Heinz Wittenbrink, who teaches content strategy at the FH Joanneum in Graz, reflected extensively on his participation in our recent Smart Stuff That Matters unconference.
We go back since 2006 (although I think we read each others blog before), when we first met at a BarCamp in Vienna. Later Heinz kindly invited me to Graz at several occasions such as the 2008 Politcamp (a barcamp on web 2.0 and political communication), and the 2012 annual conference of the Austrian association for trainers in basic education for adults.

He writes in German, and his blogpost contains a lot to unpack (also as it weaves the history of our interaction into his observations), so I thought I’d highlight and translate some quotes here. This as I find it rather compelling to read how someone, who’s been involved in and thinking about online interaction for a long time, views the event we did in the context of his and my work. And that some of what I’m trying to convey as fundamental to thinking about tools and interaction is actually coming across to others. Even if I feel that I’ve not yet hit on the most compelling way to formulate my ideas.

Heinz starts with saying he sees my approach as a very practice oriented one.
“Ton engages on a very practical level with the possibilities of combining the personal and personal relationships with the wider contexts in which one lives, from the local community to global developments. He has a technical, pragmatic and practice oriented approach. Also he can explain to others who are not part of a digital avantgarde what he does.”

And then places the birthday unconferences we did in that context, as an extension of that practice oriented approach. Something I realise I didn’t fully do myself.

“The unconference of last week is an example of how one can do things from a highly personal motivation – like meeting friends, talking about topics you’re interested in, conversing about how you shape your new daily routines after a move – and make it easy for others to connect to that. What you find or develop you don’t keep for yourself, but is made useful for others, and in turn builds on what those others do. So it’s not about developing an overarching moral claim in a small context , but about shaping and networking one’s personal life in such a way that you collectively expand your capabilities to act. Ton speaks of networked agency. Digital networking is a component of these capabilities to act, but only embedded in networks that combine people, as well as locations and technical objects.”

Speaking about the unconference he says something that really jumps out at me.

To list the themes [….of the sessions I attended…] fails to express what was special about the unconference: that you meet people or meet them again, for whom these themes are personal themes, so that they are actually talking about their lives when they talk about them. At an unconference like this one does not try to create results that can be broadcast in abstracted formulations, but through learning about different practices and discussing them, extend your own living practice and view it from new perspectives. These practices or ways of living cannot be separated from the relationships in which and with which you live, and the relationships you create or change at such an event like this.

Seeing it worded like that, that the topics we discussed, theorised about, experimented around, are very much personal topics, and in the context of personal relationships, hits me as very true. I hadn’t worded it in quite that way myself yet. This is however exactly why to me digital networks and human networks are so similar and overlapping, and why I see your immediate context of an issue, you and your meaningful relationships as the key unit of agency. That’s why you can’t separate how you act from your relationships. And why the layeredness of household, neighbourhood, city, earth is interwoven by default, just often not taken into account, especially not in the design phase of technology and projects.

Heinz then talks about blogging, and our earlier silent assumptions that novel technology would as per default create the right results. Frank’s phrasing and Heinz’s mention of the ‘original inspiration’ to blog resonate with me.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the people I had the most intensive conversations with have been blogging for a long time. They all stuck with the original inspiration to blog. Frank in his presentation called it “to publish your own unedited voice”. The openness but also the individuality expressed in this formulation was clearly visible in the entire unconference.

For me blogging was a way of thinking out loud, making a life long habit of note taking more public. The result was a huge growth in my professional peer network, and I found that learning in this networked manner accelerated enormously. Even if my imagined audience when I write is just 4 or 5 of people, and I started blogging as a personal archive/reflection tool, I kept doing it because of the relationships it helped create.

Continuing on about the early techno-optimism Heinz says about the unconference

The atmosphere at the unconference was very different. Of the certainties of the years shortly after 2000 nothing much remains. The impulses behind the fascination of yesteryear do remain however. It’s not about, or even less about technology as it was then, it’s about smart actions in themselves, and life under current conditions. It’s about challenging what is presented as unavoidable more than producing unavoidability yourself.

Only slowly I understand that technologies are much deeper embedded in social practices and can’t be separated from them. Back then I took over Ton’s concept of ‘people centered navigation’. Through the event last week it became clearer to me what this concept means: not just a ‘right’ efficient way to use tools, but a practice that for specific needs deliberately selects tools and in doing so adapts them.

People centered navigation is not a component of better more efficient mass media, but navigating information in reference to needs and capabilities of people in localised networks. Where above all the production of media and content in dialogue with a limited number of others is relevant, not its reception by the masses. Network literacies are capabilities to productively contribute to these localised networks.

Just like practice is inseparable from our relationships, our tools are inseparable from our practices. In networked agency, the selection of tools (both technology and methods) is fully determined by the context of the issue at hand and the group of relationships doing it. As I tried to convey in 2010 in my Maker Households keynote at SHiFT and indeed at the earlier mentioned keynote I gave at Heinz’s university on basic literacy in adult learning, networked literacies are tied to your personal networks. And he’s right, the original fascination is as strong as before.

Heinz finishes with adding the work of Latour to my reading list, by his last remark.

The attempt to shape your local surroundings intelligently and to consider how you can connect them in various dimensions of networks, reminds me of the localised politics in fragile networks that Bruno Latour describes in his terrestrial manifest as an alternative to the utopies and dystopies of globalisation and closed national societies. Latour describes earth as a thin layer where one can live, because one creates the right connections and maintains them. The unconference was an experiment to discover and develop such connections.

Thank you Heinz for your reflection, I’m glad you participated in this edition.

