This is a quick exploration of my current and preferred feed reading patterns. As part of my activities, for Day 2, the hack day, of IndieWebCamp Utrecht.

I currently use a stand alone RSS reader, which only consumes RSS feeds. I also experiment with TinyTinyRSS which is a self-hosted feed-grabber and reader. I am attracted to TinyTiny RSS beacue 1) it has a database I can access, 2) it can create RSS from any selection I make, and it publishes a ‘live’ OPML file of feeds I track, which I use as blogroll in the side bar.

What I miss is being able to follow ‘any’ feed, for instance JSON feeds which would allow tracking anything that has an API. Tracking #topics on Twitter, or people’s tweets. Or adding newsletters, so I can keep them out of my mail client, and add them to my reader. And there are things that I think don’t have feeds, but I might be able to create them. E.g. URLs mentioned in Slack channels, or conversation notes I take (currently in Evernote).

Using IndieWeb building blocks: the attraction of IndieWeb here is that it makes a distinction between collecting / grabbing feeds and reading them. A Microsub server grabs and stores feeds. A Microsub client then is the actual reader.
Combined with Micropub, the ability to post to your own site from a different client, allows directly sharing or responding from a reader. In the background Webmention then works its magic of pulling all that together so that the full interaction can be shown on my blog.

The sharing buttons in a (microsub client) reader like Monocle are ‘liking’, ‘repost’ and ‘reply’. This list is too short to my taste. Bookmarking, ‘repost with short remarks’ and ‘turn into a draft for long form’ are obvious additions. But there’s another range of things to add about sharing into channels that aren’t my website or not a website at all, and channels that aren’t fully public.

To get things under my own control, first I want to run my own microsub server, so I have the collected feeds somewhere I can access. And so I can start experimenting with collecting types of feeds that aren’t RSS.

Hossein Derakhshan makes an important effort to find more precise language to describe misinformation (or rather mis- dis- and mal- information). In this Medium article, he takes a closer look at the different combinations of actors and targets, along the lines of state, non-state entities and the public.

Table by Hossein Derakhshan, from article DisInfo Wars

One of his conclusions is

…that from all the categories, those three where non-state organisations are targeted with dis-/malinfomation (i.e. SN, NN, and PN) are the most effective in enabling the agents to reach their malicious goals. Best example is still how US and UK state organisations duped independent and professional media outlets such as the New York Times into selling the war with Iraq to the public.
The model, thus, encourages to concentrate funds and efforts on non-state organisations to help them resist information warfare.

He goes on to say that public protection against public agents is too costly, or too complicated:

the public is easy to target but very hard (and expensive) to protect – mainly because of their vast numbers, their affective tendencies, and the uncertainty about the kind and degree of the impact of bad information on their minds

I feel that this is where our individual civic duty to do crap detection, and call it out when possible, or at least not spread it, comes into play as inoculation.

Bryan Alexander writes a thoughtful post about media literacy, specifically in the US context, and in relation to the role of education, in response to an ongoing conversation on it:

How should we best teach digital and media literacy?  How can such teaching respond to today’s politically and technologically polarized milieu? Last week a discussion brewed across Twitter…

Towards the end of his critical discussion he makes

One more point: I’m a bit surprised to not see more calls for the open web in this conversation. If we want to get away from platforms we see as multiply dangerous (Facebook in particular, it seems), then we could posit some better sites. I’m for RSS and the blogosphere. Others may plump for Mastodon.

I think this an important aspect. To me the open web is about agency, the power to do something, to act. In this case to critically engage with information flows and contributing your own perspectives on your own website.

Every centralised platform or web silo you use means an implicit vulnerability to being kicked off by the company behind it for arbitrary and not just valid reasons. Even when using it, it means hard borders are drawn about the way you can share, interact or connect to others, to protect the business behind it. Facebook forces you to share links outside your commentary, and doesn’t allow inline hyperlinking as is actually the web’s standard. Your Facebook account can’t directly interact with my Twitter account, not because of technological limitations but because of both their wishes to be silos monopolising your online conversations.

On the open web you acknowledge the existence of various platforms, silos and whatnot, but the interaction circles around your own online space. Your own platform-of-1 that monopolises your own interaction but puts that monopoly in your own hands and that makes no assumption whatsoever about what others do, other than expecting others to use core internet standards and protocols. Your platform-of-1, is your online presence, like this website, from which you alone determine what you share, post, link-to, in what way it is presented, and who can see what.

This includes pushing things into silos. For instance I post to Twitter, and respond to others on Twitter from my own website, and reactions on Twitter come back to me on my website. (Not Facebook, you’re no longer allowed to post / peek over their fence).

This is a source of agency. For me as an individual, as much as for a group. There’s a marked difference between a protest group coordinating themselves on a Facebook group, and e.g. Edgeryders, a network of changemakers building sustainable projects for the common good, which runs their own group platform to interact using Discourse. A direct difference in agency to be able to shape the way you interact versus having to follow predefined common denominator functionality, and an indirect difference in resilience against push-back from others (does someone else control your off-switch?).

In media literacy, as much as in other, complexity-induced, aspects of our connected lives, agency of both you and yours, a networked agency is a key ingredient. Not to build your own competing platforms or media outlets to the existing ones, a common misconceived and unvoiced underlying assumption I feel (“we’ll build the perfect news platform ourselves!”), but to be in control yourself of what comes at you and what flows out from you. You still very well may end up in a bubble of uncritical bias, yet it will be one of your own making, not the making of whichever company happens to run the most popular platform du jour. The open web is your toolkit in gaining and maintaining this agency.

Replied to The powers of digital literacies: responding to danah boyd and all (Bryan Alexander)

Some of the things I found worth reading in the past few days:

  • Although this article seems to confuse regulatory separation with technological separation, it does give a try in formulating the geopolitical aspects of internet and data: There May Soon Be Three Internets. America’s Won’t Necessarily Be the Best
  • Interesting, yet basically boils down to actively exercising your ‘free will’. It assumes a blank slate for the hacking, where I haven’t deliberately set out for information/contacts on certain topics. And then it suggests doing precisely that as remedy. The key quote for me here is “Humans are hacked through pre-existing fears, hatreds, biases and cravings. Hackers cannot create fear or hatred out of nothing. But when they discover what people already fear and hate it is easy to push the relevant emotional buttons and provoke even greater fury. If people cannot get to know themselves by their own efforts, perhaps the same technology the hackers use can be turned around and serve to protect us. Just as your computer has an antivirus program that screens for malware, maybe we need an antivirus for the brain. Your AI sidekick will learn by experience that you have a particular weakness – whether for funny cat videos or for infuriating Trump stories – and would block them on your behalf.“: Yuval Noah Harari on the myth of freedom
  • This is an important issue, always. I recognise it from my work for the World Bank and UN agencies. Is what you’re doing actually helping, or is it shoring up authorities that don’t match with your values? And are you able to recognise it and withdraw when you cross the line from the former to the latter? I’ve known entrepreneurs who kept a client blacklist of sectors, governments and companies, but often it isn’t that clear cut. I’ve avoided engagements in various countries over the years, but every client engagement can be rationalised: How McKinsey Has Helped Raise the Stature of Authoritarian Governments, and when the consequences come back to bite, Malaysia files charges against Goldman-Sachs
  • This seems like a useful list to check for next books to read. I’ve definitely enjoyed reading the work of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Nnedi Okorafor last year: My year of reading African women, by Gary Younge

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.