My friend Juliane created a /now page behind a password, which she shared with me and others. My friend Peter has a public one. I like the concept of the /now page containing “everything you would tell someone you haven’t met in a year to quickly catch up”. I do week notes which are somewhat similar in content yet different in intention, but trying to write a /now page I realised some of the most informative parts are intended for a smaller audience than the general public. Or I’d need to water the information value down to make it fit for general publication. Juliane’s solution helps. Ideally I’d have the same /now page for multiple audiences, with content shown, partly shown or not at all, depending on who’s reading.

It obviously makes no sense to block the mail system if you disagree with some of the letters sent. The deceptive method of blocking used here, targeting the back-end servers so that mail traffic simply gets ignored, while Russian Protonmail users still seemingly can access the service, is another sign that they’d rather not let you know blocking goes on at all. This is an action against end-to-end encryption.

The obvious answer is to use more end-to-end encryption, and so increase the cost of surveillance and repression. Use my protonmail address as listed on the right, or use PGP using my public key on the right to contact me. Other means of reaching me with end-to-end encryption are the messaging apps Signal and Threema, as well as Keybase (listed on the right as well).

Bookmarked Russia blocks encrypted email provider ProtonMail (TechCrunch)
Russia has told internet providers to enforce a block against encrypted email provider ProtonMail, the company’s chief has confirmed. The block was ordered by the state Federal Security Service, formerly the KGB, according to a Russian-language blog, which obtained and published the order aft…

Aral Balkan talks about how to design tools and find ways around the big social media platforms. He calls for the design and implementation of Small Tech. I fully agree. Technology to provide us with agency needs to be not just small, but smaller than us, i.e. within the scope of control of the group of people deploying a technology or method.

My original fascination with social media, back in the ’00s when it was blogs and wikis mostly, was precisely because it was smaller than us, it pushed publication and sharing in the hands of all of us, allowing distributed conversations. The concentration of our interaction in the big tech platforms made social media ‘bigger than us’ again. We don’t decide what FB shows us, breaking out of your own bubble (vital in healthy networks) becomes harder because sharing is based on pre-existing ‘friendships’ and discoverability has been removed. The erosion has been slow, but very visible. Networked Agency, to me, is only possible with small tech, and small methods. It’s why I find most ‘digital transformation’ efforts disappointing, and feel we need to focus much more on human digital networks, on distributed digital transformation. Based on federated small tech, networks of small tech instances. Where our tools are useful on their own, and more useful in concert with others.

Aral’s posting (and blog in general) is worth a read, and as he is a coder and designer, he acts on those notions too.

Help jij ons mee organiseren? We gaan een IndieWebCamp organiseren in Utrecht, een event om het gebruik van het Open Web te bevorderen, en met elkaar praktische zaken aan je eigen site te verbeteren. We zoeken nog een geschikte datum en locatie in Utrecht. Je hulp is dus van harte welkom.

Op het Open Web bepaal jij zelf wat je publiceert, hoe het er uit ziet, en met wie je in gesprek gaat. Op het Open Web bepaal je zelf wie en wat je volgt en leest. Het Open Web was er altijd al, maar in de loop van de tijd zijn we allemaal min of meer opgesloten geraakt in de silo’s van Facebook, Twitter, en al die anderen. Hun algoritmes en timelines bepalen nu wat jij leest. Dat kan ook anders. Bouw je eigen site, waar anderen niet tussendoor komen fietsen omdat ze advertentie-inkomsten willen genereren. Houd je eigen nieuwsbronnen bij, zonder dat andermans algoritme je opsluit in een bubbel. Dat is het IndieWeb: jouw content, jouw relaties, jij zit aan het stuur.

Frank Meeuwsen en ik zijn al heel lang onderdeel van internet en dat Open Web, maar brengen/brachten ook veel tijd in websilo’s als Facebook door. Inmiddels zijn we beiden actieve ‘terugkeerders’ op het Open Web. Afgelopen november waren we samen op het IndieWebCamp Nürnberg, waar een twintigtal mensen met elkaar discussieerde en ook zelf actief aan de slag gingen met hun eigen websites. Sommigen programmeerden geavanceerde dingen, maar de meesten zoals ikzelf bijvoorbeeld, deden juist kleine dingen (zoals het verwijderen van een link naar de auteur van postings op deze site). Kleine dingen zijn vaak al lastig genoeg. Toen we terugreden met de trein naar Nederland waren we het er al snel over eens: er moet ook een IndieWebCamp in Nederland komen. In Utrecht dus, dit voorjaar.

