Last week the 2nd annual Techfestival took place in Copenhagen. As part of this there was a 48 hour think tank of 150 people (the ‘Copenhagen 150‘), looking to build the Copenhagen Catalogue, as a follow-up of last year’s Copenhagen Letter of which I am a signee. Thomas, initiator of the Techfestival had invited me to join the CPH150 but I had to decline the invitation, because of previous commitments I could not reschedule. I’d have loved to contribute however, as the event’s and even more the think tank’s concerns are right at the heart of my own. My concept of networked agency and the way I think about how we should shape technology to empower people in different ways runs in parallel to how Thomas described the purpose of the CPH150 48 hour think tank at its start last week.

For me the unit of agency is the individual and a group of meaningful relationships in a specific context, a networked agency. The power to act towards meaningful results and change lies in that group, not in the individual. The technology and methods that such a group deploys need to be chosen deliberately. And those tools need to be fully within scope of the group itself. To control, alter, extend, tinker, maintain, share etc. Such tools therefore need very low adoption thresholds. Tools also need to be useful on their own, but great when federated with other instances of those tools. So that knowledge and information, learning and experimentation can flow freely, yet still can take place locally in the (temporary) absence of such wider (global) connections. Our current internet silos such as Facebook and Twitter clearly do not match this description. But most other technologies aren’t shaped along those lines either.

As Heinz remarked earlier musing about our unconference, effective practices cannot be separated from the relationships in which you live. I added that the tools (both technology and methods) likewise cannot be meaningfully separated from the practices. Just like in the relationships you cannot fully separate between the hyperlocal, the local, regional and global, due to the many interdependencies and complexity involved: what you do has wider impact, what others do and global issues express themselves in your local context too.

So the CPH150 think tank effort to create a list of principles that takes a human and her relationships as the starting point to think about how to design tools, how to create structures, institutions, networks fits right with that.

Our friend Lee Bryant has a good description of how he perceived the CPH150 think tank, and what he shared there. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile the results are up: 150 principles called the Copenhagen Catalogue, beautifully presented. You can become signatory to those principles you deem most valuable to stick to.

Heinz Wittenbrink, who teaches content strategy at the FH Joanneum in Graz, reflected extensively on his participation in our recent Smart Stuff That Matters unconference.
We go back since 2006 (although I think we read each others blog before), when we first met at a BarCamp in Vienna. Later Heinz kindly invited me to Graz at several occasions such as the 2008 Politcamp (a barcamp on web 2.0 and political communication), and the 2012 annual conference of the Austrian association for trainers in basic education for adults.

He writes in German, and his blogpost contains a lot to unpack (also as it weaves the history of our interaction into his observations), so I thought I’d highlight and translate some quotes here. This as I find it rather compelling to read how someone, who’s been involved in and thinking about online interaction for a long time, views the event we did in the context of his and my work. And that some of what I’m trying to convey as fundamental to thinking about tools and interaction is actually coming across to others. Even if I feel that I’ve not yet hit on the most compelling way to formulate my ideas.

Heinz starts with saying he sees my approach as a very practice oriented one.
“Ton engages on a very practical level with the possibilities of combining the personal and personal relationships with the wider contexts in which one lives, from the local community to global developments. He has a technical, pragmatic and practice oriented approach. Also he can explain to others who are not part of a digital avantgarde what he does.”

And then places the birthday unconferences we did in that context, as an extension of that practice oriented approach. Something I realise I didn’t fully do myself.

“The unconference of last week is an example of how one can do things from a highly personal motivation – like meeting friends, talking about topics you’re interested in, conversing about how you shape your new daily routines after a move – and make it easy for others to connect to that. What you find or develop you don’t keep for yourself, but is made useful for others, and in turn builds on what those others do. So it’s not about developing an overarching moral claim in a small context , but about shaping and networking one’s personal life in such a way that you collectively expand your capabilities to act. Ton speaks of networked agency. Digital networking is a component of these capabilities to act, but only embedded in networks that combine people, as well as locations and technical objects.”

Speaking about the unconference he says something that really jumps out at me.

To list the themes [….of the sessions I attended…] fails to express what was special about the unconference: that you meet people or meet them again, for whom these themes are personal themes, so that they are actually talking about their lives when they talk about them. At an unconference like this one does not try to create results that can be broadcast in abstracted formulations, but through learning about different practices and discussing them, extend your own living practice and view it from new perspectives. These practices or ways of living cannot be separated from the relationships in which and with which you live, and the relationships you create or change at such an event like this.

