Category Archives: metablogging

15 Years of Blogging

Fifteen years ago (on 4 November) I started blogging. This as a result of a discussion with and encouragement from David Gurteen, Lilia Efimova and Seb Paquet. First using Blogger, but quickly self-hosted on my own domain, using Movable Type for a long time before switching to WordPress.
My blogging frequency has been much lower in recent years, than at the start, also because of additional channels that became available, such as Facebook and Twitter in 2006.

The web has changed mightily in those 15 years, as is clearly visible to those who were away for a number of years, such as Hoder in an Iranian jail. It hasn’t changed for the better in my view. By design and definition the internet is distributed, but for most everyday usage it is anything but. It could be, but it would mean many more people taking the tools into their own hands. Until then ease of use has huge silos and you and your data being the product as a consequence.

Every now and then there’s been a call to go ‘back to the blog’, e.g. in discussion with Stephanie Booth and others. Fact is I never stopped blogging, just that over time more and more postings became longer texts, and that meant the frequency of postings diminished as writing time increased. Now that my own unease with what Facebook et al are doing to my information diet has become increasingly unbearable, I started following the example of Peter Rukavina and Elmine to bring back more of the casual sharing of small observations to this site, foregoing the likes of Facebook as primary channel. Peter has left Facebook entirely, I’m not nearly at that point.

When I started blogging it was the source of a tremendous proliferation of new connections, a whole new peer network emerged practically overnight. Distributed conversations became face to face meetings and brought us to places like the Blogtalk and Reboot conferences. Many of the people I regard as a major source of learning, inspiration I met because of this blog. Many over time have become dear friends. That alone is enough to keep blogging.

Running a Diaspora Pod

I’m planning to start running a Diaspora pod on one of my VPSs, with an aim to provide a communal space for some of our longtime friends getting more frustrated with FB but dreading the cost of leaving (such as rushing to some other platform to find no-one is there.) Diaspora is similar to Facebook and/or Twitter, is open source and set up in a fully distributed way.

Friend and fellow tinkerer Peter Rukavina and I plan to work together on this.

(btw I already have a Diaspora profile on Joindiaspora.com, so if you already use Diaspora you can find me there. Ultimately I will replace that profile and host my own.)

How to Leave Evernote?

Evernote
How to deal with the green elephant in the room?

After I quit using Gmail earlier this year, Evernote has become my biggest silo and single point of failure in my workflow. I have been using it since October 2010 with a premium account, and maintain some 4500 notes, about 25GB total in size. With my move away from Gmail, my use of Evernote has actually increased as well. Part of my e-mail triage process now is forwarding receipts etc to Evernote, before removing them from my mail box.

As with leaving Gmail, there are no immediately visible alternatives to Evernote, that cater to all convenient affordances I have become accustomed to. This was already apparant when I quit Gmail, when Peter Rukavina and I exchanged some thoughts about it. So in order to make the first steps towards ditching Evernote, I will follow the recipe I derived from leaving Gmail, as I presented it at the Koppelting conference in August.

Why do I want to leave?

  • It’s a single point of failure for both private and work related material
  • It’s on US servers, and I would like my own cloud instead
  • It’s not exportable in a general format

What I don’t like about Evernote

  • No easy way to get an overview or visualisation of my notes (although notes are easy to link, those links are not visible as a network)
  • No easy way to mine the total of notes, aside from regular search for specific notes
  • No way to let Evernote use my own cloud / server for storage
  • No reliable way to share with others who are not Evernote users themselves

What I like about Evernote

  • Really everything can be a note
  • It’s cross device (I consult material on my phone, and store e.g. boarding passes there during travel)
  • It has good webclippers for most browsers (allowing choosing the destination notebook, tags, and add remarks)
  • I can easily share to Evernote from most apps on my phone
  • I can e-mail material to it, while indicating destination notebook and adding tags
  • I can automate Evernote stuff with Applescript (I e.g. integrate Evernote with my other core tools Things (todo lists) and Tinderbox (mindmapping)
  • It makes handwritten stuff, images, and scans searchable (even if it doesn’t convert everything to text)

Next steps will be coming up with viable solutions and alternatives for each of those points, and see if I can then integrate those into a coherent whole again. Terry Frazier pointed me to The Brain again today on FB. The Brain is a tool I heavily used from 18 to 13 years ago. It turns out this mindmapping/note taking tool is still around. It currently works cross-device and has Android and iOS apps, and allows attaching files and navigating links in a visual way. It comes at a hefty price though, and still looks like it really is from 1998. Will explore a bit if it might fit my needs enough to give it another try.

