He did it!

March 4th, 2012

Tristan Louis has a confession to make:

I killed the internet.

It wasn't some thing I had planned but it was the net result of my actions. And I'm going to explain how it happened. [...]

[Via James Fallows]

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Cyberflâneurs revisited

February 8th, 2012

Evgeny Morozov laments The Death of the Cyberflâneur:

THE other day, while I was rummaging through a stack of oldish articles on the future of the Internet, an obscure little essay from 1998 – published, of all places, on a Web site called Ceramics Today – caught my eye. Celebrating the rise of the "cyberflâneur," it painted a bright digital future, brimming with playfulness, intrigue and serendipity, that awaited this mysterious online type. This vision of tomorrow seemed all but inevitable at a time when "what the city and the street were to the Flâneur, the Internet and the Superhighway have become to the Cyberflâneur."

Intrigued, I set out to discover what happened to the cyberflâneur. While I quickly found other contemporaneous commentators who believed that flânerie would flourish online, the sad state of today's Internet suggests that they couldn't have been more wrong. Cyberflâneurs are few and far between, while the very practice of cyberflânerie seems at odds with the world of social media. What went wrong? And should we worry? [...]

Morozov's argument is that most web users these days aren't going online to see if there's anything interesting out there today: they're shopping, or seeking out news headlines, or engaging with one another via walled gardens1 like Facebook.

He's not wrong that this is a description of how people choose to use the web, but I don't think that's necessarily a problem, any more than it's a problem that a lot of people who use public libraries will be engaging in a goal-oriented search for books that can improve their chances of passing an exam/finding a job/understanding what sort of optical aids they'll need if they want to see the Galilean moons of Jupiter, rather than browsing the New Fiction shelves for something to divert them from their daily routine. I suspect than most of the people walking the streets of late 19th century Paris weren't flâneurs, any more than most web users in 2001 wrote weblogs. The beauty of the web is that it lets us find and connect with other people who share our interests without letting that fact that 99.754% of web users aren't even slightly geeky about the same things as you and I get in our way, or theirs.

It's possible that one day Facebook's gravitational pull will cause us all to close down our vanity domains and start posting to our Facebook walls, but I'm sceptical that'll come to pass any time soon.

[Via Fimoculous.com]

  1. That's not the best metaphor, I suppose. Facebook isn't so much setting up walls as turnstiles – making it easy for information to come into Facebook from services that embrace Facebook's system of 'frictionless sharing', but hoping that their users will be so comfortable that they won't worry too much about what's going on outside.

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This is where I pee…

January 12th, 2012

Social media explained.

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Crisp v Apple Retail

November 12th, 2011

Remember when Apple made TV adverts styling themselves as opponents of Big Brother. Judging by a recent Employment Tribunal finding, that stance is inoperative:

Crisp, who worked in an Apple Store, posted derogatory statements on Facebook about Apple and its products. The posts were made on a "private" Facebook page and outside of working hours. One of his colleagues, who happened to be a Facebook "friend", saw the comments, printed the posts and passed them to the store manager. Crisp was subsequently dismissed for gross misconduct.

The employment tribunal rejected Crisp's claim for unfair dismissal. [...]

Despite having "private" Facebook settings, the tribunal decided that there was nothing to prevent friends from copying and passing on Crisp's comments, so he was unable to rely on the right to privacy contained in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (covered in the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998). He retained his right to freedom of expression under Article 10, but Apple successfully argued that it was justified and proportionate to limit this right in order to protect its commercial reputation against potentially damaging posts.

I'm not saying that the tribunal's findings are wrong in law: apparently Apple Retail's 'social media policy' emphasised that employees were forbidden from posting unfavourable opinions on the company's products on social media sites, so on the face of it the ex-employee was in breach of this policy.

My problem is threefold:

  1. With the tribunal, for apparently holding that even though the employee used Facebook's privacy controls to restrict access to his comments the fact that someone could have copied-and-pasted the text of those comments negated his right to privacy.1 By that logic, if he'd been talking to a couple of friends in a pub or in his home, the fact that one of his pals could have surreptitiously recorded his comments using their smartphone renders those comments public too. This is a terribly bad idea.
  2. With Apple Retail, for trying to gag their employees outside working hours. I don't doubt that their social media policy bans derogatory comments from employees. I just think that a) they shouldn't be trying to control what employees do when they're not at work, and b) they need to distinguish between genuinely public expressions of dissatisfaction and private letting-off of steam.
  3. With the little shit who ratted on his 'friend'2 to his Apple Store bosses.

