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)
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.
Alan Levine recently posted his description of how to add an overview to your blog of postings from previous years on the same date as today. He turned it into a small WordPress plugin, allowing you to add such an overview using a shortcode wherever in your site you want it. It was something I had on my list of potential small hacks, so it was a nice coincidence my feedreader presented me with Alan’s posting on this. It has become ‘small hack’ 4.
I added his WP plugin, but it didn’t work as the examples he provided. The overview was missing the years. Turns out a conditional loop that should use the posting’s year, only was provided with the current year, thus never fulfilling the condition. A simple change in how the year of older postings was fetched fixed it. Which has now been added to the plugin.
In the right hand sidebar you now find a widget listing postings from earlier years, and you can see the same on the page ‘On This Blog Today In‘. I am probably my own most frequent reader of the archives, and having older postings presented to me like this adds some serendipity.
From todays historic postings, the one about the real time web is still relevant to me in how I would like a social feed reader to function. And the one about a storm that kept me away from home, I still remember (ah, when Jaiku was still a thing!).
Adding these old postings is as simple as adding the shortcode ‘postedtoday’:No posts were found published on February 20
You’re right Chris. I disengaged from FB for much the same reasons in November 2017. And it has heavily influenced my blogging. Both writing about the small stuff, and the deeper content have increased by a lot. So welcome ‘back’ on the Indieweb side, outside the silos. Like you I do still maintain a FB profile (but an empty one, with its 11 years history discarded). Mostly because for some parts of my professional network, FB is the internet, and they have no reliable other way, other than email to reach out.
As you use WP, you may want to check out the IndieWeb plugins, especially the Webmention plugin, which allows you to follow conversations distributed over multiple blogs like in the olden days.
After my initial posting on this yesterday, Greg shares a few more quotes from his students. It reminds me of the things both teachers and students said at the end of my 2008 project at Rotterdam university for applied sciences. There, a group of teachers explored how to use digital technology, blogs and the myriad of social web tools, to both support their own learning and change their teaching. The sentiments expressed are similar, if you look at the quotes in the last two sections (change yourself, change your students) of my 2009 posting about it. What jumps out most for me, is the sense of agency, the power that comes from discovering that agency.
As a long time netizen it is easy to forget that for many now online their complete experience of the internet is within the web silos. I frequent silos, but I’ve always kept a place well outside of it for over two decades. When you’ve never ‘played outside’, building your own space beyond the silos can be an eye-opener. Greg McVerry pointed to the blog of one of his students, who described the experience of stepping outside the silos (emphasis mine):
The fact that I now have a place where I can do that, where I can publish my thoughts whenever I want in a place open for people to read and to not be afraid of doing so, is liberating. I’ve always wanted a space online to call my own. I’m so tired of all the endless perfection I see on social media. My space, “Life Chapter by Chapter” is real. It’s me, personified by a website. And though this post is not digitally enhanced in any way, I love it because it’s representative of the bottom line of what I’ve learned in EDU 106. I’m my own person on this site, I’m not defined by Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I can post what I want, when I want, how I want. It’s a beautiful thing.
That’s a beautiful thing, indeed. Maybe this is the bit that Frank Meeuwsen and I need to take as the key to the story when writing a book, as Elja challenged us today (in Dutch).
Frank writes about how the Netherlands became the first connection outside the USA on the open net by the NSF (as opposed to the military initiated ARPANET academic institutions used then), thirty years ago yesterday on November 17th 1988. Two years previously .nl had been created as the first ever country top level domain. This was the result of the work and specifically the excellent personal connections to their US counterparts of people at the Amsterdam CWI, the center for mathematics. Because of those personal connections the Netherlands was connected very early on to the open internet and still is a major hub. Through that first connection Europe got connected as well, as the CWI was part of the European network of academic institutions EUnet. A large chunk of the European internet traffic still runs through the Netherlands as a consequence.