What would you like me to write more about?

Design Museum
Something to aspire to

A few years ago Elmine and I wrote a short e-book on how to organize an unconference as a birthday party (PDF linked on the right). Since then I’ve regularly entertained the idea of writing another e-book, but that never really happened. While I do have some topics I’d like to write about, I find my knowledge of those topics still too limited to be able to come up with a narrative to share anything worthwile. There are also doubts (fears?) about what type of things would have a potential readership

So this week I decided to ask:

What would you like to see me write more or more extensively about?

Already I got a range of responses, and it is an intriguing list. Some suggestions are about aspects of my own journey, others are about topics that I don’t know much (or anything) about, but where apparantly there’s interest in my take on it. Some come close to topics I already want to write more about, but feel I haven’t found an angle yet.

Here’s the list until now. More suggestions and thoughts are welcome.

  • Optimal unfamiliarity (a phrase I coined in 2004 initially to describe what mix of people make a great event audience to be part of, but has become a design principle in how I try to collect information and learn.), suggested by Piers Young
  • An epistolary travel log novella (something that could arise from my 14 years of blogging about my travels and work), suggested by Georges Labreche
  • Open currencies (which Google tells me they have no meaningful results for, but which connects to my experience with LETS, and chimes with free currencies in p2p networks), suggested by Pedro Custodio
  • Moderating sessions with a mix of analog and digital tools (closely connected to my thoughts about fruitful information strategies in social contexts), suggested by Oliver Gassner
  • Fatherhood (as I became one 9 weeks ago, but I don’t think 9 weeks counts as experience), suggested by Dries Krens
  • Motivating others to act on open data (a large chunk of my work), suggested by Gerrit Eicker
  • Being a European in the digital age (which I strongly claim to be), suggest by Alipasha Foroughi
  • Convincing profit oriented organisations of the value of open access and responsible research (comes close to Gerrit’s point), suggested by Johnny Søraker
  • How and why I left my job (being employed by Dries mentioned above), suggested by Rob Paterson
  • The journey from my involvement in knowledge management and early blogging, to where I am now, and how it impacted the way Elmine and I arrange our lives (lots to unpack here!), suggested by Jon Husband (who, like Rob Paterson, has been part and witness of that journey over many years)
  • The proliferation of means of communication versus the quality of communication (for me this points to information strategies on focus, filtering etc.), suggested by Jos Eikhout
  • Personal information strategies and processes using open source tools (something I blogged often about in various shapes and forms), suggested by Terry Frazier, a fellow blogger on knowledge management back when I started blogging in 2002

Looking at who responded is already in a way a manifestation of some of the suggested topics (the journey, the information strategies, the optimal unfamiliarity, facilitating communities).

I can’t promise I’ll write about all of the things suggested, but I appreciate the breadth and scope of this list and the feedback I can unpack from it. More suggestions are very welcome.

On the need for distributedness and self-reliance

I came across this Guardian article describing how an American author and artist found his Google account deleted, including his 14 year old blog hosted with Google’s Blogger platform.

Screenshot of removed blog message

To me this incident is notable in a few ways.