Seeing it worded like that, that the topics we discussed, theorised about, experimented around, are very much personal topics, and in the context of personal relationships, hits me as very true. I hadn’t worded it in quite that way myself yet. This is however exactly why to me digital networks and human networks are so similar and overlapping, and why I see your immediate context of an issue, you and your meaningful relationships as the key unit of agency. That’s why you can’t separate how you act from your relationships. And why the layeredness of household, neighbourhood, city, earth is interwoven by default, just often not taken into account, especially not in the design phase of technology and projects.

Heinz then talks about blogging, and our earlier silent assumptions that novel technology would as per default create the right results. Frank’s phrasing and Heinz’s mention of the ‘original inspiration’ to blog resonate with me.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the people I had the most intensive conversations with have been blogging for a long time. They all stuck with the original inspiration to blog. Frank in his presentation called it “to publish your own unedited voice”. The openness but also the individuality expressed in this formulation was clearly visible in the entire unconference.

For me blogging was a way of thinking out loud, making a life long habit of note taking more public. The result was a huge growth in my professional peer network, and I found that learning in this networked manner accelerated enormously. Even if my imagined audience when I write is just 4 or 5 of people, and I started blogging as a personal archive/reflection tool, I kept doing it because of the relationships it helped create.

Continuing on about the early techno-optimism Heinz says about the unconference

The atmosphere at the unconference was very different. Of the certainties of the years shortly after 2000 nothing much remains. The impulses behind the fascination of yesteryear do remain however. It’s not about, or even less about technology as it was then, it’s about smart actions in themselves, and life under current conditions. It’s about challenging what is presented as unavoidable more than producing unavoidability yourself.

Only slowly I understand that technologies are much deeper embedded in social practices and can’t be separated from them. Back then I took over Ton’s concept of ‘people centered navigation’. Through the event last week it became clearer to me what this concept means: not just a ‘right’ efficient way to use tools, but a practice that for specific needs deliberately selects tools and in doing so adapts them.

People centered navigation is not a component of better more efficient mass media, but navigating information in reference to needs and capabilities of people in localised networks. Where above all the production of media and content in dialogue with a limited number of others is relevant, not its reception by the masses. Network literacies are capabilities to productively contribute to these localised networks.

Just like practice is inseparable from our relationships, our tools are inseparable from our practices. In networked agency, the selection of tools (both technology and methods) is fully determined by the context of the issue at hand and the group of relationships doing it. As I tried to convey in 2010 in my Maker Households keynote at SHiFT and indeed at the earlier mentioned keynote I gave at Heinz’s university on basic literacy in adult learning, networked literacies are tied to your personal networks. And he’s right, the original fascination is as strong as before.

Heinz finishes with adding the work of Latour to my reading list, by his last remark.

The attempt to shape your local surroundings intelligently and to consider how you can connect them in various dimensions of networks, reminds me of the localised politics in fragile networks that Bruno Latour describes in his terrestrial manifest as an alternative to the utopies and dystopies of globalisation and closed national societies. Latour describes earth as a thin layer where one can live, because one creates the right connections and maintains them. The unconference was an experiment to discover and develop such connections.

Thank you Heinz for your reflection, I’m glad you participated in this edition.

At our birthday unconference STM18 last week, Frank gave a presentation (PDF) on running your own website and social media tools separate from the commercial silos like Facebook, Twitter etc. Collected under the name IndieWeb (i.e. the independent web), this is basically what used to be the default before we welcomed the tech companies’ silos into town. The IndieWeb never went away of course, I’ve been blogging in this exact same space for 16 years now, and ran a personal website for just under a decade before that. For broader groups to take their data and their lives out of silos it requires however easy options out, and low-threshold replacement tools.

One of the silos to replace is Twitter. There are various other tools around, like Mastodon. What they have in common is that it’s not run by a single company, but anyone can run a server, and then they federate, i.e. all work together. So that if I am on server 128, and you are on server 512 our messages still arrive in the right spot.

I’ve been looking at running a Mastodon instance, or similar, myself for a while. Because yes, there are more Mastodon servers (I have accounts on and on, but I know even less about who runs them and their tech skills, attitudes or values than I know about Twitter. I’ve just exchanged a big silo for a smaller one. The obvious logical endpoint of thinking about multiple instances or servers, is that instances should be individual, or based on existing groups that have some cohesion. More or less like e-mail, which also is a good analogy to think of when trying to understand Mastodon account names.

