Bookmarked Sp’ákw’us: ways of seeing by an author
As part of the course, we are invited to articulate takeaways and giveaways, naming the gifts received and how we will offer gifts as a result. This cycle of reciprocity is essential.

Juxtaposing takeaways and giveaways, as Chris Corrigan relates here, strikes me as such a strong and beautiful shorthand to use in the future. I’m currently doing a program with new colleagues about networking, where I’ve said networking is to learn things, and to share and give things, so that people can see you and think of you when you may be of value to them in addressing some need.

Slideshare is being integrated into Scribd as of tomorrow. To avoid falling under the TOS of Scribd, per their own suggestion you need to delete your account.

I always thought Scribd was Slideshare’s more evil sibling, even if I don’t remember precisely how I arrived at that conclusion. I deleted my own Slideshare account last week. Tonight I deleted my company’s Slideshare account as well.

My company also has a Scribd account, from the time when you couldn’t really upload regular documents to Slideshare yet. It went unused for the past 4 years or so, but we do use some embeds on our site.

I tried to also delete that Scribd account tonight, and immediately ran into the type of dark patterns that justify my existing perception of Scribd.

First Scribd does not allow you to download all of your own content. Read that again. We had 43 documents on Scribd, I could download 20 of them, and then downloads simply stopped working, and a banner appeared suggesting I open a monthly subscription. They had a 30 day free trial, so I went that route, and downloads then resumed. After downloading all our content, I deleted all content from our company’s Scribd account.

Second, I ended the free trial subscription as well, which does the Facebooky thing of having to confirm 3 times or more you really want to cancel (we’re so sorry to see you go, are you sure you don’t want to change your mind, if you click this we’ll pull a very sad face… etc.)

Third, after deleting our content I wanted to delete our account and could not find a deletion button. I had to duckduckgo how to delete a Scribd account, and on their own help page found that I could not delete our account until a subscription has been cancelled (which I did) and it has reached its end date. Until then there’s no deletion button visible. This means I can delete my account only on October 23rd, when the 30 day trial subscription ends that I already cancelled, and which I only entered into because they wouldn’t allow me to access my own content otherwise!

Good riddance, in short. Or rather: good riddance, in 30 days. Added it to my task list so I don’t forget.

This morning I set out to download all my Slideshare content. As Slideshare is becoming part of Scribd this month, I’m shutting my Slideshare account down (and will shut down both the Slideshare and Scribd accounts of my company as well).

Yesterday I downloaded the CSV file you get when you go to Slideshare ‘data export’ feature, which turns out is nothing of the kind. That CSV contains the download links, web urls, titles, dates and statistics of all your presentations. I thought that was useful, as the statistics provided insight in the utility of Slideshare.

I wrote a script that read the CSV file. First to take the Slideshare filename and add its publication year and month in front of it, like YYYY-MM-my-presentation-name. Then to call the listed download URL and save the results to YYYY-MM-my-presentation-name in my Downloads folder. That way I would have the downloads in chronological order, and be able to easily see the differences betwen similarly named presentations (I presented a lot about Open Data over the years!) in my file system. I watched my Downloads folder fill up nicely with the expected downloads, and congratulated myself on my AppleScripting skills…..

Then I noticed the downloaded files were at most a few kilobytes, which wasn’t at all expected as my presentation decks easily are a few dozen MBs. I should have tried this earlier at the start, but opening a Slideshare downloadlink I realised it wasn’t a link to a downloadable file directly but to a web-interface that then started the download in the background after a few seconds, and after prompting you to confirm the download. So I hadn’t downloaded 132 presentations just now, but 132 web pages with a download prompt.

Apparently Slideshare expects you to lift each of those downloadlinks from their CSV file, open it in the browser by hand, and then manually confirm each download. However if you go to your account page ‘My Uploads’ you can in quick succession click the download button for the dozen presentations presented there, and use the pagination buttons to move to the next dozen, and repeat.

Their ‘data export’ in other words is worse than their regular account interface.
The crappiness of this ‘functionality’ definitely is a great cultural fit with their new owner Scribd though.

Having clicked Download 132 times, I then deleted my account.

Next steps are moving the downloaded files to a web accessible folder on one of my hosting packages, and adapt my blogpostings that have a slideshare embed to point to that folder.

As LinkedIn has sold Slideshare to Scribd (Slideshare’s more evil twin), and the practical handover happening on September 24th, I am preparing to close down my Slideshare account. As part of that I’m downloading my material on Slideshare. The first step is getting a CSV file from them that lists all the download URLs for my slides. It also provides some statistics with those download links, so for archiving purposes I’m adding some of those stats here.

My usage of Slideshare was always intended for two things: 1) have a way to embed my presentations in my blog and for others to view them, 2) have a place that can store those files, 3) allows others to download those files. Those last two reasons were way more of an issue to solve when I started using Slideshare in 2006. Hosting packages back then were generally too small to also host presentations, both in terms of bandwidth and storage. The first reason still is an issue: having a decent viewer to show these files on a website.

