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
  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 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 thread.

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

Pros and cons: Social Networks

I should say, mainstream and/or popular social networks. I don’t use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. I use a self-hosted StatusNet instance, and of course I have this site.

Let’s start with what I am missing:

  • Connection with people I’ve met – I haven’t stayed in touch with people from my time in public education, nor do I follow up with most people I meet at meetups or conferences.
  • Timely updates – I don’t use social networks to keep up to date with anything, from major life changes in friends to memes or movements they find important.
  • Ease of using platform-specific technologies – I can’t see half the events people send me, since they are hidden in Facebook. There are games I can’t play, and people I can’t contact when they decide to leave an @handle instead of an email address.

I listed the cons first, because those are real things I miss out on, but they are also all reasons I don’t use those sites; hence, my pros:

  • I email, text or call the people I am interested in, and I have a very strong core group of people that I can rely on for various things. A strong tribe that isn’t diluted by casual connections.
  • I advocate the slow web. I don’t seek out information that is peripheral to the task at hand, and my tribe curates my news.
  • I don’t turn over my information, reputation and network integrity to companies that merely promise to be good.

I don’t think that social networks are bad, but we have a strong historical record demonstrating that companies lack the flexibility and power to be good stewards of cultural dialog. I believe that the internet has to be paid for, and since the consumer web was introduced it has been marred with an increasingly abstract funding scheme, where ads and private data are the currency. I would take it even further though, and say that humans don’t collectively understand how we’ve adapted to our computer-mediated communications, and that digital illiteracy has to be mitigated before capitalist principals loose grip of the popular web.

I am documenting this here mostly so I can refer to it later. I want to be on the public record saying that I don’t think social networks, or really social anything, is bad. But we can do better, and it is fairly straightforward.

How do you internet?

The other night I was hanging out with some folks, and despite my best attempts at not talking about them, someone wanted to know what I thought about Twitter and Facebook. Meh.

I haven’t quite distilled down the plethora of issues that surround those things, not into pub talk at least. Folks don’t want to bust out their devices to double-check references or read up on what are essentially assertions about privacy, community, people as products, federation, culture or ownership. So I just say I don’t use them, and that I have my own sites, and I like doing it the way I do.

A new pattern has come up lately, and I wonder if it is out of desperation, or if these networks are so ubiquitous that people are dumbing down. They ask me, “If you don’t use Facebook, then what do you do? How do you talk to people?”

My canned response is email, but I realize they won’t catch such a vague joke. I am kinda stumped, because at some point, folks have gotta go out and learn about the world, and I just don’t have enough energy to tutor every dopamine-addled social-update addict I meet in a pub.

What would you say? How do you internet? ^_^

Sharing doesn’t have to be a popularity contest

High school was largely about popularity for me. I wasn’t popular, I was something like infamous. Most students didn’t like me, although nearly everyone knew of me. Faculty, for the most part, had a love-hate relationship with me, and it was mutual. I habitually called teachers by their first names, while also pointing out how moronic most students were. Basically, I had enough presence to be known, but lacked any social grace that would make me popular.

Not much has changed.

I think that is why I hold such contempt for “sharing” buttons. Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit. They all have these widgets that can be embedded on pages, and allow people to quickly broadcast to a particular social network that they pushed a button there.

That isn’t to say that it’s not useful, I am sure many people find great value is crowd-sourcing the curation of their reading lists. But that isn’t the point of these widgets. They are badges, a status symbol to demonstrate how valuable something is. It is as useful as being popular is high school.

The only shared items I read are from StatusNet. I am sure a widget or bookmark could be created that would allow the network to be flooded by links, but as it is, most are considerate acts of sharing. People observe something, and want others to be informed by it. Due to the federated nature, we don’t have anything that can count the popularity is a centralized way. It is incredibly meaningful.

This affects my work, because inevitably clients will ask for “social media” to be added to their site. Buzz terms aside, this behavior ends up propagating the idea that we want stats instead of meaning. It makes sense, one can’t report on meaning, or explain to stakeholders how important a piece of content is. We defer to currency of analytics: unique visits, bounce rates, shared items, etc.

