A team of people, including Jeremy Keith whose writings are part of my daily RSS infodiet, have been doing some awesome web archeology. Over the course of 5 days at CERN, they recreated the browser experience as it was 30 years ago with the (fully text based) WorldWideWeb application for the NeXT computer

Hypertext’s root, the CERN page in 1989

This is the type of pages I visited before inline images were possible.
The cool bit is it allows you to see your own site as it would have looked 30 years ago. (Go to Document, then Open from full document reference and fill in your url) My site looks pretty well, which is not surprising as it is very text centered anyway.

Hypertexting this blog like it’s 1989

Maybe somewhat less obvious, but of key importance to me in the context of my own information strategies and workflows, as well as in the dynamics of the current IndieWeb efforts is that this is not just a way to view a site, but you can also edit the page directly in the same window. (See the sentence in all capitals in the image below.)

Read and write, the original premise of the WWW

Hypertext wasn’t meant as viewing-only, but as an interactive way of linking together documents you were actively working on. Closest come current wiki’s. But for instance I also use Tinderbox, a hypertext mindmapping, outlining and writing tool for Mac, that incorporates this principle of linked documents and other elements that can be changed as you go along. This seamless flow between reading and writing is something I feel we need very much for effective information strategies. It is present in the Mother of all Demos, it is present in the current thinking of Aaron Parecki about his Social Reader, and it is a key element in this 30 year old browser.

It looked like a pretty regular week, but then I developed a fever, so had to stay at home some of the days.

  • Had conversations with the Open State Foundation deputy director and the one remaining board member I hand’t met before yet, Noor
  • Discussed with Frank Meeuwsen when and how to organise an IndieWebCamp in Utrecht this spring
  • Worked on open data for a province
  • Caught up with André Golliez who has started a new company with two partners in Switzerland, and we discussed their new propositions and services
  • Started planning a stakeholder mapping exercise for a client
  • Had in-depth conversations with my The Green Land partners about our plans and course for the coming year
  • Spent Saturday in Enschede visiting our old neighbours for the birthday of their sons, and then an informal wedding reception at Henk and Melina’s, meeting many people we hadn’t met for a while. Our little one had a great time, so she didn’t mind we stayed a bit longer to catch up with people.

Kars Alfrink pointed me to a report on AI Ethics by the Nuffield Foundation, and from it lifts a specific quote, adding:

Good to see people pointing this out: “principles alone are not enough. Instead of representing the outcome of meaningful ethical debate, to a significant degree they are just postponing it”

This postponing of things, is something I encounter all the time. In general I feel that many organisations who claim to be looking at ethics of algorithms, algorithmic fairness etc, currently actually don’t have anything to do with AI, ML or complicated algorithms. To me it seems they just do it to place the issue of ethics well into the future, that as yet unforeseen point they will actually have to deal with AI and ML. That way they prevent having to look at ethics and de-biasing their current work, how they now collect, process data and the governance processes they have.

This is not unique to AI and ML though. I’ve seen it happen with open data strategies too. Where the entire open data strategy of for instance a local authority was based on working with universities and research entities to figure out how decades after now data might play a role. No energy was spent on how open data might be an instrument in dealing with actual current policy issues. Looking at future issues as fig leaf to not deal with current ones.

This is qualitatively different from e.g. what we see in the climate debates, or with smoking, where there is a strong current to deny the very existence of issues. In this case it is more about being seen to solve future issues, so no-one notices you’re not addressing the current ones.

Replied to Alleen mannen op het podium? Dan kom ik niet. by Elmine Wijnia
Prins Constantijn gaat nooit meer in een panel zitten zonder dat er minstens één vrouw in zit. Volgens hem is dat een goede manier om vooroordelen over vrouwelijke ondernemers weg te nemen, ..... Een mooie uitspraak die hopelijk ook in daad word omgezet...

