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.
Something that strikes me as odd in addressing fake news, is that it’s almost exclusively focused on the information production and distribution. Not on the skills and strategies of the entity taking information in. Partly this is understandable, as forcing transparency on how your information might have been influenced is helpful (especially to see if what you get presented with is something others / everyone else is presented with). But otherwise it’s as if those receiving information are treated as passive consumers, not as agents in their own right.
“Our best defense against hostile influence, whatever its vector, is to invest in critical thinking skills at all levels of the population so that outlandish claims are seen for what they truly are: emotional exploitation for political or monetary gain”, wrote Nina Jankowicz on how Finnish society instills critical thinking skills.
The question of course is whether governments truly want to inoculate society, or merely want to deflect disinformation and manipulation from specific sources. Then it’s easier to understand where the focus on technology oriented solutions, or ones that presume centralised efforts come from.
In networks smartness needs to be at the endpoints, not in the core. There’s a lack of attention for the information strategies, filtering and interpreting tactics of those receiving information. Crap detection skills need to be developed for instance, and societies have a duty to self-inoculate. I think the obligation to explain* applies here too, showing others what you do and how.
Here’s a list of postings about my information habits. They’re not fixed, and currently I’m in the process of describing them again, and taking a critical look at them. What are your information habits, have you ever put them into words?
*The obligation to explain is something I’ve adopted from my friend Peter Rukavina: “The benefits of a rich, open pool of knowledge are so great that those who have learned have an obligation to share what they’ve learned.“
Just quickly jotting some thoughts down about bookmarking, as part of a more general effort of creating an accurate current overview of my information strategies.
Currently I store all my bookmarks in Evernote, by storing the full article or pdf (not just the url, removing the risk of it being unavailable later, or behind a paywall). I sometimes add a brief annotation at the start, and may add one or more tags.
I store bookmarks to Evernote from my browser on the laptop, but also frequently from my mobile, where I pick them out of various timelines.
There are several reasons I store bookmarks.
- I store predictions people make, to be able to revisit them later, and check on whether they came true or not.
- I store news paper articles to preserve how certain events were depicted at the time they happened (without the historic reinterpretation that usually follows later)
- I store pages for later reading (replacing Instapaper)
- I store bookmarks for sharing in (collated) blogposts, or on Twitter, or to send to a specific person (‘hey, this looks like what you were looking for last week’)
- I store bookmarks around topics I am currently interested in, as resource for later or current desk research, or for a current project.
- I store bookmarks as reminders (‘maybe this restaurant is a place to go to sometime when next in Berlin’, ‘possible family trip’, ‘possible interesting conference to attend’)
In the past, when I still used Delicious, when it had a social networking function, I also used bookmarking for discovery of other people. Because social tools work in triangles (as I said in 2006) I would check in Delicious who else had also bookmarked something, and with which tags they did so. The larger the difference in tags (e.g. I’d tag ‘knowledge management’ and they’d tag ‘medication’) or difference in jargon (me ‘complexity’, they ‘wicked_problem’, another ‘intractable’), the likelier someone would be part of different communities than me, but focusing on the same things. Then I’d seek out their blog etc, and start following their rss feeds. It was a good way to find people based on professional interests and extend my informal learning network. A way to diversify my inputs for various topics.
Looking at that list of uses, I notice that it is a mixture of things that can be public, things that can be public to some, and things that are just for my eyes. I also know that I don’t like publishing single bookmarks to my blog, unless I have an extended annotation to publish with it (more a reflection or response to a link, than just bookmarking that link). Single bookmarks posted to a blog I experience as cluttering up the timeline (but they could be on a different page perhaps).
The tagging is key as a filing mechanism, and annotation can be a helpful hint to my future self why I stored it, as much as a thought or an association.
