Peter has experimented for a while with Mastodon (and the ActivityPub protocol behind it) and decided that it’s not for him.

Well, this has been fun, but it turns out that the effort-vs-reward for the fediverse doesn’t balance for me; I need fewer reasons to be tethered, not more. @mastohost, recommended by @ton, was an excellent playground. In 24 hours this account will self-destruct. But, now and forever, https://ruk.ca is where you’ll find me.

I very much recognise his point. The disbalance he mentions I felt strongly in the past month, where it was absent in the five and a half years before it. The enormous influx of people, positive in itself, and the resulting growth in the number of people I followed made my timeline too busy. In response I started following topics more and am evaluating rss feeds from ActivityPub servers. The disbalance expresses itself in spending too much time in the home timeline, without that resulting in notable things. (I mean literally notable, as in taking notes) Unlike my feedreader. It does result in some interesting conversations. However such interactions usually start from a blogpost that I share. Because of the newness of AP and Mastodon to the large wave of people joining, many posts including mine are of the ‘Using Mastodon to talk about Mastodon’ type. This is of course common for newly adopted tools, and I still have a category on this blog for metablogging, as blogging about blogging has been a 20 year long pattern here. Yet it is also tiring because it is mostly noise, including the whole kindergarten level discussions between petty admins defederating each other. There’s a very serious discussion to be had about moderation, blocks and defederation, to turn it into a tool that provides agency to individual users and the groups they are part of. These tools are important, and I’m glad I have them at my disposal. Ironically such serious discussion about Mastodon isn’t easy to conduct in a Tweetdeck and Twitter style interface, such as Mastodon provides. I moved the home timeline over to the right in my Mastodon web interface, so I don’t see it as the first thing when I open it up. I’ve concluded I need to step away from timeline overwhelm. Much as I did on Twitter years ago.


A tired purple mastodont lies on the ground sleeping while groups of people are talking in the background, sketchbook style. Dall-E generated image.

There are however two distinct aspects about AP and the recent incoming wave of people that I am more interested to be engaged with than I was before this started.

First, to experiment personally with AP itself, and if possible with the less known Activities that AP could support, e.g. travel and check-ins. This as an extension of my personal site in areas that WordPress, OPML and RSS currently can’t provide to me. This increases my own agency, by adding affordances to my site. This in time may mean I won’t be hosting or self-hosting my personal Mastodon instance. (See my current fediverse activities)

Second, to volunteer for governance related topics in the wider Dutch user group of Mastodon. Regardless of my own use of Mastodon, it is an environment in which many more people than before have new choices to make w.r.t. taking their online presence and tools in their own hands. A step from a global silo such as Twitter to e.g. a larger Dutch instance, while not the same as running one’s own, can be a significant step to more personal agency and networked agency. I’m involved in a group discussing how to establish governance structures that can provide continuity to the Dutch instance Mastodon.nl, lets people on the instance have an active voice and role in its internal governance, and raises awareness of the variety of tools and possibilites out there while purposefully avoiding becoming a new silo (through e.g. providing pathways away from the instance). Such governance is not part of the Mastodon instance, but structured around it. Such involvement is an expression of my experience and role in using tech for the past 33 years online as being inherently political.


A purple mastodont is conversing with a crowd of people, sketchbook style. Dall-E generated image.

Newton in 1675 famously said about his work, that if he was seeing further it was by standing on the shoulders of giants.*

Doing so he acknowledged the lineage of the things he worked on, which he added his own combinatory creativity to, gaining us all very considerable new insights.

This weekend reading Chris Aldrich’s essay about the often actively ignored history of the things that make up the current wave of note making methods and tools, Newton’s turn of phrase crossed my mind again. Chris Aldrich showcases the history of something that currently is mostly discussed as building on a single person’s practice in the 1950s to 1990s, as an actually very widely used set of practices going back many centuries.

