Nick Punt writes a worthwile post (found via Roland Tanglao) on “De-Escalating Social Media, Designing humility and forgiveness into social media products

He writes

This is why it’s my belief that as designed today, social media is out of balance. It is far easier to escalate than it is to de-escalate, and this is a major problem that companies like Twitter and Facebook need to address.

This got me thinking about what particular use cases need de-escalation, and whether there’s something simple we can do to test the waters and address these types of problems.

And goes on to explore how to create a path for admitting mistakes on Twitter. This currently isn’t encouraged by Twitter’s design. You see no social reinforcement, as no others visibly admit mistakes. You do see many people pilig onto someone for whatever perceived slight, and you do see people’s reflex of digging in when attacked.

Punt suggest three bits of added functionality for Twitter:

  • The ability to add a ‘mea culpa’ to a tweet in the shape of “@ton_zylstra indicated they made a mistake in this tweet”. Doing that immediately stops the amplicifation of those messages. No more replies, likes or retweets without comments. Retweet with comment is still possible to amplify the correction, as opposed to the original message.
  • Surfacing corrections: those that have seen the original tweet in their timelines will also get presented with the correction.
  • Enabling forgiveness: works just like likes, but then to forgive the original poster for the mistake, as a form of positive reinforcement.

I like this line of thinking, although I think it won’t be added to existing silo’d networks. This type of nudging of constructive behaviour as well as adding specific types of friction are however of interest. Maybe it is easier for other platforms and newer players to adopt as a distinguishing feature. E.g. in Mastodon.

Nicholas Carr wrote a blog post well worth a read last January, positing the impact of social media is content collapse, not context collapse. Indeed when we all started out on social software the phrase context collapse was on our lips.

Since 2016 Carr sees context restoration however, a movement away from public FB posts to private accounts, chat groups, and places where content self-destructs after a while. In its place he sees a different collapse, that of content.

Context collapse remains an important conceptual lens, but what’s becoming clear now is that a very different kind of collapse — content collapse — will be the more consequential legacy of social media. Content collapse, as I define it, is the tendency of social media to blur traditional distinctions among once distinct types of information — distinctions of form, register, sense, and importance. As social media becomes the main conduit for information of all sorts — personal correspondence, news and opinion, entertainment, art, instruction, and on and on — it homogenizes that information as well as our responses to it.

Content collapse, because all those different types of information reach us in the exact same templated way, the endlessly scrolling timeline on our phone’s screen.
Carr posits our general unease with social media stems from this content collapse even, and names four aspects of it:

First, by leveling everything, social media also trivializes everything….

Second, as all information consolidates on social media, we respond to it using the same small set of tools the platforms provide for us. Our responses become homogenized, too….

Third, content collapse puts all types of information into direct competition….

Finally, content collapse consolidates power over information, and conversation, into the hands of the small number of companies that own the platforms and write the algorithms….

My first instinct is that it is that last aspect that causes the most unease. The first and third are ultimately the same thing, I feel. The second trivialises not the content but us. It severely limits people’s response range, leaving no room for nuance or complexity (which makes unease and lack of power more tangible to users, such that I suspect it significantly amps the outrage feedback loop in people’s attempts to break the homogeneity, to be seen, to be heard) It is what removes us as an independent entity, a political actor, a locus of agency, an active node in the network that is society.

So here’s to variety and messiness, the open web, the animated gifs of yesteryear, and refusing the endlessly scrolling algorithmic timelines.

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

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

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

Yesterday I participated in, or more accurately listened in on, a IndieWeb conversation on wikis and their relationship to blogs (session notes).

I didn’t feel like saying much so kept quiet, other than at the start during a (too long) intro round where I described how I’ve looked at and used wiki personally in the past. That past is almost as long as this blog is old. Blogs and wikis were to me the original social software tools.

  • Between 2004 and 2010 I kept a wiki as the main screen on my desktop, sort of like how I used The Brain in years before that. In it I kept conversation notes, kept track of who’s who in the projects I worked on etc. This after a gap in turn got replaced by Evernote in 2012
  • Between 2004 and 2013 I had a public wiki alongside this blog (first WakkaWiki, then WikkaWiki). In those years at one or two points I recreated it from scratch after particular intensive waves of automated spam and vandalism
  • Between 2004 and 2010 I had a wiki covering all the BlogWalk Salons I co-organised from 2004-2008
  • I had a script that let me crosspost from this blog to the wiki alongside it, so I could potentially rework it there. I don’t think that happened much really.
  • At one point I glued blogs, wiki and forum software together as a ‘Patchwork Portal‘ for a group I worked with. Elmine and presented about this together on BlogTalk Reloaded in 2006, showing the co-evolution of a budding community of practice and the patchwork portal as the group’s toolset. Afterwards it was used for a while in a ‘wiki on a stick’ project for education material by one of the group’s members.
  • Two years ago I re-added a wiki style section of sorts to this blog. As I’m the only one editing anyway, I simply use WordPress pages, as when I’m logged in everything has an edit button already. The purpose is to have a place for more static content, so I can refer to notions or overviews more easily, and don’t need to provide people with a range of various blogposts and let them dig out my meaning by themselves. In practice it is a rather empty wiki, consisting mostly of lists of blogposts, much less of content. A plus is that Webmentions work on my pages too, so bidirectional links between my and someone else’s blog and my wiki are easy.
  • With clients and colleagues over the years I’ve used Atlassian as a collaborative tool, and once created a wiki for a client that contained their organisation’s glossary. Current items were not editable, but showed sections directly below that which were. Colleagues could add remarks, examples and propose new terms, and from that periodically the glossary would be changed.

