Today we joined the HSTM20 Unconference, organised by our friend Oliver with logistics support from Peter, who live on Prince Edward Island in Canada. HSTM stands for Home Stuff That Matters, that last bit is a nod to our STM birthday unconferences, so this is as Peter said today, another branch on the evolving tree of unconference events.

The Home, in Home Stuff That Matters points to us all being home due to the pandemic, and to the two questions we discussed. What have you learned from the pandemic that you want to keep for the future? What do you like about the place where you live?

We were over 25 people, from around the world, across ten time zones, so from morning coffee time to end of afternoon, and evening. It was a nice mix of familiar faces and new ones, spending two hours in conversation. It was good to see dear friends, as well as meeting people again we first met last year when we visited Peter, Catherine and Oliver on PEI for a face to face unconference.

The event also showed how well Zoom works. With over 25 participants from literally around the world, with a wide variety of bandwith and tech savviness it worked without issue, splitting up from a plenary into multiple groups and rejoining into a plenary. It’s in a different class than other tools I’ve been using, even with its dubious information ethics.

Regrouping ourselves as Oliver’s tribe this time, it was an excellent way to kick-off our weekend.

Part of Oliver’s tribe in conversation today

My friend Peter has a conversation with Cynthia King, about life and death on PEI, landing in and joining a community, belonging and actively creating community. Taking in podcasts is not my thing, but I very much enjoyed listening to this one.

Favorited Peter Rukavina – making community on PEI by The Belong Podcast • A podcast on Anchor (Anchor)

Peter Rukavina shares his life experiences about belonging to a community and navigating his way through challenging times.

Jason Fried of Basecamp writes up nicely why I have been reading their communications handbook recently.

Bookmarked Working remotely builds organizational resiliency by Jason Fried

For many, moving from everyone’s-working-from-the-office to everyone’s-working-at-home isn’t so much a transition as it is a scramble. A very how the fuck? moment.
That’s natural. And people need time to figure it out. So if you’re in a leadership position, bake in time. You can’t expect…

Good to see this conversation between Howard Rheingold and the good people at Edgeryders (yet another place I’m more of a boundary spanner, link to a G translated Dutch posting I wrote last week) happening. Is the communitarian Internet back in the wake of COVID-19? Howard brings the perspective of the late 80’s, early 90’s, as does Edgeryder’s own John Coate. I too see a surge in online conversations and actions that feel more like back then, than what the likes of FB silos have been algorithmically feeding us the last 5 years or so. It has been brewing for a while already, with a slow but steady trickle back to blogging. Even if that trickle was mostly people returning to their earlier online spaces, which they left for FB and Twitter post 2006. The sudden surge now that everyone and their mother, literally, is coming online more or less full time, may expose a much wider population to the type of community based interaction that was prevalent before social media and ad-tech domination.

Bookmarked a post (Edgeryders)

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HowardRheingoldJI4.jpg I have been online since 1992 – hell, I practically lived online most of these 30 years. What drew me to the Internet was not the presence of shiny, easy-to-use, free services – they were not there in the early days. On the contrary, you had to put in time and money if you wanted to, as we said then, “connect to the Internet”. But the reward was high. Whatever your tribe, you would find it. Whether you cared about particle…

De Weblogmeeting komt terug, roept Frank Meeuwsen. Weblogmeetings waren ‘een ding’ in de ’00s. Met mijn blog in het Engels, en het wonen op 2 uur van de randstad, zat ik niet zo in de algemene NL blogscene (ik kom volgens mij ook niet in Frank’s boek Bloghelden voor), maar ik ben wel een paar keer op zo’n soort meeting geweest. Zowel meet-ups van Edubloggers (met bloggers uit de onderwijswereld, waar ik als kennismanagement blogger mee verwant was), Blognomics, als ook de Weblogmeetings waar Frank aan refereert (in Amsterdam of Utrecht was het als ik me goed herinner). Ik ben ooit ook nog eens voor het online bloggerzine About:blank geïnterviewd.

Met mijn en andermans verstevigde terugkeer (in mijn geval eind 2017) naar het eigen blog, en weg van de silo’s, is de blik niet alleen naar voren gericht (hoe geeft het internet ons weer meer handelingsvermogen in plaats van dat het onze autonomie ondermijnt?), maar ook onderheving aan enige nostalgie. Dat zal ook wel de leeftijd zijn inmiddels. Kortom, de Datumprikker voor de Weblogmeeting 2020 ingevuld, in de hoop dat er een datum uitrolt die inderdaad schikt. Zin in.

Through a reference by Julian Elvé, I read Doc Searls’ talk that he gave last October and has now published, Saving the Internet – and all the commons it makes possible.

Internet OpenInternet Open, image by Liz Henry, license CC BY ND

First he says of the internet as commons
In economic terms, the Internet is a common pool resource; but non-rivalrous and non-excludable to such an extreme that to call it a pool or a resource is to insult what makes it common: that it is the simplest possible way for anyone and anything in the world to be present with anyone and anything else in the world, at costs that can round to zero.

As a commons, the Internet encircles every person, every institution, every business, every university, every government, every thing you can name. It is no less exhaustible than presence itself. By nature and design, it can’t be tragic, any more than the Universe can be tragic.