  • The author concerned had his blog up for 14 years, and even used it to write and keep manuscripts, so clearly it was of key importance to him as an online asset.
  • For such a key asset, using a free service is a risk, as that doesn’t provide any certainty concerning uptime.
  • Blogger, as a free service, comes with a TOS, allowing Google to withdraw service at any moment. You don’t have a ‘right’ to this service.
  • After the account was closed, it was impossible to actually contact Google to ask about the why and how, or if it can be reinstated
  • The author concerned feels he’s being censored (which in a literal sense is impossible, as only governments can censor), although it is likely the account was closed because of a breach of the terms of service (which are notoriously unevenly enforced in every platform)
  • The author didn’t keep back-ups.

All of this once again highlights the importance of embracing the distributedness of the internet. You have to make sure that you are not just a passive and consuming part of it, but that for things that are important to you, you are also willing to make sure those things are under as much of your own control as possible. Your blog is only yours if you have control over the infrastructure it runs on. The same is true for e-mail, which in the case mentioned above was also lost: you have to make sure you have full control over at least one domain name, at which you can also receive and send e-mail (you@yourdomain.tld).

This in short means you need to make sure you have a claim to the service you actually need. Blogger offers free hosting but can take it away. If you want your blog to exist, make sure you pay for hosting, and make sure you run it on a domain you control. I used Blogger when I started blogging in November 2002 (around the same time in short, as the artist’s blog that was deleted), but once I realized I was likely to continue writing, after a few months, I moved it to a paid hosting package I could more fully control, and on a URL I acquired separately from the hosting, also under my full control. It doesn’t mean nothing can happen (my blog was hacked once), but it does mean I can recover from it.

The web was built in distributed fashion. If you use it in a centralized way, by making use of large centralized services, you expose yourself to vulnerabilities. That is true for centralized free blogging platforms, like Blogger.com or WordPress.com, and all those other services such as Facebook, Flickr and whatnot. Don’t make yourself dependant, don’t put yourself in a position that has a single point of failure.

After 6 years in prison, how internet has changed

In 2008 Hossein Derakhshan (nick: Hoder) went to prison in Iran on a 19.5 year sentence for blogging. I met him once in Vienna in 2003 where he spoke about the emerging Iranian blogosphere, and the guide he wrote for Iranian bloggers to get started. Over the years he became known as the Iranian ‘blogfather’.

He was pardoned late last year and after 6 years of being locked up and not having internet access he returns to find the ‘net changed. When he went behind bars, blogging was a phenomenon, now it’s the FB’s of this world that set the tone.

“Writing online hasn’t changed much per se, but reading, and the process to get to be read has”. Hyperlinking to eachother to weave a conversation has been taken over by an algorithm creating your timeline for you. Hyperlinking as social currency has disappeared, and if you’re not shown in the timeline, your writings don’t exist.

He sees a change to the visual too. “The Internet-book has become the internet-tv.” Facebook “is not the future of the web, it’s the future of the tv.” “A great loss in terms of intellectual potential and diversity.”

All has become entertainment “up to the point where Iran doesn’t even feel the need to block some social networking sites anymore.”

Update: I see the French article I link to at the top derives from a Medium longread by Hoder himself. Read it in full “The Web We Have To Save

The Setup

Our friend Peter Rukavina recently posted his ‘setup’, in which he describes his work place, tools and routines. As did Chris Corrigan, a long time blogging connection, with whom we once spent a great afternoon talking and walking through the northern rain forest on the awesome Bowen Island he calls home. I am always interested in how others shape their work days, and what they use, so I thought I’d share my setup as well.

Infrastructure
At home: A simple desk in the very light attic space of our home. It’s about 25m2, white, with one apple green wall plus windows along both lengths, and it has both Elmine’s and my desk, a bookcase and fold-out couch. It looks out over our neighbourhood, so you still see the daily rhythm and can watch out for the mailman or delivery guy bringing a package.
One floor down we have a room with an electrically adjustable standing desk, that Elmine and I both use.

Our home is connected to a fiber optic network, currently delivering 100Mbit symmetrical connection, that we are in the process of upgrading to a 1Gbit symmetrical connection, at the same cost (60 euro/month including tv and fixed line phone).

