Over in the IndieWeb community we were having a conversation about how easy it should be for people to create their own websites (also for small local businesses etc.) Where making the site is basically the same as writing the text you want to put on it. Social media silos do that for you, but out on the open web?
Aaron mentioned that one a tech conference, someone had a linktree site on the last slide for people to find more info, because it was the easiest way apparently to make a small site just for that info, by using a third party silo. Tantek then said that is a good summary of the use case:
easiest way to make a small site
Seeing that single line on my screen, I was mildly shocked that my own first instinctive answer to “easiest way to make a small site” is “write my own html in Notepad“. That answer is almost 30 years old, it’s how I made my very first web page. And handwriting html is still my first answer! No other path immediately comes to mind. Of course, I wouldn’t want to hand write this weblog in html, but ‘small site’ as in a few simple pages, yes, I would do that by hand in some plain text app like Notepad.
Can it be that three decades on the closest answer to ‘making a website is as easy as making a plain text note’ is still hand written html? Dave Winer uses an outliner to blog, and more recently created Drummer for the rest of us, that for him at least means blogging is as simple as writing plain text. I can post to this blog from my plain text notes on my laptop (from Obsidian using micropub), but I use markdown to style it a bit. What else is out there?
Can making your web page be as simple as writing a note you put on the door or in the window of your business?
The answer can’t really still be Notepad, can it?
No not really, also because I don’t use Windows…but it could still be, and it was back in ’93. Image by John Lester, license CC BY
This week marks the 20th anniversary of this blog. I thought the best way to observe the milestone, and to try to pass along some of the benefits I’ve gained from keeping a presence online all these years, would be to share some of the most important things I’ve learned since I started this site.
I also do still strongly believe that someone who really has a strong point of view, and substantive insights into their area of interest, can have huge impact just by consistently blogging about that topic. It’s not currently the fashionable way to participate in social media, but the opportunity is still wide open.
Yes, maintaining a sustained online identity and presence is an opportunity, as it provides agency. The open web is an open invitation to do so, but it takes time to blog. Time that will not immediately result in dopamine triggering likes and retweets, so you will need to find the motivation for keeping up blogging elsewhere, likely within yourself. Even if you don’t have ‘substantive insights’ in your areas of interest but still consistently blog, there will be impact. I once had a client who hired me after reading my blog archives and realising from its tone and content I would bring the right attitude and outlook to the project. Over time any blog is a body of work.
If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault.
Platforms have always maintained they are just platforms, and not responsible for its content. That argument has been severely eroded by the platforms itself, because their adtech business models depend on engagement, and so they introduced addictive design patterns and algorithms that decide what you see, based on likelihood of sparking engagement (usually outrage, as it works so well). A platform that decides what you see in order to sell more ads, makes conscious editorial decisions, and is no longer a platform. Roads and their maintainers generally aren’t responsible for the conduct of drivers, but in this case the roads over time have been deliberately increasingly designed to make you speed, reward repeat offenders by reserving the fast lane for them, and road maintainers get paid by car repair shops based on a metric of a steady rise in car crashes so road rage gets encouraged to raise revenue. It’s why federation of very distributed nodes is important to me, it strongly reduces amplification of the things that we’ve come to loathe on the platforms. That e.g. Gab, having been deplatformed, moved to federated servers is a good thing. Now anyone can round around it as damage, and its content doesn’t get the amplification and recognition by being on general platforms, it otherwise would. I am the only one on my website. I am the only one on my Mastodon server. At that level moderation is extremely easy, while it doesn’t reduce my interactions in any way.
I’m not someone who thinks there was a “good old days”; social media has always been too exclusionary, and too dependent on systems and infrastructures that replicate the injustices of society as a whole. It is possible, though, to make new systems that are a little more equitable, and I still haven’t given up on that hope at all.
Me neither, there’s huge potential for increasing agency, especially for groups in specific contexts and around specific issues. A networked agency emerging from lowering technology and process thresholds. It means taking ourselves as the starting point, not the platform or its business model.
Bonus pic: my friend Paolo blogging, 13 years ago in June 2006.
image by Paolo Valdemarin, license CC BY-NC-ND
Blogging usually doesn’t involve a pipe, sitting outside, prosecco, or a sea view from the Ligurian coast. Blogging is totally mundane, this the exception. It might be a good addictive design pattern for blogging though 😉
Seems I need to find a way of making it easier for me to blog, to save time. At the current volume I really need more seamless and frictionless ways of posting than how I currently mostly use the WordPress back-end. This year I’ve already posted more items (391) than in the previous 10 years combined (361). In terms of long form blogposts, I blogged just over (135) the number of postings I made in my busiest blogging year 2003 (134 postings). So reducing the friction of posting, and distinguishing much better between writing and posting will no doubt save me time.
“Facebook is a highly unreliable company. We’ve seen this pattern repeat itself a number of times over the course of company’s history: its scale allows it to create whole industries around it depending on its latest plan or product or gambit. But again and again, with little warning it abandons and destroys those businesses.” …”Google operates very, very differently.”..”Yet TPM gets a mid-low 5-figure check from Google every month for the ads we run on TPM through their advertising services. We get nothing from Facebook.”..”Despite being one of the largest and most profitable companies in the world Facebook still has a lot of the personality of a college student run operation, with short attention spans, erratic course corrections and an almost total indifference to the externalities of its behavior.”
This first point I think is very much about networks and ecosystems, do you see others as part of your ecosystem or merely as a temporary leg-up until you can ditch them or dump externalities on.
The second point TPM makes is about visitors versus ‘true audience’.