Sinds twee jaar doe ik iets soortgelijks. Bij ieder spreekverzoek op een conferentie kijk ik naar wie nog meer komt, en of er, als er panels zijn, evenwicht in een panel zit. Als ik zelf niet kan, geef ik vrouwen op als alternatieve sprekers. Bij mijn panel deelname op een conferentie in Servië vorig jaar september, was het panel in evenwicht. Een half jaar eerder in Servië was het ook in orde. Mijn optreden bij State of the Net afgelopen jaar vond ik lastiger, in die zin. Te weinig vrouwen als spreker vond ik (3 van de 11), en telkens drie sprekers werden in een panel gezet, waardoor je dus geheel mannelijke panels kreeg. Wel heb ik, ik zit in het adviescomité van dat congres, zelf alleen vrouwelijke sprekers voorgedragen. Uiteindelijk ben ik wel gegaan, enerzijds omdat ik zelf een geheel nieuw verhaal wilde testen op een relevant publiek, anderzijds om een goede vriend die het organiseert niet teleur te stellen. Maar het betekent wel iets voor hoe ik dit jaar mijn adviserende rol in wil vullen.

Als event-organisator weet ik dat het kan, een gebalanceerde sprekerslijst en dito panels. Je moet wel zorgen dat je netwerk bij voorbaat al gebalanceerder is. Zo probeer ik dat bijvoorbeeld al te doen in mijn feedreader bij de weblogs die ik volg. Er is een overvloed aan vakmensen en denkers, als je die niet vindt ligt het niet aan die mensen. Als ik bijvoorbeeld vrouwelijke sprekers wil kunnen aanraden moet ik ze zelf ook eerst kennen: netwerken is gewoon een continue activiteit. Als event-organiser moet je er ook rekening mee houden dat mannen en vrouwen verschillend op een uitnodiging te spreken reageren. Mannen zijn eerder gevleid en gaan er vanuit dat ze wel een relevant verhaal kunnen houden. Vrouwen reageren eerder met reserve t.a.v. match van hun eigen kwalificaties en wat je zegt te zoeken voor je conferentie (er is altijd wel iemand beter), of planningsproblemen. Bij internationale conferenties die ik organiseerde nodigden we dan ook twee vrouwelijke sprekers t.o.v iedere man uit. In de praktijk kwam je dan op het omgekeerde uit, 1 op de 3 vrouwen als spreker. Het had nog een stuk beter gekund met meer vasthoudendheid (en betere planning) van onze kant. In Zweden op technische conferenties waar ik sprak was het altijd keurig 50-50. Ook in de organisatie zelf, en dat is volgens mij al het halve werk.

Chris Corrigan last November wrote a posting “Towards the idea that complexity is a theory of change“. Questions about the ‘theory of change’ you intend to use are regular parts of project funding requests for NGO’s, the international development sector and the humanitarian aid sector.

Chris’ posting kept popping up in my mind, “I really should blog about this”. But I didn’t. So for now I just link to it here. Because I think Chris is right, complexity is a theory of change. And in projects I do that concern community stewarding, networked agency and what I call distributed digital transformation, basically anything where people are the main players, it is for me in practice. Articulating it that way is helpful.

Cutting Through Complexity
How not to deal with complexity… Overly reductionist KPMG adverts on Thames river boats

Replied to I have been holding my breath for too long - Flashing Palely in the Margins (inthemargins.ca)
I have been holding my breath for too long. I don’t write as much, share as much as I used to, and part of that is because I have been waiting to have something to say before sharing. After twenty years of always having something to say, I have recently forgotten the concept of blogging as exhale, the notion of using this space as a place to breathe ideas and thoughts into existence. I have been holding my breath for so long that I have forgotten how to exhale. The next few months will be an exercise in breathing, for me.

What a beautiful metaphor, Sameer Vasta. Blog to exhale. To think out loud, to learn out in the open. To just add some of my and your ramblings to the mix. Starting somewhere in the middle, following a few threads of thought and intuitions, adding a few links (as ambient humanity), and ending without conclusions. Open ended. Just leaving it here. (from this posting)

A busy week but not hurried.

