Following up on “How to federate like our business ecosystem” I went ahead and created a Mastodon-instance for my company. It’s at Next to me and a generic ‘team’, three colleagues have created an account, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be active or not.

Some observations:

  • The distinction between separate accounts can cause confusion. On Twitter one is conditioned to see one account as ‘all of me’. On e-mail however we have different mail addresses for different contexts, of which work and private mail addresses are the most common two. To make the distinction visible between my personal and company account I used different avatars.
  • Some of our team have been hesitant about the context collapse between work and private life. E.g. sharing phone numbers, or posting work related material on your personal social media accounts. This is completely understandable (even if for me personally all work has come from personal interests so there’s an almost complete overlap between work and private, even if not the other way around: almost all of my work would fit in my private context, not all of my private context would fit in my work context.)

Having company accounts could help, as having different accounts for different contexts works as a sort-of category filter for the types of content that are being shared. I notice that from my work account I now do follow organisational accounts, whereas from private accounts I usually avoid doing that.

That’s all on the individual level.

The actual experiment here is to see a) what occurs if everyone in the team has an individual voice in their professional context and b) how that works out across organisations in our ecosystem. Does it lead to different types of interaction, more low threshold casual interaction, between people from organisations we regard as part of our ‘scene’? It’s a type of collectiveness that is impossible on global platforms like Twitter. It’s based on a locally more dense network between specific groups of people. As yet, this is still entirely theoretical, as it depends on other organisations also having such instances, from which people connect to us. Having at least our instance makes it possible to start the experiment if there’s at least one other. Maybe having ours helps that second one to start.

As the Internet is alive with the sounds of #twittermigration these past days, I returned to some earlier thoughts and ideas, w.r.t to both self-hosting fediverse instances, and mapping those on to the business network of my company.

The resulting question is, would a set-up like this work?

If our company would set-up their own fediverse instance ( here, with accounts for our team). This gives all of our team a ‘verified’, because of the company url, presence as part of their current work. That doesn’t mean we can’t have other accounts (see @ton in the image). And others in our network would do the same (names of organisations for illustration purposes).
If we would run one instance together ( here), that is a relay for all the instances of the organisations involved, and the instance for any individuals in our network (@w… here).
Then we would have a fediverse network of our company’s actual network, where it becomes easier to interact more frequently across the entire network, where discovery is possible because of the shared public timelines through the relay. It’s bounded by being a representation of an actual network, but open within that and based on the permissive boundaries the various organisations themselves have.

I’m not sure if this is how ActivityPub relays are meant to work or are useful, but that’s what I want to explore.
A few of those building blocks are easy to set-up, a company instance and the instance to function as relay. Others are harder, getting our own instance used (we have internal asynchronous interaction through our own instance), getting others in our network to take the same steps.

Notions that play a role in this

My company is part of a network of similar groups and initiatives. Internally we call them friends of our company. These are the people and organisations we invite to events and parties, that we like to hang out with, jam about ideas with, and when possible work together with. That can be because we worked together in the past and thought that was fun and worth repeating, or because we share or shared office space, have similar perspectives or visions, and having overlapping or complementing activities. It’s a network of individuals in larger organisations that we interact with individually, and companies, non-profits and NGO’s that are Zebra’s, like us.

I think that technology should be smaller than us, in order to provide agency to us. With smaller I mean that the deployment and daily use of a tool must fall within the control and capabilities of the user or user group. Specifically the off-switch should be in control of the user group itself. That way a user group can use a tool under their control to address issues that group has by themselves in their own context. This is what I call networked agency. Different groups can strengthen their tools and work, by networking with other groups, yet tools stay useful on their own and get more useful when connected.

I also think that human networks of connections are similar to the structure of peer-to-peer internet structures. A network of many smaller nodes and areas where those connections are denser, individual nodes that are more intensively connected to others and form a local center. I’m convinced our digital tools work better if they deliberately mimic that human network structure, so that the digital affordances those tools provide flow naturally into the human network connections we all have. That’s what I call human digital networks, and distributed digital transformation.
Openness is a necessity in the networked age. But it also needs a limit. That limit is tied to our personal limits, the way we need to feel ‘at home’ in the context in which we exchange ideas. With the new influx of many new people on Mastodon I noticed how my timeline is feeling more alienating than before when it was more like hanging out in my favourite watering hole in town. That will settle, I’m sure, yet in social platforms that treat the entire globe as the same public square you are continuously exposed to the algorithmically amplified onslaught of all of it all the time. Which does not reflect human network reality anymore. Bounded openness matches that reality better.

