The (Indie)Web we weave

I am making a note here, so when we take for granted how awesome our information streams are, we can look back at this snapshot and see how we did it in the ol’ days. Bonus humor, if you catch how meta the topic is.

  1. Mike makes a post about, among other things, blogging and the IndieWeb.
  2. Matthew leaves a considerate and detailed comment on Mike’s post.
  3. Matthew decides to document the sentiment on eir own site (correctly, I think).
  4. Mike employs a snarky editorial method and posts an excerpt on identi.ca.
  5. That gets me thinking, and I reply, both to that particular line and the observation of how RSS is used on the web.
  6. To ensure that my reply is part of a conversation, I post a link in reply to Mike’s identi.ca post.
  7. Mike points out my reply in further commentary, on the original blog post.
  8. Since I am not participating in the conversation on the original post, and other reasons, Mike then replies with the link to this new comment in the identi.ca thread.

The hosted software involved in this conversation includes one or more email stacks, WordPress, Drupal and pump.io, and content was published on no less than five websites (not including the federation in pump.io for non-participants).

Not our DRYest moment. ^_^

The important lesson here is that Mike, Matthew and I are obviously comfortable with all the software involved, and the additional cognitive expense in posting in multiple places is mitigated by other factors that include dopamine and connectedness. The same things that bring people back to Facebook and Twitter. It isn’t fair, but fighting to stop the exploitation of human nature was never going to be a fair fight.

Web empathy

I was thinking about something Mike posted, and because my default reaction is to defend classes of people insulted, I had a realization: nearly everyone would have started Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, etc.

My thinking goes like this: the reason every site doesn’t have RSS is because most people don’t care. If they are using RSS to collect information, it isn’t apparent to them. I know this, because over the last year every single one of my clients paid me money to set up posting their content to their social media accounts and mailing lists, and none of them know what a feed reader is (these are two separate questions, I suggest that folks follow their industry/passion/cause with tools that make it easy, but they are content with Twitter lists…).

This makes sense, the UI of modern operating systems are made so a person can use them without understanding what works underneath, and when a person doesn’t know how something works, they describe it in terms of features they want. I deal with this all the time, and I have people who I think shouldn’t be building websites, but they have ideas and they go for it. The web is dope, because it means they can. And this world discourages folks enough, I say go for it!

Some of the features a website can have are tracking, control and obfuscation. These seem like dumb ideas to me, but despite that, I get requests for this all the time. Folks are compulsive in tracking every little detail, despite most not being qualified to deduce what their stats mean. Equal is an obsession with controlling the behaviour of strangers, which is what a website is, just a bunch of people you don’t know, looking for something.

I don’t agree with the sentiment, “that the vast majority of web developers are ignorant, talentless hacks”. I actually think most people are unconsciously acting on loss aversion, and don’t know how to balance the power of an open publishing platform (the web). Most sites are not built by web developers, they are built by crews of people directing web developers, and most of those folks may not even particularly like the web. But if they had the choice, they would rather build Facebook than a free, open and standards-based site, because free, open and standards-based are hard to understand and means giving up power. Also, Facebook seems to makes people super rich.

We need more empathy, well, in general, but also in digital literacy. The first reason is because we need to understand where our most vulnerable people are coming from. And just as importantly, we need to instill that as a foundation in problem-solving and approaching technology. I am researching orgs and people that are working in digital literacy, and almost everyone wants to pump out a new generation of founders to build the next wave of proprietary platforms that do not respect the dignity of strangers (remember from earlier, that is what the web is). If we want RSS on every site and to stop all the tracking and to have a better experience overall on the web, we need to include some humanities along side our tech workshops.

Capturing knowledge

I like some buzz terms and phrases. Some just resonate with me, even if they turn out to be hyperbole. In fact, I think it is important to hold on to them even when the implementation isn’t what I thought it could be. Federated social network. Information worker. Knowledge capturing.

That last one is what keeps me reading on when I browse the feature list of proprietary wikae products. They are these monstrosities that include a wiki, code repo, mailing list, blah blah blah. But they claim that it will help your group/tribe/community/company capture knowledge.

For me, it conjures up ideas of AI learning how people write, and creating well-formatted documents that are linked in a sane way. But it really means search boxes or copy/paste buttons.

I don’t have an AI, or a lab to make one. But I do have the passion of an editor, someone who sees communication and often thinks it could be presented better. My analytics for the year is a testament to that: most traffic was generated from folks trying to set the hostname in Fedora 18, find Rackspace’s DNS nameservers, configure the folders in k9mail, and anything about ownCloud. I write to be helpful, and for my reference, but also because I like answering questions that are asked over and over again.

One of the missing features in those knowledge management systems is an incentive for people to use them. Sure, if your only channel for offering support is through your ticketing/forum/live chat thing, they you may think people like using it. They don’t. I hate you for it. So what would that feature be? Facebook. Or Twitter, maybe.

There was hope that StatusNet (the company) would figure out how to navigate the corporate communications waters, but that seems like a mess that we should just let die (it runs in the face of radical transparency, anyhow).

Obviously I don’t endorse those social networks. They are crap. But if I wanted to compete with those other corporate services, I would build a Facebook app that could turn a wall message (or whatever they are called) into a group/public editable page.

And that is what I am going to try as an experiment, in a smaller capacity that Facebook, but still large enough to be interesting and valuable to me.

The government has been working with private corporations to spy on citizens

A list of companies involved in the PRISM program, along a timeline.

As Wired and others are reporting, the NSA has a program where it is somehow accessing the servers of those major companies. People are in general shocked and outraged.

I am not. Perhaps I have been na├»ve, but I thought we all knew this was always happening. I can’t say much more about it than that. We don’t trust corporations, because they are not trustworthy.