My first Slideshare was in December 2006, my last November 2019, so thirteen years exactly. I uploaded 132 presentations so about 10 per year on average, but in reality it was much less spread out:

2006 1
2007 6
2008 13
2009 17
2010 32
2011 24
2012 14
2013 10
2014 6
2015 0
2016 1
2017 1
2018 3
2019 4

The peak years were 2008 through 2013, which coincide with becoming self-employed and doing a lot of awareness raising for open data. From 2014 most of my presentations were for my company, and I posted much less under my own account. (I also will need to download the material from my company’s accounts before the 24th as well).

My 2 most downloaded presentations form an interesting combination:

  • My 2008 presentation at Reboot in Copenhagen (332), that I remember very much (and that I recently converted into Notions)
  • A 2010 presentation on FabLabs (259) that I gave to an engineering company (says the description) for an internal workshop, but I have no immediate recollection of doing that. (Checking my 2010 calendar just now I do remember, seeing the client’s name)

The total views for my 132 presentations were 292708 (2217 on average)
The three most viewed presentations were:

  • My 2010 Lift Marseille, France, talk about FabLabs, 11338 views
  • My 2010 brief remarks on private sector open data during Open Data Week in Nantes, France, 8242 views
  • My talk at PolitCamp Graz, Austria in 2008, the event where I got interested in open data, but this one was about social media use w.r.t. political communication, 8009 views

The three presentations that were mostly viewed in embeds were:

  • My 2010 Lift Marseille, France, talk about FabLabs again, 7157 views in embeds, or about half of total views
  • My 2013 opening keynote for a software company’s European customer event, 3285 embed views
  • My 2012 workshop on open data as policy instrument, at the Dutch national open data conference, 3055 embed views

Given that Slideshare for me was about allowing downloads, and providing embeds, let’s look at those totals. Thirteen years with 132 uploaded presentations come out at 2286 downloads and 51633 embedded views. It’s not nothing obviously, but one can wonder if it is something worthwile enough to allow thirteen years of third party tracking.

Protesters in Belarus are pulling of the masks of police men, because then these will think twice before being seen to use violence on protestors. Behind that is an effort to then ferret out their names and personal details. There is a fine line here to tread between exposing policemen to stop the dehumanisation of protestors that masks allow them to do, and that escalating into vigilante violence. However it does remind me of a tactic described in Cory Doctorow‘s novel Walkaway, where doxxing policemen is used to then create videos with their family members sympathetic to the cause asking them to stop the violence. It’s one thing to beat up someone anonymously while masked, it’s another having your mother, brother, aunt or grandfather berate you for it in public media.

“The only way to stop violence is to pull off the masks, in both the literal and metaphorical sense. An officer who is no longer anonymous will think twice before he grabs, beats or kidnaps someone,” said the founder of Black Book of Belarus, a channel on the app Telegram devoted to “de-anonymising” police officers, with more than 100,000 subscribers.

Some notions about cities, after I came across a 2017 posting asking for potential cities to visit for a month (which yielded a list of over 50). We did some extended city visits over the years (months in Vancouver, Cambridge, Copenhagen, Lucca, and 10-14 days in Berlin, Helsinki). Originally the idea was an adaptation of what Tim Ferris in his book The 4 Hour Work Week called ‘mini retirements’. We wanted to figure out where to go live, and what was important to us in choosing a European city to live. This as there were no other elements (like location of day jobs) that would narrow down our choices.

To get to know a city better, not as a tourist but as part of the local fabric as much as possible, we’d relocate there for a month. Beforehand we’d contact our network there, or search for local introductions to find contacts and network. While we were there we worked and explored the city, and reached out to existing and new contacts. The change of surroundings and people, and taking in the city brings new inspiration, ideas and activity.

Cities are serendipity hubs (1), a heady mix of ideas, people, resources and capital that bounce into and off each other, making all kinds of new combinations possible. Cities are efficient, when they double in size they don’t use double the resources (2), and that frees up capacity for other things. Cities grow super-linearly, for each doubling it becomes 15% more productive and innovative (as well as more criminal btw) than you’d expect from the doubling (3). The engine behind that is the density of social connections, the more intense interaction fires up the city (4). Social connections have a network effect, which is non-linear.

When you visit as an outsider all that serves as a source of inspiration: you see the traces of other people’s creativity, emerging trends, the rough edges where the friction is. And you meet the people who are involved in all of that.