Om Frank te citeren:

Voel je je aangesproken door de ideeën van het open web, indieweb, wil je aan de slag met een eigen site die meer vrij staat van de invloeden sociale silo’s en datatracking? Wil je een nieuwsvoorziening die niet meer primair wordt gevoed door algoritmen en polariserende roeptoeters? Dan verwelkomen we je op twee dagen IndieWebCamp Utrecht.

Laat weten of je er bij wilt zijn.
Laat weten of je kunt helpen met het vinden van een locatie.
Laat weten hoe wij jou kunnen helpen bij je stappen op het Open Web.

Je bent uitgenodigd!

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.

The ‘on this day in earlier years‘ plugin I recently installed on this blog is already proving to be useful in the way I hoped: creating somewhat coincidental feedback loops to my earlier blogposts, self serendipity.

Last week I had lunch with Lilia and Robert, and 15 years ago today another lunch with Lilia prompted a posting on lurking in social networks / blog networks. With seventeen comments, many of them pointing to other blogposts it’s a good example of the type of distributed conversations blogging can create. Or could, 15 years ago. Re-reading that posting now, it is still relevant to me. And a timely reminder. I think it would be worth some time to go through more of my postings about information strategies from back then, and see how they compare to now, and how they would translate to now.

Service announcement: I regularly lie to data gathering platforms like FB. So any message from FB telling you it’s my birthday today can be safely ignored. It’s not. They wanted to check my age when I created the account. They don’t need a day and month for that, and for that matter any year before 2000 will do. I lied to FB. You should too.

For those of you sending birthday wishes: thank you, I appreciate hearing from you. It’s good to know you

Enige tijd geleden is een groep organisaties, zoals Waag Society, het initiatief PublicSpaces gestart. Binnen deze non-profit zoekt een groep organisaties de weg (terug) naar internet als gemeenschappelijk goed, weg van de social networking platforms die uiteindelijk alleen een commercieel doel dienen. Hoe dat zou moeten staat nog open volgens mij, al is er wel een manifest, en ik weet ook niet in hoeverre gedistribueerd denken (de onzichtbare hand van netwerken) echt een rol speelt. Het maakt in ieder geval nieuwsgierig. Het thema is zonder meer van groot belang, en er ‘broeit’ op allerlei plekken activiteit op dit vlak. Soms ‘klassiek’ geheel op technisch vlak voor een toepassing (zoals Mastodon), en soms in de breedte (zoals Next Generation Internet). PublicSpaces kiest zo te zien ook een maatschappelijke insteek, en dat is terecht. In het verleden heb ik het er met Marleen Stikker van Waag Society wel over gehad dat je een ‘nieuw maatschappelijk middenveld’ nodig hebt, dat zich heeft georganiseerd en werkt langs de lijnen van onze genetwerkte digitale wereld, en zichtbaar genoeg is voor het ‘klassieke’ middenveld en bijvoorbeeld de overheid.

Komende week is er een bijeenkomst in Arnhem, onder de titel “Het internet is stuk” waar PublicSpace centraal staat. Georganiseerd mede door Marco Derksen, zal Geert-Jan Bogaerts, hoofd digitaal van de VPRO en voorzitter van PublicSpaces de ideeën en plannen toelichten.

Het maximaal aantal plaatsen is al bereikt, en er is een wachtlijst, dus ik zal er zelf niet bij zijn. Maar Frank Meeuwsen wel, dus ik verwacht dat er wel wat impressies in zijn blog of dat van Marco Derksen (die er al onlangs over schreef) zullen verschijnen.

heat wave in bryant park
De publieke ruimte is het originele social media platform. Onze tools lijken er nog te weinig op. (photo Laura LaRose, license CC-BY)

I recognise what Ben Werdmüller says. About the withdrawal creating space to both read more long form, and to write more myself. Also the replacement dopamine cravings, by looking up your blog’s statistics when the Facebook likes fall away, I had. Indeed as Ben suggests, I also removed the statistics from my website (by disabling JetPack, I never used Google Analytics anyway). Different from him, I never stopped using Twitter or LinkedIn, just cut back Facebook which I felt was the real time sink (also as Twitter nor LinkedIn were on my phone to begin with, and because I use Twitter very differently from how I used Facebook.) Going completely ‘dark’ on social media is also about privilege I feel, so the crux is how conscious are we of our information strategies? How the tools we use support those information strategies or not, and most importantly in the case of social media as a time sink: in how much it’s the tools that shape our info diet, instead of the other way around.

Replied to Checking in on my social media fast by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller
Three weeks ago, I decided to go dark on social media. ... It's one of the best things I've ever done. I thought I'd check in with a quick breakdown: what worked, and what didn't. Here we go.   Wh...

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.

Replied to Some quick quotes on #edu106 and the power of #IndieWeb #creativity #edtechchat #mb by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry
....fun to figure out everything I wanted to do with my website,....gained a sense of voice...,...I’m so tired of all the endless perfection I see on social media......my relationship with technology changed....