  • Several conversations with companies involved in narrative inquiry.
  • Spent a day in Groningen for conversations, visiting the local modern art museum on the way back to the rail station
  • Spent an evening in Enschede meeting an old friend from university
  • Our cat was found after three days being lost out in the cold. Because she has a RFID tag, the people who found her could contact us. Spent some time nursing her back to health.
  • Worked on benchmarking provinces on their open data efforts
  • Worked on procurement conditions for open data
  • Worked with Elmine on mutually helping each other to be more effective in our work
  • Helped plan a session for small municipalities on open data, next month

To me there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with plans I come across where companies would pay people for access to their personal data. This is not a well articulated thing, it just feels like the entire framing of the issue is off, so the next paragraphs are a first attempt to jot down a few notions.

To me it looks very much like a projection by companies on people of what companies themselves would do: treating data as an asset you own outright and then charging for access. So that those companies can keep doing what they were doing with data about you. It doesn’t strike me as taking the person behind that data as the starting point, nor their interests. The starting point of any line of reasoning needs to be the person the data is about, not the entity intending to use the data.

Those plans make data release, or consent for using it, fully transactional. There are several things intuitively wrong with this.

One thing it does is put everything in the context of single transactions between individuals like you and me, and the company wanting to use data about you. That seems to be an active attempt to distract from the notion that there’s power in numbers. Reducing it to me dealing with a company, and you dealing with them separately makes it less likely groups of people will act in concert. It also distracts from the huge power difference between me selling some data attributes to some corp on one side, and that corp amassing those attributes over wide swaths of the population on the other.

Another thing is it implies that the value is in the data you likely think of as yours, your date of birth, residence, some conscious preferences, type of car you drive, health care issues, finances etc. But a lot of value is in data you actually don’t have about you but create all the time: your behaviour over time, clicks on a site, reading speed and pauses in an e-book, minutes watched in a movie, engagement with online videos, the cell towers your phone pinged, the logs about your driving style of your car’s computer, likes etc. It’s not that the data you’ll think of as your own is without value, but that it feels like the magician wants you to focus on the flower in his left hand, so you don’t notice what he does with his right hand.
On top of that it also means that whatever they offer to pay you will be too cheap: your data is never worth much in itself, only in aggregate. Offering to pay on individual transaction basis is an escape for companies, not an emancipation of citizens.

One more element is the suggestion that once such a transaction has taken place everything is ok, all rights have been transferred (even if limited to a specific context and use case) and that all obligations have been met. It strikes me as extremely reductionist. When it comes to copyright authors can transfer some rights, but usually not their moral rights to their work. I feel something similar is at play here. Moral rights attached to data that describes a person, which can’t be transferred when data is transacted. Is it ok to manipulate you into a specific bubble and influence how you vote, if they paid you first for the type of stuff they needed to be able to do that to you? The EU GDPR I think takes that approach too, taking moral rights into account. It’s not about ownership of data per se, but the rights I have if your data describes me, regardless of whether it was collected with consent.

The whole ownership notion is difficult to me in itself. As stated above, a lot of data about me is not necessarily data I am aware of creating or ‘having’, and likely don’t see a need for to collect about myself. Unless paying me is meant as incentive to start collecting stuff about me for the sole purpose of selling it to a company, who then doesn’t need my consent nor make the effort to collect it about me themselves. There are other instances where me being the only one able to determine to share some data or withhold it mean risks or negative impact for others. It’s why cadastral records and company beneficial ownership records are public. So you can verify that the house or company I’m trying to sell you is mine to sell, who else has a stake or claim on the same asset, and to what amount. Similar cases might be made for new and closely guarded data, such as DNA profiles. Is it your sole individual right to keep those data closed, or has society a reasonable claim to it, for instance in the search for the cure for cancer? All that to say, that seeing data as a mere commodity is a very limited take, and that ownership of data isn’t a clear cut thing. Because of its content, as well as its provenance. And because it is digital data, meaning it has non-rivalrous and non-excludable characteristics, making it akin to a public good. There is definitely a communal and network side to holding, sharing and processing data, currently conveniently ignored in discussions about data ownership.

In short talking about paying for personal data and data lockers under my control seem to be a framing that presents data issues as straightforward but doesn’t solve any of data’s ethical aspects, just pretends that it’s taken care of. So that things may continue as usual. And that’s even before looking into the potential unintended consequences of payments.