Ideally, running a Mastodon instance would be something you do yourself, and which at most has your household members in it. Or maybe you run one for a specific social context. So how easy is it, to run Mastodon myself.

Not easy.

I could deploy it on my own VPS. But maintaining a VPS is rather a lot of work. And I would need to find out if I run the right type of operating system and other packages to be able to do it. Not something for everyone, nor for me without setting aside some proper time.

Or I could spin up a Mastodon instance at Amazon’s server parks. That seems relatively easy to do, requiring a manageable list of mouse clicks. It doesn’t really fit my criteria though, even if it looks like a relatively quick way to at least have my own instance running. It would take me out of Twitter’s software silo, but not out of Amazon’s hardware silo. Everything would still be centralised on a US server, likely right next to the ones Twitter is using. Meaning I’d have more control over my own data, but not be bringing my stuff ‘home’.

Better already is something like, run by a volunteer named Hugo Gameiro who’s based in Portugal. It provides ease of use in terms of running your own instance, which is good, but leaves open issues of control and flexibility.

So I’d like a solution that either can run on a package with my local hosting provider or figure out how to run it on cheap hardware like Raspberry Pi which can be connected to my home router. The latter one I’d prefer, but for now I am looking to learn how easy it is to do the former.

Mastodon and other similar tools like Pleroma require various system components my hosting provider isn’t providing, nor likely to be willing to provide. Like many other hosters they do have library of scripts you can automatically install with all the right dependencies and settings. In the section ‘social media’ it doesn’t mention Mastodon or any other ‘modern’ varity, but they do list GnuSocial and its predecessor StatusNet. GnuSocial is a script that uses the same protocols like Mastodon, OStatus and ActivityPub. So it should be able to communicate with Mastodon.

I installed it and created an account for myself (and myself as administrator). Then I tried to find ways to federate with Mastodon instances. The interface is rather dreadful, and none of the admin settings seemed to hint at anything that lies beyond the GnuSocial instance itself, no mention of anything like federation.

The interface of GnuSocial

However in my profile a button labelled “+remote” popped up. And through that I can connect to other people on other instances. Such as the people I am connected to on Mastodon already. I did that, and it nicely links to their profiles. But none of their messages show up in my stream. Even if it looks I can send messages to them from my GnuSocial instance as I can do things like @someotheruser, they don’t seem to arrive. So if I am indeed sending something, there’s no-one listening at the other end.

I did connect to others externally

And I can send messages to them, although they do not seem to arrive

So that leaves a number of things for next steps to explore. Also on Mastodon in conversation with Maarten I noticed that I need to express better what I’m after. Something for another posting. To be continued.

Our event meant bringing together some 45 people. They all know at least one of us two, but mostly don’t know each other. Some type of introduction is therefore useful, but you don’t want to take much time out of the day itself for it, as often intro-rounds are dreary and meaningless exercises that sap energy and of which you don’t remember much immediately after. So we’ve aimed for our events to have a first activity that is also an intro-round, but serves a bigger purpose for the event.

Previously we’ve done 1-on-1 intro conversations that also produced a hand drawn map of connections or of skills and experiences in the group, to be re-used to find the right people for subsequent sessions. We’ve done groups of 5 to 6 to create Personas, as the first step of the design process to make something yourself. This time we settled on an idea of Elmine, to do what can best be described as Anecdote Circles Lite. Anecdote circles are a process to elicit experiences and stories from a group as they reveal implicit knowledge and insights about a certain topic (PDF). You group people together and prompt them with one or more questions that ask about specific occasions that have strong feelings attached to it. Others listen and can write down what stands out for them in the anecdote shared.

The starting point of the unconference theme ‘Smart Stuff That Matters’ was our move to Amersfoort last year. It means getting to know, find your way in, and relate to a new house, a different neighbourhood, a different city. And do that in the light of what you need to fulfill your needs to be at home and feel supported in the new environment. But in a broader light you can use the same questions to take a fresh look at your own environment, and make it ‘smarter’ in being at home and feeling supported. Our opening exercise was shaped to nudge the participants along the same path.