I went to university in the summer of 1988 and had the opportunity to early on enjoy the fruits of the CWI’s work. From the start I became active in the student association Scintilla at my electronic engineering department at University of Twente. Electronic engineering students had an advantage when it came to access to electronics and personal computers and as a consequence we had very early connectivity. As first year student I was chairman of one of Scintilla’s many committees and in that role I voted in late ’88 / early ’89 to spend 2500 guilders (a huge sum in my mind then) for cables and plugs and 3 ethernet cards for the PC’s we had in use. I remember how on the 10th floor of the department building other members were very carefully connecting the PC’s to each other. It was the first LAN on campus not run by the University itself nor connected to the mainframe computing center. Soon after, that LAN was connected to the internet.
In my mind I’ve been online regularly since late 1989, through Scintilla’s network connections. I remember there was an argument with the faculty because we had started using a subdomain directly of the university, not as a subdomain of the faculty’s own subdomain. We couldn’t, because they hadn’t even activated their subdomain yet. So we waited for them to get moving, under threat of losing funding if we didn’t comply. Most certainly I’ve been online on a daily basis since the moment I joined the Scintilla board in 1990 which by then had moved to the basement of the electronics department building. We at first shared one e-mail address, before running our own mail server. I used telnet a lot, and spent an entire summer, it must have been the summer of ’91 when I was a board member, chatting to two other students who had a summer job as sysadmin at the computer center of a Texas university. The prime perk of that job was they could sit in air conditioning all summer, and play around with the internet connection. Usenet of course. Later Gopher menus, then 25 years ago the web browser came along (which I first didn’t understand as a major change, after all I already had all the connectivity I wanted).
So of those 30 years of open internet in the Netherlands, I’ve been online daily 28 years for certain, and probably a year longer with every-now-and-then connectivity. First from the basement at university, then phoning into the university from home, then (from late ’96) having a fixed IP address through a private ISP (which meant I could run my own server, which was reachable when I phoned into the ISP), until the luxury we have now of a fiber optic cable into our house, delivering a 500Mbit/s two-way connection (we had a 1Gb connection before the move last year, so we actually took a step ‘backwards’).
Having had daily internet access for 28 years, basically all of my adult life, has shaped both my professional and personal life tremendously. Professionally, as none of my past jobs nor my current work would have been possible without internet. None of my work in the past decades would have even existed without internet. My very first paid job was setting up international data transmissions between an electronics provider, their factories, as well as the retail chains that sold their stuff. Personally it has been similar. Most of my every day exchanges are with people from all over the world, and the inspiring mix of people I may call friends and that for instance come to our birthday unconferences I first met online. Nancy White‘s husband and neighbours call them/us her ‘imaginary friends’. Many of our friends are from that ‘imaginary’ source, and over the years we met at conferences, visited each others houses, and keep in regular touch. It never ceases to amaze.
To me the internet was always a network first, and technology second. The key affordance of the internet to me is not exchanging data or connecting computer systems, but connecting people. That the internet in its design principles is a distributed network, and rather closely resembles how human networks are shaped, is something we haven’t leveraged to its full potential yet by far. Centralised services, like the current web silos, don’t embrace that fundamental aspect of internet other than at the hardware level, so I tend to see them as growths more than actualisation of the internets’s foremost affordance. We’ve yet to really embrace what human digital networks may achieve.
Because of that perspective, seeing the digital network as a human network, I am mightily pleased that the reason I have been able to be digitally connected online for almost 30 years, is first and foremost because of a human connection. The connection between Piet Beertema at CWI in Amsterdam to Rick Adams at NSF in the USA, which resulted in the Netherlands coming online right when I started university. That human connection, between two people I’ve never met nor interacted with, essentially shaped the space in which my life is taking its course, which is a rather amazing thought.
Seems I need to find a way of making it easier for me to blog, to save time. At the current volume I really need more seamless and frictionless ways of posting than how I currently mostly use the WordPress back-end. This year I’ve already posted more items (391) than in the previous 10 years combined (361). In terms of long form blogposts, I blogged just over (135) the number of postings I made in my busiest blogging year 2003 (134 postings). So reducing the friction of posting, and distinguishing much better between writing and posting will no doubt save me time.