All this maps on to the fediverse I think: if each company or group in our network has their own instance, that allows internal interaction and public interaction in parallel, and if that public interaction is always visible locally in all other instance in the network, then more direct and deeper ties between the people in the network may grow. Such interaction would create more ideas, more initiatives and help spot more opportunities to do things together I think (or equally quickly expose we’re not as nicely aligned or matched as we thought).

Bookmarked Target_Is_New, Issue 212 by Iskander Smit

Iskander asks what about users, next to makers, when it comes to responsible AI? For a slightly different type of user at least, such responsibilities are being formulated in the proposed EU AI Regulation, as well as the connected AI Liability Directive. There not just the producers and distributors of AI containing services or products have responsibilities, but also those who deploy them in practice, or those who use its outputs. He’s right that most discussions focus on within the established system of making, training and deploying AI, and we should also look outside the system. Where in this case the people using AI, or using their output reside. That’s why I like the EU’s legislative approach, as it doesn’t aim to regulate the system as seen from within it, but focuses on access conditions for such products to the European market, and the impact it has within society. Of course, these proposals are still under negotiation, and it’s wait and see what will remain at the end of that process.

As I wrote down as thoughts while listening to Dasha Simons; we are all convinced of the importance of explainability, transparency, and even interpretability, all focused on making the system responsible and, with them, the makers of the system. But what about the responsibility of the users? Are they also part of the equation, should they be responsible too? As the AI (or what term we use) is continuous learning and shaping, the prompts we give are more than a means to retrieve the best results; it is also part of the upbringing of the AI. We are, as users, also responsible for good AI as the producers are.

Iskander Smit

Bookmarked What IndieBlocks Does, and Why by Jan Boddez

I really need to start testing Jan’s IndieBlocks plugin, to see if it allows me to switch to WordPress Gutenberg. If yes, I think it will allow me to also do a few things with my site to make it less blog-centric. Because from what I’ve seen from E’s work on my company’s site, Gutenberg makes that easier than writing a theme from more or less scratch which I’ve been balking at for some time, aka 2 years.

I probably will need to set-up one of my test WP sites (nicknamed proto and meso) with IndieBlocks. A key thing to test will be if interacting with the site through my Micropub client(s) needs to be changed. I now push everything into a raw html text that gets submitted to the site, and I don’t know in what ways that would need to be different in Gutenberg blocks, and how it might change how I need to talk to the micropub end-point.

Because nearly everything in IndieBlocks is configurable, it will be possible to keep using the other IndieWeb plugins beside it. Simply disable the bits you don’t need!

Jan Boddez

It seems some 50.000 people created a Mastodon account since Musk captured the blue bird. Twitter has about 400 million users, and some 200 million daily active ones, so that’s about an 1/80th percent versus 2/80th percent of the total. For Mastodon 50k users represent about 7/8th of a percent, considerably more, and significant change for a single day, but still a small number. It feels more massive in my Mastodon timeline though. This can be a sign that the networks I’m part of are heavily skewed (most likely true), or that it’s more active Twitter users making the switch (not an unreasonable assumption). Some 10% of Twitter users make up about 90% of messages. If the 50k migrants come from that 10%, than as those 10% come by definition from the active users so that they represent 20% of those active users (40 million), they add up to 1/8th of a percent of those.

At those rates, and seeing the peak migration is behind us, it means what passes for #twittermigration is indeed just a wavelet. Especially as those new account holders have not deleted their Twitter accounts. I’ve been an active user of Mastodon for 5 years, and haven’t deleted my handful of Twitter accounts either. I still use them, almost only for broadcasting though, while most of my conversation is indeed on Mastodon.

So if anything this is at the moment less a #twittermigration than a sort of self-induced netsplit (common in the days of peak IRC), which may turn out to be as temporary as the netsplits of old were. Unless the momentum keeps up, for instance because the bird trapper‘s public statements and actions drive more people away. After all bird traps aren’t mostly non-lethal.