In my opening remarks, after singing a birthday song together for Elmine, I sketched our vision for the event much as in the previous paragraph. Then I asked all participants to find 3 or 4 others that you preferrably do not know, and find a spot in the house or garden (inviting them to explore the house/garden on their own that way too, giving them permission to do so as it were). The question to prompt conversation was “Think back to the last time you moved house, and arrived in a new environment. What was most disappointing to you about your new place/live? What was pleasantly surprising to you about your new place/live?” With those questions and pen & paper everybody was off to their first conversations.


The thoughts and observations resulting from the intro-round

Judging by Peter’s description of it, it went well. It’s quoted here in full as it describes both the motivation for and the layeredness of the experience quite well. I take Peter’s words as proof the process worked as intended.

The second highlight is an event that preceded Oliver’s talk, the “icebreaker” part of the day that led things off. I have always dreaded the “everybody introduce yourself” part of meetings, especially meetings of diverse people whose lives inevitably seem much more interesting than my own; this, thankfully, was dispensed with, and instead we were prompted to gather with people we didn’t yet know and to talk about our best and worst moves in life.

What proceeded from this simple prompt was a rich discussion of what it’s like to live as an expat, how difficult it is to make friends as an adult, and the power of neighbourhood connections. Oliver and I were in a group with Heinz and Elja and Martyn, and we talked for almost an hour. I have no idea what any of the others in our group do for a living, but I know that Martyn mowed his lawn this week in preparation for a neighbourhood party, that Heinz lives in an apartment block where it’s hard to get to know his neighbours, and that Elja has lived in Hungary, the USA and Turkey, and has the most popular Dutch blog post on making friends.

During the event Elja shared her adagio that the best way to get to know people after moving to a new environment is to do something together (as opposed to just sitting down for coffee and conversation). It’s pleasantly recursive to see a statement like that as the result of a process designed to follow that adagio in the first place.

I will transscribe all the post-its and post (some of) it later.

Some images from previous activities-as-intro-rounds we used in previous editions:


Persona creation / Using the hand drawn skills cards

Drawing the Sociogram

Drawing a map of connections, dubbed sociogram, between participants

Google Reader five years dead

Five years ago, on July 1st 2013, Google killed their Google Reader. It was then probably the most used way to keep track of websites through RSS.

RSS allows you to see the latest articles from a website, and thus makes it easier to keep track of many different blogs and sites all at once. RSS is a very important part of the plumbing of internet.

I used to read everything through RSS, but over time people migrated to FB, stopped blogging, fell silent. Services like Twitter stopped providing RSS, website owners forgot it was a standard feature. Google Reader stopping meant that many casual users stopped reading the web with RSS. Browsers stopped visibly supporting it.

Five years on, Dave Winer writes, Google Reader centralised a decentralised technology. We should have been more alert, choose an independent tool to read, and not hand it to a silo. Frank Meeuwsen says similar things, that removing the biggest RSS reader made room for new growth and variety.


Long Live RSS

Aral Balkan, timed with the 5th anniversary of Google Reader’s demise, blogged “Reclaiming RSS“, explaining what it does. RSS is an important part of letting the web be what it is best at, a decentralised space where all can read and write. Earlier in April Wired called for a RSS Revival as well.

How I read RSS
I interact with people, I don’t follow sites. That is how I shape and perceive my RSS reading, having all the feeds named after their authors, and grouping them in my reader roughly along my perceived social distance. From a group of people closest to me, to people I know well, not very well, to strangers whose writing I came across. Roughly following Dunbar-like group size levels. See the image below. This is because I see blogging as distributed conversations: you write something, I respond with some of my own writing. Blogposts building upon blogposts. So I set up my feedreader to reflect that conversational aspect. I use ReadKit currently, as I prefer an offline reader.

Screenshot of part of my RSS reader, in rough groups of social distance

You can find the link to my blog’s RSS feed in the right side column (with the orange icon). Any feedreader should also be able to automatically detect my blog’s feed if you point it to my web address.
I also publish which feeds I am reading. On the right hand side you see a link to ‘OPML Blogroll‘ which is a file of all the feeds I currently read that machines can read (the list is a bit out of date, but I update it every month or so). Any feed reader should be able to import that file.

In 2005 I described how I read RSS then, in response to Lee Lefever asking about people’s RSS reading routines. The current ‘grouping by social distance’ way of reading I have is the result of the search I mention at the end of that blogpost, on how to deal with a larger number of feeds.