As a first step to better understand the different layers of adding microformats to my site (what is currently done by the theme, what by plugins etc.), I decided to start with: what is supposed to go where?
I made a post-it map on my wall to create an overview for myself. The map corresponds to the front page of my blog.
Green is content, pink is h- elements, blue u- elements, and yellow p- elements, with the little square ones covering dt- and rel’s. All this is based on the information provided on the http://microformats.org/wiki/Main_Page, and not on what my site actually does. So next step is a comparison of what I expect to be there from this map, to what is actually there. This map is also a useful step to see how to add microformats to the u-design theme for myself.
Just quickly jotting some thoughts down about bookmarking, as part of a more general effort of creating an accurate current overview of my information strategies.
Currently I store all my bookmarks in Evernote, by storing the full article or pdf (not just the url, removing the risk of it being unavailable later, or behind a paywall). I sometimes add a brief annotation at the start, and may add one or more tags.
I store bookmarks to Evernote from my browser on the laptop, but also frequently from my mobile, where I pick them out of various timelines.
There are several reasons I store bookmarks.
- I store predictions people make, to be able to revisit them later, and check on whether they came true or not.
- I store news paper articles to preserve how certain events were depicted at the time they happened (without the historic reinterpretation that usually follows later)
- I store pages for later reading (replacing Instapaper)
- I store bookmarks for sharing in (collated) blogposts, or on Twitter, or to send to a specific person (‘hey, this looks like what you were looking for last week’)
- I store bookmarks around topics I am currently interested in, as resource for later or current desk research, or for a current project.
- I store bookmarks as reminders (‘maybe this restaurant is a place to go to sometime when next in Berlin’, ‘possible family trip’, ‘possible interesting conference to attend’)
In the past, when I still used Delicious, when it had a social networking function, I also used bookmarking for discovery of other people. Because social tools work in triangles (as I said in 2006) I would check in Delicious who else had also bookmarked something, and with which tags they did so. The larger the difference in tags (e.g. I’d tag ‘knowledge management’ and they’d tag ‘medication’) or difference in jargon (me ‘complexity’, they ‘wicked_problem’, another ‘intractable’), the likelier someone would be part of different communities than me, but focusing on the same things. Then I’d seek out their blog etc, and start following their rss feeds. It was a good way to find people based on professional interests and extend my informal learning network. A way to diversify my inputs for various topics.
Looking at that list of uses, I notice that it is a mixture of things that can be public, things that can be public to some, and things that are just for my eyes. I also know that I don’t like publishing single bookmarks to my blog, unless I have an extended annotation to publish with it (more a reflection or response to a link, than just bookmarking that link). Single bookmarks posted to a blog I experience as cluttering up the timeline (but they could be on a different page perhaps).
The tagging is key as a filing mechanism, and annotation can be a helpful hint to my future self why I stored it, as much as a thought or an association.
When I think of ‘bringing bookmarking home’ in the sense of using only non-silo tools and owning the data myself, several aspects are important:
- The elements I need to store: URL, date/time stored, full article/pdf, title, tags, notes. Having a full local copy of a page or PDF is a must-have for me, you can’t rely on something being there the next time you look at an URL.
- The things I want to be able to do with it are mostly a filtering on tags I think (connecting it to one or more persons, interests, projects, channels etc.), and then having different actions/processes tied to that filtering.
- I’d want to have the bookmarks available offline on my laptop, as well as available for sharing across devices.
- It would be great if there was something that would allow the social networking type of bookmarking I described, or make it possible in decentralised fashion
When I look at some of the available open source bookmarking tools that I can self-host I notice that mostly the ability to save full pages/documents and the offline functionality are missing elements. So maybe I should try and glue together something from different building blocks found elsewhere.
What do you use for bookmarking? How do you use bookmarks?