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).


There’s a world outside the walled garden. (Photo of the walled garden at Alnwick Garden by Gail Johnson, CC-BY-NC)

Some things I thought worth reading in the past days

  • A good read on how currently machine learning (ML) merely obfuscates human bias, by moving it to the training data and coding, to arrive at peace of mind from pretend objectivity. Because of claiming that it’s ‘the algorithm deciding’ you make ML a kind of digital alchemy. Introduced some fun terms to me, like fauxtomation, and Potemkin AI: Plausible Disavowal – Why pretend that machines can be creative?
  • These new Google patents show how problematic the current smart home efforts are, including the precursor that are the Alexa and Echo microphones in your house. They are stripping you of agency, not providing it. These particular ones also nudge you to treat your children much the way surveillance capitalism treats you: as a suspect to be watched, relationships denuded of the subtle human capability to trust. Agency only comes from being in full control of your tools. Adding someone else’s tools (here not just Google but your health insurer, your landlord etc) to your home doesn’t make it smart but a self-censorship promoting escape room. A fractal of the panopticon. We need to start designing more technology that is based on distributed use, not on a centralised controller: Google’s New Patents Aim to Make Your Home a Data Mine
  • An excellent article by the NYT about Facebook’s slide to the dark side. When the student dorm room excuse “we didn’t realise, we messed up, but we’ll fix it for the future” defence fails, and you weaponise your own data driven machine against its critics. Thus proving your critics right. Weaponising your own platform isn’t surprising but very sobering and telling. Will it be a tipping point in how the public views FB? Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis
  • Some of these takeaways from the article just mentioned we should keep top of mind when interacting with or talking about Facebook: FB knew very early on about being used to influence the US 2016 election and chose not to act. FB feared backlash from specific user groups and opted to unevenly enforce their terms or service/community guidelines. Cambridge Analytica is not an isolated abuse, but a concrete example of the wider issue. FB weaponised their own platform to oppose criticism: How Facebook Wrestled With Scandal: 6 Key Takeaways From The Times’s Investigation
  • There really is no plausible deniability for FB’s execs on their “in-house fake news shop” : Facebook’s Top Brass Say They Knew Nothing About Definers. Don’t Believe Them. So when you need to admit it, you fall back on the ‘we messed up, we’ll do better going forward’ tactic.
  • As Aral Balkan says, that’s the real issue at hand because “Cambridge Analytica and Facebook have the same business model. If Cambridge Analytica can sway elections and referenda with a relatively small subset of Facebook’s data, imagine what Facebook can and does do with the full set.“: We were warned about Cambridge Analytica. Why didn’t we listen?
  • [update] Apparently all the commotion is causing Zuckerberg to think FB is ‘at war‘, with everyone it seems, which is problematic for a company that has as a mission to open up and connect the world, and which is based on a perception of trust. Also a bunker mentality probably doesn’t bode well for FB’s corporate culture and hence future: Facebook At War.

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.

This is good news from Flickr. Flickr is amending their changes, to ensure that Creative Commons licensed photos will not be deleted from free accounts that are over their limit. (via Jeremy Cherfas)

Flickr recently announced they would be deleting the oldest photos of free accounts that have more photos than the new limit of 1000 images. This caused concern as some of those free accounts might be old, disused accounts, where there are images with open licenses that are being used elsewhere. Flickr allows search for images with open licenses, and makes it easy to embed those in your own online material. Removing old images might therefore break things, and there were many people calling for Flickr to try and prevent breaking things. And they are, Flickr is providing all public institutions and archives publishing photos to Flickr with a free Pro account, and will also delete no Creative Commons licensed images, if they carried that license before 1 November 2018. (This prevents you from keeping an unlimited free account by simply relicensing the photos, and uploading new photos with CC licenses only.)

I think this is a false dilemma, Bernd.

I’d say that it would be great if those extremists would see using a distributed tool like Mastodon as the only remaining viable platform for them. It would not suppress their speech. But it woud deny them any amplification, which they now enjoy by being very visible on mainstream platforms, giving them the illusion they are indeed mainstream. It will be much easier to convince, if at all needed, instance moderators to not federate with instances of those guys, reducing them ever more to their own bubble. They can spew hate amongst themselves for eternity, but without amplification it won’t thrive. Jotted down some thoughts on this earlier in “What does Gab’s demise mean for federation?

Replied to Gab and the decentralized web by Ben WerdmüllerBen Werdmüller
On one side, by creating a robust decentralized web, we could create a way for extremist movements to thrive. On another, by restricting hate speech, we could create overarching censorship that genuinely guts freedom of speech protections