When I think of ‘bringing bookmarking home’ in the sense of using only non-silo tools and owning the data myself, several aspects are important:
- The elements I need to store: URL, date/time stored, full article/pdf, title, tags, notes. Having a full local copy of a page or PDF is a must-have for me, you can’t rely on something being there the next time you look at an URL.
- The things I want to be able to do with it are mostly a filtering on tags I think (connecting it to one or more persons, interests, projects, channels etc.), and then having different actions/processes tied to that filtering.
- I’d want to have the bookmarks available offline on my laptop, as well as available for sharing across devices.
- It would be great if there was something that would allow the social networking type of bookmarking I described, or make it possible in decentralised fashion
When I look at some of the available open source bookmarking tools that I can self-host I notice that mostly the ability to save full pages/documents and the offline functionality are missing elements. So maybe I should try and glue together something from different building blocks found elsewhere.
What do you use for bookmarking? How do you use bookmarks?
An attempt to a) map my info strategies better and b) map them to indieweb protocols, so I can c) map them to tooling / processes
Blogpostings I wrote over the years.
Sebastiaan at IWC Nürnberg last weekend did some cool stuff with visualising feeds he follows, as well as find a way of surfacing stuff from outside his feeds because those in his feeds talk about it or like it. That is very exciting to me as it creates a peripheral view, and really puts your network to use as a filter. He follows up with a good posting on readers.
Towards the end of that posting there’s some discussion of how to
That Sebastiaan, reminds me of what I wrote about my feedreading strategies in 2005 (take a look at the images there, they help in understanding the text that follows).
I think it is useful to think not just of what you yourself consume in terms of feeds, and how to optimise that, but also in terms of the feedback loops you need/want back to the authors of some of your feeds.
Your network is a filter, and a certain level of feedback is needed to be able to spot patterns that lift signals above the noise, the peripheral vision you described. Both individually and collectively. But too much feedback creates echo-chambers. So the overall quality of your network / network’s feeds and interaction is part of the equation in thinking about feed overwhelm. It introduces needs for alternating and deliberate phases of divergence and convergence, and being able to judge diversity and quality of your network.
It’s in that regard very important to realise that there’s a key factor not present in your feeds that is enormously useful for filtering: your own personal knowledge about the author of a feed. If you can tag feeds with what you know of their authors (coder, Berlin, Drupal, e.g.), and how you perceive the social distance between you and them (from significant other to total stranger), you can do even more visualising by asking questions like “what are the topics that European front-end developers I know are excited about this week”, or by visualising what communities are talking about. Social distance also is a factor in dealing with overwhelm: I for instance read a handful of people important to me every day when they have posted, and others I don’t read if I don’t have time, and I therefore group my feeds by social distance.
Finally, overwhelm is more likely if you approach feeds as drinking from a tap. But again, you know things that are not present in your feeds: current interests you have, questions you have, things you’re working on. A listener more likely hears those things better that are close to them. This points to less a river-of-news approach, and more to an active interrogation of feeds based on your personal ‘agenda’ at a time of your choosing.
Fear of missing out is not important, especially not when the feedback loops, that I mentioned above, between authors exist. If it is a signal of some sort, and not noise, it will bounce around your network-as-a-filter for a while, and is likely to be there in some form still, when you next take a look. If it is important and you overlooked it, it will come up again when you look another time.
Also see my posting about my ideal feedreader, from a few months ago.
Triggered by some of the previous postings on RSS, I started thinking about what my ideal set-up for RSS reading would be. Because maybe there’s a way to create that for myself.
A description of how I approach my feeds, and what I would ideally like to be able to do, I already penned a decade ago, and it hasn’t really changed much.
