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Automattic and speech
We're having an ill-defined debate over when silos have to yield to public pressure and deny access to members who are deemed undesirable by a vocal group of objectors. There's no process. People have pointed out that as private companies they are free to do as they please. I'm not entirely sure that's true, especially when combined they control virtually all the speech on the net. While that might not be a violation of the First Amendment, it could easily be a violation of antitrust laws. Having run a couple of companies I know how often companies come up against those laws, even small companies, far from having a controlling stake in a large market.
Alex Jones is the first major test of this new system of speech governance. He has been banned by Facebook, YouTube, and put on a timeout by Twitter. Now the question has been raised whether Automattic, the operators of Wordpress.com should be pressured to force the Jones site off their platform. A major article in Monday's NY Times raises that question, and my friend Davis Shaver opines. But there's a problem in this analysis because Wordpress.com isn't like the others, it isn't a silo, so banning him from that service will not necessarily have any affect on the presence of his site. He will be able to export his site, set up his own server, point the DNS entry at that server, and proceed on the open web and it will appear to outside viewers as if nothing happened. This will be the end of the discussion, unless the anti-speech advocates try to exert pressure on the open web. There they will find there is no CEO, no corporate headquarters, no shareholders afraid of losing value, none of the usual pressure points. If the web maintains its integrity, Alex Jones will be able to spread his vile hateful and possibly libelous ideas without further accosting. I for one am rooting for the open web, and in this way rooting for Mr. Jones.
People should take two steps back from this debate and think. Where exactly is the line? What if a vocal minority of Internet users decided the ACLU shouldn't have a place to opine its hateful and disloyal fake news? What if it was decided that any site that didn't show proper reverence for Dear Leader Chairman Trump should be denied access to the public square? There must be a line in here somewhere. I ask the thinkers to consider, where exactly is that line? Alex Jones is on the wrong side, but who is on the right side, whose speech do we want to protect? Or is there a line at all? Perhaps dissent a quaint old idea of the past?
If you want to read feeds of any kind in a Node app, my feedRead package is the easiest way to get something up and running super quick. Simple example code for reading a feed over the web or from a local file. I use it in River5 so it's been extensively burned in with all manner of feeds.
Yesterday I asked about bike-mounted speakers, and got lots of great advice. For some reason a search on Amazon yielded nothing but crap, but if you know what you're looking for you get some pretty nice stuff. Rex Hammock recommended JBL Flip. And Jason Gilman recommended Clearon. Roland Tanglao said he loves his UE Roll 2, and I have one of those, but it didn't occur to me it could be bike-mounted. The bungee that's built in works fine on a bike, and I took it for a spin just now and it's perfect. Great sound. Totally loud enough to be heard over NYC street noise, with great frequency range and thumpin base to keep the wheels turning. A really great answer. Davey's a happy cyclist. Thanks everyone for the great advice. I want to try all of these speakers.
I don't see what good 100 editorials tomorrow will do. The problem journalism has is that it is at war with a formidable adversary, the head of the US government. It's time to consult with people who have studied war. I suspect they will say that 100 editorials wouldn't have had much impact on Japan or Germany at the beginning of World War II. We never would have thought to respond to the 9/11 attacks with 100 stinging editorials. When attacked in an outright and clear act of war, aim at the power of the enemy, analyze and develop our own power, and fight back, to win.
In this case, the enemy is very powerful. His greatest power is that he didn't demobilize his supporters when he took office as every other presidential incumbent has. It's smart. I pleaded with Obama to do exactly that when he took office in 2009. The web was ready to take Obama's message of intellectual and just government all around the world. Instead he stuck to norms. And ran head-on into a Republican blockade. Nothing could get him out of the Rose Garden and back on the campaign trail.
Let this be a lesson from now on: Presidents must stay on the campaign trail at all times. The power of the presidency is to rally the people, and when done best it's a unifying campaign, not a divisive one, like the one Trump persists.
And that, imho is exactly what journalism must do.
Journalism has to break the biggest norm it has. Break the wall that separates it from their supposed audience, which is rapidly dissipating. They've lost the ones that follow Trump. The rest of us are losing patience. Hopefully on Friday morning, in the non-existent afterglow of the pointless editorial demonstration, they will start looking outside their cocoon for answers.