We live on the eastern border of the Netherlands, within viewing distance from Germany, and my clients are usually in the western part, a 2 hour train ride away, or outside the country. So I spent a large amount (somewhere between 4 and 24 hours per week) of my time in trains, where I travel first class as that comes with power outlets and a bit more room to work.

The Green Land, a company I started with 3 partners is located at Zpot, in Utrecht right in the center of the country. Zpot is a co-working space started by my The Green Land partner Frank, which provides me/us both with landing desks, and more importantly meeting rooms. Membership is 100 euro/month for the company. I hope to be there once a week, but my schedule gets in the way of that easily. We decided last week to all aim to be there on Fridays at least, to increase the amount of time we get to work together.

Hardware
I use a 2014 MacBook Pro, with 1TB ssd and a few other upgrades, bells and whistles. I regard 21st century knowledge work as artisanal, and my laptop is this artisan’s primary tool. I decided a long time ago that trying to save money on the most important tool I work with is nonsensical and something I’ll pay for in frustration.

That laptop when used at the attic desk is connected to a medium Wacom Bamboo pen and touch, a usb keyboard with numerical pad (for the bookkeeping I do myself), and 2 additional screens, resulting in the picture below (although the pen and pad have been replaced since then). Until last year the second extra screen was connected through an Terratec Connect A1 on USB, but with the new laptop I now use a Thunderbolt port and the HDMI port to connect two screens. At the standing desk the laptop is connected to a wireless keyboard.

desk march 2012

For some travel I leave my laptop behind and use an Asus Android tablet with detachable keyboard.

The local network connects to a 2TB NAS that we both use as TimeMachine, and another 2TB NAS we both use as archive disk. It also contains a Sonos bridge that delivers music to speakers in all the rooms in the house.
I run a VPS in a Swiss data center with 30TB storage that serves as off-site back-up and cloud-sync (with versioning).

Next to a HP printer/flatbed scanner, I more often use a Fujitsu Scansnap scanner. That last one is certainly one of the best investments I made. It easily scans everything, double sided, in color and at high speed due to the sheet feeder, and saves to both the file system and Evernote.

An Ultimaker 3D printer is in our ‘standing desk room’. There is also a desk-top laser cutter and CNC milling machine, both of which currently aren’t operational (a lingering item on my todo list).

In the living room a Raspberry Pi serves as (under used) media center and we also have a Nintendo Wii that hasn’t seen much use lately.

I use a Samsung Galaxy S5 phone, and have a 1st gen iPad that has been unused since iOS evolved away from it, as well as a Samsung Galaxy Tab3 that is still in its box and untouched.

While traveling I use a noise canceling headset both on trains and planes, and a Lumix TZ60 camera (although the camera on my phone is quite good and sometimes a speedy alternative). For internet on the road I use a Huawei Mifi, with a monthly 3GB data package that also includes data roaming across the EU (next to the 2GB data bundle and EU roaming on my phone).

Desktop software
My main and daily software tools are Tinderbox (for outlining, mapping, and getting to the point of writing), Evernote (the content part of my outboard brain) and Things (the task part of my outboard brain). LibreOffice for the usual, and Scrivener for longer writes (which talks to Tinderbox).
OwnCloud is what keeps my files synced to the VPS. Smultron for coding / text file editing, and Applescript plus Automator for some routine tasks (such as opening a new project, or populate a checklist for a new speaking gig.) Tweetdeck for a range of Twitter accounts. My VPS runs a script I call ‘Radar’ which is harvesting tweets about specific topics I’m interested in, and presenting me with an overview of URLs mentioned around those topics.

Web software
Owncloud running on my VPS (which has fully replaced Dropbox), including my company’s shared files is always in the background. Flickr for photo online back-up and sharing, with too much of history to move it all to something else. Podio for working with my The Green Land partners, and Slack for emergent work interaction with a team in open hardware. Diigo (with Delicious in the background) for bookmarking. And one that I would very much like to change: Gmail for all mail. I use it webbased for seamless experience with my other devices. This is the one element in my setup I’d like to change, getting out of gmail’s servers. And blogs of course: WordPress and some Drupal sites.