Help jij ons mee organiseren? We gaan een IndieWebCamp organiseren in Utrecht, een event om het gebruik van het Open Web te bevorderen, en met elkaar praktische zaken aan je eigen site te verbeteren. We zoeken nog een geschikte datum en locatie in Utrecht. Je hulp is dus van harte welkom.

Op het Open Web bepaal jij zelf wat je publiceert, hoe het er uit ziet, en met wie je in gesprek gaat. Op het Open Web bepaal je zelf wie en wat je volgt en leest. Het Open Web was er altijd al, maar in de loop van de tijd zijn we allemaal min of meer opgesloten geraakt in de silo’s van Facebook, Twitter, en al die anderen. Hun algoritmes en timelines bepalen nu wat jij leest. Dat kan ook anders. Bouw je eigen site, waar anderen niet tussendoor komen fietsen omdat ze advertentie-inkomsten willen genereren. Houd je eigen nieuwsbronnen bij, zonder dat andermans algoritme je opsluit in een bubbel. Dat is het IndieWeb: jouw content, jouw relaties, jij zit aan het stuur.

Frank Meeuwsen en ik zijn al heel lang onderdeel van internet en dat Open Web, maar brengen/brachten ook veel tijd in websilo’s als Facebook door. Inmiddels zijn we beiden actieve ‘terugkeerders’ op het Open Web. Afgelopen november waren we samen op het IndieWebCamp Nürnberg, waar een twintigtal mensen met elkaar discussieerde en ook zelf actief aan de slag gingen met hun eigen websites. Sommigen programmeerden geavanceerde dingen, maar de meesten zoals ikzelf bijvoorbeeld, deden juist kleine dingen (zoals het verwijderen van een link naar de auteur van postings op deze site). Kleine dingen zijn vaak al lastig genoeg. Toen we terugreden met de trein naar Nederland waren we het er al snel over eens: er moet ook een IndieWebCamp in Nederland komen. In Utrecht dus, dit voorjaar.

Om Frank te citeren:

Voel je je aangesproken door de ideeën van het open web, indieweb, wil je aan de slag met een eigen site die meer vrij staat van de invloeden sociale silo’s en datatracking? Wil je een nieuwsvoorziening die niet meer primair wordt gevoed door algoritmen en polariserende roeptoeters? Dan verwelkomen we je op twee dagen IndieWebCamp Utrecht.

Laat weten of je er bij wilt zijn.
Laat weten of je kunt helpen met het vinden van een locatie.
Laat weten hoe wij jou kunnen helpen bij je stappen op het Open Web.

Je bent uitgenodigd!

Dries Buytaert, the originator of the Drupal CMS, is pulling the plug on Facebook. Having made the same observations I did, that reducing FB engagement leads to more blogging. A year ago he set out to reclaim his blog as a thinking-out-loud space, and now a year on quits FB.

I’ve seen this in a widening group of people in my network, and I welcome it. Very much so. At the same time though, I realise that mostly we’re returning to the open web. As we were already there for a long time before the silo’s Sirens lured us in, silos started by people who like us knew the open web. For us the open web has always been the default.

Returning to the open web is in that sense not a difficult step to make. Yes, you need to overcome the FOMO induced by the silo’s endless scrolling timeline. But after that withdrawal it is a return to the things still retained in your muscle memory. Dusting off the domain name you never let lapse anyway. Repopulating the feed reader. Finding some old blogging contacts back, and like in the golden era of blogging, triangulate from their blog roll and published feeds to new voices, and subscribe to them. It’s a familiar rhythm that never was truly forgotten. It’s comforting to return, and in some ways privilege rather than a risky break from the mainstream.

It makes me wonder how we can bring others along with us. The people for whom it’s not a return, but striking out into the wilderness outside the walled garden they are familiar with. We say it’s easy to claim your own space, but is it really if you haven’t done it before? And beyond the tech basics of creating that space, what can we do to make the social aspects of that space, the network and communal aspects easier? When was the last time you helped someone get started on the open web? When was the last time I did? Where can we encounter those that want and need help getting started? Outside of education I mean, because people like Greg McVerry have been doing great work there.

School children are traveling to The Hague in droves today, to demand climate action. The train is overly full, with youth and with energy. Not all fitted on to the train, so some were left on the platform to take the next one. Good to see the spirit of activism.