A followup to my post last Friday. I had just heard about something happening with the blogs we hosted in 2003 and beyond at blogs.harvard.edu. I'm still not clear on what happened. I would like to know, and to see if there's anything we can do to keep the archived content available at the same address it has been at all along.
I got a response to one of my tweets from Jonathan Zittrain, a former colleague at Berkman, who is still there. He pointed me to the FAQ they posted. Not much information there about what was about to happen, or has happened since. At the very least we should know what remains, what is gone, and what is the plan for the future. And perhaps we, outside of Harvard, can help in some way. We have some experience with these issues.
I think a great university like Harvard that places a high value on learning, history, tradition, and played a big role in fostering the development of social media, both as the home of Mark Zuckerberg in the early Facebook days, and at the very same time to the nascent blogging and podcasting community, should take an active interest not only in preserving the record, but in helping to set standards for how the web can continue long-term, even in the age of silos and corporate ownership. We, collectively, have a responsibility imho to do this well.
PS: Imho this is a project that should interest librarians at Harvard and elsewhere. There are a lot of great libraries there.
20-minute podcast. I got involved in a discussion with Mathew Ingram, Om Malik and others on Twitter on what is going on with Civil and what's needed to get journalism the support of the people that it so totally needs. I want to tell the story of the W3C and the IETF and how the tech industry made it look like the tech was open without it being open. We need journalism, and we can't afford to wait for the experiments to prove not to be the answer. I outline emphatically what needs to happen now. Journalism needs to grow, without the limits that journalism has placed on itself. This is addressed to Mathew but it's really meant for everyone. I apologize in advance for using him as a foil. ??
I'm looking for a good speaker for my bike, for listening to podcasts and music. I bought a Beats Pill a number of years ago, but the battery is shot. Not finding many choices, certainly no brands I've heard of and there don't seem to be any reviews. Has to mount on handlebar.
We're a few weeks into the new Chrome way of labeling sites like Scripting News as NOT SECURE. I haven't seen any notable changes among readers. The only people questioning the security of the site, that I know of, are the same ones who followed Google's lead without considering the negative consequences on the web as an archival medium. I took a poll of my followers on Twitter and found that 68% of the Chrome users are seeing the NOT SECURE message. Here was a chance for some to express concerns, and there were none. My Chrome hasn't updated yet, apparently, so I don't see it here. I'm sure there are less draconian solutions for sites that are basically archives to Google's stated goal of assuring the content hasn't been meddled with in a MITM way while in transport. I have ideas, but so far I haven't seen much evidence of Google's interest. A bad sign for a platform manager, btw. But it's par for the course for Silicon Valley tech companies. I've had this experience with all of them, Sun, Apple, Microsoft, even the company I founded, after I left. We're the power, you're nobody, why should we listen. It's a terrible way to govern an even worse way to manage a platform.
Poll: How do you know Alex Jones is on Twitter?
I think there should be a panel of tech security experts who keep track of security concerns in the 2018 election. Otherwise the press is going to mangle the story, the way they did with HRC's email server in the 2016 election.
As I wrote in this tweet, Johannes Ernst is smart and brave. He says decentralized networks never make it, and there are reasons for this. I agree, in a way, but ultimately think his theory is wrong. Because decentralized networks have blossomed and survived, and imho will still be operating when the silos are gone.
Consider the case of RSS vs Twitter. When Twitter came along it grew fast, it overtook RSS. It didn't do away with RSS, because it's still here co-existing with Twitter. It still has advantages over Twitter. Richer data. Extensibility. Podcasting. Titles. Styling. Multiple links per item. No character limit. If RSS has so much going for it, why did Twitter surpass it? Not for any of the reasons Johannes cites. Imho it was because subscribing was done with a single click. That could have been done with RSS too, in fact we had it working in our own RSS network at UserLand, we called it the coffee mug. One click to subscribe. it could have become a universal one-click subscribe, if our competitors were willing to go along with UserLand's leadership, but they weren't. One click to subscribe was an important survival trait in the Darwinian ecosystem of online social nets. Twitter had it, RSS didn't.
Johannes mentions two other features: trending topics and search. I guess he's right about trending topics, but the feature has no value for me, it's there on the Twitter screen, but I never look at it. For search, it's been proven that search works well on distributed networks. Google is a good example. There's no reason an equivalent search function couldn't be created for blogs or feeds, in fact last week I wrote a post about features that would make search much better for distributed systems. All are technologically possible and none are implemented on Twitter.