How do you read RSS feeds?

Thirteen years on, I’m curious how you use RSS. How many feeds, what (daily) routine, what topics? How do you read RSS feeds?
I look forward to reading your take on it in my feedreader.

When Hossein Derakshan came back on-line after a 6 year absence in 2015, he was shocked to find how the once free flowing web ended up in walled gardens and silo’s. Musing about what he presented at State of the Net earlier this month, I came across Frank Meeuwsen’s posting about the IndieWeb Summit starting today in Portland (livestream on YT). That send me off on a short trip around the IndieWeb and related topics.

I came across this 2014 video of Tantek Celik. (he, Chris Messina and Andy Smith organised the first ever BarCamp in 2005, followed by a second one in Amsterdam where I met the latter two and many other fellow bloggers/techies)

In his talk he looks back at how the web got silo’d, and talks from a pure techie perspective about much the same things Hoder wrote about in 2015 and talked about this month. He places ‘peak open web’ in 2003, just before the web 2.0 silos came along. Those first silo’s (like Flickr, delicious etc) were ‘friendly silo’s’. We knew the people who built them, and we trusted their values, assumed the open web was how it was, is and would remain.

The friendly silos got sold, other less friendly silos emerged.
The silos have three things that make them hugely attractive. One ‘dark pattern’ which is adding functionality that feeds your dopamine cravings, such as like and heart buttons. The other two are where the open web is severely lacking: The seamless integration into one user interface of both reading and writing, making it very easy to respond to others that way, or add to the river of content. And the ability to find people and walk the social graph, by jumping from a friend to their list of friends and so on. The open web never got there. We had things like Qumana that tried to combine reading and writing, but it never really took off. We had FOAF but it never became easy.

So, Tantek and others set out in 2011 to promote the open web, IndieWeb, starting from those notions. Owning your data and content, and federating to participate. In his slides he briefly touches upon many small things he did, some of which I realised I could quickly adopt or do.
So I

  • added IndieAuth to my site (using the IndieAuth WP plugin), so that I can use my own website to authenticate on other services such as my user profile at IndieWeb wiki (a bit like Facebook Connect, but then from my own server).
  • added new sharing buttons to this site that don’t track you simply by being displayed (using the GDPR compliant Sharrif plugin), which includes Diaspora and Mastodon sharing buttons
  • followed Tantek’s notion of staying in control of the URLs you share, e.g. by using your own URLs such as to redirect to my GitHub project of that name (so should GitHub be eaten alive after Microsofts take-over, you can run your own Gitnode or migrate, while the URLs stay valid).
  • decided to go to IndieWeb Camp in Nuremburg in October, together with Frank Meeuwsen

My stroll on the IndieWeb this morning leaves me with two things:

  • I really need to more deeply explore how to build loops between various services and my site, so that for all kinds of interactions my site is the actual repository of content. This likely also means making posting much easier for myself. The remaining challenge is my need to more fluidly cater to different circles of social distance / trust, layers that aren’t public but open to friends
  • The IndieWeb concept is more or less the same as what I think any technology or method should be to create networked agency: within control of the group that deploys it, useful on its own, more useful federated, and easy enough to use so my neighbours can adopt it.

A good quote from Thomas Madsen Mygdal

4 billion dollar ico yesterday.
Seen a generation and tech with big potential end up in ipo games, greed, speculation and short term thinking – “saw the beast of capitalism directly in it’s eyes” is my mental image of the dotcom bubble.
A natural consequence of any technology cycle I rationally know, but just sad to see generations repeating previous mistakes over and over.

In the comments Martin von Haller Grønbaek points to what happened after the dotcom bubble burst, a tremendous wave of innovation. So blockchain tech is set to blossom after the impending ICO crash.

I remember once reading an article that if you ask people across cultures to draw their ideal landscape they all prefer the same elements: a woodland, bordering on a grass land, in which some large animal is visible. Water flowing. And a man-made structure.

Based on conversations earlier this week I am trying to find a reference to it. But I can’t find it. I think after initial searches, the right search term is canonical landscapes.

Do you have some notion as to where I should look?