[Via The Register, via Risks Digest Volume 26: Issue 60]

  1. I'd be more well-disposed towards the finding if they'd held that Facebook's policy of frequently expanding the boundaries of what portions of a user's content is publicly available means that a Facebook user couldn't be sure how long private postings would remain private!
  2. Yet another demonstration of how unsuited that term is to the way social networking actually works.

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Not Social. Not a Graph.

November 10th, 2011

Maciej Cegłowski's The Social Graph is Neither has been linked to far and wide, and with good reason:

There's no way to take a time-out from our social life and describe it to a computer without social consequences. At the very least, the fact that I have an exquisitely maintained and categorized contact list telegraphs the fact that I'm the kind of schlub who would spend hours gardening a contact list, instead of going out and being an awesome guy. The social graph wants to turn us back into third graders, laboriously spelling out just who is our fifth-best-friend. But there's a reason we stopped doing that kind of thing in third grade!

You might almost think that the whole scheme had been cooked up by a bunch of hyperintelligent but hopelessly socially naive people, and you would not be wrong. Asking computer nerds to design social software is a little bit like hiring a Mormon bartender. Our industry abounds in people for whom social interaction has always been more of a puzzle to be reverse-engineered than a good time to be had, and the result is these vaguely Martian protocols.

How good is this essay? Right up there with Argentina On Two Steaks A Day.

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Hero and villain

October 26th, 2011

Assange versus Zuckerberg.

[Via Ghost in the Machine]

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This Blog Post: D-

October 17th, 2011

Jotly cares about you:

Your life is exciting and worth sharing: everything with everyone! Everyone cares about everything you do. Now you can rate your entire life and share the experience.

Fortunately, this is just a spoof. Let's just hope it doesn't give anyone any bright ideas…1

[Via Subtraction.com]

  1. Who am I kidding? As you read this, there are half a dozen wannabe Zuckerbergs watching the Jotly video and hoping that their service is going to make it to market before someone else sews up the rate-everything market.

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We're all nude and available

October 15th, 2011

Evgeny Morozov finds Jeff Jarvis' latest paean to the wonders of the internet deeply flawed, and rather unserious:

Why are we so obsessed with privacy? Jarvis blames rapacious privacy advocates – "there is money to be made in privacy" – who are paid to mislead the "netizens," that amorphous elite of cosmopolitan Internet users whom Jarvis regularly volunteers to represent in Davos. On Jarvis's scale of evil, privacy advocates fall between Qaddafi's African mercenaries and greedy investment bankers. All they do is "howl, cry foul, sharpen arrows, get angry, get rankled, are incredulous, are concerned, watch, and fret." Reading Jarvis, you would think that Privacy International (full-time staff: three) is a terrifying behemoth next to Google (lobbying expenses in 2010: $5.2 million).

"Privacy should not be our only concern," Jarvis declares. "Privacy has its advocates. So must publicness." He compiles a long and somewhat tedious list of the many benefits of "publicness": "builds relationships," "disarms strangers," "enables collaboration," "unleashes the wisdom (and generosity) of the crowd," "defuses the myth of perfection," "neutralizes stigmas," "grants immortality … or at least credit," "organizes us," and even "protects us." Much of this is self-evident. Do we really need to peek inside the world of Internet commerce to grasp that anyone entering into the simplest of human relationships surrenders a modicum of privacy? But Jarvis has mastered the art of transforming the most trivial observations into empty business maxims.

Contrary to Jarvis' protestations, Morozov's review doesn't read to me as a personal attack – more a clinical, brutal dismantling of a collection of shallow cliches in support of the argument that we shouldn't worry about the way pretty much every commercial entity we deal with online seeks to hoover up as much personal information about our use of the internet as it can because the (somewhat nebulous) benefits outweigh the potential problems. So long as you respect your cultural norms, you'll be fine.

[Via The Awl]

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She'd know.

September 22nd, 2011

Best. @Reply. Ever?.

[Via @davepell]

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Evolve or die.

September 22nd, 2011

Jason Scott found a Facebook exchange that neatly encapsulates the pros and cons of the latest round of changes to the way Facebook operates.

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August 24th, 2011

My Facebook Purity Test score: 98.

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Save our social media!

August 13th, 2011

If you're in the UK, please consider signing the Open Rights Group's Save our social media! petition:

The Government is focusing on entirely the wrong problem in trying to increase their powers to ban, block or monitor people's communications. Social networks like Twitter are used for a huge array of positive purposes such as warnings of danger and organising clean up projects. Blanket surveillance measures of private communications or increased powers to mine users data would undermine people's freedom to communicate in very damaging ways, and would in no way address the problems at hand. Making laws in haste, with limited analysis and information, to deal with an exceptional problem is likely to create unbalanced laws and abuses of our rights.

