Nicholas Carr wrote a blog post well worth a read last January, positing the impact of social media is content collapse, not context collapse. Indeed when we all started out on social software the phrase context collapse was on our lips.

Since 2016 Carr sees context restoration however, a movement away from public FB posts to private accounts, chat groups, and places where content self-destructs after a while. In its place he sees a different collapse, that of content.

Context collapse remains an important conceptual lens, but what’s becoming clear now is that a very different kind of collapse — content collapse — will be the more consequential legacy of social media. Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it.

Content collapse, because all those different types of information reach us in the exact same templated way, the endlessly scrolling timeline on our phone’s screen.
Carr posits our general unease with social media stems from this content collapse even, and names four aspects of it:

First, by leveling everything, social media also trivializes everything….

Second, as all information consolidates on social media, we respond to it using the same small set of tools the platforms provide for us. Our responses become homogenized, too….

Third, content collapse puts all types of information into direct competition….

Finally, content collapse consolidates power over information, and conversation, into the hands of the small number of companies that own the platforms and write the algorithms….

My first instinct is that it is that last aspect that causes the most unease. The first and third are ultimately the same thing, I feel. The second trivialises not the content but us. It severely limits people’s response range, leaving no room for nuance or complexity (which makes unease and lack of power more tangible to users, such that I suspect it significantly amps the outrage feedback loop in people’s attempts to break the homogeneity, to be seen, to be heard) It is what removes us as an independent entity, a political actor, a locus of agency, an active node in the network that is society.

So here’s to variety and messiness, the open web, the animated gifs of yesteryear, and refusing the endlessly scrolling algorithmic timelines.

I need to much more closely read this report. It is very much connected to the things I tried to express during the 2010 SHiFT closing keynote, when I labelled it as MakerHouseholds. A label under which I have done various projects related to making and networked agency in the past decade. There’s a richness in perspective to explore, written by people, some of whom I already follow in my feedreader. (ht Alper Çugun)

Bookmarked The New Old Home by The Yak Collective

Rediscovering the home as a production frontier

The Yak Collective’s second report, The New Old Home, offers 22 perspectives built around Pamela Hobart’s central thesis: as work returns to the home in the form of remote work opportunities (a trend now dramatically accelerated by pandemic circumstances), we can turn to historical modes of integrated living, reconsidered in light of newer technology, to guide our attempts at co-located life and work.

Quotebacks have been mentioned in various corners of the IndieWeb a lot in the past few weeks. As it was launched as a Chrome plugin, I didn’t try it out (Chrome is an unpalatable ad delivery vehicle imo). Now however there is a Firefox Quotebacks plugin, Tom Critchlow announced.

As Tom says, Quotebacks are meant to reduce friction in quoting other blogs/sites/sources, and if that increases the number and length of distributed conversations I’m all for it.

I think of it as smoothing some friction for behaviors we’re interested in encouraging

How is it different from a block-quote? It isn’t actually, under the hood it is still a block-quote. It’s just styled differently, and the browser plugin makes it very easy to capture everything you need and paste it into your blog-editor. The quoteback you see above is a html block-quote in the source:

screenshot of the html code of a block quote styled as quoteback

While reading you can select text and in Firefox press alt s, and the plugin will pop-up. It allows you to add / edit things, and then copy the html encoded quote to your clipboard, to paste into your blog editor.

screenshot of the Quoteback plugin pop-up during browsing

I like the easy ‘quote, copy, paste’ flow and having it look nice. I do think that the styling, which mimicks how e.g. Tweets are embedded in websites, may sometimes however actually break the flow of a blogpost, where a block-quote is more like a highlight in the pace and rhythm of a text, while a quoteback is presented as an embed, a different thing separate from the text. In fact I mostly actively dislike the embedded tweets in e.g. ‘news’ articles. There it feels like a way of not having to write an actual article or story, resulting in ‘news’ items along the basic template of “X said something, Twitter wasn’t having it” (With the article often stating the content of a tweet in its text, and then embedding the tweet below it, repeat 12 times. Voila, ‘journalism’ done.) It’s an additional visual amplification, easy on the eyes yes and instantly recognisable as a visual pointer to elsewhere, that probably isn’t always warranted, and may even reduce attention to the post the quote is used in. That would then decrease the level of distributed conversation, not increase it as intended.

Of course it is entirely possible to use the quoteback plugin, and not having the visual style of embedding applied. Below is the exact same quoteback as above, but with the class="quoteback" removed, reverting it back to a regular block-quotes (but keeping the link to the source and comments you may have added). Alternatively you can also delete the script element that provides the styling information for the quoteback. (I do exactly the same with Flickr embeds)

I think of it as smoothing some friction for behaviors we’re interested in encouraging

I’ll experiment for a while to see how it works for me in practice. I’ve put the script that styles the embed on my own domain, so I can also fiddle a bit with the styling if I want.