We’ve been building tools that make it easier to build superficial relationships, and human nature dictates that we justify why we would value something like that. We tell high school aged humans to focus on their studies, that there is more to life than the microcosm that is school grounds/activities. Consider this a warning in the same vein: you are not your analytics, and there is more to life than how many times your post was shared.

Don’t be popular. Be meaningful.

Why would you trust Twitter?

I heard about it in a round-a-bout way, but after some searching I found an article explaining what happened: Today Twitter cut millions of mobile users off without warning

Considering that the site is called Tweet Smarter, it makes sense that the tone of the article is incredibly forgiving to Twitter’s behavior. I don’t use this lightly, but it sounds like a fan, which of course is short of fanatic. They’ve drank the kool-aid, so their parameters for critique is rather limited. Again, they have the word “tweet” in the name of their site.

It got me thinking about the federated social web, of course. Most things do. And I was thinking about StatusNet, the company. From that article:

Plenty of wonderful people at Twitter care. And other wonderful people at Twitter have a vision of what Twitter can do for the world. But Twitter overall is immature as a company, can’t control its own bureaucracy, and isn’t user-centric…yet. Love Twitter? Love its users? Lots of us do. But Twitter, as a company, does not yet.

I think there are plenty of cool people at StatusNet, and I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out and drinking with many of them. And while I don’t think I am qualified to judge if they are a “mature” company (give me a break), I think they are doing great work and I support them.

The important thing, though, is that I don’t have to. In fact, part of the appeal of StatusNet, as both a company and software, is that they encourage you to not trust them. Of course, as a company providing paid services, they are as trustworthy as any other company, there are repercussions and avenues to go down if they were to be bad at what they do. And like any other company, they fall back on their reputation and history to provide those services, and they are doing great in that arena; they have a lot of talent that people can trust.

Twitter plays by the same rules in that regard (though I don’t really know if they provide services to any person I would know, maybe media companies?). They have their reputation, and are governed by laws and such. The divergence comes from when you look at how their treat their product and the people who use it. Unlike the Tweet Smarter crew, I am not so forgiving.

It makes sense that I wouldn’t be, I am spoiled. I get everything that Twitter offers, but with multiple layers of benefits that a Twitter user doesn’t even understand they are not getting.

  • Self-hosted: I have the ability to put as many resources as I need towards my instance.
  • Self-protection: I don’t have to rely on StatusNet or some other company to safeguard my information. Remember, they play by rules that can have be leveraged over them. I assert that going after an individual is more costly, because in my case at least, I have more to lose than a company does. I will be a bitter opponent, and that protects me to a certain extent.
  • Self-censorship: There are interesting conversations about censorship happening. Besides using free culture to combat censorship, StatusNet allows for an entity (individual, community or company) to set their own standards for what they discuss. I can’t think of Twitter having censored any accounts (though it wouldn’t surprise me), they certainly have the ability to do so.
  • My culture: Speaking of censorship, all the issues with walled gardens apply here, of course. Federation is about freedom. You can participate in your culture on your terms, without a company setting the rules for you.
  • Privacy: This is important to me, and I hope it becomes important to more people using the internet. I take privacy seriously. Companies constantly try to track me to feed me targeted ads. I don’t know if they take my privacy seriously.

It should be evident at this point that while people think that Twitter is free, it is neither free as in speech nor as in beer. There are real costs involved in using a service like Twitter, but none of those expenditures insure any of the things that make using the internet great. We should remember, we don’t join social networks because the companies are doing something special; we join them because we want the human connection.

A company like StatusNet gets that. You can see it in their licensing (the AGPL pretty much ensures that the software isn’t going anywhere, even if the company changes in a way that is abusive to the community), and you can see it in the kinds of projects their team has worked on and supported in the past.

I don’t know why anyone would trust Twitter. But what I do trust is a company that makes a product where trust is not required.

And on that note, may I have data portability that works, please? ^_^