I think it is a common pattern. Repeating endlessly in bigger and smaller forms, because we’re human.
I also think the often re-used ‘shoulders of giants’ metaphor makes it worse, actively hiding any useful history of most things.

Every output is the result of processes, and building blocks that go beyond the person making the output. And most of those inputs and earlier practices are of a mundane origin. There aren’t that many giants around, that we all can stand on their shoulders for all we come up with.

Everything has a lineage, and all those lineages have something to tell you about the current state of things you’re working on. Along all those lineages knowledge and experience has been lost, not because it wasn’t useful moving forward, but because it wasn’t transferred well enough. Going back in such lineage, to use as feedback in your current practice can be tremendously valuable.
It’s something actively used as a tool of exploration in e.g. ‘the future, backwards’ exercises. In PKM, the example that triggered this posting, it is common to use your old self in that way (talking about how you’re learning from ‘previous me’ and as ‘current me’ write notes for ‘future me’) It’s even what makes Earth’s tree of life special.

It takes looking for that lineage as a first step. Yet if then all we do is scanning history’s horizon for giants that stand out, we may find none, several, or usually one nearer that will have to do as big enough and simply assume that’s where the horizon is, while overlooking everyone else that any giants and we are always building on.

Everything has a deep lineage with a story to tell. Everyone stands on everyones shoulders, of all sizes. It is shoulders all the way down.


If I have seen further it is by knowingly standing on the shoulders of Giants everyone.

Photo ‘Santa Teresa, feria del Vendrell 2019’ by Joan Grífols, license CC BY NC SA

* Most of us may recognise Newton’s 1675 phrase in a letter he wrote. Newton probably knew it was much older. But do we individually generally acknowledge it was at least 500 years old when he wrote it down, or usually attribute it to Newton?

Thursday I visited the first day of the two day Netherlands WordCamp that, after a 6 year hiatus, took place again. Some observations:

  • The venue was fun, in the middle of Burgers Zoo in Arnhem. From the room where I presented you looked out over the enclosure where the giraffes and rhino’s were. The entrance to the venue was through the tropical jungle greenhouse, with unseen birds and other animals making lots of noises somewhere above in the foliage.
  • The atmosphere was excellent, very laid back as well as open and curious to engage in conversation
  • It was my first time at WordCamp and somewhere above a third of the participants were as well, meaning there was a good mix of new people and old hands. A mix that helps set the atmosphere and tone of an event.
  • Sustainability was a big theme. Multiple speakers explored how WP web developers can reduce the footprint of the sites they create. Heard several things (reduce the number of URLs WP exposes, find ways of limiting hits generated by crawlers and bots, reduce the size of various elements in your WP site etc.) that I can follow up on. Also made me think again about running a RSS-only, otherwise completely headless website. Though given another takeaway further down the list, that isn’t a good idea.
  • The organising team had also focused on sustainability, and I was happy they went the same route as is the custom at IndieWeb events: all catering was vegetarian. I also learned that all food that wasn’t used was donated, pre-arranged with the local foodbank.
  • It was fun to meet several people in person that I’ve known online for a long time, such as Roel Groeneveld and Gerard van Enk, and co-organisers Marcel and Remkus. Others I had met before, like Bert Boerland. Plus I met some new people.
  • I think my presentation was well received.
  • I was a bit the odd one out, as I am a non-professional blogger who is a WordPress user, not a developer. It was a WordCamp, by the WP community and ecosystem, so the audience was largely commercially oriented. Web agencies, SEO, UX design etc. I am also someone who has a longer history with WordPress than some others, having seen it start as a blogging tool.
  • The WordPress community is large and densely connected, I’m an outsider to it, although I know quite a few people who are part of it. So this wasn’t ‘my’ crowd, but the energy from people meeting in person again after several years was palpable.
  • When the opening speaker asked ‘who here still reads RSS’ and only 5 or so raised their hands, in line with his expectations, was surprising to say the least. People either ditched RSS when Google Reader went away in 2013, or if they were younger never started with RSS. How do people read at volume if not through feeds? Actually going to websites and newsletters is the answer apparently.
  • Only a few people had ever heard of IndieWeb, although there definitely were some.
  • One of the volunteers I chatted with never heard of BarCamp. Nor realised that the Camp in WordCamp speaks of its lineage. This is akin to how in 2021 the supposedly first Dutch BarCamp was going to take place.
  • Those last three things underline what E and I have been chatting about in the past months regularly. How it is needed to keep talking about, writing about and transfer to others these things, repeatedly that we think are ‘just normal’ and essential. For things to be used, and be useful, you can never assume that telling the world about it is ever done. Which brings me back to why I was at WordCamp in the first place, talking about IndieWeb.