At the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference we did an ‘anecdote circle lite’ as an introductory activity. Participants discussed in small groups about their latest move to a different house, in terms of the biggest disappointment and most pleasant surprise of living in a new house/neigbourhood/city.

While one participant talked, the others in the group would write down things that stood out for them. This served as raw input for putting together the program of the day. Below the photo of all the remarks that ended up on one of our living room windows, is the transcription of all 130+ post-its. It is unsorted and in random order. Some of the post-its read like they’d deserve their own blogpost to explore.

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  • City is experienced more than the place, the place lived more than the city
  • Does smart stuff make us faster? Smart slow stuff: yoga, walk the dog, pillow, alone time, just be, mountain bike
  • Get in town by changing speed
  • Move (=1) integrating connected to social fabrics (=2)
  • turning old hous into a living space
  • material things vs digital: like e-book collection
  • segregation big city, hard to connect
  • big new build house, spoiled? comfort
  • old owners of the house had own way of doing things (and we have the implications)
  • de-smart, why needed? “Lekker zelf knoeien
  • Combination green city garden station, freedom + comfort
  • moving from big to small, small to big
  • different transitions together with moving houses
  • the fence that is permeable (privacy + see through and contact)
  • shed-own space, tinker space
  • get to know people on the street
  • there are kids in the neighbourhood, but we hardly see them
  • it is more stressful when you know more
  • physical limitations, short range, 500m
  • travel time vs family time
  • self reliance, responsibility, freedom critical
  • plants and music
  • where to find coffee
  • un-smarting, light
  • children help bring/make community
  • technology also ‘blinds’ local jewels
  • approach newcomers
  • learning from overhearing experts
  • takes meeting many potential friends to find one
  • moving to area with different culture is interesting
  • small community very comfortable
  • small talk = life blood of community
  • when do you live in a city or just use a house
  • connections matter
  • transition issues – how not to get crazy in the process
  • you don’t want to be sharks with sharks, you want to be a shark with a fish
  • expanding and contraction
  • tinkerspace
  • energy
  • interhuman connection
  • view of a green toolshed, lots of travel time for work
  • eyeglass 2016 meltdown travel
  • accessibility in the city
  • rediscovering the city when not able to walk far
  • home = your own stuff? (living together!)
  • never moved, ice damage, 2 yrs
  • segregated cultures
  • to the hague, busy, rules and fines, large differences
  • standing out from the crowd is hard
  • slow moving, gradually
  • to make friends you need to see them in new environments/situations for next level
  • big city, big street, no social cohesion
  • smalll town -> big city
  • groups stay separate
  • sharing with other people to connect -social media, -online communications, free online courses
  • smart stuff to feel home: old fashioned slow stuff
  • living in 2 places, moving without moving
  • having a group that makes you feel at home
  • yard work = meeting people
  • social fabric in neighbourhoods, how to reach eachother
  • smart vs responsibility
  • homeschooling techniques & stories
  • stm starts with people, human, after that technology
  • anti-squatting: live in a room that is not designed for it / community
  • you have to move, even when moving
  • liked a 30s-40s home, but appreciates the comfort of a brand new one.
  • house with a garden, everything around the corner. Feeling the need for less ‘smart’
  • The stuff you bring to a new home define feeling at home
  • the first move breaks you
  • MSTM14 – best travel experience
  • hired house vs bought house, changes vs stable
  • amsterdam -> borg. Wow I’m living here now, jazz musicians
  • not being at home after moving busy at work
  • staying out of algorithmic propaganda world
  • when you build a new house you have to imagine how it will turn out. You buy it ‘on paper’. Conformity=expectations of society
  • outside city -> center, old house requires a lot of work, what do you really need?
  • smart slow stuff, algoritmic propaganda world
  • house is where I am, flexible/portable housel
  • live in an ambulance
  • connecting to people in building.
  • welcoming neighbours
  • moving evolves the world (e.g. neanderthals) and your family (e.g. ancestors)
  • discovering other similar people
  • home for kids so different for parent. time/part in life
  • kids do better understanding systems
  • needs from social fabric depends on the situation
  • social needs interaction
  • rules for making friends: it’s work, you need to set out to make friends
  • being somewhere new for a month inspiration
  • home is a combination of green and the comfort of good facilities
  • freedom
  • silence
  • “central”
  • being there needs a decision
  • unpredictability is cool too
  • serendipity?!
  • bumping into people is important
  • home ~~~~~ discovery
  • erasing traces / tracks
  • understand the city depends on the way of transport
  • Airbnb is not about living only
  • how to find chemistry
  • small road to a small town with 70 people
  • childhood roots us
  • what could possibly go wrong while moving
  • transitions are key stress factors
  • 1st home physical co??? with the space
  • walk cycle go by boat
  • discovery needs slowness
  • building informal network
  • moving is losing
  • noise
  • heart vs wallet
  • right side of town
  • freedom from family
  • more development after my development
  • cats own the house
  • all the friends you haven’t made (yet)
  • via Facebook a small room in Amsterdam
  • when do you still bump into friends by accident
  • a simple light switch works better than any app
  • hack your kid: online games -no money -earn money by irl activities
  • kids: boat —> steer, morning ritual, egg timer, backlog
  • color coding, feedback, move board along
  • yes you can forbid things (hack your kid)
  • connecting with people in buiding + new intro of people living in same building
  • warmth vs energy bills
  • adapt to little negative things
  • back in the city
  • architecture influences interaction / community
  • having a house you can walk around
  • NL-Hungry->USA->Turkey->NL (neighbours) – kids running through
  • old church now serves as a community center

At our birthday unconference STM18 last week, Frank gave a presentation (PDF) on running your own website and social media tools separate from the commercial silos like Facebook, Twitter etc. Collected under the name IndieWeb (i.e. the independent web), this is basically what used to be the default before we welcomed the tech companies’ silos into town. The IndieWeb never went away of course, I’ve been blogging in this exact same space for 16 years now, and ran a personal website for just under a decade before that. For broader groups to take their data and their lives out of silos it requires however easy options out, and low-threshold replacement tools.

