-90 rule of thumb from the pre-online advert era, where 10% of budget would be for ad content, and 90% of budget for buying space in media (air time, pages in print). Here that’s turned to time spent and content versus making connections with others. There might be something to it as a suggestion, although turning it into a rule of thumb, makes connection more of a means than an end in itself.)

Image generated with Stable Diffusion using the prompt “A human and an android robot have a conversation in a podcast interview setting, oil on canvas painting style”, public domain.

John Caswell writes about the role of conversation, saying "conversation is an art form we’re mostly pretty rubbish at". New tools that employ LLM’s, such as GPT-3 can only be used by those learning to prompt them effectively. Essentially we’re learning to have a conversation with LLMs so that its outputs are usable for the prompter. (As I’m writing this my feedreader updates to show a follow-up post about prompting by John.)

Last August I wrote about articles by Henrik Olaf Karlsson and Matt Webb that discuss prompting as a skill with newly increasing importance.

Prompting to get a certain type of output instrumentalises a conversation partner, which is fine for using LLM’s, but not for conversations with people. In human conversation the prompting is less to ensure output that is useful to the prompter but to assist the other to express themselves as best as they can (meaning usefulness will be a guaranteed side effect if you are interested in your conversational counterparts). In human conversation the other is another conscious actor in the same social system (the conversation) as you are.

John takes the need for us to learn to better prompt LLM’s and asks whether we’ll also learn how to better prompt conversations with other people. That would be great. Many conversations take the form of the listener listening less to the content of what others say and more listening for the right time to jump in with what they themselves want to say. Broadcast driven versus curiosity driven. Me and you, we all do this. Getting consciously better at avoiding that common pattern is a win for all.

In parallel Donald Clark wrote that the race to innovate services on top of LLM’s is on, spurred by OpenAI’s public release of Chat-GPT in November. The race is indeed on, although I wonder whether those getting in the race all have an actual sense of what they’re racing and are racing towards. The generic use of LLM’s currently in the eye of public discussion I think might be less promising than gearing it towards specific contexts. Back in August I mentioned Elicit that helps you kick-off literature search based on a research question for instance. And other niche applications are sure to be interesting too.

The generic models are definitely capable to hallucinate in ways that reinforce our tendency towards anthropomorphism (which needs little reinforcement already). Very very ELIZA. Even if on occasion it creeps you out when Bing’s implementation of GPT declares its love for you and starts suggesting you don’t really love your life partner.

I associated what Karlsson wrote with the way one can interact with one’s personal knowledge management system the way Luhmann described his note cards as a communication partner. Luhmann talks about the value of being surprised by whatever person or system you’re communicating with. (The anthropomorphism kicks in if we based on that surprisal then ascribe intention to the system we’re communicating with).

Being good at prompting is relevant in my work where change in complex environments is often the focus. Getting better at prompting machines may lift all boats.

I wonder if as part of the race that Donald Clark mentions, we will see LLM’s applied as personal tools. Where I feed a more open LLM like BLOOM my blog archive and my notes, running it as a personal instance (for which the full BLOOM model is too big, I know), and then use it to have conversations with myself. Prompting that system to have exchanges about the things I previously wrote down in my own words. With results that phrase things in my own idiom and style. Now that would be very interesting to experiment with. What valuable results and insight progression would it yield? Can I have a salon with myself and my system and/or with perhaps a few others and their systems? What pathways into the uncanny valley will it open up? For instance, is there a way to radicalise (like social media can) yourself by the feedback loops of association between your various notes, notions and follow-up questions/prompts?

An image generate with Stable Diffusion with the prompt “A group of fasionable people having a conversation over coffee in a salon, in the style of an oil on canvas painting”, public domain

Sinds 4 jaren ben ik met veel plezier voorzitter van de Open State Foundation. In 2008 organiseerde ik samen met James Burke en Peter Robinett de eerste bijeenkomst waaruit op termijn de OSF is voortgekomen. Sinds 2017 ben ik weer nauw betrokken bij OSF, sinds 2018 als bestuurslid.