There will come a time when Twitter shuts down. But it's hard to imagine that day coming for the network of RSS feeds. It's been wishful thinking for TechCrunch and the VCs and BigCos they serve, a kind of wet dream that open systems will bend to the will of tech titans, that vast wealth is what makes the nets work, but it hasn't happened, even though they've been reporting its demise for a decade now. Really it has been that long! You can even shut down the beating heart of the RSS network, and it routes around the damage, quickly. (A corollary to Gilmore's Law, perhaps.)
I'm not sure why Mastodon didn't use RSS, I think they should have. Then the power of the two open distirbuted nets would combine, there would be more interfaces, greater know-how among developers, and more choice for users. I have to dig into it. I think Johannes' theory depends on using Mastodon as the counter-example to Twitter, because while Mastodon is strong and growing, it hasn't withstood the challenges that RSS has. I suspect it will. And I also suspect it will still be running when Twitter is gone.
I really appreciate his post, no sarcasm. It's great when we step outside the silos and use our own disparate tools to discourse about things that matter.
I got an email in the middle of the night asking if I had seen an announcement from Berkman Center at Harvard that they will stop hosting blogs.harvard.edu. It's not clear what will happen to the archives. Let's have a discussion about this. That was the first academic blog hosting system anywhere. It was where we planned and reported on our Berkman Thursday meetups, and BloggerCon. It's where the first podcasts were hosted. When we tried to figure out what makes a weblog a weblog, that's where the result was posted. There's a lot of history there. I can understand turning off the creation of new posts, making the old blogs read-only, but as a university it seems to me that Harvard should have a strong interest in maintaining the archive, in case anyone in the future wants to study the role we played in starting up these (as it turns out) important human activities.
In a tweet: "Throwing out this archive is like throwing out an academic journal. Why would a university do that? One of the reasons we did this work at a university was the hope/expectation it would survive over time. Only 15 years later, they want to throw it away?"
John Palfrey, former executive director of Berkman wrote the project info page for blogs.harvard.edu in 2011.
I just looked for some of the old 2003-2004 sites, and they're already gone. Earlier this year we lost the handle on Radio UserLand weblogs because the new owner of weblogs.com was unwilling to maintain a DNS entry pointing to them. That and Google's marking HTTP sites as not secure have been huge blows to the web as an archival medium. It's a good time to pause and reflect on the question of what was the value of all the work, and why bother continuing if the people who should care, a major university, a large research company and one of the largest tech companies, don't care about maintaining the web. What hope is there for it being maintained in the future?
When I left Berkman I archived my test site from the Harvard server, and it's still here on scripting.com, and I'll do my best to keep it around. I used it to post pictures and ask stupid questions, and try out new features in the software. There are pictures of people I've known for a long time and haven't seen in ages but still love. ??
We had a thunderstorm in Manhattan last night. It woke me up and I was in a foul mood, as I sometimes am when I wake up in the middle of the night. The lightning and thunder scared me. First time that ever happened. My mind started playing games. I imagined the flash of lightning was a nuclear weapon detonating, and the thunder was the wave of destruction. It's a good approximation of the time it would take between the flash and death. Great move, I said to my mind. Now I'm even more scared and sad. Eventually I fell back asleep, but it wasn't a good sleep.
Journalists think Twitter stands out as a bad tech company, I think the opposite. Their unwillingness to follow the herd is a sign of hope that we may continue to use the net to speak freely, even if the majority wants us silenced. And what does it say about journalism that there are few if any dissenters? You see this regularly, theyíre too scared for some reason to present all sides of a discussion. Itís amazing at times, the way they form herds.
Winston Churchill: "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us."
Writing in the age of silos. After their August 1 change, I can't cross-post to Facebook. So if I want to speak to people I know on Facebook, I have to write on Facebook. Today if I want to even post a link, I have to do it by hand. And Twitter, new forms of writing have developed there to work around the 280-char limit. Again, if I want to write for people I know there, I have to write it there. This is what always happens with corporate platforms, they become silos. Maybe they start with good intentions, on FB, the open graph, with Twitter their API, but over time, they evolve to become their own completely self-contained very unweblike worlds. You can see that evolution in action today, at a super-high pace. For me this is the Nth time around this loop, so I have an idea what to expect next.
