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.

Of course it’s in direct conflict with FB’s business model but

social networks should reintroduce friction into their sharing mechanisms. Think of it as the digital equivalent of social distancing.

makes a lot of sense otherwise. There’s no viable path of doing only content moderation or filtering. Another option is breaking monopolistic silos up by requiring open API’s for them to be seen as true platforms. That too will reduce amplification, as it puts the selection into the hands of a wider variety of clients built on top of such a true platform. Of course that too is anathema to their business model.

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.

Interesting pattern: in a client online discussion with 250 people, many seem to equate ‘digital working’ with videocalls. Their IT department sees that other tools are underused (e.g. Slack-like chats etc., asynchronous tools other than email)

Last weekend I suspended my FB account. During the months of the pandemic I increasingly felt the irritation with FB build up again. Two years ago I deleted my previous Facebook account, after having stopped using it half a year before it. I did it then foremost to delete the existing history, and created a new account. I told myself it was the only way to connect to some people in my personal and professional network. That isn’t false, but it’s also not true in the sense that this is an overwhelming effect. FB is not without use, I’ve been able to keep up with the lives of various people I care about, and have been able to respond to their life events because it’s easy to share for them, and easy for me to respond on my own terms. That is a valuable human connection. Yet, when you’re having fun in a toxic swamp, you might be having fun, but you’re also still in a toxic swamp. I cherish the interaction with people around me, but rather do that in a pleasant environment which FB is most definitely not.

My original intention this weekend was to leave the account suspended for a few weeks to see how that felt and to maybe get back in later. I realised that that is basically to let the skin irritation of the toxic swamp fade away for a few days and then expose myself to a next batch of irritants.

Then today two things happened.

Om Malik wrote about FB’s toxicity as a company, and to vote with your feet. One vote in itself isn’t much. Yet “If you don’t make good use of your vote, you enable those who would … destroy what we value. Facebook is no different. You might be one person with just one account, but you are not powerless. Being a part of Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithmic empire is a choice. If you believe that Facebook is causing long-term damage to our society, and you don’t agree with their values or their approach to doing business, you can choose to leave.” He left FB half a year after me, but still maintained his Instagram and Whatsapp account. He’s ditching that now too, because of FB the company. He’s right. If you think you’re in a toxic swamp, why stay at all within its vicinity?

The second thing was that the mail man came. Bringing a lovely hand written note from Peter. With kind words about our friendship and how our blog writing and adjacent interaction crosses the ocean between us. His card was a great example of having fun outside of the toxic swamp. Not that I think that I should return to sending postcards only, it just points to the spectrum of other channels we have at our fingertips that aren’t FB.


So, like two years ago I deleted my FB account again today, and in 30 days it will be gone. FB is betting I will try to log in within that time. I know I won’t. Because unlike two years ago I have no hold-out reason left to go back into the toxic swamp. On top of that, if I did then I’d have to return here and eat my words 😉

Faszinierendes Video von Rezo (ht Victor Venema), über die (un)subtilen Ähnlichkeiten zwischen Verschwörungstheorieenbehauptungen und Presse. Hatte zwar die Aufregung über ‘die Zerstörung der CDU” letztes Jahr mitbekommen aber mir das Video nie angeschaut. Ich bin ja kein Teil des Deutschen politischen Diskurses. Das funktionieren der Presse, und wie man im eigenen Umfeld mit auftauchenden Verschwörungsbehauptungen umgeht ist aber eine allgemeine Angelegenheit. Ist lange her das ich mir eine Stunde lang ein Video angeschaut habe. Crap detection als Bürgerpflicht also. Auf Deutsch diesmal. Damit man die ‘Kackmoves‘ der Presse häufiger denunziert. (habe also auch einige Neudeutsche Begriffe dazu gelernt 😀 )

(this is not a Youtube embed, but a link to the video)

(Und ja, warum verlinken Zeitungen online nicht routinenmäßig auf ihren Quellen? Ist es vielleicht möglich vielleicht weil sie Angst vor kritischen Blicken haben? Wird man wohl noch fragen dürfen, oder? Ey? 😉 )