We zoeken voor de Open State Foundation naar twee nieuwe bestuursleden. Omdat we het huidige vijftal naar zeven willen uitbreiden, en omdat we gericht op zoek zijn naar mensen die de rol van penningmeester of secretaris willen vervullen. Open State Foundation is een ANBI, en alle financiële en bestuurlijke verslagen zijn openbaar. We zoeken uiteraard in ons eigen netwerk, maar je weet nooit wie je daarmee over het hoofd ziet. Vandaar dat we ook open aanmeldingen verwelkomen.

Het bestuur van Open State Foundation bestaat uit mensen die een transparante overheid een warm hart toedragen, willen meedenken over de strategie van de stichting en hun kennis en netwerk willen inzetten om de missie werkelijkheid te laten worden. We zijn vooral een toezichthoudend bestuur, en zijn betrokken bij de missie en strategie van de organisatie. We staan dus op afstand van het dagelijkse werk dat door een mooi team onder leiding van onze directeur wordt uitgevoerd. Bestuursfuncties zijn onbezoldigd.

Meer weten? Lees de vacature op de website van OSF.
Voor vragen en aanmeldingen kun je me per e-mail bereiken op ton at openstate punt eu. Laat de oproep ook gerust zien aan anderen waarvan je denkt dat ze bij OSF passen.

The WordPress ActivityPub plugin by Matthias Pfefferle has been updated. It now allows you to @mention ActivityPub users and they will be notified of the mention in your blogpost, through ActivityPub.

This is useful. Yet, I’m holding out on using the plugin myself until three things are possible:

  • Set the user name of the ActivityPub account: Now the username is the login name of the user doing the posting. I recognise using WP user names is a straightforward way of turning WP into an ActivityPub client, and prevents having to add addditional stuff to the database. As I use non-obvious user names for additional website security, having those exposed as ActivityPub users is undesirable however.
  • Refuse follow requests: currently the plugin allows follows, and defaults to accepting all follows. As on my separate AP account I want to decide personally on follow requests.
  • Determine flexibly which postings get shared through ActivityPub, and through which ActivityPub user account. The current set-up is that all postings get shared through ActivityPub. I’d rather be able to determine not just on a post by post basis what gets shared but also to have specific categories of postings to be shared through a specific account.

I want to actively use the affordances ActivityPub allows on top of those WordPress as blogging tool provides. For me that is the ability to use the different activity types that AP can support, and to use dealing with followers and follows to selectively disclose content to different groups of people.

My current usecase for this is to have a separate AP account that shares my travel plans (posted in an unlisted category on my site) with accepted followers. The first part requires selectively sharing a category of postings, the second part doing so to a group of accepted followers on an AP account that is meant for just this type of postings and not my general AP account.

The plugin will develop in this direction, but is not there yet. I am slowly going through the code of the plugin myself to understand its architecture and choices. Perhaps it will give me an idea either on how to build on its core to create the functionality locally I want for myself, or maybe (though my coding skills are likely not adequate for it) add to the plugin itself.

This looks like a very welcome development: The European Commission (EC) is to ask for status updates of all international GDPR cases with all the Member State Data Protection Authorities (DPAs) every other month. This in response to a formal complaint by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties starting in 2021 about the footdragging of the Irish DPA in their investigations of BigTech cases (which mostly have their EU activities domiciled in Ireland).

The GDPR, the EU’s data protection regulation, has been in force since mid 2018. Since then many cases have been progressing extremely slowly. To a large extent because it seems that Ireland’s DPA has been the subject of regulatory capture by BigTech, up to the point where it is defying direct instructions by the EU data protection board and taking an outside position relative to all other European DPA’s.

With bi-monthly status updates of ongoing specific cases from now being requested by the EC of each Member State, this is a step up from the multi-year self-reporting by MS that usually is done to determine potential infringements. This should have an impact on the consistency with which the GDPR gets applied, and above all on ensuring cases are being resolved at adequate speed. The glacial pace of bigger cases risks eroding confidence in the GDPR especially if smaller cases do get dealt with (the local butcher getting fined for sloppy marketing, while Facebook makes billions of person-targeted ads without people’s consent).

So kudos to ICCL for filing the complaint and working with the EU Ombudsman on this, and to the EC for taking it as an opportunity to much more closely monitor GDPR enforcement.