One of the silos to replace is Twitter. There are various other tools around, like Mastodon. What they have in common is that it’s not run by a single company, but anyone can run a server, and then they federate, i.e. all work together. So that if I am on server 128, and you are on server 512 our messages still arrive in the right spot.

I’ve been looking at running a Mastodon instance, or similar, myself for a while. Because yes, there are more Mastodon servers (I have accounts on mastodon.cloud and on mastodon.nl), but I know even less about who runs them and their tech skills, attitudes or values than I know about Twitter. I’ve just exchanged a big silo for a smaller one. The obvious logical endpoint of thinking about multiple instances or servers, is that instances should be individual, or based on existing groups that have some cohesion. More or less like e-mail, which also is a good analogy to think of when trying to understand Mastodon account names.

Ideally, running a Mastodon instance would be something you do yourself, and which at most has your household members in it. Or maybe you run one for a specific social context. So how easy is it, to run Mastodon myself.

Not easy.

I could deploy it on my own VPS. But maintaining a VPS is rather a lot of work. And I would need to find out if I run the right type of operating system and other packages to be able to do it. Not something for everyone, nor for me without setting aside some proper time.

Or I could spin up a Mastodon instance at Amazon’s server parks. That seems relatively easy to do, requiring a manageable list of mouse clicks. It doesn’t really fit my criteria though, even if it looks like a relatively quick way to at least have my own instance running. It would take me out of Twitter’s software silo, but not out of Amazon’s hardware silo. Everything would still be centralised on a US server, likely right next to the ones Twitter is using. Meaning I’d have more control over my own data, but not be bringing my stuff ‘home’.

Better already is something like Masto.host, run by a volunteer named Hugo Gameiro who’s based in Portugal. It provides ease of use in terms of running your own instance, which is good, but leaves open issues of control and flexibility.

So I’d like a solution that either can run on a package with my local hosting provider or figure out how to run it on cheap hardware like Raspberry Pi which can be connected to my home router. The latter one I’d prefer, but for now I am looking to learn how easy it is to do the former.

Mastodon and other similar tools like Pleroma require various system components my hosting provider isn’t providing, nor likely to be willing to provide. Like many other hosters they do have library of scripts you can automatically install with all the right dependencies and settings. In the section ‘social media’ it doesn’t mention Mastodon or any other ‘modern’ varity, but they do list GnuSocial and its predecessor StatusNet. GnuSocial is a script that uses the same protocols like Mastodon, OStatus and ActivityPub. So it should be able to communicate with Mastodon.

I installed it and created an account for myself (and myself as administrator). Then I tried to find ways to federate with Mastodon instances. The interface is rather dreadful, and none of the admin settings seemed to hint at anything that lies beyond the GnuSocial instance itself, no mention of anything like federation.

The interface of GnuSocial

However in my profile a button labelled “+remote” popped up. And through that I can connect to other people on other instances. Such as the people I am connected to on Mastodon already. I did that, and it nicely links to their profiles. But none of their messages show up in my stream. Even if it looks I can send messages to them from my GnuSocial instance as I can do things like @someotheruser, they don’t seem to arrive. So if I am indeed sending something, there’s no-one listening at the other end.

I did connect to others externally

And I can send messages to them, although they do not seem to arrive

So that leaves a number of things for next steps to explore. Also on Mastodon in conversation with Maarten I noticed that I need to express better what I’m after. Something for another posting. To be continued.

Last Friday we ended the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference by smashing an evil robot called Smarty. Elmine, this being her birthday party, officiated by using ‘The Unmaker’, a hammer my colleague Paul brought us. She proceeded to smash the evil robot that made angry buzzing sounds, as a representation of all the ‘wrong’ types of ‘smart’ automatisation. Smarty had been built during the afternoon workshop that Iskander Smit improvised.

As I said at the time, part of ‘smart’ is the social side of things, not just the tech side. And part of those social aspects is the frustration and rage that comes with devices and software not responding or working the way we expect them to. Elmine used the opportunity to take all that out on our evil robot Smarty with gusto.

Our event meant bringing together some 45 people. They all know at least one of us two, but mostly don’t know each other. Some type of introduction is therefore useful, but you don’t want to take much time out of the day itself for it, as often intro-rounds are dreary and meaningless exercises that sap energy and of which you don’t remember much immediately after. So we’ve aimed for our events to have a first activity that is also an intro-round, but serves a bigger purpose for the event.

Previously we’ve done 1-on-1 intro conversations that also produced a hand drawn map of connections or of skills and experiences in the group, to be re-used to find the right people for subsequent sessions. We’ve done groups of 5 to 6 to create Personas, as the first step of the design process to make something yourself. This time we settled on an idea of Elmine, to do what can best be described as Anecdote Circles Lite. Anecdote circles are a process to elicit experiences and stories from a group as they reveal implicit knowledge and insights about a certain topic (PDF). You group people together and prompt them with one or more questions that ask about specific occasions that have strong feelings attached to it. Others listen and can write down what stands out for them in the anecdote shared.

The starting point of the unconference theme ‘Smart Stuff That Matters’ was our move to Amersfoort last year. It means getting to know, find your way in, and relate to a new house, a different neighbourhood, a different city. And do that in the light of what you need to fulfill your needs to be at home and feel supported in the new environment. But in a broader light you can use the same questions to take a fresh look at your own environment, and make it ‘smarter’ in being at home and feeling supported. Our opening exercise was shaped to nudge the participants along the same path.