My first encounter with WordPress, at BlogTalk 2006 in Vienna. Photo Matt Mullenweg, used with permission.

Al in maart had ik in Utrecht een leuk gesprek met Martijn Aslander en Lykle de Vries als onderdeel van hun podcast-serie Digitale Fitheid. Digitale Fitheid is een platform over, ja precies dat, de digitale fitheid voor de kenniswerker.

In het gesprek hadden we het over persoonlijk kennismanagement (pkm) en de lange historie daarvan, en de omgang met digitale gereedschappen en de macht om die tools zelf vorm te geven. Maar ook over mijn werk, verantwoord datagebruik, de Europese datastrategie, Obsidian meet-ups, en ethiek. Er kwam aan het begin zelfs met veel kabaal een AWACS voorbij.

Een gesprek van een uur dat zo voorbij was. Achteraf denk je dan, heb ik wel coherente dingen gezegd? Terugluisterend nu bij publicatie, valt dat mee.

Mijn gesprek in de Digitale Fitheid podcast staat nu online. Kijk vooral ook even naar de andere gesprekken, die zijn zeker de moeite waard.

I’ve now added over 100 annotations using Hypothes.is (h.), almost all within the last month. This includes a few non-public ones. Two weeks ago I wrote down some early impressions, to which I’m now adding some additional observations.