He then lists 9 enclosures of that commons currently visible, because enclosure is one of the affordances the internet provides.

See, the Internet is designed to support every possible use, every possible institution, and—alas—every possible restriction, which is why enclosure is possible. People, institutions and possibilities of all kinds can be trapped inside enclosures on the Internet.

  1. service provisioning, for example with asymmetric connection speeds. Asymmetry favours consumption over production. Searls singles out cable companies specifically for wanting this imbalance. I’ve been lucky from early on. Yes until fiber to the home, we had asymmetrical speeds, but I had a fixed IP address from the start and ran a web server under my desk from the mid ’90s until 2007 when I started using a hoster for this blog. I still run little experiments from my own server(s) at home. The web was intentioned to be both read and write even at the level of a page you visited (in short the web as online collaboration tool, in a way like Google documents). For most people the general web is preceived as read-only I assume, even if they participate in silos where they do post stuff themselves.
  2. 5G wireless service, as a way for telco’s to do the same as cable companies did before, in the form of content-defined packages. I am not sure if this could play out this way in the Netherlands or the EU, where net neutrality is better rooted in law, and where, especially after the end of roaming charges in the EU, metered data plans either have become meaningless as unmetered plans are cheap enough, or at least the metered plans themselves are large enough to make e.g. zero-rating a meaningless concept. 5G could however mean households might choose to no longer use a fixed internet subscription for at home, and do away with their own wifi networks, I suspect, and introducing a new dependency where your mobile and at home access are all the same thing and a singular choke point.
  3. government censorship, with China being the most visible one in this space, but many countries do aim to block specific services at least temporarily, and many countries and collections of countries are on the path to realising their own ‘data spaces’. While understandable, as data and networks are strategic resources now, it also carries the risk of fragmentation of the internet (Russia e.g.), motivated ostensibly by safety concerns but with a big dollop of wanting control over citizens.
  4. the advertising-supported commercial Internet. This is the one most felt currently. Adtech that tracks you across your websurfing habits, and not just in the silos you inhabit
  5. protectionism, which Searls ties to EU privacy laws, which I find a very odd remark. While GDPR could be better, it is a quality instrument with a rising floor, that is not designed to protect the EU market, but to encourage global compliance to its standards. A way of shaping instruments the EU uses more often, and has proven to be a succesfull export product. The cookie notices he mentions are a nuisance, but not the result of the GDPR, and in my mind more caused by interpreting the (currently under revision) cookie law in a deliberate cumbersome way. Even then, I don’t see how privacy regulation is protectionism, as it finds its root in human rights, not competition law.
  6. Facebook.org, or digital colonialism. This is the efforts by silos like FB to bring the ‘next billion’ online in a fully walled garden that is free of charge and presented as being the web, or worse the internet itself. I’ve seen this in action in developing countries and it’s unavoidable for most if not all, because it is the only way to access the power of agency that the internet promises, when there’s is no way you can afford connectivity.
  7. forgotten past, caused by the focus on the latest, the newest, while at the same time the old is not only forgotten but also actively lost as it gets taken offline etc. I think this is where strong opportunities are arising for niche search engines and also search engines as a personal tool. You don’t need to build the next Google or be a market player even, to meaningfully erode the position of Google search. For instance it is quite feasible to have my own search engine that only searches all the blogs I subscribe and have subscribed to (I actually should build that). At the same time, there is a slow steady and increasing effort of bringing more of the old, just not the old web, online by the ongoing digitisation of physical archives and collections of artefacts. More of our past, our global cultural heritage, is coming onto the web every day and it is really still only at the start.
  8. algorithmic opacity. This one is very much on the agenda across Europe currently, mainly as part of ethical discussions and right now mostly centered around government transparency. The GDPR contains a clause that automated algorithmic decision making about people is not allowed. At the very least having explainable alogrithms, and transparent usage of them is a likely emerging practice. Asymmetry of decision making also plays a useful role. This one too is closely tied to human rights which will help bring in parties to the discussion that are not of the tech world. At issue with what we currently see of algorithms is that they are used over our heads, and not yet much as personal tool, where it could increase our networked agency.
  9. the one inside our heads, where we accept the internet as it is presented to us by those invested in one or more of the above 8 enclosures. With understanding what the internet is and how it is a commons as a public awareness need.

Go read the entire thing, where Doc Searls describes what the internet is, how it connects to human experience and making the hyper local key again when there is a global commons encompassing everyone, and how it erodes and replaces institutions of the 20th century and earlier. He talks about how the internet “means we are all authors of each other“.

At the end he asks What might be the best way to look at the Internet and its uses most sensibly?, and concludes “I think the answer is governance predicated on the realization that the Internet is perhaps the ultimate commons“, and “There is so much to work on: expansion of agency, sensibility around license and copyright, freedom to benefit individuals and society alike, protections that don’t foreclose opportunity, saving journalism, modernizing the academy, creating and sharing wealth without victims, de-financializing our economies… the list is very long

I’m happy to be working on the first three of those.

Robert Allerton Park in Monticello, Illinois. English Walled Garden.Walled garden, image by Ron Frazier, license CC BY