In my opening remarks, after singing a birthday song together for Elmine, I sketched our vision for the event much as in the previous paragraph. Then I asked all participants to find 3 or 4 others that you preferrably do not know, and find a spot in the house or garden (inviting them to explore the house/garden on their own that way too, giving them permission to do so as it were). The question to prompt conversation was “Think back to the last time you moved house, and arrived in a new environment. What was most disappointing to you about your new place/live? What was pleasantly surprising to you about your new place/live?” With those questions and pen & paper everybody was off to their first conversations.

stm18

The thoughts and observations resulting from the intro-round

Judging by Peter’s description of it, it went well. It’s quoted here in full as it describes both the motivation for and the layeredness of the experience quite well. I take Peter’s words as proof the process worked as intended.

The second highlight is an event that preceded Oliver’s talk, the “icebreaker” part of the day that led things off. I have always dreaded the “everybody introduce yourself” part of meetings, especially meetings of diverse people whose lives inevitably seem much more interesting than my own; this, thankfully, was dispensed with, and instead we were prompted to gather with people we didn’t yet know and to talk about our best and worst moves in life.

What proceeded from this simple prompt was a rich discussion of what it’s like to live as an expat, how difficult it is to make friends as an adult, and the power of neighbourhood connections. Oliver and I were in a group with Heinz and Elja and Martyn, and we talked for almost an hour. I have no idea what any of the others in our group do for a living, but I know that Martyn mowed his lawn this week in preparation for a neighbourhood party, that Heinz lives in an apartment block where it’s hard to get to know his neighbours, and that Elja has lived in Hungary, the USA and Turkey, and has the most popular Dutch blog post on making friends.

During the event Elja shared her adagio that the best way to get to know people after moving to a new environment is to do something together (as opposed to just sitting down for coffee and conversation). It’s pleasantly recursive to see a statement like that as the result of a process designed to follow that adagio in the first place.

I will transscribe all the post-its and post (some of) it later.

Some images from previous activities-as-intro-rounds we used in previous editions:

IMG_6973IMG_7015

Persona creation / Using the hand drawn skills cards

Drawing the Sociogram

Drawing a map of connections, dubbed sociogram, between participants

In the discussions during Smart Stuff That Matters last Friday, I mentioned a longtime demand I have of social media. The ability to on my blog have different levels of access, of presenting content. But not in the shape of having accounts on my site and corresponding overhead, but more fluid like layers of an onion, corresponding to the social distance between me and a specific reader. Where I write an article, that looks different to a random reader, compared to what e.g. Peter or Frank sees. Maybe even mark-up the content in a way that controls how specific parts of a posting are visible or not. We mused if IndieAuth might be useful here as a first step, as it at least spares me from the maintenance of accounts.

Do You Have Any Diodes? ….. …. Is probably the most unlikely question I got ever asked out of the blue at a birthday party. However the answer turned out to be yes, I did have two diodes. I didn’t think I did, but taking a look in the one box I suspected might have some electronic components in them, proved me wrong.

The diodes were needed to increase the strength of the scary noises an evil robot was emitting. This evil robot was being created just outside our front door where the enormous Frysklab truck, containing a mobile FabLab, was completely filling the courtyard. Representing everything that is wrong and evil about some of the devices that are marketed as necessary for a ‘smart home’, the evil robot then got ritually smashed into pieces by Elmine, wielding a gigantic hammer, named ‘The Unmaker’ that a colleague brought with him. That was the official closing act of our unconference “Smart Stuff That Matters“.

Around all this our 40 or so guests, friends, family members, clients, colleagues, peers, were weaving a rich tapestry of conversations and deepening connections. Something that our friend Peter put into words extremely well. Elmine and I are in awe of the effort and time all who joined us have put into coming to our home and participate in our slightly peculiar way of celebrating birthdays. Birthday parties where evil robots, a hyperloop to send messages from the courtyard to the garden, mythical German bbq-sausages, friendship, philosophy, web technology, new encounters and yes diodes, are all key ingredients to help create a heady mix of fun, inspiration, connection, and lasting memories.

Thank you all so much for making it so.

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Next Friday our event takes place. With some 45 people registered to participate we have a group with diverse backgrounds again that promises lots of inspiring conversations.

It is time to explain our vision for the event, so that we all can better see how we might contribute to the program. This as we will build the program together on the day itself. This posting is to help you think of experience, stories and things you feel will be relevant for the event.

On the topic, on ‘smart’

The topic of ‘Smart Stuff That Matters’ refers to being smart in how you live in your home, are part of the social fabric of your neighbourhood, and contribute to the dynamic of your city, while aware of more global changes and issues. ‘Smart’ is both social (behaviour, routines, interaction) and technological (methods, tools, software, devices) These layers, home, neighbourhood, city, and the world, are not separate but intimately connected and fluid.

Smartness, I think, resides in the way each of us are able embrace the interdependencies between those layers, and weave their connections into a rich tapestry. Smart is using those interdependencies to fulfil individual and collective needs, and build communal benefits from individual pieces, in the full awareness of global issues. The home is embedded in both neighbourhood and city and world in turn, but at the same time the home is also a local expression point of the layers it is embedded in. Building on those interdependencies, ‘surfing’ them by continuously adapting constitutes ‘smart’, I think. In contrast early visions of ‘smart cities’ were almost only technology and security focused. It treated the people living in a city as if they were a pest to control, rather than the key to creating a smart city, and the primary beneficiaries of that smartness.