Phone software
Most of the phone apps are there to have access to the same stuff as on my laptop. With some additions for travel: railroad apps for Netherlands and Germany (that also covers most of the rest of Europe), KLM and Amsterdam Airport apps. UberSocial Pro for Twitter, to maintain multiple accounts.
One app I am particularly fond off: LinkBubble. It opens links in the background from any of the other apps (like FB or Twitter), so you don’t break your flow in going through a social media stream. From LinkBubble I can easily share to Evernote, mail, or any other app.

Social routines
I don’t have a lot of regular routines, as my calendar is very different from week to week. I do have a rhythm to my day though, getting up 6:30 and approaching things in various blocks (90min the largest), with focus work in the morning, less demanding stuff in the afternoon. I try to take walks a few times per week when I work from home.

I feel the need to travel a few times each year, to expose myself to different scenes, perspectives and views, so I try to make sure I always have some international work going on. I like to regularly immerse myself in different busy cities, but need the quiet to digest and think things through, and I hate it when I can only just jump from one thing to another without that digestion time. When that happens it makes me ‘forget’ things: last week I was in Kyrgyzstan and the day before I left we organized a conference with 125 people as end point to a year long project. Because of the work in Kyrgyzstan I mostly forgot about that conference the day before and what it signified. I went through the photos of the event this week to remember and relive and take note of what happened.

Every now and then I smoke a cigar, eat a raw herring, or eat a Hema smoked sausage with mustard when I land at Amsterdam airport.

Elmine and I enjoy traveling together, and enjoy good food. I do the cooking at home. We regularly take time to visit friends in various places, but still I think I see most of them not nearly enough by far. Doing a birthday unconference and bbq as we did last June with ‘Make Stuff that Matters’ to bring a wide diversity of people to our home is how we try to give something to our social network and which is a tremendous source of inspiration to ourselves.

That’s my setup. Yours?

Notes, notes, notes. Centuries of notes.

We visited “O’Hanlons Heroes” yesterday, in the local natural history museum (Twentse Welle). In this exposition by Redmond O’Hanlon, in parallel to a previous tv series, he follows in the footsteps of all his 19th century explore heroes.

19th Century Notebook
19th century explorer’s notebook

What jumped out for me, once again, from all the displays, is that taking notes of each and every thing is a key habit. Because you never know what will have meaning afterwards, or which patterns jump out at you when you take a step back.

A good reminder that all those notebooks, the 20.000+ photos, all the stuff in Evernote, 12 years of blogging isn’t useless. Even if for most of the time I never look at it. It is raw material. Taking notes are for taking note.

Guestblogging at EPSI Platform

This month I am guest blogging at the European PSI Platform. To talk about Open Government Data and open government in general in the Netherlands.
EPSI Platform
The first posting, a description of the current situation around open government in the Netherlands, as I see it, is up since yesterday.

On the Real Time Web

This post is triggered by Fridays posting on RWW by Bernarnd Lunn ‘Sorry Google, You Missed the Real-Time Web!’. In it Lunn rightly describes how keeping track of things that are happening right now is a new area of innovation, where big incumbents like Google don’t have much to bring to the table. (Consistent with innovation theory, of course).
As an example he holds up the US Air emergency landing on the river Hudson this week, and I think the terrorist attacks on Mumbai would be another recent one. Information about both events was available earlier on Twitter, Flickr, Qik etc, than in main stream media, as well as quicker than Google could index. Lunn also holds the Dutch/Belgian tool Storytlr up as an example of a tool that shows us the ‘real time web’. I think that reasoning is flawed, and that Storytlr is a very interesting tool, just not for showing us the ‘real time web’ (as witnessed by the amount of effort it took to get the result below).