Over the years there have been several things I’ve automated in my workflow. This week it was posting from Evernote to WordPress, saving me over 60 minutes per week. Years ago I automated starting a project, which saves me about 20 minutes each time I start a new project (of whatever type), by populating my various workflow tools with the right things for it. I use Android on my phone, and my ToDo application Things is Mac only, so at some point I wrote a little script that allows me to jot down tasks on my phone that then got send to Things. As Things now can process email that has become obsolete. I have also written tiny scripts that allow me to link to Evernote notes and Things items from inside other applications.

I’m still working to create a chat based script in my terminal that takes me through my daily starting routine, as well as my daily closing routine. This to take the ‘bookkeeping’ character away, and make it easier for me to for instance track a range of lead-indicators.

I know many others, like Peter Rukavina or Frank Meeuwsen also automate stuff for themselves, and if you search online the sheer range of examples you can find is enormous. Yet, I find there is much to learn from hearing directly from others what they automate, how and why it is important to them, as the context of where something fits in their workflow is crucial information.

What are the things you automate? Apart from the the full-on techie things, like to start a new virtual server on Amazon, I mean. The more mundane day to day things in your workflow, above key board shortcuts? And have you published how you do that somewhere online?

I’ve finished building an AppleScript for automatically creating a Suggested Reading blogpost from my Evernote bookmarks quicker than I thought.

Mostly because in my previous posting on this I, in an example of blogging as thinking out loud, had already created a list of steps I wanted to take. That made it easier to build the step by step solution in AppleScript and find online examples where needed.

Other key ingredients were the AppleScript Language Guide, the Evernote dictionary for AppleScript (which contains the objects from Evernote available to AppleScript), the Evernote query language (for retrieving material from Evernote), and the Postie plugin documentation (which I use to mail to WordPress).

In the end I spent most time on getting the syntax right of talking to the WordPress plugin Postie. By testing it multiple times I ultimately got the sequence of elements right.

The resulting script is on duty from now on. I automatically call the script every Monday afternoon. The result is automatically mailed to my WordPress installation which saves it as a posting with a publication date set for Tuesday afternoon. This allows me time to review or edit the posting if I want, but if I don’t WordPress will go ahead and post it.

There is still some room for improvement. First, I currently use Apple Mail to send the posting to WordPress. My default mail tool is Thunderbird, so I had to configure Mail for this, which I had rather not. Second, the tags from Evernote that I use in the title of the posting aren’t capitalised yet, which I would prefer. Good enough for now though.

I’ve posted the code to my GitHub account, where it is available under an open license. For my own reference I also posted it in the wiki pages of this blog.

The bookmarks to use as listed in Evernote..

…and the resulting posting scheduled in WordPress

For a few things I use Apple Script to automate tasks. For instance if I start a new project, I run a script that creates basic things like folders, standard to-do’s and notes on my hard drive and in my Things and Evernote applications. They save me time and let me avoid a lot of repetitive work. I wrote those scripts years ago, and meanwhile I have forgotten what little I knew about Apple Script.

Now I’m trying to build a new script. I had thought about this already, then Frank Meeuwsen’s similar steps (in Dutch) triggered me to start.

During my reading online I save articles and documents into Evernote, which I tag and store.
I’d like to automatically create a Suggested Reading posting weekly based on what I save in Evernote. I imagine adding a specific tag for this to the things I save, so I can also save things without them showing up in such a posting. The articles I save usually have a short sentence about why it’s relevant to me.

This means:

  • Running the script automatically weekly
  • Selecting Evernote notes from the last 7 days with the right tag
  • From each Evernote extract the short descriptive sentence I added, the associated weblink, as well as other tags I added when saving.
  • Then build a bullet list, with the descriptive sentences as text, and the link embedded either at the end, with its title as text, or maybe embedded in the description, based on some sort of indication.
  • Select three random tags that occur at least twice in the list of links
  • Add those three tags as part of the title of the blog post
  • Add all tags used to the tags for the blogpost
  • Set Linklog as the Category
  • Save as draft in my WordPress blog, with a scheduled post date of 16 hours.
  • Send me a message inviting me to review the draft and post. (If I don’t review, the posting will thus automatically appear)

I used to use a bookmarking service like Delicious or Diigo, and there used to be ways, or maybe still are, to blog automatically from their service. However it would necessitate me to save everything twice: As a bookmark and as a full article in Evernote. (Saving the entire article circumvents issues with link rot and paywalls, and allows me local full text search in all my notes)

I’ll likely suffer hours of frustration trying to find out how to do things correctly in AppleScript. Any pointers to useful resources (example libraries for instance) are therefore welcome.