Smartness, and experiencing smartness, resides in us humans, aided by the devices and structures we create, and is inherently messy as it mixes, twists and turns, adapts and responds. It is only we who can create and sense meaning for ourselves, and the value that has to us. So it’s up to us to define what is ‘smart’ living.

On how ‘smart’ expresses itself

Many of you on the list of participants have found smart ways of dealing with things you care about. Found ways of addressing a need in your home, that creates a connection to your neighbourhood, your city or a global issue at the same time.

I wanted to measure temperature in my garden for instance, and did so as part of a city wide network that also monitors heat islands across the city, while providing at the same time infrastructure that others in the neighbourhood can use too. Peter did the same thing on PEI in Canada. Growing food in your garden can be a way to teach kids, next to providing some raw materials to your kitchen, while aiding in greening your garden allowing for better buffering of rainwater and prevent flash flooding in your city. Helping cleaning up a local park or water way like Gabriela is a good way to meet new people in your town, while reducing trash in the neighbourhood, as a small part of a global effort. Erik has experience in bringing neighbours together for a solar energy cooperative effort. Loulou created a clock that shows the time and the air quality around you, which can demonstrate. Elja lived in different countries and found ways to quickly grow some roots. Frank wants to get out of the closed silos of Facebook and Twitter, wants to own his own data, just like others present, and is finding his own route, from which we likely can learn. How is your house a meeting place, a production unit (of energy, goods, food, water, or data), how do you add to the diversity and strength of your neigbourhood, your city? How did you find out what to you could and wanted to contribute to? How did you find your way to solving your needs smartly?

On the program

To repeat myself: Smartness, and experiencing smartness, resides in us humans. It is only we who can create and sense meaning for ourselves, and the value that has to us.
That is true for the program of the unconference as well. All of us can bring experiences, stories and artefacts to discuss, compare, create and experiment.
At the start of the day we’ll take you through an exercise to both get to know the others better, as well as look deeper at ’smart’ living. This will bring out the ideas, questions and things you’d like to present something on, have a discussion about, or hear more about from others. From that we will build the program, in classic unconference format. There are several rooms (and a garden) available and multiple rounds in which we can all propose something to discuss, present, demo, make or design. We’ll plan the sessions for which there’s energy, and get going.

Three people of the Frysklab team are participating and bring their creativity, art design and programming skills to the mix. The Frysklab bus, with a mobile FabLab is available throughout Friday. This makes it possible to work with sensors and micro-electronics, and other machines when they’re useful.

How to prepare for the day

In the coming two days, before we start, maybe you will already have some ideas of what you’d like to share, discuss or do. Have look through the list of participants, to see where they come from, what they do, and what they share online about themselves. Friday when the door opens, we’ll make it a fun and inspiring day together.

Some of you asked what to bring, and how to chip in. There will be a donation box, for those who want to. We’ll probably ask you to assist with some of the food preparation. It’s Elmine’s birthday party so a hug is welcome too. Above all, bring your curiosity!

Logistics

If you come by car, please direct your navigation system to Darthuizerberg, Amersfoort. That’s a bigger parking lot, while our street is very short on parking space. From there you can walk to our house in a short time. We promised our neighbours not to take over the entire street.
Food will be served taking into account various diets (vegetarian, gluten free e.g.)

Find general info on the day, the program, the people, and how to get to, or stay in Amersfoort here. If you have any questions, do let us know.

Dutch Provinces publish open data, but it always looks like it is mostly geo-data, and hardly anything else. When talking to provinces I also get the feeling they struggle to think of data that isn’t of a geographic nature. That isn’t very surprising, a lot of the public tasks carried out by provinces have to do with spatial planning, nature and environment, and geographic data is a key tool for them. But now that we are aiding several provinces with extending their data provision, I wanted to find out in more detail.

My colleague Niene took the API of the Dutch national open data portal for a spin, and made a list of all datasets listed as stemming from a province.
I took that list and zoomed in on various aspects.

At first glance there are strong differences between the provinces: some publish a lot, others hardly anything. The Province of Utrecht publishes everything twice to the national data portal, once through the national geo-register, once through their own dataplatform. The graph below has been corrected for it.

What explains those differences? And what is the nature of the published datasets?

Geo-data is dominant
First I made a distinction between data that stems from the national geo-register to which all provinces publish, and data that stems from another source (either regional dataplatforms, or for instance direct publication through the national open data portal). The NGR is theoretically the place where all provinces share geo-data with other government entities, part of which is then marked as publicly available. In practice the numbers suggest Provinces roughly publish to the NGR in the same proportions as the graph above (meaning that of what they publish in the NGR they mark about the same percentage as open data)

  • Of the over 3000 datasets that are published by provinces as open data in the national open data portal, only 48 don’t come from the national geo-register. This is about 1.5%.
  • Of the 12 provinces, 4 do not publish anything outside the NGR: Noord-Brabant, Zeeland, Flevoland, Overijssel.

Drenthe stands out in terms of numbers of geo-data sets published, over 900. A closer look at their list shows that they publish more historic data, and that they seem to be more complete (more of what they share in the NGR is marked for open data apparantly.) The average is between 200-300, with provinces like Zuid-Holland, Noord-Holland, Gelderland, Utrecht, Groningen, and Fryslan in that range. Overijssel, like Drenthe publishes more, though less than Drenthe at about 500. This seems to be the result of a direct connection to the NGR from their regional geo-portal, and thus publishing by default. Overijssel deliberately does not publish historic data explaining some of the difference with Drenthe. (When something is updated in Overijssel the previous version is automatically removed. This clashes with open data good practice, but is currently hard to fix in their processes.)

