Influencer gets lost in endless scroll, until life events yank her back for at least a while. Lockwood is a poet, and this is her first novel. This book didn’t work for me, though at times it was fun and evocative, I found it failed to pull me in, and lacked structure and narrative. Maybe that was the point, emulating the fragmentation and disjointedness of the timeline of toxic Facebook. Finished it because it was short anyway.

Some links I thought worth reading the past few days

  • On how blockchain attempts to create fake scarcity in the digital realm. And why banks etc therefore are all over it: On scarcity and the blockchain by Jaap-Henk Hoepman
  • Doc Searl’s has consistently good blogposts about the adtech business, and how it is detrimental to publishers and citizens alike. In this blogpost he sees hope for publishing. His lists on adverts and ad tech I think should be on all our minds: Is this a turning point for publishing?
  • Doc Searl’s wrote this one in 2017: How to plug the publishing revenue drain – The Graph – Medium
  • In my information routines offline figures prominently, but it usually doesn’t in my tools. There is a movement to put offline front and center as design principle it turns out: Designing Offline-First Web Apps
  • Hoodie is a backendless tool for building webapps, with a offline first starting point: hood.ie intro
  • A Berlin based company putting offline first as foremost design principle: Neighbourhoodie – Offline First
  • And then there are Service Workers, about which Jeremy Keith has just published a book: Going Offline
  • Haven’t tested it yet, but this type of glue we need much more of, to reduce the cost of leaving silos, and to allow people to walk several walled gardens at the same time as a precursor to that: Granary

Last week the 2nd annual Techfestival took place in Copenhagen. As part of this there was a 48 hour think tank of 150 people (the ‘Copenhagen 150‘), looking to build the Copenhagen Catalogue, as a follow-up of last year’s Copenhagen Letter of which I am a signee. Thomas, initiator of the Techfestival had invited me to join the CPH150 but I had to decline the invitation, because of previous commitments I could not reschedule. I’d have loved to contribute however, as the event’s and even more the think tank’s concerns are right at the heart of my own. My concept of networked agency and the way I think about how we should shape technology to empower people in different ways runs in parallel to how Thomas described the purpose of the CPH150 48 hour think tank at its start last week.

For me the unit of agency is the individual and a group of meaningful relationships in a specific context, a networked agency. The power to act towards meaningful results and change lies in that group, not in the individual. The technology and methods that such a group deploys need to be chosen deliberately. And those tools need to be fully within scope of the group itself. To control, alter, extend, tinker, maintain, share etc. Such tools therefore need very low adoption thresholds. Tools also need to be useful on their own, but great when federated with other instances of those tools. So that knowledge and information, learning and experimentation can flow freely, yet still can take place locally in the (temporary) absence of such wider (global) connections. Our current internet silos such as Facebook and Twitter clearly do not match this description. But most other technologies aren’t shaped along those lines either.

As Heinz remarked earlier musing about our unconference, effective practices cannot be separated from the relationships in which you live. I added that the tools (both technology and methods) likewise cannot be meaningfully separated from the practices. Just like in the relationships you cannot fully separate between the hyperlocal, the local, regional and global, due to the many interdependencies and complexity involved: what you do has wider impact, what others do and global issues express themselves in your local context too.

So the CPH150 think tank effort to create a list of principles that takes a human and her relationships as the starting point to think about how to design tools, how to create structures, institutions, networks fits right with that.

Our friend Lee Bryant has a good description of how he perceived the CPH150 think tank, and what he shared there. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile the results are up: 150 principles called the Copenhagen Catalogue, beautifully presented. You can become signatory to those principles you deem most valuable to stick to.

At State of the Net 2018 in Trieste Hossein Derakshan (h0d3r on Twitter) talked about journalism and its future. Some of his statements stuck with me in the past weeks so yesterday I took time to watch the video of his presentation again.

In his talk he discussed the end of news. He says that discussions about the erosion of business models in the news business, quality of news, trust in sources and ethics are all side shows to a deeper shift. A shift that is both cultural and social. News is a two century old format, representative of the globalisation of communications with the birth of the telegraph. All of a sudden events from around the globe were within your perspective, and being informed made you “a man of the world”. News also served as a source of drama in our lives. “Did you hear,…”. These days those aspects of globalisation, time and drama have shifted.
Local, hyperlocal, has become more important again at the cost of global perspectives, which Hossein sees taking place in things like buying local, but also in Facebook to keep up with the lives of those around you. Similarly identity politics reduces the interest in other events to those pertaining to your group. Drama shifted away from news to performances and other media (Trumps tweets, memes, our representation on social media platforms). News and time got disentangled. Notifications and updates come at any time from any source, and deeper digging content is no longer tied to the news cycle. Journalism like the Panama Papers takes a long time to produce, but can also be published at any time without that having an impact on its value or reception.

News and journalism have become decoupled. News has become a much less compelling format, and in the words of Derakshan is dying if not dead already. With the demise of text and reason and the rise of imagery and emtions, the mess that journalism is in, what formats can journalism take to be all it can be?

Derakshan points to James Carey who said Democracy and Journalism are the same thing, as they are both defined as public conversation. Hossein sees two formats in which journalism can continue. One is literature, long-form non-fiction. This can survive away from newspapers and magazines, both online and in the form of e.g. books. Another is cinema. There’s a rise in documentaries as a way to bring more complex stories to audiences, which also allows for conveying of drama. It’s the notion of journalism as literature that stuck with me most at State of the Net.