(And yes, I understand the discrepancy between wanting to write a script to work with Evernote, while simultaneously wanting to leave Evernote)

Wired is calling for an RSS revival.

RSS is the most important piece of internet plumbing for following new content from a wide range of sources. It allows you to download new updates from your favourite sites automatically and read them at your leisure. Dave Winer, forever dedicated to the open web, created it.

I used to be a very heavy RSS user. I tracked hundreds of sources on a daily basis. Not as news but as a way to stay informed about the activities and thoughts of people I was interested in. At some point, that stopped working. Popular RSS readers were discontinued, most notably Google’s RSS reader, many people migrated to the Facebook timeline, platforms like Twitter stopped providing RSS feeds to make you visit their platform, and many people stopped blogging. But with FB in the spotlight, there is some interest in refocusing on the open web, and with it on RSS.

Currently I am repopulating from scratch my RSS reading ‘antenna’, following around 100 people again.

Wired in its call for an RSS revival suggests a few RSS readers. I, as I always have, use a desktop RSS reader, which currently is ReadKit. The FB timeline presents stuff to you based on their algorithmic decisions. As mentioned I definitely would like to have smarter ways of shaping my own information diet, but then with me in control and not the one being commoditised.

So it’s good to read that RSS Reader builders are looking at precisely that.
“Machines can have a big role in helping understand the information, so algorithms can be very useful, but for that they have to be transparent and the user has to feel in control. What’s missing today with the black-box algorithms is where they look over your shoulder, and don’t trust you to be able to tell what’s right.”,says Edwin Khodabakchian cofounder and CEO of RSS reader Feedly (which currently has 14 million users). That is more or less precisely my reasoning as well.

Early last year the Frisian regional library service and I collaborated on a great experiment with a primary school class. Titled ‘Impact through connection’, we worked with a group of 10-year olds. They came up with things they’d like to change in their neighbourhood, and we assisted them in mastering the technologies and methods needed to do that. I designed the process, and guided that first group of pupils through the conversations to get them started on their designs. Since then the Frisian regional library service has used my process design in a series of projects.

Standing in the courtyard of the former prison Blokhuispoort. Photo Jeroen de Boer

Yesterday, as part of a video documenting some of the results, I was interviewed. Standing in the freezing cold wind in the court yard of the former prison in Leeuwarden, now bustling hub of creativity and start-ups, in this year’s European Capital of Culture, I answered questions. I might look to be nervous in the video, but I was actually shivering from the cold.

Being asked questions about a project a year ago was useful, as I heard myself put things into words that made them stand out more to me too.

Asked about a memory from the project that stands out for me, I mentioned the huge cheers and applause I got when I returned to the classroom for the third session. I had guided the group in the first session where I talked with them about the things they might want to do, listened to their ideas and together slowly created the first plans. The second session I could not attend, and then I showed up a bit late for the third, and was loudly cheered. Although it is of course nice to be cheered, what is important here is how it shows what we succeeded in doing that first session: build trust and make sure they realized we indeed listened to them and meant it when we said they were the ones to decide.

Another question was about the impact we achieved. Two things are important indicators I think. One of the children I met again during the summer on an Austrian campground by coincidence. The energy and inspiration was still there, six months on, so that seems a lasting effect. An effect also apparent from other feedback we got from the group. The other thing was that in the very first session several children talked about how they weren’t really good at anything or that something they were good at wasn’t useful. I found it quite shocking to hear that from these 10 year olds. One of the children said liking to make things beautiful, but that it wouldn’t be of use. We talked with the group about how in designing things, structure, function and look & feel are equally important. If an object isn’t well shaped it won’t be used, just as much as when it isn’t functional. We succeeded in counteracting some of those assumptions, I feel, and that’s a good lasting result. Making things beautiful was an important part of the project. Other kids, including one who said having no particular skill, came up with an important role in the project we had overlooked ourselves: reporting and documenting.

Peter Rukavina regularly sends us printed artefacts. The most recent one was a map of Europe. On it Peter printed “A map is the greatest of all epic poems”, quoting Gilbert Grosvenor, founding editor of National Georgraphic.