If it isn’t geo, it hardly exists
Of the mere 48 data sets outside the NGR, just 22 (46%) are not geo-related. Overall this means that less than 1% of all open data provinces publish is not geo-data.
Of those 22, exactly half are published by Zuid-Holland alone. They for instance publish several photo-archives, a subsidy register, politician’s expenses, and formal decisions.
Fryslan is the only province publishing an inventory of their data holdings, which is 1 of their only 3 non geo-data sets.
Gelderland stands out as the single province that publishes all their geo data through the NGR, hinting at a neatly organised process. Their non-NGR open data is also all non-geo (as it should be). They publish 27% of all open non-geo data by provinces, together with Zuid-Holland account for 77% of it all.

Taking these numbers and comparing them to inventories like the one Fryslan publishes (which we made for them in 2016), and the one for Noord-Holland (which we did in 2013), the dominance of geo-data is not surprising in itself. Roughly 80% of data provinces hold is geo related. Just about a fifth to a quarter of this geo-data (15%-20% of the total) is on average published at the moment, yet it makes up over 99% of all provincial open data published. This lopsidedness means that hardly anything on the inner workings of a province, the effectivity of policy implementation etc. is available as open data.

Where the opportunities are
To improve both on the volume and on the breadth of scope of the data provinces publish, two courses of action stand open.
First, extending the availability of geo-data provinces hold. Most provinces will have a clear process for this, and it should therefore be relatively easy to do. It should therefore be possible for most provinces to get to where Drenthe currently is.
Second, take a much closer look at the in-house data that is not geo-related. About 20% of dataholdings fall in this category, and based on the inventories we did, some 90% of that should be publishable, maybe after some aggregation or other adaptations.
The lack of an inventory is an obstacle here, but existing inventories should at least be able to point the other provinces in the right direction.

Make the provision of provincial open geodata complete, embrace its dominance and automate it with proper data governance. Focus your energy on publishing ‘the rest’ where all the data on the inner workings of the province is. Provinces perpetually complain nobody is aware of what they are doing and their role in Dutch governance. Make it visible, publish your data. Stop making yourself invisible behind a stack of maps only.

(a Dutch version is available. Een Nederlandse versie van deze blogpost vind je bij The Green Land.)

We’re just over 3 weeks away from our 31 August event, the Smart Stuff That Matters unconference (#stm18).

With our summer hiatus nearing its end, I built a (still growing) list of currently registered participants. It’s a very nice mix of different backgrounds, ages, origins and interests. Some have been to our very first birthday unconference 10 years ago, others only recently became part of our personal or professional networks. Some live almost next door, some live half a world away. All have interesting stories to share, so if you haven’t registered yet but would like to come, do let me know, and bring your curiosity.

We’re now at some 30 people attending, from half a dozen countries or so. Likely we’ll end up closer to 50 participants for the unconference. Check out the list, and click some links to get a feeling for who’s coming.

#mstm14 crowd
Some of the participants in the 2014 event. Photo: Paolo Valdemarin, CC-BY-NC-SA

August 31st Elmine and I host the 4th Birthday Unconference and BBQ-Party in our home in Amersfoort. The unconference is titled “Smart Stuff that Matters”.

So what is Smart, and what Matters?

A year ago we moved to Amersfoort. A different house, a different neighbourhood, a different city. The city where our daughter will grow up.

A new environment means lots of exploration. What makes a house a home? How can you smartly adapt your house to your needs? Who lives in the neighbourhood, how do you settle in it? What makes a city your city? Which existing initiatives appeal to you, and in what ways can you contribute to them?
Whether it’s a new habit, a new device in your home, your contacts and networks, or your approach: what are smart ways to act and contribute to your residence and environment so it supports you and the others in it? In the context of much wider developments and global issues, that is. Both social and technological, at home, in your neighbourhood, your city. It’s important to approach things in ways that create meaning, enable the important things, both for you and others. Smart Stuff That Matters therefore.

20180518_162141
Our house, in the middle of our street

A full day long we’ll explore ‘smart’ in all its facets.
Smart homes (and around the home), smart neighbourhoods, smart cities.
Socially, how do we learn, communicate, organise and share? How do we act, how do we contribute? How do we find the power of collaborative agency.
And also technologically, which technologies help us, which only pretend to do so, and are these technologies sufficiently ours?
We will have the Frysklab Team joining us again with their mobile FabLab, and have plenty of space to experiment with technology that way. Such as sensors, internet of things and programming. Or to build non-digital hacks for around the home.

Frysklab in da house!
Frysklab’s truck parked at our old home in Enschede during the previous unconference

Together we’ll explore what smart means to you and us.
Bring your small and big experiences and skills, but above all bring your curiosity, and let yourself be surprised with what the others bring.
Do you have ideas about what you’d like to show, discuss, present or do?
Have ideas about what you would like to hear from others about? Let us know! We’ll build the program together!

You’ll find all relevant information about the unconference on this site. You’re also welcome to join our Facebook group for the event.

This reads like a design approach for institutions, for what I call Networked Agency:

This is not the book to convince you that the world
is changing and our systems are currently under
stress. The purpose here is to begin codifying the
practises of innovators who are consciously rethinking
institutions to better meet the challenges of
today. We describe this as stewardship: the art of
getting things done amidst a complex and dynamic
context. Stewardship is a core ability for agents of
change when many minds are involved in conceiving a
course of action, and many hands in accomplishing it.