The basic outline is:
- I think of feed subscriptions as subscribing to people. I don’t follow your blog, but I follow and interact with you. I used to have a blogroll that reflected that by showing the faces of people whose writing I read. Basically the web is my social network always, In my feed reader every feed title is the name of the author, not the blog’s title.
my blogroll in 2005, people’s faces, not site names
- The feeds I subscribe to, I group in folders by subjective social distance, roughly following Dunbar-style group sizes. The dozen closest to me, the 50, the 150, the 500 beyond that, and above that 999 for people I don’t have a direct connection with at all. So my wife’s blog feed is in folder a12, and if I’ve just come across your blog this week and we never met, your feed will be in e999. The Keep Track folder are my own content feeds from various platforms.
the folders in my current feedreader by social distance
- There are three reading styles I’d like my reader to support, of which it only does one.
- I read to see what is going on with people I know, by browsing through their writing from closer to further away, so from the a12 folder towards the e999 folder. This my reader supports, by way of allowing a folder structure for it
- I read outside-in, looking at the general patterns in all the new postings of a day: what topics come up, what are people working on, what do they care about. This is not supported yet, other than scrolling through the whole thing. A quick overview of topics versus social distance would be useful here.
- I read inside-out, where I have specific questions, ideas or topics on my mind and want to see if some of the people in my reader have been wrting about it recently. This is not supported yet. A good way to search my feeds would be needed.
- I would like to be able to tag feeds. So I can contextualise the author (coder, lives in Portugal, interested in privacy by design, works independently). This allows me to look at different groups of people across the social distance related folders. E.g. “what are the people I follow in Berlin up to this week, as I will be visiting in a few days?” “What are the current concerns in the IndieWeb community?” Ten years ago I visualised that as below
Social distances with community and multi-faceted contexts plotted on them
- I would like to be able to pull in tags of postings and have full content search functionality. This would support my inside-out reading. “What is being said today in my feeds about that conference I didn’t go to?” “Any postings today on privacy by design?”
- I think I’d like visual representations of which communities are currently most active, and for topics, like heat maps. Alerts on when the level of activity for a feed or a community or subsets of people changes would be nice too.
- From the reader follow actions, such as saving an article, creating a todo from it, bookmarking it, or sharing it in some channel. An ideal reader should support all those actions, or let me configure actions
- [UPDATED OCTOBER 2018] From reading a posting by Peter Rukavina I realised I’d also like to have built-in machine translation.
From the whole IndieWeb exploration of late, I realized that while no feedreader does all the above, it might be possible to build something myself. TinyTiny RSS seems a good starting point. It’s an open source tool you can run as your own instance. It comes with features such as filtering and auto-tagging that might fit my needs. It can be hosted on my own domain, and it has a database I then have back-end access to, to build features it doesn’t have itself (such as visualisations and specific sharing actions). It can also produce RSS feeds. It seems with TinyTiny RSS I could do all kinds of things to the RSS feeds I pull in on my server, and push the results out again as RSS feeds themselves. Those I could load into my regular reader, or republish etc.
Now need to find a bit of time to set it up and to play with it.
It’s never been a secret that Facebook is a data hungry monster, and I have always acted in that knowledge. There are reasons why FB is valuable as a tool for me, there are a range of others why FB is all wrong. Feeling increasingly uncomfortable, it is time to create a path for myself away from it. I am not leaving, at least not completely for reasons following towards the end of this post. I did however deactivate my account last night. This means my data is still available within FB but invisible, and logging in will reactivate it all.
In short, I am not going cold turkey on FB, but merely semifreddo, half cold.
I expect that removing myself from FB for now creates the space for me to figure out what to do and not do with FB.
My FB history
I joined FB in the first week of October 2006, shortly after it became available for non-US non-academic e-mail accounts in September. Until the winter of 2013 I posted virtually nothing, except automatic links to my blogposts. Only from November 2013, nudged by Gerrit Eicker, I started interacting with FB more, and from early 2014 the number of postings slowly grew. It turned into an addictive habit, that you really want to quit but don’t really seem to be able to. A tool I use to track my own software and web-usage has been brutally direct in showing me how much of a time sink FB became. I removed the FB app from my phone at some point in the last year, mostly to cut away the noise and disconnect from the here and now that doing a quick FB check during ‘empty’ moments creates.