Three ideas for making the open web, and blogging, more valuable and interesting, by building a search engine for the next decade, not for two decades ago. Sorry Google, your search engine is showing serious signs of age and boredom. We can do so much better. Here are the ideas.
BTW, Google knows I'm the "owner" of this blog, they threaten me as such. ??
xkcd's story for today is right on. Iím a software developer and I concur. We throw out our base technology every few years and start over, leaving the stuff thatís already deployed hard to evolve or fix, and the latest stuff full of bugs, and long before itís mature and reliable we do it all over again.
I commented in a thread on Twitter on the controversy re the recent hire by the NYT editorial board and sweeping comments she made previously about white men. I am responding to a piece by Ezra Klein in Vox. I waited a few days for the furor to die down, and to try to say thoughtfuly and carefully how I as a man feel about such statements. Klein had said, for the first time I can recall for a reporter, how he feels about these things. I'll let the comments speak for themselves now.
The other day I spilled a bottle of water on my keyboard, and have been limping along waiting for a new keyboard to arrive. I am now using it. This time I decided not to opt for the expensive Apple keyboard, instead I got a Macally keyboard which cost a fraction of what the Apple one did. So far it seems quite nice. My fingers need to set up in a different place, and the keyboard doesn't have lifters at the top to put it at an angle, but I'm already getting used to it. Unfortunately the modifier keys control panel isn't working, not sure why. Might have to reboot the system? I usually don't like doing that. And then as if by magic it started working! I like to map Control to Command and vice versa. My brain was trained by many years of using Windows, a long time ago.
Unforeseen consequences. It's not at all surprising that when a tech company hijacks an incomprehensibly huge, world wide platform that's been growing uncontrollably for 25 years, they might overlook some huge applications thereof, and in plotting a transition break the installed base. It's completely foreseeable. Which is why we don't let private companies hijack public resources if we have our heads screwed on straight, which we clearly do not. ??
I fixed a serious startup bug in the new version of LO2. Thanks to Steve Hooker for finding and reporting it. Now would be a great time for people to try the new version. I'd like to put it to bed and move on to other projects next week. Thanks! ??
Poll: Suppose all the social media sites ban a commentator whose ideas you detest. He no longer can communicate with most of the people who want to hear what he says.
dave.blog now redirects to scripting.com. I was never going to start a new blog there. I don't know what I was thinking. One person, one blog seems to be the default.
I've written here many times about the distinction between the terms blogger and journalist. In a Twitter thread, Lora Kolodny makes a distinction between journalist and reporter. I hadn't realized there might be a difference. Here's what she says.
My own two cents. I'd love to reserve the term blogger for people who write about their own experiences, not for pay, the "unedited voice of a person." I think of bloggers as sources in the journalism world.
Spoilers ahead, you have been warned! ??
I had been hearing good things about the HBO series Succession so I chose it for my next binge. I made it all the way to the next to last episode about an hour before the finale aired last night, but waited till the morning to watch it. I wasn't prepared for how disturbing it would be. I wasn't expecting it to be so.
I think perhaps it was so disturbing because the Roy family reminds me of my own family. All the disconnects, vanity, foolish sense of self-importance. And the prohibition on every talking about it realistically. These were all big features of my upbringing.
They really play with you. At times it's so funny, it seems like a comedy, but then, in the next episode, it knocks you down. That's what the finale was like. Complete knock down, with the tour de force in the very last scene.
The best line delivered by the patriarch's latest wife to one of the adult children: "He built you a playground and you think it's the world."
There's a lot of self-awareness in the last episode, but mostly they avoid living their own lives, all of them, including the all-powerful father.
On reflection, the Roy family is not like my family, where the women fought, and the men, while they often roared, were mostly sidelined, not the main act. I guess when you participate in something so intensely for so many hours your subconscious starts accepting it as real.
I have a hard time recommending Succession. It's very well done. But hard to watch at times, it's so awkward and the people are such fools. And it's very disturbing, that gives it value, at least for me. As art, it's outstanding.
I can't believe people, esp journalists with lots of followers, still RT the troll, by pasting images, so even people who have the troll blocked are forced to see it. I unfollow them. Cut off the air supply of trolls. Do your part to save our democracy.
I belong to the Big Tent Party.
We stand for the American political system, universal suffrage, respect for the world, ourselves and the environment.
From there we can argue about everything, inside the tent.