We’re in a time where whatever is presented to us as discourse on Facebook, Twitter or any of the other platforms out there, may or may not come from humans, bots, or someone/a group with a specific agenda irrespective of what you say or respond. We’ve seen it at the political level, with outside influences on elections, we see it in things like gamer gate, and in critiques of the last Star Wars movie. It creates damage on a societal level, and it damages people individually. To quote Angela Watercutter, the author of the mentioned Star Wars article,
…it gets harder and harder to have an honest discussion […] when some of the speakers are just there to throw kerosene on a flame war. And when that happens, when it’s impossible to know which sentiments are real and what motivates the people sharing them, discourse crumbles. Every discussion […] could turn into a […] fight — if we let it.
Discourse disintegrates I think specifically when there’s no meaningful social context in which it takes place, nor social connections between speakers in that discourse. The effect not just stems from that you can’t/don’t really know who you’re conversing with, but I think more importantly from anyone on a general platform being able to bring themselves into the conversation, worse even force themselves into the conversation. Which is why you never should wade into newspaper comments, even though we all read them at times because watching discourse crumbling from the sidelines has a certain addictive quality. That this can happen is because participants themselves don’t control the setting of any conversation they are part of, and none of those conversations are limited to a specific (social) context.
Unlike in your living room, over drinks in a pub, or at a party with friends of friends of friends. There you know someone. Or if you don’t, you know them in that setting, you know their behaviour at that event thus far. All have skin in the game as well misbehaviour has immediate social consequences. Social connectedness is a necessary context for discourse, either stemming from personal connections, or from the setting of the place/event it takes place in. Online discourse often lacks both, discourse crumbles, entropy ensues. Without consequence for those causing the crumbling. Which makes it fascinating when missing social context is retroactively restored, outing the misbehaving parties, such as the book I once bought by Tinkebell where she matches death threats she received against the sender’s very normal Facebook profiles.
Two elements therefore are needed I find, one in terms of determining who can be part of which discourse, and two in terms of control over the context of that discourse. They are point 2 and point 6 in my manifesto on networked agency.
This is unlike on e.g. FB where the cost of defending against trollish behaviour by design takes more effort than being a troll, and never carries a cost for the troll. There must, in short, be a finite social distance between speakers for discourse to be possible. Platforms that dilute that, or allow for infinite social distance, is where discourse can crumble.
This points to federation (a platform within control of a specific group, interconnected with other groups doing the same), and decentralisation (individuals running a platform for one, and interconnecting them). Doug Belshaw recently wrote in a post titled ‘Time to ignore and withdraw?‘ about how he first saw individuals running their own Mastodon instance as quirky and weird. Until he read a blogpost of Laura Kalbag where she writes about why you should run Mastodon yourself if possible:
Everything I post is under my control on my server. I can guarantee that my Mastodon instance won’t start profiling me, or posting ads, or inviting Nazis to tea, because I am the boss of my instance. I have access to all my content for all time, and only my web host or Internet Service Provider can block my access (as with any self-hosted site.) And all blocking and filtering rules are under my control—you can block and filter what you want as an individual on another person’s instance, but you have no say in who/what they block and filter for the whole instance.
Similarly I recently wrote,
The logical end point of the distributed web and federated services is running your own individual instance. Much as in the way I run my own blog, I want my own Mastodon instance.
I also do see a place for federation, where a group of people from a single context run an instance of a platform. A group of neighbours, a sports team, a project team, some other association, but always settings where damaging behaviour carries a cost because social distance is finite and context defined, even if temporary or emergent.
In just over a week I will be joining the Nuremberg IndieWebCamp, together with Frank Meeuwsen. As I said earlier, like Frank, I’m wondering what I could be working on, talking about, or sharing at the event. Especially as the event is set up to not just talk but also build things.
So I went through my blogpostings of the past months that concerned the indie web, and made a list of potential things. They are of varying feasibility and scope, so I can probably strike off quite a few, and should likely go for the most simple one, which could also be re-used as building block for some of the less easy options. The list contains 13 things (
does that have a name, a collection of 13 things, like ‘odd dozen’ or something? Yes it does: a baker’s dozen, see comment by Ric below.). They fall into a few categories: webmention related, rss reader related, more conceptual issues, and hardware/software combinations.