The constructive effects of FB
FB has been both helpful, as well as damaging on a personal level. In the positive sense,
- it allows me to stay in touch with a wide variety of people that I otherwise wouldn’t be in touch with. Because they are distant in terms of geography, because the context we once shared is a long time ago, the current overlap in context is small, or any combination thereof.
- It makes keeping a sense of what’s going on in their lives pretty effortless, and even if actual interaction may be low, it serves as a low threshold channel to emphatise.
- It allowed me to share things in a much less public place than my blog when in 2015 and 2016 personal events were dominant, without the need to reach out directly to anyone. This allowed others to respond as they see fit.
- In some instances FB is the only way I can easily connect to people and groups I am professionally connected with, such as for instance colleagues in Central Asia, or the Serbian open data community.
There’s also a destructive side to FB
FB has had a huge impact over time on my regular information strategies. This was of course helped along by the demise of many other tools and platforms such as Google Reader, Dopplr, and the erosion of what makes the web work, such as Twitter doing away with RSS. For these tools lost behind the event horizon of the black hole that FB and other walled gardens are, me and many of my network used FB as a replacement. For instance, Dopplr was a good way to inform the traveling part of my professional network of upcoming trips and therefore potential opportunities to meet, should some of our travel coincide. Posting a travel update on FB has replaced it, albeit with loss of visibility and functional value. The large majority of RSS feeds I followed have dried up. The disappearance of RSS from many platforms which allowed me to aggregate information about my network myself, meant I had to go to a place where that aggregation was done for me, and FB is such a place with the most people in it. Again at a significant loss of functional value (influence, filtering, tagging, making on the fly cross-sections etc.)
Over time it became clear to me that the endless FB timeline has de facto replaced my carefully calibrated rss-based information diet. What were my intentional and purposeful acts of keeping in touch, learning and informing myself, got replaced by a steady stream of distraction and procrastination. Starting from a question, and then seeking out what might be relevant mostly disappeared, at best responsive but often passive consumption replacing it. There’s a distracting quality to FB as a gateway to material even when interacting with the same content: I follow some thinkers/authors in my FB network, but end up engaging with whatever they posted today, rather then diving deeply into their actual work available on their own sites. It’s almost as if I have to remind myself that doing online deskresearch or literature review isn’t checking out the FB timelines of the people in that field.
The nefarious asymmetry of FB
To large swathes of the global population FB serves as a facsimile of the internet, hiding the potent agency-inducing qualities the internet actually has, and merely presenting the passive and consumer side of the net. As long as you keep scrolling down your timeline you’re not taking action (even if changing your avatar to show sympathy with one plight or another gives you that feeling).
Although I’ve succeeded in preserving a certain variety in my FB network, so that regularly I get presented with viewpoints or articles which clash with my sense of what is common (not: common sense), FB has been busily building my own bubble around me. This is readily apparent whenever I venture into other places, darker places, following links on the profiles of friends of friends of friends further and further outside my ‘regular’ network. The resulting suggested articles and ads that fill my timeline for days afterwards are a shocking view on what others apparently get presented as their day to day diet.
At issue here is the enormous asymmetry. It is infinitely easier to automatically feed me dross, aim to manipulate my choices in a myriad of ways, then it is for me to purposefully individually and manually resist that (if at all psychologically possible). FB, or actually anyone paying them, can without effort suggest 100s of articles and ads, an individual will get fed up manually hitting ‘show me less of this’ after less than a dozen times. A second layer of asymmetry is that none of the pattern matching or categorising you and I are subject to are in any meaningful way available to us ourselves. This isn’t about the personal data we consciously share (e.g. dates of birth, phone numbers, postings), but about our actual behaviour on the platform, the things I and my connections hit like for, the links we click, the time we spend engaged with those links, the comments we typed in and ultimately decided not to post, the frequency with which we yet again open up the timeline to see if we get a little bit of endorphins from being ‘liked’, our responses to the A/B testing done on us unawares ,etc. etc.