Example of combining microblogging, photo and video streams into Storytlr
The reasoning is flawed I think because of the fact that we only conclude ‘Twitter was faster’ with hindsight, and that the actual number of people alerted to something happening on the Hudson through their Twitter or other accounts was small in those 7 minutes where main stream media were not yet broadcasting their news alert. I am much more interested in those first 7 minutes while we’re in them.
What is the ‘real time web’?
Real time is when you get your data stream through the web the instant the data is generated. Examples would be microblogging tools like Jaiku and Twitter, photo upload sites (Flickr, 23, Twitpic), live video (Qik, Seesmic), but also things like SMS (Treasuremytext.com). Another example would be the number of mobile phones and their speed of movement on highways, such as TomTom uses to show you traffic congestion in their route navigation software.
When is ‘real time’ useful?
I see three general areas where real time is useful.

  • If it helps me decide to change my course of action right this instant. Traffic information for instance may make me choose a different high way exit than originally planned, or adapt my route while I’m already traveling it. Crisis management would be another example.
  • If it helps me leverage an information advantage immediately. Day trading stocks comes to mind, or having the very latest developments available on your subject of expertise.
  • If speed is more essential than accuracy or completeness. It takes time to filter and to make sense of information, to create a coherent storyline. But sometimes it’s more important to be fast, than to have a clear grasp of events. We accept increased noise to be quicker. When a part of our town was devastated by a large explosion in 2000, we immediately, after feeling the shockwave and hearing the blast, called our family to let them know we were ok, even though we did not know at all what had happened. We just knew that it was very bad, and that telecommunications might collapse soon. We called and said “Something bad has happened, but whatever it is you will see in the news soon, know that we are ok”. For less urgent things we can permit ourselves time to make sense of it first.
  • Faster as it gets closer, as it has bigger consequences
    I want my information faster the closer it is to me. Both geographically and socially.
    If something happened to my wife I want to know this instant, wherever she is, wherever I am. If something is happening in my street or even in my house I want to know this instant. If something is happening in the place I will be at in 5 minutes, I want to know this instant.
    So, anything happening to people close to me, regardless their location or anything serious happening in their location, is important to me. Anything happening in my direct physical environment, or in my near future physical environment, is important to me.
    I want my information also faster as it has bigger consequences for me. Consequences for my life in general, or in my professional fields of expertise. If some tipping point is reached (like the Saudi Ghawar oil field peaking, as it is the singular signal oil production in general is peaking. The Saudi are the only flexibility in oil supply we have, all others are producing at peak capacity), I want to know fast. Because it’s a tell tale sign for different scenarios becoming important. If you need to switch to plan B, or C, you want to know fast when the time to switch has come.
    Early Warning, Weak Signals, and Predictability
    As I said above, the number of people that were aware of US Air having crashed in the Hudson during those first few minutes was limited. Only after the fact did more people conclude it was an early warning. Not that those first Twitter messages and photos were not important, because they were. It’s just that probably not all people for whom it would have been important were privy to those first messages. If you knew what to look for you could set alerts on real time information streams. But of course most of the interesting things are rather unpredictable, and not just the Black Swans. Being unpredictable is what makes them newsworthy and interesting almost by definition. At the same time, the really important bits might go unnoticed. Weak signals are very important in complex situations, but are by definition hard to lift from the noise.
    So what would you look for in real time streams? The number of times a location is being mentioned, perhaps in combination with other key words? You will detect the Black Swans and other ‘big’ events, but you will overlook the Weak Signals that may signal an important trend or a tipping point in developments. How will you go about setting up your Early Warnings?
    Tracking the Real Time Web?
    What does it take to track the Real Time Web, both for detecting the eye-catching unpredictable around locations and people important to you personally, as well as the tell-tale weak signals that will have consequences on your life and work?
    Are there reasonable ways to e.g. determine what a tipping point would look like? Are there detectable characteristics for weak signals that will be important to you? How do you weed out false positives (i.e. getting an alert for heightened activity mentioning your town, to only have it turn out to be about a rock concert taking place?)
    Is there a way of filtering for a Black Swan, when you know that these are events with very low probability at any given time, though bound to happen at some point? Is there a way to create your filter or antenna against reasonable effort/cost in such a situation?
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