Mijn Open State Foundation collega Wilma Haan wordt per 1 september adjunct-hoofdredacteur bij de NOS. Het is een prachtige stap in haar staat van dienst in de journalistiek. Helaas is de consequentie wel dat Wilma daarmee haar huidige rol opgeeft als directeur van de Open State Foundation (waar ik bestuursvoorzitter ben sinds Wilma’s aantreden). Dat vind ik heel jammer, want we waren eigenlijk net lekker op dreef met elkaar. Zoals ze zelf zei kun je de timing van unieke kansen die voorbij komen zelf niet plannen. Vanuit de Open State Foundation zullen we snel een vacature openstellen voor een nieuwe directeur om de belangrijke missie van Open State Foundation voort te zetten met ons toffe team. Tot september werken Wilma, het bestuur en het team nauw samen om te zorgen dat een nieuwe directeur een vliegende start kan maken.

Came across this article from last year, The new dot com bubble is here: it’s called online advertising. It takes a look at online advertising’s effectiveness. It seems the selection effect is strong, but not accounted for, because the metrics happen after that.

“It is crucial for advertisers to distinguish such a selection effect (people see your ad, but were already going to click, buy, register, or download) from the advertising effect (people see your ad, and that’s why they start clicking, buying, registering, downloading).”

They don’t.

All the data gathering, all the highly individual targeting, apparently means advertisers are reaching people they would already reach. Now people just click on a link the advertising company is paying extra for.

For eBay there was an opportunity in 2012 to experiment with what would happen if they stopped online advertising. Three months later, the results were clear: all the traffic that had previously come from paid links was now coming in through ordinary links. Tadelis had been right all along. Annually, eBay was burning a good $20m on ads targeting the keyword ‘eBay’. (Blake et al 2015, Econometrica Vol. 83, 1, pp 155-174. DOI 10.3982/ECTA12423, PDF on Sci-Hub)

It’s about a market of a quarter of a trillion dollars governed by irrationality. It’s about knowables, about how even the biggest data sets don’t always provide insight.

So, the next time when some site wants to emotionally blackmail you to please disable your adtech blockers, because they’ve led themselves to believe that undermining your privacy is the only way they can continue to exist, don’t feel guilty. Adtech has to go, you’re offering up your privacy for magical thinking. Shields up!

First in Peter’s favourites from his feedreader, then from Matt Webb’s feed directly, which both showed up right beneath eachother when I opened my feedreader this morning, I read Personal Software vs Factory Produced Software.

In that posting Matt points to Rev Dan Catt’s recent week notes, in which he describes the types of tools he makes for himself. Like Matt I love this kind of stuff. I have some small tools for myself like that, and it is the primary reason I have been running a local webserver on my laptop: it allows me to do anything I could do online right on my laptop, as home cooking. Transposing code snippets into safe HTML output for instance. Or converting bank statements into something I can import in my accounting spreadsheet. Those are however somewhat of a mechanical nature. They’re by me, but not about me. And that is the qualitative difference specifically of the letter/cards tracking tool described in Rev Dan Catt’s post.

That is more akin to what I am trying to slowly build for myself since forever. Something that closely follows my own routines and process, and guides me along. Not just as a reference, like my notes or wiki, or as a guide like my todo-lists and weekly overviews. But something that welcomes me in the morning by starting me on my morning routine “Shall I read some feeds first, or shall I start with a brief review of today’s agenda.” and nudges me kindly “it’s been 15mins, shall I continue with …?”, or “shall I review …, before it becomes urgent next week?”. A coach and PA rolled into one, that is bascially me, scripted, I suppose. I’ve always been an avid note taker and lists keeper, even way before I started using computers in 1983. Those lists weren’t always very kind I realised in 2016, it became more a musts/shoulds thing than mights/coulds. Too harsh on myself, which reduces its effectiveness (not just to 0 at times, but an active hindrance causing ineffectiveness). I wanted a kinder thing, a personal operating system of sorts. Rev Dan Scott’s correspondence tool feels like that. I reminds me of what Rick Klau described earlier about his contacts ‘management’, although that stays closer to the mechanical, the less personal I feel, and skirts closer to the point where it feels inpersonal (or rather it challenges the assumption ‘if you don’t know it yourself and keep a list it’s not authentic’ more).

Building personalised tools, that are synchronised with the personality and routines of the person using it, not as an add-on (you can add your own filter rules to our e-mail client!), but as its core design, is mostly unexplored terrain I think. Because from a business perspective it doesn’t obviously “scale”, so no unicorn potential. That sort of generic scaling is unneeded anyway I think, and there is a very much available other path for scaling. Through the invisible hand of networks, where solutions and examples are replicated and tweaked across contexts, people and groups. That way lie the tools that are smaller than us, and therefore really provide agency.

It’s also why I think the title of Matt’s post Personal Software versus Factory Produced Software is a false dilemma. It’s not just a choice between personal and mass, between n=1 and statistics. There is a level in between, which is also where the complexity lives that makes us search for new tools in the first place: the level of you and your immediate context of relationships and things relevant to them. It’s the place where the thinking behind IndieWeb extends to all technology and methods. It’s where federation of tools live, and why I think you should run personal instances of tools that federate, not join someone else’s server, unless it is a pre-existing group launching a server and adopting it as their collective hang-out. Running personal or group tools, that can talk to others if you want it to and are potentially more valuable when connected to others, that have the network effect built in as an option.