On top of all that, similar to the tobacco industry, FB really likes to keep you hooked. Over the years I’ve deleted accounts from dozens if not hundreds of services. Some will say “we’re really sorry to see you go”, or ask you to reconsider, or make you type a confirmation manually (“DELETE”). FB however appeals to your emotions like no other, saying ‘oh but this or that person will miss you so much!’ and force you to provide a reason to leave, and even then ask for another confirmation after all that. That’s just for de-activating the account, leaving everything still there. Re-activating merely requires logging in, yet another designed asymmetry. I wonder what they will do when I actually would to delete the account.
Aldo will miss me, Jeroen will miss me, Baden will miss me, all 660 of my FB friends will miss me,……please stay! Yes, I’m sure.
So, what to do?
- FB has to be removed as a time sink and obstacle to purposeful interaction.
- In terms of information intake it means going through my network list (I downloaded my FB data), and find other ways to keep track.
- In terms of sharing, my blog (which is fully public, so very different questions apply concerning what to post or not there) will need to have prevalence, likely augmented with some other tools. I can see running my own Diaspora-pod (or another distributed FB simile), and inviting selected groups into specific instances. This replaces the single humongous space that is used for all group interaction in FB, with more group and community specific ‘town squares’. Having the right spaces for interaction is an important aspect in community health, and FB is not designed like that.
- In terms of interacting it means looking at my network list and more frequently purposefully reach out. Yes, that’s more time consuming, but more rewarding as well. Since my friend Peter left FB, the frequency of being in touch has risen I feel, and the quality and awareness of it has definitely increased. Although it won’t scale to all other connections.
- Ensuring using FB more deliberately is another element. There are those I’m only connected with there. There are those I’m only professionally connected with there. So for them I will likely retain my account. For some Messenger is the only tool we share, and that too requires keeping the FB account. But like going to the pub, visiting FB will need to be a planned and time-boxed thing, and no longer the ‘filler’ of small periods of time. This is the ‘quitting smoking’ part of FB, all the ‘quick ciggies’ during the day. Any return to FB will be like a none-smoker entering a venue where smoking is allowed.
- For that more purposeful and limited interaction, my entire FB history is of no importance, so deleting that is a logical step.
Abraham Lincoln famously said in the 1860’s “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.“, and he’s right of course. George Washington already warned us a century earlier that “the greatest thing about Facebook is that you can quote something and totally make up the source.” Add to it the filter bubbles that algorithms create around you on Facebook, fake news and the influencing that third parties try to do, and you can be certain that the trustworthiness of internet is now even worse than it was in the 19th or 18th century.
Dealing with crap on the internet however sometimes seems something only for professionals. Facebook should filter better, or be more transparent. Online forensic research like Bellingcat does is the only way to disprove online deception. The problem is that it absolves you and me way too easily of our own responsibility in detecting crap. If something seems too funny, coincidental or too conveniently fitting into your own believe framework, it should trigger us into taking a step back. To take time to determine for ourselves whether Lincoln really said that, whether a picture was really taken where and when it is claimed, and if a source really exists or can be determined as trustworthy.
To be able to detect crap on the internet, you need crap detection tools. My Brainstorms-friend Howard Rheingold and others have put together a useful list of crap detection tools (of which I very often use the reverse image search tools like Tineye, to verify the actual origin of a photo). The list is well maintained and growing. The listed tools help you quickly check-up on things before you share something and reinforce a vicious cycle making more and more social media platforms toxic.
Not spreading dubious material is a civic duty, just like cleaning up after yourself in a public space. This makes crap detection a critical digital information skill. Download or bookmark the list of crap detection tools, add some of the mentioned tools as plugins to your browser, and use it to your advantage.