The Helsinki Design Lab (HDL) wrote this already in 2013, a certain addition to my summer reading list: Legible Practices.
The HDL was in operation from 2008-2013, and maintains their archive on-line under a Creative Commons license (BY-SA). There’s more stuff there to read through, on using projects as probes, on hiring, and how openness isn’t enough to scale.


image Helsinki Design Lab, CC-BY-SA

Peter, like me getting to grips with Webmention, has now used it to send all his own old postings a webmention where he links to them retroactively. So now in his comment database he has a full list of all the links between his own postings.

He says “I wish I had a way of visualizing the interconnections between my posts“.
This type of thing is of interest to me too. In several forms. Like using a network mapping tool for e.g. twitter topics such as NodeXL by Marc Smith/The Social Media Research Foundation. Like having ‘live’ network mappings of how distributed conversations I am part of are shaped, such as the images I recently showed of blog conversations, but then interactively. Like visualising the links between posts as Peter went on to do.


Visualisation of blog conversations (a grey box is a cluster of posts referencing eachother


Peter’s visual of links between blogposts


Anjo Anjewierden’s 2007 visual of Lilia’s blog‘s self references on a time axis

For these types of visualisation Anjo Anjewierden as a researcher did some interesting work 2003-2008, such as building those network maps around my blog. He also looked at visualising self-referencing in blogs. There’s just one dimension there, time, he says. I disagree, as linking to oneself is just as much a distributed conversation as linking between others, and Peter’s experimental visualisation above supports that thought. So I’d be interested to see a network map of self references: which blogposts over time turn out to be more central to our writing/thinking/reflection? Much like citings are a metric in academia, they are of interest in the blogosphere as well. Anjo also released several tools as open source if I remember correctly, so some archive digging is needed.

To do what Peter did, retroactively make all the links between my own blogpostings visible, I would first also need to fix the older links. Those older links are strucured differently than more recent ones and now return 404’s. The corresponding posting still exists but has a different URL now.

I very much appreciate how Sven Knebel extensively responded to my previous posting on some Webmention issues I came across. Some of his responses do make me have new questions.

About the wrong URL, i.e. not the source of the webmention, showing up in a Webmention, Sven writes:

…. There’s a href=”https://news.indieweb.org/nl” class=”u-syndication” as the only top-level link inside his post, and no explicit url property set. This causes the microformats parser to assume that this link points to the canonical location of the post, and it is thus used for comment display. This seems like a problem with the microformats specification, and I’ll follow up on it there, but for now the easy fix would be for Frank’s posts to mark up their permalink, e.g. by adding a class=”u-url” to the link on the headline.

To me this reads as a vulnerability. I would expect my site to always take the source from the webmention message as URL. That is the only one that has been checked from my end for the presence of a reference to my site (the target). If the source page is allowed to set a different URL, even by mistake like here, that feels extremely counterintuitive. It opens it up to spam. In this case the faulty link is to a benign site, but it could have been pills or malware. It is also strange to me that my server in the comments table of the database correctly stores the source url, but in the meta data table stores a url at the discretion of the source’s website. (Meanwhile Frank has fixed it for now on his end as demonstrated by his webmention to my previous post, but my point remains)

About no content being shown of the blogpost that links to my blogposts Sven says:

This is intentional. Frank’s post only mentions your post (=includes a link to it), it is not marked up as an explicit reply. Only replies are shown with content, since for mentions this is often misleading.

This to me doesn’t make a lot of sense. [update: and for my site at least it isn’t true either, I linked back as an explicit reply to my own posting, but it still shows it as a mention].
There is indeed a difference between a direct reply to something (@Frank….) and mentioning that something as part of something else (As Frank says….). Yet that doesn’t warrant a difference in presentation, where a reply would be shown, yet for a mention just the address of the site. It also gives the source control over how something is shown on my site (by setting a different microformat for a link), while I do not have that control.
From the perspective of the reader of my blog it is not enough to only see that ‘some site links to this blogpost’ to click on that link to find out if it might be of interest, it is tremendously helpful to see a piece of that referring page to determine the context in which it refers to my blogpost.

Most if not all of my mentions of others’ blogposts aren’t meant as a direct response but as building or continuing on a line of reasoning, riffing off other people’s ideas. This is the way distributed conversations take place, how ambient humanity is established. Distributed conversations are a fundamental part of blogging to me. It’s not back and forth replies, it’s a jam session. To enjoy the jam session, you need to see the whole band at a glance, not just a list of the line-up while listening to a sole musician. Discoverability and serendipity flow from it.
It used to be that trackbacks did precisely that, show the context in which someone else referred to my blogposts. It is enriching my own posts to show that context underneath them. See below how that looked a long time ago, in a post on information strategies from 2005.

Three trackbacks on an old post of mine, showing context of the linking blogpost



These three posts are not in response to me, but reflections triggered by my posts and extensions of my contribution

So I’d definitely want to show that context for webmentions. What strikes me as odd now is how little control I have over how the Webmention and Semantic Linkbacks plugins actually deal with webmention data. The stuff I’d like to show is stored in my database, but I can’t through the plugins determine how that is shown.
The same is true on the flipside: my site adds microformats so others can machine read my blog, but apparently it doesn’t do it right. Yet I have no control from the mentioned plugins interfaces over how that is done, nor do I have documentation / insight into how the plugins are designed to comply with microformat specifications. So the next step is: read up on microformat specifications, and dive into the code of the plugins to see where it does what, and whether I can change that in ways that won’t be simply overwritten with the first update of WordPress or the plugins. [UPDATE: I installed a different WordPress Theme, called Sempress, as it should be better at adding the correct microformats for this site]

Webmentions is what makes it possible for me to write here about someone else’s blogpost and have my response show up beneath theirs. And vice versa. Earlier mechanisms such as pingback and trackback did the same thing, but slipped under the radar or succumbed to spam. Webmention is a W3C recommendation.