And we have of course seen these wavelets of account creation in the Fediverse before, with little in terms of active retention. This renewed wavelet has led me to re-assess whether my own website can serve usefully as a ActivityPub (the protocol behind Mastodon/Fediverse in general) actor. WordPress, through plugins, can ‘speak’ ActivityPub, just not in the way yet I want it to (two issues: current plugins expose my username on my site, and don’t allow for selective sharing of posts on my site through ActivityPub). ActivityPub is just a protocol, and my site should be able to speak it in the way I want, meaning that my presence on Mastodon is likely temporary, even if me communicating through ActivityPub isn’t.

Nicole van der Hoeven published one of her videos on using Obsidian on the topic of the ExcaliBrain plugin. The plugin is made by Zsolt Viczián, the same creator as the Excalidraw plugin which brings easy visualisation to Obsidian. I use Excalidraw within Obsidian with some regularity (I’m mostly text oriented).

It’s not mentioned in the video, but the ExcaliBrain plugin is clearly inspired by The Brain software, both in terms of types of links between notes, and how it shows them (even the placement of the little circles where links attach). The name suggests so too, and the plugin author names The Brain as source of inspiration in the github reposository. I used The Brain as desktop interface from 1997 until 2004-ish, and this plugin seems to bring The Brain as a visualisation layer to my notes. That alone is enough to try it out.

The plugin can both infer relationships between notes, through existing links, much as the general graph view in Obsidian does, but does so in a more navigable style. This I hope allows it to be used as a visual navigation interface to notes, something the graph view does not meaningfully, as The Brain so usefully did for me for a number of years.

You can also set explicit relationships by adding named links to your notes, for which it uses the inline data fields (yourfieldname::) that the DataView plugin makes possible. I already use that plugin so that’s not an extra step for me.
I disagree with Nicole van der Hoeven on her suggestion to comment out explicit relationships so that the plugin will visualise them but the note won’t show the links, except in edit mode.
The notes should always show all links I explicitly set, that’s the whole point of links.
Machine inferred links are a different matter, which deserve a toggle as they are suggestions made to me.
Links are my own and real work in my notes.

Setting explicit links (parent, child, friends ExcaliBrain calls them) is similar to how I already create links. When I write a new note I aim to link other notes in the way Soren Bjornstadt describes in a video of his touring his Zettelkasten. I make three links, if possible, from a new note. One to a higher level of abstraction note, one to a lower level of abstraction but more concrete note, and one to a related note at the same level. This creates ‘chains’ of 4 notes with a content-based implied order.

For example: a note on the role of public transport might link to urban mobility and the liveability of car-free city centers as higher abstration concepts, to a note on urban rail systems or bus networks as a lower abstraction level, to the German 2022 summer reduced fare scheme as an example, and to another communal public service like urban public internet as a same level but different type of note.

I strongly dislike the parent-child-sibling(-friend) vocabulary Excalibrain introduces though, as it implies an order of creation. Parents exist first, children from parents. This means for the way I described creating links in notes that abstract concepts come first. This is not how it mostly works for me. Abstract notions are often created from, intuited from, less abstratct ones. The scaffolding created by less abstract notes and concrete examples is what leads to them. Overarching concepts and insights emerge from linking lower level items. Thankfully the terms you actually use to denote such connections between notes can be freely chosen in the plugin settings. That is a design choice by Zsolt Viczián I greatly appreciate.

Nicole van der Hoeven in her run-through of ExcaliBrain also talks about this implied hierarchy, and mentions a higher level type of use, which is adding more semantics to links using the renaming options in the plugin settings. For instance to express lines of argumentation, and how material reflects on eachother (e.g. Note A reinforces / contradicts Note B). This is the type of linking that Tinderbox allows you to do visually too, which I’ve used a lot. She hasn’t used it that way herself yet she says, but suggests it’s likely the most valuable use case. I think that rings true. It’s where linking becomes the work you have to do yourself again, as opposed to lazy or automatic linking between notes.

I very much want to experiment with the ExcaliBrain plugin.

A screenshot after activating ExcaliBrain of the vicinity of a single note