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., 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

Today friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of Catherine. Human meaning, being human, the richness of human interaction, to me is not about the grand gestures, but the small pieces. Acknowledging a familiar face elsewhere in the group. A shared laugh in recognition, a small story, shedding a tear in response to someone’s voice breaking up over a tiny anecdote. Catherine’s art displayed around the church, photos from her life being projected. Remembering the conversations we had out on their deck last June. It was very good to be part of it.

Except I wasn’t really. Because the celebration took place on Prince Edward Island, an ocean and five time zones away, and I was at home on my own couch.
Except I really was, and so were some three dozen others from across North-America, around Europe, and Indonesia, amongst which other dear friends of ours, visible to each other in the chat window.

Thanks to the live stream that Peter set-up he enabled us all to participate. Technology was our mediator this afternoon, as it was when I ‘joined’ Oliver’s birthday last year. It once more made true what I’ve held for years, that empathy can flow over copper wires and fiber optic cables. Beaming us into the presence of Peter and Oliver and all those around them, to be witness, to share, and to show and confirm ourselves to each other as being part of shared community. I am grateful it could be that way today.

I’ve held for a long time that whenever someone says “we’d like to hire women but we don’t know any” or “we really want women as speakers on our event but we don’t know any and if we do they say no”, it is really down to the lack of quality and balance in their network of contacts. When I organised international conferences myself, with our team we made sure to invite speakers while conscious of the lopsidedness of our own networks, overcompensating in our invitations to get a result closer to a 50/50 balance. Now that my company is hiring new people every now and then, that too is an opportunity to counteract such imbalance.

Last week I wrote about ‘homebrew CRM‘, in which I mentioned Rick Klau’s post on his contact management routines. One element that jumped out when I was reading his post was that he had taken a look at his contact lists to see how the men/women ratio was in his network. There’s nothing in LinkedIn that let’s you explore your contact list as a single data set. It’s only a rolodex still, no way to visualise the data in that list in any way (e.g. geographic or sectoral distribution, or other cross sections of the list). Rick mentioned he had downloaded all his LinkedIn data and all his Twitter data, and then used that data export to work on. I requested the same data from LinkedIn and Twitter.

It turns out that LinkedIn’s export contains a list of contact names (but not the link to their profiles, as that isn’t ‘your data’), and a key piece of information they normally don’t show you: the date you connected. (Interestingly LinkedIn offers you nothing to record the context and reason you connected. The Xing-platform, heavily used in Germany, does do that, and I find it very useful)

Having names and dates, I manually indicated someone’s gender, and then used the dates for basic insights into how my recorded network developed over time. (Typing this I realise I still have the export from Facebook when I deleted my original account 2 years ago, and I could do the same there)

For now I looked at two measures: the balance between women and men in contacts I added each year, and the balance between women and men in the total number of contacts each year. Currently I have some 2150 contacts, of which some 600 are women, for a percentage of 27%. That is significantly lower than I had intuited. I think such overestimation is a known effect.

Looked at per year for the contacts added that year, the balance over time has improved from 10% in 2003, to between a third and 40% in the last handful of years. That last number is in line with the overall percentage I had intuited, so apparently I am using my perception of recent years as the estimate for the entire period. That low 2003 starting percentage has a lot to do I think with the general imbalance of the early adopter crowd that came into LinkedIn when they launched in May 2003 (I joined in June ’03) and the low number of people I connected to those first months on the platform (11 in 6 months).

Getting closer to a 50/50 balance on LinkedIn isn’t completely within my control I realise (unlike in my feed reading), as it also depends on who I actually meet in my work, and each working environment has its own existing gender distribution. It is also not completely outside my control. There is agency in new situations and contexts, such as whom I seek out for conversation when participating in an event. Yet, getting to a 50/50 balance for the total would mean connecting only to women for a few years, adding about a 1000 new contacts that way. History does keep one back clearly.

cummulative per year

new contacts added per year

As back in the ’00s, I’m still very much with you on the KM as conversations front, Euan. Back then in a conversation with Sally Bean, while visiting another large KM event I used the metaphor of visiting an art convention and seeing nothing but paint and brushes vendors. Luckily, reading that event report I still had valuable conversations that day.

As a timely reminder of the value of conversations to learn stuff you didn’t before, I received a touching thank you note just this afternoon before seeing your posting in my feed reader.

It was from an Irish civil servant, telling me about something major he had been involved in in an African nation. He thanked me for a conversation we had in 2012 about crowdsourcing as a means for government agencies to collaboratively build public services with citizens. That started him on a path that helped his regional government entity, and resulted in the impactful work in an African nation mentioned. It’s humbling to know something like that has come about with some sort of contribution from my conversations seven years ago, and awesome and attentive he sees our conversation as part of that journey.

Pretty powerful stuff, conversations and stories.

Replied to Knowledge Management, arses and elbows. (The Obvious?)

For me the purpose of KM was to make it easier to have useful conversations with people who knew stuff that you didn’t…..

Do you know of any work, Valdis or Marc to map scientific networks (who’s collaborating / publishing with / citing / getting funded by whom in which field) as a means of discovery? E.g. if you wanted to explore the current developments in a field of science you’re not a part of yourself, to explore who is currently core, a new comer, or an interesting boundary spanner in a field.