Stock versus flow, gardening and streams
Neil Mather, who has a really intriguing wiki as commonplace book since last fall, mentioned he writes ‘stream first’. This stock (wiki) and flow (blog) perspective is an important one in personal knowledge management. Zettelkasten tools and e.g. Tiddlywiki focus on singular thoughts, crumbs of content as building block, and as such fall somewhere in between that stock and flow notion, as blogging is often a river of these crumbs (bookmarks, likes, an image, a quote etc.) Others mentioned that they blogged as a result of working in their wiki, so the flow originated in the stock. This likely fits when blog posts are articles more than short posts. One of the participants said his blog used to show the things from his wiki he marked as public (which is the flip side of how I used to push blog posts to the wiki if they were marked ‘wikify’).
Another participant mentioned she thinks of blogs as having a ‘first published’ date, and wiki items a ‘last edited’ date. This was a useful remark to me, as that last edited date in combination with e.g. tags or topics, provides a good way to figure out where gardening might be in order.
Ultimately blogs and wikis are not either stock or flow to me but can do both. Wikis also create streams, through recent changes feeds etc. Over the years I had many RSS feeds in my reader alerting me to changes in wikis. I feel both hemmed in by how my blog in its setup puts flow above stock, and how a wiki assumes stock more than flow. But that can all be altered. In the end it’s all just a database, putting different emphasis on different pivots for navigation and exploration.

Capturing crumbs, Zettelkasten
I often struggle with the assumed path of small elements to slightly more reworked content to articles. It smacks of the DIKW pyramid which has no theoretical or practical merit in my eyes. Starting from small crumbs doesn’t work for me as most thoughts are not crumbs but rather like Gestalts. Not that stuff is born from my mind as a fully grown and armed Athena, but notes, ideas and thoughts are mostly not a single thing but a constellation of notions, examples, existing connections and intuited connections. In those constellations, the connections and relations are a key piece for me to express. In wiki those connections are links, but while still key, they are less tangible, not treated as actual content and not annotated. Teasing out the crumbs of such a constellation routinely constitutes a lot of overhead I feel, and to me the primary interest is in those small or big constellations, not the crumbs. The only exception to this is having a way of visualising links between crumbs, based on how wiki pages link to each other, because such visualisations may point to novel constellations for me, emerging from the collection and jumble of stuff in the wiki. That I think is powerful.

Personal and public material
During the conversation I realised that I don’t really have a clear mental image of my wiki section. I refer to it as my personal wiki, but my imagined readership does not include me and only consists of ‘others’. I think that is precisely what feels off with it.
I run a webserver on my laptop, and on it I have a locally hosted blog where very infrequently I write some personal stuff (e.g. I kept a log there in the final weeks of my father’s life) or stream of consciousness style stuff. In my still never meaningfully acted upon notion of leaving Evernote a personal blog/wiki combo for note taking, bookmarking etc might be useful. Also for logging things. One of the remarks that got my interest was the notion of starting a daily note in which over the course of the day you log stuff, and that is then available to later mine for additional expansion, linking and branching off more wiki-items.

A question that came up for me, musing about the conversation is what it is I am trying to automate or reduce friction for? If I am trying to automate curation (getting from crumbs to articles automagically) then that would be undesirable. Only I should curate, as it is my learning and agency that is involved. Having sensemaking aids that surface patterns, visualise links etc would be very helpful. Also in terms of timelines, and in terms of shifting vocabulary (tags) for similar content.

First follow-ups

  • I think I need to return to my 2005 thinking about information strategies, specifically at the collecting, filtering stage and the actions that result from it. and look again at how my blog and wiki can play a bigger role for currently underveloped steps.
  • Playing more purposefully with how I tie the local blog on my laptop to the publlic one sounds like a good experiment.
  • Using logging as a starting point for personal notetaking is an easy experiment to start (I see various other obvious starting points, such as bookmarks or conversations that play that role in my Evernotes currently). Logging also is a good notion for things like the garden and other stuff around the home. I remember how my grandmother kept daily notes about various things, groceries bought, deliveries received, harvest brought in. Her cupboard full of notebooks as a corpus likely would have been a socio-economic research treasure

Since New Year’s day a slow drip of many documents concerning the work of Cambridge Analytica across 68 countries is giving insights in how the combination of consumer tracking and targeted adverts is being used to influence democratic decisions. Not just within a country, but across multiple countries and simultaneously (meaning foreign interests presented as domestic opinions of the electorate in multiple countries). It’s not entirely surprising, these are age old instruments of propaganda, provocation etc, being redeployed in the digital age, which allows an entirely new level of scale and granularity that makes it a much more malicious beast. It’s shocking on two levels. First, it shows there’s a strong need to make radically transparent to people where material they get served in the silos is coming from, why it is being showed to them, whether it’s part of a/b testing or not, and who is paying/taking influence on each item presented to them. Second, even if there should be no effect at all of these type of campaigns (which seems to crop up as a defence here and there), it is revealing that office-seeking clients and political operatives buy into the cynical premise of the entire concept. Which alone should disqualify them from being elected. The clients need to be held more to account, than the service provider, regardless of any illegality on the side of CA.

The HindSightFiles twitter account is releasing a steady stream of Cambridge Analytica files during the first few months of 2020, leaked by former CA employee Brittany Kaiser. Part of these documents were used earlier in the US Mueller investigation into 2016 election influencing by Russia, and released to the UK Parliament after the initial CA scandal broke.