When you as an outsider first join life in a city you experience a contrast, and the bigger/different/other the city, the bigger the contrast.
I think that contrast between yourself and a city you relocate to is a potential energy. A potential energy that is based on the starting point that is your unfamiliarity relative to the city. As a curious outsider you see more things, hear more diffrences, then as a regular visitor or as an inhabitant. If you seek out that contrast there’s a rush of ideas, impressions, observations and associations to harvest. But like any potential energy, the contrast dissipates as you get closer to it, get more familiar with the city, explore more of it. You get used to your surroundings, and start seeing less that jumps out. So there are diminishing returns from relocating to somewhere for a while. Unless you embrace it, grow roots, and become fully part of the fabric: then cities are well suited to seek out the contrasts within it, more suited than less densely packed environments as they hold so much more variety, but it is a different activity and a qualitatively very different experience from the first ‘rush’ that contrast can provide. These type of stories can be found around the world about people packing up and going to NYC to act, university in London, etc.
Those dimishing returns are good I think, because it provides a natural end to a phase of exploration and discovery, making way for digesting all those impressions from the rush of using up the initial contrast.

I can’t remember where I read it, but somewhere I came across someone who applied a Pareto distribution to exploring a place: he spent 80% of a visit seeking out new things (restaurants, places to hang out etc), and the final 20% of a visit going to the best places he found in the first 80%.
That way you don’t stop exploring too early (letting the contrast slip away by quickly settling on a routine), but at the same time also preventing to keep on exploring only (akin to the endless scrolling of a FB timeline), helping the transition to the return trip by visiting some of the highlights again, and ending on a positive note (you don’t want to end up in your worst choice of restaurant on your last night in town). A rule of thumb for how to ease from discovery into digesting the discoveries.

We didn’t go anywhere after I asked for suggestions in that old blogpost I mentioned at the start. A few months before that posting we moved permanently to Amersfoort, and in the end getting to know our new surroundings was more important. We had plenty of contrast right in our own hometown.

Now that we’ve been here for three years, I’m thinking about ways I can heighten the contrast a bit, to be able to see more. And to take a different perspective on what’s really part of the urban zone as a serendipity hub around me. Amersfoort isn’t very big, but is within reach of a number of other cities, including Amsterdam (also not a big city, but the largest in NL). Now, someone from Amsterdam wouldn’t come to Amersfoort much for inspiration perhaps, but I can treat Amsterdam as part of my own urban environment, as it is close, without disregarding Amersfoort itself. I can add them together. The same is true for Utrecht (where I keep my company’s offices).

My friend Paolo‘s answer for any location in London about how far it is, is “about 50 minutes”. It’s funny and it is also true, because our natural surroundings are about one hour of travel in radius. E.g. people tend to treat a commute up to one hour as reasonable. So let’s take that as a measure: how many people do you have access to within one hour of travel? And how many within a circle of 90 minutes? You can use that notion to see where you can get inspiration, or contribute it, where the contrast has the highest potential. Or how to be a connector between one side of your radius and another (because they will be 2-3 hours apart)

Mapumental was an online tool that would show you from any given point in cities like London, Berlin and Helsinki, what was in reach of e.g. at most a 1 hour public transport journey. It usually showed surprising locations where you could go live and have as much access to the things you wanted as more expensive places. That tool is no longer online. I wonder if there’s an easy way to plot such a isochrone radius for public transport on a map with other tools. I found an online tool for isochrone maps that works for walking, and cars. The image below shows 1 hour and 90 minutes distance driving by car from our home (I had to register with the tool, to obtain an API key for testing). Although my actual reference would be public transport travel times, this gives a good illustration. Including that it covers most of the Dutch population, and that it has some surprises (like only needing an hour to get to rural Medemblik in the north-west, which mentally is more like 3 hours.) If you compare it with the coverage at our old address in Enschede, both w.r.t. Dutch and German population centers, the difference is striking.

Isochrone map with our home town at the center. Click to enlarge

Since my early university years I’ve held that from a spatial planning perspective, e.g. for infrastructures like rail, you’d need to take the Netherlands as a single city. Meaning that e.g. the train network should look more like a metro map (circles and cross lines), less like a long distance network (stars, hubs and spokes). More like a distributed network really. The image above underpins that I think. A 2016 report by Dutch middle sized cities came to a similar conclusion about seeing the Netherlands as a single urban area: don’t compete, but specialize and collaborate (5), as a single networked entity in short.

Seen from my hometown, I can reach Amsterdam within the hour by public transport, Utrecht in half an hour. While cities like Den Bosch, Zwolle, Arnhem and Deventer are also all within one hour, Rotterdam, The Hague, Eindhoven, and Haarlem are within 90 minutes. All of these are easily accessible, and I could mentally treat them as home turf, using them to maintain a higher alternating contrast. I think I don’t do that enough, but tend to default to Amersfoort too unthinkingly. A much richer perspective would be to see those other places as quarters of the Netherlands as a city, and use the fact that we live so centrally in this country-as-a-city much more actively.

(1) My talk at Cognitive Cities in Berlin, 2011
(2) Bettencourt e.a. 2007, Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities
(3) Bettencourt e.a. 2010, Urban Scaling and Its Deviations: Revealing the Structure of Wealth, Innovation and Crime across Cities
(4) Pan e.a. 2013, Urban characteristics attributable to density-driven tie formation
(5) Magazine Midsize NL, 2016, PDF in Dutch