For a number of years I’ve said that I don’t want to pay for news, but do want to pay for (investigative) journalism, and often people would respond news and journalism are the same thing. Maybe I now finally have the vocabulary to better explain the difference I perceive.

I agree that the notion of public conversation is of prime importance. Not the screaming at each-other on forums, twitter or facebook. But the way that distributed conversations can create learning, development and action, as a democratic act. Distributed conversations, like the salons of old, as a source of momentum, of emergent collective action (2013). Similarly, I position Networked Agency as a path away from despair of being powerless in the face of change, and therefore as an alternative to falling for populist oversimplification. Networked agency in that sense is very much a democratising thing.

My friend Peter Rukavina blogged how he will no longer push his blogpostings to Facebook and Twitter. The key reason is that he no longer wants to feed the commercial data-addicts that they are, and really wants to be in control of his own online representation: his website is where we can find him in the various facets he likes to share with us.


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 use the principles of community building as principles of tool design (an idea I had writing my contribution to BlogTalk Reloaded)
  • 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.

I am a hard bloggin' scientist. Read the Manifesto.Jan Schmidt, a hard blogging scientist, is a sociologist who has been looking at the impact and use of social media for a long time. I met him for the first time on the second ever BlogWalk in Nuremberg in 2004, the series of salons on social media that I used to organize with Lilia Efimova and Sebastian Fiedler.
On Next09 he presented findings from a 15 month study concluded only earlier this month, on social media behaviour of teenagers and adolescents. Given the nature of other presentations at Next09 Jan’s session seemed perhaps somewhat misplaced in the general flow of the conference, but I was glad it was part of the programme anyway. Especially as the results presented are very useful to me, and also seem to fit well with research I did myself into media behaviour of children in an age group just before the age groups Schmidt et al looked at.

The research project combined both quantitative and qualitative (focus groups, interviews) elements, allowing for a rich tapestry of results. (Project site in German, 20 page summary pdf in German)
An interesting starting point of Jan Schmidt’s presentations was the reason he thought the social web is a good fit with teenagers. The three practices that social media actively embrace match up with three important developmental aspects teenagers grapple with. Identity management (status updates, profiles, publishing vids) relates to the task of the development of self (who am I?), relationship management (friending online, commenting, following) chimes with the development of socialization (who/where am I in groups?), and information management (searching, tagging, rating) matches up with the developmental task of general orientation (who am I in the world?)
Among German youngsters Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and ICQ are the most widely used. (ICQ is the IM of choice in Germany, MSN is what the kids in the Netherlands use. I once heard a Dutch girl on the train explain to a friend that her German boyfriend used ICQ, calling it ‘the German MSN’.) Facebook is largely unheard of (ranking under 2% together with Second Life) under German young people, as they use StudiVZ, for students, and SchulerVZ, for high school kids, which combined cover 85%.
About 3/4 of those asked use social networking sites (matching nicely with 70% here in the Netherlands). Young people aren’t confused by the term ‘friend’, as most press coverage seems to always find problematic. Mostly they connect to people they have met face to face at some point, and mostly they do not think those contacts constitute close friendships. In short they know it’s a map and not the landscape. Schmidt concludes, one that I share and find important, that social networking sites make weak ties explicit. I would add that as these teenagers get older, it also preserves context, allowing you to keep in touch where normally you would drift apart as you move into different contexts. Jan Schmidt also holds that this makes a perfect training ground for teenage networking and social skills. During that discovery of networking skills slightly over a quarter of those asked say they encountered problematic usage (like bullying etc.), and 5% (girls) to 10% (boys) say they’ve done things on-line others protested against.
Schmidt also reported on the channels teenagers say they find appropiate for things like arranging meetings, flirting, chatting, meeting new people and breaking up. Ian Forrester of the BBC indicated during the Q&A that they got very different results when asking about actual behaviour. But to me this was interesting because it gives us a picture of the normative behaviour of these teenagers. And the conclusion is that, except (unsurprisingly) arranging meetings, face to face contact is still very much the norm, followed by synchronous communication such as phone and IM at increasing distance (and that snail mail has no future at all).
I find this significant, as it shows us digital media have become part of our daily diet, but at the same time there is no significant shift in values and norms it seems between them and our generations when it comes to human interaction. Behaviour is changing, but normative behaviour is not, and direct human face to face contact is still on top. It flies in the face of fear mongering adults thinking kids these days isolate themselves behind their screens and can’t see the difference between real and fake contact. That fear is something those adults project on their kids, and more a reflection of not wanting to deal with the new skills involved themselves, a case of monster killing. In reality new media channels mean primarily there are more options to communicate when face to face is not possible or not practical.
That social media have become a normal part of every day teenage life is further proven by the observation that terms like social media and Web2.0 are largely unknown to these age groups. Again these are terms we have made up to describe the difference compared to what we knew before. These kids know just this, the internet that is now. They don’t have to unlearn stuff like we do, they use what is there. Let’s stop projecting our notions on these kids, and like Schmidt et al, start observing more what they are really doing, saying and thinking. So that we can connect that to the values and notions we like to instill them with, so that we can give them an education and raising that is meaningful to them.

Video and slides:
Link: Jan Schmidt on Growing up with the social web

Disclosure: I was at the Next ’09 Conference in Hamburg on the invitation of the organizers as a blogger and did not have to pay for my conference ticket.