Letting the Internet Die

I'm still stuck on this idea of how to enable comments and feedback on personal netlogs aI will use this term unless one of you can come up with something better than blog in this world of Facebook and Twitter.

Almost everything I can come up with falls into a couple of broad categories.

  1. Hosted by me. For example, enabling comments here or in a self-hosted forum. Comments here are obviously the easiest and I've had comments enabled ever since I started (although now limited to new posts only). A self-hosted forum is adding a barrier to entry that offers no incentive for people to bother, and isn't really appropriate for my readership of three bit seems even more self-aggrandising than my self indulgent comment discussion navel gazing.
  2. Outsourced. This includes all discussion on Twitter, Facebook, Discord, Telegram, Discourse, or Disqus. These all require readers/commenters and me to both use the platform, and give up our privacy/rights to those comments to varying degrees based on how much we trust those platforms.

I have a couple of guiding principals I believe in when it comes to the internet. One is that it's super important it remains as open as possible - as free from government interference as possible (within reason), but also as free from corporate interference as possible too. Governments will always overreach and overreact, so it's handy that for years the internet has sort of routed around the problem when governments go rogue. More could be done on this front of course, but to my mind the biggest threat isn't government interference as it is citizen indifference.

By putting so much of our online lives in the hands of large social media companies, we're dulling the gears that make the internet such a powerful force for social change. Think about it - imagine a group that uses Facebook to mobilise their protests and activism in a country similar to our own. I'm going to use Facebook through this example, but it could just as easily be any other large social site.

So imagine this group of activists - their message is irrelevant, suffice to say it's something important to them, and potentially dangerous to powerful people in their country. For those powerful people, all it takes to decommission the group is cut off their access to Facebook. If that group hasn't met in person, shared contact details outside of that channel, or prepared alternate means of communication then they're effectively deaf and blind when they try to continue communicating. Not only that, but they are mute as well.

On top of that - to people in other countries not affected by the same struggles - they might as well be invisible if their only presence has been on Facebook. On the flip side, for people outside those problems we're allowing a company - or even a foreign power - limit what we see. We're also limiting ourselves to those formats that get traction on those sites - for Facebook it's the Single Grainy Image With Text. How much can we learn about the world from a single picture?

I'm stumbling into /r/iamverysmart territory here, which is not my intention - I have a limited grasp of the socio-political realities of my own neighbourhood, let alone what other people are struggling with elsewhere in the world, but relying on Facebook (or Reddit, or Twitter) as our means of engaging with the world leaves us vulnerable and open to manipulation.

Which is why I miss the days of netlogs. It seemed like for a period of about two years, the internet was exploding with this vibrant eclectic mix of freely shared, highly personal content. Going through my site and cleaning it out I remembered I used to be subscribed to a guy who just talked about toy Transformers. That guy stopped writing in 2011 without any fanfare and I completely missed it. There was someone else who I discovered when I realised I needed a way to be a good parent to my child when my wife is a Christian, and I an atheist. That guy stopped writing his netlog in 2013 and again I didn't notice the loss. So many more sites refuse to load at all - buried in a sort of DNS graveyard, or worse returned zombified as placeholder pages full of ads. The least worst fate is for a site to at least still load - quiet and untouched by human hands as a monument or shrine to the moments they capture.

How much of that is captured on Twitter or Facebook now? The content might be there - but it's trapped behind accounts and subscriptions, real-time feeds and algorithms that show people what they're told they want to see. And it's making it easier for corporations, foreign powers, and your own leaders to hide what they don't want you to see.

That's enough of a trek into conspiracy theory and nostalgia for one night. I understand how much I'm teetering between crackpot and melodrama with the above. I really just want more people to think about this stuff. It's much easier to talk about possible solutions when we're on the same page. Because I don't know what the solution is. Spinning this site up is step one. Figuring out how to discuss this stuff with people who want to talk is step two. ... Profit?