The webmention itself is simple
The core of webmention is straightforward: if I write something here, my webserver will try to let every site I link to in my text know I link to them. This by checking if the sites I link to have an ‘endpoint’, an antenna basically, for webmentions. If a site does, then it will send a simple message to that antenna stating two web addresses, the source (here my blogpost) and the target (here your blogpost). When your site receives a webmention it will do some checking: does my source blogpost indeed link to your target address?

What happens next is less simple
It can quickly get confusing during what happens next.
When my site receives a webmention (this source x links to your target y), all it knows is just the URL of a page that links to me. What my site displays and how it displays that as a consequence of a webmention message depends on multiple factors:

My server will try to read the source blogpost, and see what machine readable information it contains, and what it can know about the source blogpost. These machine readable parts are in the form of microformats.
My server will store some of the information it finds.
Then my website template will show some information from what the server stored when showing the target blogpost on my site.

How well that works depends on multiple factors therefore:

  1. The available machine readable info in the source blogpost, and whether that info is properly encoded
  2. The settings of my server for what it stores
  3. The settings of my site template for what it shows

When something seems to be going wrong, it could be a problem with your site, my site template or my server settings, and it is never obvious which one it is, or if it is the aggregation of multiple issues. It also depends on how easy it is to alter any settings whether you can repair or change things when webmentions are not properly dealt with. Supposedly the Webmention and Semantic Linkbacks plug-ins I use should take care of those issues but it is not obvious that they indeed do.

An example, me and Frank’s sites webmentioning each other
Frank Meeuwsen and I have been mentioning eachother several times and we’ve seen some strange webmention behaviours. For instance in one case Frank’s blog displayed not just a short part of my posting mentioning him, but my entire page including header, footer and sidebar. Clearly something wrong, likely with some of my machine readable encoding, but maybe also something wrong on his end. I suspect my machine readable encoding is indeed faulty but there’s no clear way in which I can change how my webmention plugins deal with that. And if I alter the code, which I could, it is likely the next software update will simply overwrite it.

Yesterday Frank posted about the puzzle webmention is to him in Dutch. Here are some screenshots on how pieces of that puzzle look on my end of things.

Frank’s posting lives at http://diggingthedigital.com//Waar-te-beginnen-met-Webmentions/ In his posting he refers to a posting on my site. He did not send a webmention. But I can do that myself, using a simple form at the bottom of my posting (visible at the bottom of this page too). In that webform I pasted the mentioned url, and that sends the simple webmention message. That message has been received and stored on my server, with the correct source and target address and a timestamp:

What ended up underneath my posting is:

Or as it looks for me as the site’s owner:

A few things stand out:

  • There’s no link to the actual blogpost by Frank (the source), just to his general domain
  • There’s a link to news.indieweb.org, which is a completely different domain
  • There’s no image of the author or an avatar in absence of an image
  • There isn’t any content from Frank’s post shown as part of the mention

So what’s happening? Is this an issue at Frank’s end, is it an issue with what I store on my server, or what I show in my site template? One, two, all three of them?

Puzzling over the pieces in this example

The missing avatar. My site tries to look for an avatar in the source, and if there isn’t one, it shows a general one. Here neither happens, it’s just a blank space. The HTML source of my page reveals it does try to show an avatar, the one that Frank sets in his own blog page as the one to use. His site says in the source code:

<a href="/" class="site-avatar"><img src="/images/dtd-avatar.png" class="u-photo" /></a>

The micro format u-photo is interpreted correctly by my site, and it tries to show the linked image. When you go to that image in your browser it works, but if you try to embed it in your own page it doesn’t.

Frank’s image should be visible below this line,
Frank's avatar
and above this one, but it isn’t.

Probably Frank’s web server prevents bandwidth theft by sending back a white pixel and not the requested image.
[UPDATE] The issue, as Sven points out in the comments, is that this site is https and Frank’s is http. My browser is set-up to reject http material on an otherwise https site. A case of my browser being my castle.[/UPDATE]
Making the avatar fail because my site doesn’t try to store the avatar locally.

The link to news.indieweb.org and the absence of a link to the actual blog post by Frank. The source (Frank’s blogpost) was sent and received correctly as we saw. In the machine readable part of Frank’s site a value is set as ‘canonical’ address for his blogpost.

There is an extra / in that url, and I’m not sure what that might cause, but on my end the canonical that gets saved is very different, it’s that indieweb address.

The odd bit is that indieweb.org address is not mentioned in the source of Frank’s page. At the same time, it seems it isn’t unique to my server, as underneath a posting about webmentions by Sebastiaan Andeweg you see the same thing happening. Frank’s webmention from May 12th shows the indieweb link (and no avatar). Sebastiaan doesn’t use WordPress or the plugins I use as far as I can tell.

So where’s the actual link to Frank’s blogpost? The canonical URL Frank’s posts provides is stored on my server, in the database table for comments as the URL for the author. The indieweb URL however is stored as canonical URL in the comment metadata table in my database. And that gets used for displaying the webmention underneath my blogposting.

The same is true for the absence of the content of Frank’s mention of me. It is collected and stored in the comment table of my site’s database. Yet what is shown underneath my blogpost as mention is constructed only from the comment meta data table, and not the comment table.


Frank’s mention’s content is in my comment database, yet not shown


The metadata fields stored for Frank’s mention in my database

So what’s happening here is a mix of elements from Frank’s site, my webmention plugins and my site template. But how to influence the behaviour of my plugins without seeing that undone with the next update is not clear to me at this point. Nor is how to alter the plugins so I can improve the machine readable microformats on my site.