  1. 100 annotations (in a month) don’t seem like a lot to me, if h. is a regular tool in one’s browsing habit. H. says they have 1 million users, that have made 40 million annotations to over 2 million articles (their API returns 2.187.262 results as I write this). H. has been in existence for a decade. These numbers average out to 20 annotations to 2 articles per user. This to me suggests that the mode is 1 annotation to 1 article by a user and then silence. My 100 annotations spread out over 30 articles, accumulated over a handful of weeks is then already well above average, even though I am a new and beginning user. My introduction to h. was through Chris Aldrich, whose stream of annotations I follow daily with interest. He recently passed 10.000 annotations! That’s 100 times as many as mine, and apparently also an outlier to the h. team itself: they sent him a congratulatory package. H.’s marketing director has 1348 public annotations over almost 6 years, its founder 1200 in a decade. Remi Kalir, co-author of the (readworthy!) Annotation book, has 800 in six years. That does not seem that much from what I would expect to be power users. My blogging friend Heinz has some 750 annotations in three years. Fellow IndieWeb netizen Maya some 1800 in a year and a half. Those last two numbers, even if they differ by a factor 5 or so in average annotations/month, feel like what I’d expect as a regular range for routine users.
  2. The book Annotation I mentioned makes a lot of social annotation, where distributed conversations result beyond the core interaction of an annotator with an author through an original text. Such social annotation requires sharing. H. provides that sharing functionality and positions itself explicitly as a social tool ("Annotate the web, with anyone, anywhere" "Engage your students with social annotation"). The numbers above show that such social interaction around an annotated text within h. will be very rare in the public facing part of h., in the closed (safer) surroundings of classroom use interaction might be much more prominent. Users like me, or Heinz, Maya and Chris whom I named/linked above, will then be motivated by something else than the social aspects of h. If and when such interaction does happen (as it tends to do if you mutually follow eachothers annotations) it is a pleasant addition, not h.’s central benefit.
  3. What is odd to me is that when you do indeed engage into social interaction on h., that interaction cannot be found through the web interface of my annotations. Once I comment, it disappears out of sight, unless I remember what I reacted to and go back to that annotation by another user directly, to find my comment underneath. It does show up in the RSS feed of my annotations, and my Hypothes.is-to-Obsidian plugin also captures them through the API. Just not in the web interface.
  4. Despite the social nature of h., discovery is very difficult. Purposefully ‘finding the others’ is mostly impossible. This is both an effect of the web-interface functionality, as well as I suspect because of the relatively sparse network of users (see observation 1). There’s no direct way of connecting or searching for users. The social object is the annotation, and you need to find others only through annotations you encounter. I’ve searched for tags and terms I am interested in, but those do not surface regular users easily. I’ve collated a list of a dozen currently active or somewhat active annotators, and half a dozen who used to be or are sporadically active. I also added annotations of my own blogposts to my blog, and I actively follow (through an RSS feed) any new annotation of my blogposts. If you use h., I’d be interested to hear about it.
  5. Annotations are the first step of getting useful insights into my notes. This makes it a prerequisite to be able to capture annotations in my note making tool Obsidian, otherwise Hypothes.is is just another silo you’re wasting time on. Luckily h. isn’t meant as a silo and has an API. Using the API and the Hypothes.is-to-Obsidian plugin all my annotations are available to me locally. However, what I do locally with those notes does not get reflected back to h., meaning that you can’t really work through annotations locally until you’ve annotated an entire article or paper in the browser, otherwise sync issues may occur. I also find that having the individual annotations (including the annotated text, in one file), not the full text (the stuff I didn’t annotate), feels impractical at times as it cuts away a lot of context. It’s easily retrievable by visiting the url now, but maybe not over time (so I save web archive links too as an annotation). I also grab a local markdown copy of full articles if they are of higher interest to me. Using h. in the browser creates another inbox in this regard (having to return to a thing to finish annotation or for context), and I obviously don’t need more inboxes to keep track of.
  6. In response to not saving entire articles in my notes environment, I have started marking online articles I haven’t annotated yet at least with a note that contains the motivation and first associations I normally save with a full article. This is in the same spot as where I add a web archive link, as page note. I’ve tried that in recent days and that seems to work well. That way I do have a general note in my local system that contains the motivation for looking in more detail at an article.
  7. The API also supports sending annotations and updates to h. from e.g. my local system. Would this be potentially better for my workflow? Firefox and the h. add-on don’t always work flawlessly, not all docs can be opened, or the form stops working until I restart Firefox. This too points in the direction of annotating locally and sending annotations to h. for sharing through the API. Is there anyone already doing this? Built their own client, or using h. ‘headless’? Is there anyone who runs their own h. instance locally? If I could send things through the API, that might also include the Kindle highlights I pull in to my local system.
  8. In the same category of integrating h. into my pkm workflows, falls the interaction between h. and Zotero, especially now that Zotero has its own storage of annotations of PDFs in my library. It might be of interest to be able to share those annotations, for a more complete overview of what I’m annotating. Either directly from Zotero, or by way of my notes in Obsidian (Zotero annotatins end up there in the end)
  9. These first 100 annotations I made in the browser, using an add-on. Annotating in the browser takes some getting used to, as I try to get myself out of my browser more usually. I don’t always fully realise I can return to an article for later annotation. Any time the sense I have to finish annotating an article surfaces, that is friction I can do without. Apart from that, it is a pleasant experience to annotate like this. And that pleasure is key to keep annotating. Being able to better integrate my h. use with Obsidian and Zotero would likely increase the pleasure of doing it.
  10. Another path of integration to think about is sharing annotated links from h. to my blog or the other way around. I blog links with a general annotation at times (example). These bloggable links I could grab from h. where I bookmark things in similar ways (example), usually to annotate further later on. I notice myself thinking I should do both, but unless I could do that simultaneously I won’t do such a thing twice.