Maps in 1975-1980
Maps have always been highly fascinating to me. As a kid I endlessly pored over maps, and drew them and copied them at different scales as a pass time in primary school after having completed the regular work. I remember being shocked as a kid that maps could change more or less arbitrarily. I saw them as rock solid descriptions of how things were and would remain. When Rhodesia changed its name to Zimbabwe in 1980, it all of a sudden meant that the world map on the classroom wall and my lighted globe and atlas at home were incorrect. The horror. Those changes I now see as what makes maps fascinating, and turns them into epic poems in the words of Grosvenor.

A map from 1918-1940
Take the map Peter sent us for instance. At first glance it’s a basic map of Europe, but upon closer inspection it’s a map of Europe valid for just a short time.

The map Peter sent us, photo by Elmine, CC-BY-NC-SA

It shows Austria and Hungary apart and Iceland independent, so it must be from after 1918. But it also shows Istria as part of Italy and the Baltic states as independent, which both place it after 1920. It also shows Yugoslavia, a name officially adopted in October 1929.

The map can also not be more recent than 1940, as it as stated shows Baltic independence. That Lviv, currently in Ukraine, is shown as Polish (and Poland being further to the east than now), places it before September 1939. That it shows Austria, which by 1939 was part of Nazi Germany, means it dates from before March 1938. It mentions the Irish Free State, which dates it to before December 1937. But wait, it shows Istanbul as being named Constantinopel. Istanbul was officially renamed in March 1930.

So this map represents the geopolitical lay-out of Europe as it was between October 1929 and March 1930. It was a valid representation for a mere 6 months!

A map in 2018 isn’t one from 1929
In my current work geographic references are as important as ever, as they make it possible to combine and thus make useful a myriad of other data sources. Almost everything we as humans do has a significant geographic connection. Maps famously are not the same as the terrain. Yet in digital times, the map is not only not the terrain, the terrain isn’t what it used to be anymore either.

Useful geographic data in the digital era are more and more fluid, and increasinlgy invisible to the user. When I grew up we mostly used maps while we were on the move long distance, figuring how to drive from the Netherlands to the Austrian alps in the summer for instance. Nowadays if I e.g. look at my location history in Google maps, the most eye-catching movements are the least informative. Large movements are like taking an underground, you sit down in a chair with no leg room in one city and are spewed out at the other end in another, with no notion of the fly-over country in between.

A random month worth of my travel. The most striking lines are the least informative, the dots are more important

Key has become hyper-localized geo-referenced socially contextualized information: where in this city that I find myself today can I find good coffee, according to my network, within 350 meters? For that type of movement maps become part of the engine under the hood, but often no longer are necessary to display. My phone vibrates in my pocket, short long short short, or L in Morse code, at a left turn, and short long short, or R, at a right turn, while I make my way to the coffee place with the confident swagger of a local.

Peter’s map is a relic, and not just because it was only correct for 6 months in 1929-1930 to begin with. Still just as fascinating though as it was to me as kid in the 1970’s.

Abraham Lincoln famously said in the 1860’s “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.“, and he’s right of course. George Washington already warned us a century earlier that “the greatest thing about Facebook is that you can quote something and totally make up the source.” Add to it the filter bubbles that algorithms create around you on Facebook, fake news and the influencing that third parties try to do, and you can be certain that the trustworthiness of internet is now even worse than it was in the 19th or 18th century.

Sidewalk Stencil: Abraham Lincoln
“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”, Abraham Lincoln hit the nail on the head in 1864 already.

Dealing with crap on the internet however sometimes seems something only for professionals. Facebook should filter better, or be more transparent. Online forensic research like Bellingcat does is the only way to disprove online deception. The problem is that it absolves you and me way too easily of our own responsibility in detecting crap. If something seems too funny, coincidental or too conveniently fitting into your own believe framework, it should trigger us into taking a step back. To take time to determine for ourselves whether Lincoln really said that, whether a picture was really taken where and when it is claimed, and if a source really exists or can be determined as trustworthy.

To be able to detect crap on the internet, you need crap detection tools. My Brainstorms-friend Howard Rheingold and others have put together a useful list of crap detection tools (of which I very often use the reverse image search tools like Tineye, to verify the actual origin of a photo). The list is well maintained and growing. The listed tools help you quickly check-up on things before you share something and reinforce a vicious cycle making more and more social media platforms toxic.

Not spreading dubious material is a civic duty, just like cleaning up after yourself in a public space. This makes crap detection a critical digital information skill. Download or bookmark the list of crap detection tools, add some of the mentioned tools as plugins to your browser, and use it to your advantage.