- Getting WebMention to display the way I want, within the Sempress theme I’m using here. The creator of the theme, Matthias Pfefferle, may be present at the event. Specifically I want to get some proper quotes displayed underneath my postings, and also understand much better what webmention data is stored and where, and how to manipulate it.
- Building a growing list of IndieWeb sites by harvesting successful webmentions from my server logs, and publish that in a re-usable (micro-)format (so that you could slowly map the Indieweb over time)
- Make it much easier for myself to blog from mobile, or mail to my blog, using the MicroPub protocol, e.g. using the micropublish client.
- Dive into the TinyTinyRSS datastructure to better understand. First to be able to add tags to feeds (not articles), as per my wishlist for RSS reader functionality.
- Make basic visualisation possible on top of TinyTinyRSS database, as a step to a reading mode based on pattern detection
- Allow better search across TinyTinyRSS, full text, to support the reading mode of searching material around specific questions I hold
- Adding machine translation to TinyTinyRSS, so I can diversify my reading, and compare original to its translation on a post by post basis
- Visualising conversations across blogs, both for understanding the network dynamics involved and for discovery
- Digging up my old postings 2003-2005 about my information strategies and re-formulate them for networked agency and 2018
- Find a way of displaying content (not just postings, but parts of postings) limited to a specific audience, using IndieAuth.
- Formulate my Networked Agency principles, along the lines of the IndieWeb principles, for ‘indietech’ and ‘indiemethods’
- Attempt to run FreedomBone on a Raspberry Pi, as it contains a range of tools, including GnuSocial for social networking. (Don’t forget to bring a R Pi for it)
- Automatically harvest my Kindle highlights and notes and store them locally in a way I can re-use.
These are the options. Now I need to pick something that is actually doable with my limited coding skills, yet also challenges me to learn/do something new.
I was a bit surprised to see a Dutch title above one of Peter’s blog posts. It referred to the blog of Marco Derksen, that I follow. I think Peter may have found it in the list of blogs I follow (in OPML) that I publish.
Peter read it through machine translation. Reading the posting made me realise I only follow blogs in the languages I can read, but that that is limiting my awareness of what others across Europe and beyond blog about.
So I think I need to extend my existing list of demands for an RSS reader with built-in machine translation. As both Tiny Tiny RSS which I self host and Google translate have API’s that should be possible to turn into a script.
As I didn’t succeed yet in getting Mastodon to run on a Raspberry Pi, nor in running a Gnu Social instance that actually federates on my hosting package, I’ve opted for an intermediate solution to running my own Mastodon instance.
Key in all this is satisfying three dimensions: control, flexibility and ease of use. My earlier attempts satisfy the control and flexibility dimensions, but as I have a hard time getting them to work, do not satisfy the ease of use dimension yet.
At the same time I did not want to keep using Mastodon on a generic server much longer, as it builds up a history there which with every conversation ups the cost of leaving.
The logical end point of the distributed web and federated services is running your own individual instance. Much as in the way I run my own blog, I want my own Mastodon instance.
Such an individual instance needs to be within my own scope of control. This means having it at a domain I own. and being able to move everything to a different server at will.
There is a hoster, Masto.host run by Hugo Gameiro, who provides Mastodon hosting as a monthly subscription. As it allows me to use my own domain name, and provides me with admin privileges of the mastodon instance, this is a workable solution. When I succeed in getting my own instance of Mastodon running on the Rapsberry Pi, I can simply move the entire instance at Masto.host to it.
Working with Hugo at Masto.host was straightforward. After registering for the service, Hugo got in touch with me to ensure the DNS settings on my own domain were correct, and briefly afterwards everything was up and running.
Frank Meeuwsen, who started using Masto.host last month, kindly wrote up a ‘moving your mastodon account’ guide in his blog (in Dutch). I followed (most) of that, to ensure a smooth transition.
Using Mastodon? Do follow me at https://m.tzyl.nl/@ton.