Asides   [ + ]

a. I will use this term unless one of you can come up with something better than blog
b. it seems even more self-aggrandising than my self indulgent comment discussion navel gazing


I find myself in the fun position of following up on a follow-up post to my follow-up on Rubenerds original post.

I mean, if we both used Facebook, this would just be a series of comments, but where's the fun in that? As Rubenerd says, "it reminded me of the blogosphere of old", and I'm enjoying the feeling of a proper back and forth. And unlike a Facebook comment, his post can be read completely independently, with his thoughts and musings taking their own tangents without the feeling that it all needs to tie back into my post like we're arguing about something. It's like a layer cake, or a meat trifle or something.

But as he said, the blogs awhy did we never find a nicer sounding word? of old are fading out. Most people just don't bother, unless they're part of some large conglomeration. Maybe this is just the evolution of the web, as the weaker writers give up from lack of traffic, and the stronger ones either get grabbed by companies who can pay them, or just keep on solidly pushing through publishing post after post of eclectic material, not for the world but for themselves. Rubenerd is definitely of the latter, while I am one of those weaker ones who got tired of feeling like I was talking to myself. Or I was bad at it.

So while I'm giving it another shot, I can't imagine how long I'll last this time. Which brings me back round to RSS. I settled on FreshRSS because it was PHP based and my host had an install script. Not much of a reason to base my decision on, except that I've tried TT-RSS before and while I was happy enough with the software, the support left me feeling a bit eh about the whole thing bsee my final note on that page for an explanation. So Rubenerd, if you're listening, I'd be happy to set up an account on my instance of FreshRSS if you want to try it out.

Of course, this is all academic if I never use the thing, and I'm not sure I'm going to. As I said in my previous post, reddit scratches that itch I have to find new content. But even that is a bit filter-bubbly despite an amazing breadth of sources on /r/all. What I need is an ever changing list of semi-random content to peruse on my mobile. I wonder if there are any federated RSS aggregators?

And don't get me started on federated replacements for Facebook Messenger. I have one colleague at work who I keep roping in to try new messaging platforms, and I think he hates me now. In fact I know Mike hates me because he just cycles through each app to message me how much he hates me. I can't blame him - my phone creaks under the weight of the following in no particular order:

  • Pulse (SMS)
  • Yammer (for work team chat until Microsoft Teams is available to us)
  • Discord (what I tried when I was trying to find something like Slack)
  • Telegram (my preferred replacement for FM with my family)
  • Wickr Me (I know exactly one person that uses it)
  • Wire (I can't make anyone use it, not even Mike)
  • Google Hangouts (I can't bring myself to use it)
  • Duo (pre-installed on Huey, my phone)
  • And three different email apps

Most recently I've also installed Keybase, which is so loaded with the buzzword promise of blockchain I couldn't not try it out. Rubenerd wasn't there - which as the only person I know who's actually published a PGP key - surprised me a little. Keybase is chock full of people who have published PGP keys. If you want to hit me up there, my Keybase profile is here. Maybe someone smarter than me can tell me why it isn't a sound technology, but although it's based on technology by one company, you can't get much more federated than blockchain, even if it's not exactly what we mean when use the term.

One last thing Rubenerd before I go. If not comments, at least enable pingbacks and ping other people when you link them. Otherwise I might not notice you've published until I go to my feed reader.

Asides   [ + ]

a. why did we never find a nicer sounding word?
b. see my final note on that page for an explanation


I haven't properly "blogged" here in so very long. With so many other social sites around like the Facebloops and the whatnots, it's seemed a little pointless putting anything up here where no one would read it. I could post a pic of my kids on that site that everyone has an account for and get a bunch of interactions there instead, so putting the effort into this site seemed pointless.

The sheer lazyness of it is exactly what Mark Zuckerberg is counting on. Posting on Facebook takes no effort, it's simple, and your pictures and rants and low effort posting gets seen and liked and commented on, and no one ever wants to leave, unless they held out for years and never joined in the first place. And if you want to chat to your mum, or your wife through anything other than SMS, are you really going to make them install something else like Telegram instead of just using Messenger?