“we are also seeing a shift from a digital media age of scale to one based on audience. As with most things in life, bigger is, all things being equal, better. But the size of a publication has no necessary connection to its profitability or viability.” It’s a path to get to a monopoly that works for tech (like FB) but not for media, the author Josh Marshall says. “…the audience era is vastly better for us than the scale era”
Audience, or ‘true audience’ as TPM has it, are the people who have a long time connection to you, who return regularly to read articles. The ones you’re building a connection with, for which TPM, or any newsy site, is an important node in their network. Scaling there isn’t about the numbers, although numbers still help, but the quality of those numbers and the quality of what flows through the connections between you and readers. The invisible hand of networks more than trying to get ever more eye-balls.
Scale thinking would make blogging like I do useless, network thinking makes it valuable, even if there are just 3 readers, myself included. It’s ‘small b’ blogging as Tom Critchlow wrote a few months ago. “Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network“. Or as I usually describe it: thinking out loud, and having distributed conversations around it. Big B blogging, Tom writes, in contrast “is written for large audiences. Too much content on the web is designed for scale” and pageviews, where individual bloggers seem to mimick mass media companies. Because that is the only example they encounter.
Back in April I wrote how my blogging had changed since I reduced my Facebook activity last fall. I needed to create more space again to think and write, and FB was eroding my capacity to do so. Since my break with FB I wrote more than since a long time, and the average weekly activity was higher than ever in the past 16 years. In april I wondered how that would keep up in the second quarter of this year so here are the numbers of the first half of 2018.
First, the number of postings was 203 this first half of 2018, or an average of 7 to 8 per week. Both as total number and as weekly average this is more than I have ever blogged since 2002 on even a yearly basis. (see the graphs in my previous posting Back to the Blog, the Numbers).
Mid April I added a stream of micro-postings to this blog, and that helps explain part of the large jump in number of postings in the first graph below. What microblogging helps do however is get the small bits, references and random thoughts out of my head, leaving more space to write posts with more content. I’ve written 84 ‘proper’ blog posts the last 6 months, of which 50 since adding the microblog mid April, so it has pushed up all my writing.
Blogposts 2018 per month. It shows July as week 26 ends July 1st, which had 2 postings
Blogposts 2018 per week, the micro blog started week 15
Let’s look at how that compares to previous months and years.
Number of posts per month since 2016. Leaving FB in October 2017 started a strong uptick.
I feel I have found back a writing rhythm. So tracking the number of postings moving forward is likely mostly of interest in terms of ‘proper’ postings and the topics covered, and less to see if I blog at all. My steps away from FB have paid off, and reconfiguring my information strategies for more quality is the next phase.
Attempting to scale the walls of the gardens like FB that we lock ourselves into
This is something I often think about, without coming to a real conclusion or course of action. Yes, I share Peters sentiments concerning Facebook and Twitter, and how everything we do there just feeds their marketing engines. And yes, in the past two years I purposefully have taken various steps to increase my own control over my data, as well as build new and stronger privacy safeguards. Yet, my FB usage has not yet been impacted by that, in fact, I know I use it more intensively than a few years ago.
Peter uses his blog different from me, in that he posts much more about all the various facets of himself in the same spot. In fact that is what makes his blog so worthwile to follow, the mixture of technology how-to’s, and philosphical musings very much integrated with the daily routines of getting coffee, or helping out a local retailer, or buying a window ventilator. It makes the technology applicable, and turns his daily routines into a testing ground for them. I love that, and the authentic and real impact that creates where he lives. I find that with my blog I’ve always more or less only published things of profession related interests, which because I don’t talk about clients or my own personal life per se, always remain abstract thinking-out-loud pieces, that likely provide little direct applicability. I use Twitter to broadcast what I write. In contrast I use FB to also post the smaller things, more personal things etc. If you follow me on Facebook you get a more complete picture of my everyday activities, and random samplings of what I read, like and care about beyond my work.
To me FB, while certainly exploiting my data, is a ‘safer’ space for that (or at least succeeds in pretending to be), to the extent it allows me to limit the visibility of my postings. The ability to determine who can see my FB postings (friends, friends of friends, public) is something I intensively use (although I don’t have my FB contacts grouped into different layers, as I could do). Now I could post tumblerlike on my own blog, but would not be able to limit visibility of that material (other than by the virtue of no-one bothering to visit my site). That my own blog content is often abstract is partly because it is all publicly available. To share other things I do, I would want to be able to determine its initial social distribution.
That is I think the thing I like to solve: can I shape my publications / sharings in much the same way I shape my feedreading habits: in circles of increasing social distance. This is the original need I have for social media, and which I have had for a very long time, basically since when social media were still just blogs and wikis. Already in 2006 (building on postings about my information strategies in 2005) I did a session on putting the social in social media front and center, together with Boris Mann at Brussels Barcamp on this topic, where I listed the following needs, all centered around the need to let social distance and quality of relationships play a role in publishing and sharing material:
tools that put people at the center (make social software even more social)
tools that let me do social network analysis and navigate based on that (as I already called for at GOR 2006)
tools that look at relationships in terms of social distance (far, close, layers in between) and not in terms of communication channels (broadcasting, 1 to 1, and many to many)
tools that allow me to shield or disclose information based on the depth of a relationship, relative to the current content
tools that let me flow easily from one to another, because the tools are the channels of communication. Human relationships don’t stick to channels, they flow through multiple ones simultaneously and they change channels over time.
All of these are as yet unsolved in a distributed way, with the only option currently being getting myself locked into some walled garden and running up the cost of moving outside those walls with every single thing I post there. Despite the promise of the distributed net, we still end up in centralized silo’s, until the day that our social needs are finally met in distributed ways in our social media tools.