But I can't be lazy any more. I quit Twitter years ago (and finally deleted it a week ago), and this week I'm quitting Facebook. All the cool kids are doing it, but none of the cool kids I know do, so I'm the dumbass who has to look like a hipster wannabe rebel and close down my account. So I'm not "closing" it - I've simply deleted most of what information there was about me, unfriended everyone, and left a public message that people should email me or visit my site here from now on. I hope people don't get too offended. I've already been told off my my wife for removing the fact that we're married from her profile... I probably didn't think through some of the side effects here.

I'm really sorry everyone

I'm holding out for something new and federated. Something where I can own my data, but still share it in a way that's easy and lets old friends and family I never get to see know I'm alive. There are promising beginnings out there, but they all suffer from not being easy to set up, or not having enough people, or just plain not being what I'm really looking for. And no, Slack isn't it - it's just as closed and proprietary as Facebook.

If you've come here from Facebook to see what I'm doing or get in touch, you can email me. My personal email is Josh (my name) at demands.coffee - I know it doesn't look like an email address, but trust me it is. And if you want to instant message me, download and add me on Telegram - it's the closest thing to Facebook Messenger I've found that actually cares about privacy, security of your messages, and is just plain useful. And if you're really paranoid, I've got a Wickr account too.

Comixology: Comparing Digital Comic Readers

David Hawkins at What Culture! asks Can Marvel Digital Comics Conquer The Comic Readers of the World?

The Marvel Comics apps for Chrome, iOS and PSP let you read a large swath of the Marvel back-catalogue online or on your Apple/Sony devices. You can subscribe for $60US a year, and read a lot of classic Marvel comics, as well as a selection of the new stuff.

"You wouldn't like me on a tiny screen"

David has been collecting printed comics for 20 years, and says he was spending hundreds of dollars on comics in a month before trying out the Marvel Digital route.

I too have been going digital, but I've been coming at it from a different direction. As an Android user, I discovered the Comixoligy comic store before I discovered the Marvel store. For the uninitiated, the Comixology store offers comics from a range of publishers (*except* Marvel) on iOS devices and Android, as well as through your browser. For the first time in my life, I've been enjoying comics the way I imagine most of my comic-loving peers used to when they were younger.


Google!! Get it together!

The decisions Google makes don't normally annoy me, except in small geeky ways that most people would pfft at, and you may well pfft at me now but they are seriously annoying me now.

The Google Master Plan http://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/ / CC BY 2.0

On one hand we have the recent integration of Buzz into Gmail and Google Reader. The upshot being:

  1. You cannot disable Buzz without disabling your carefully tended Google Profile.
  2. Because you cannot disable Buzz, you end up slowly accruing followers - you could ignore them, but you start to look like an ass.
  3. So you follow back and this breaks Google Reader.
  4. So the choice is between using Google Reader OR Google Buzz to read content from others. Google Buzz is so tightly integrated with Google Reader that I can only choose one or the other. There is no way I can see to effectively and simply use both at the same time.


WordPress Plugins I Can’t Live Without

There are a number of WordPress plugins I use to do various bits and bobs around the Geekorium. The Skribit tab and the Blogroll at the side are both produced with plugins for example. But there are some plugins that you never really "see" as such - they do their work silently behind the scenes, and most of them are primarily there to make my life easier. If you run a WordPress site, you might be interested too. These are the plugins I have both here and on First Waves because they're just so damn useful. Below is an introduction to each, and my explaination for why I use them:

After The Deadline
Adds a contextual spell, style, and grammar checker to WordPress. Write better and spend less time editing. Raphael Mudge
This plugin adds options to your profile page to check for grammar and spelling errors. Chrome usually picks up most spelling errors anyway, but this is great for picking up my awful grammatical errors. I use a lot of Passive Voice for example, and this highlights it.


I footnotes