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August 13th, 2011

Noted for future use:

[Context: a comment thread inspired by David Cameron's argument in favour of controlling the type of discussions taking place via social media.]

12 August 2011 4:14PM

12 August 2011 2:51PM

"If you've got nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear"

So glad to hear that, now I'd like your full name, address, date of birth, make and model of car you drive, all telephone numbers mobile and landline, name of employer, email address, annual income (gross and net), and of course I'd also like to know what your daily schedule is and what times you estimate being out of the house this weekend. Come on now, if you've nothing to hide then you've nothing to fear. Please post this information publicly, or are you up to something?

Oh and please post your internet history too, I'd like to check what sites you browse, just to make sure you aren't fapping to something nasty. By your own statement if you are reluctant to do so then you must be up to something criminal. Or you could admit your over simplistic statement was absurd.

[Via Memex 1.1]

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See something or say something

July 12th, 2011

See something or say something plots maps of major cities, showing locations from which people tweeted and locations where they posted photographs to Flickr.

Unfortunately I don't know any of the cities well enough to positively identify the locations revealed by the pictures, but a quick look at Google Maps seems to confirm that1 many of the concentrations of red dots in London mark the locations of the various royal or public parks.

I wonder what such a map would look like for Newcastle. I can guess where most of the photos would be taken (i.e. on and around the Quayside), but where would all the tweeters be hanging out?

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. As you'd expect.

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For fans of antisocial networking

June 29th, 2011

I didn't know you could disable Google Reader's social features with a single line of JavaScript:

  1. Go to Google Reader
  2. Type this JavaScript code in the address bar: javascript:antisocial('true')
  3. Google Reader will reload and you'll see a simplified interface that removes the section "People you follow" and no longer shows shared items from your friends.

[Via Tom Morris]

1 Comment »

Social Fax

June 23rd, 2011

James Shelley on social media overload:

Are we still communicating? Or are we just sending faxes?

(Rest assured that, read in context, that's a perfectly sound metaphor.)

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Everything on Facebook is Now

May 18th, 2011

Asked to comment on the prospect of one day archiving Facebook, Jason "Archive Team" Scott got his rant on:

Facebook is a living computer nightmare. Just as viruses took the advantages of sharing information on floppies and modems and revealed a devastating undercarriage to the whole process, making every computer transaction suspect… and just as spyware/malware took advantage of beautiful advances in computer strength and horsepower to turn your beloved machine of expression into a gatling gun of misery and assholery… Facebook now stands as taking over a decade and a half of the dream of the World Wide Web and turning it into a miserable IT cube farm of pseudo human interaction, a bastardized form of e-mail, of mailing lists, of photo albums, of friendship. While I can't really imply that it was going to be any other way, I can not sit by and act like this whole turn of events hasn't resulted in an epidemic of ruin that will have consequences far-reaching from anything related to archiving.

Follow the link – trust me, the full rant is well worth a read.

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'Thank you Massachusetts for making it impossible for me becoming a teacher. Stupid ass MTELs.'

April 23rd, 2011

The Best Obnoxious Responses To Misspellings On Facebook. My favourite: the entry about the bombing of Libya.

[Via Word Magazine Blog]

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Marginalising marginalia

March 20th, 2011

Kevin Charles Redmon wonders whether the rise of the e-book means the end of marginalia:

[Sam Anderson...], master practitioner of literary journalism, used the Times Sunday Magazine's new Riff column to observe that marking up a book's pages gave him "a way to not just passively read but to fully enter a text, to collaborate with it, to mingle with an author on some kind of primary textual plane." [...]

At present, annotating an e-book with a stylus is about as handy as marking up a Norton anthology with a Crayola. The amount of clicking required to two-finger type a note using the Kindle's mini keyboard is even worse. But as technology (and perhaps our patience) improves, Anderson envisions a kind of free global bazaar of e-marginalia, so that you can read Hemingway, while also reading–in the margins – Gary Shteyngart's thoughts on reading Hemingway. Or your sister's. Or Michiko Kakutani's. [...]

"I want, in short, marginalia, everywhere, all the time," Anderson concludes. Welcome to the twenty-first century, kids, where even reading is social, networked activity.

Anderson is among the literary vanguard's optimists, though. [...]

The argument against Anderson's position suggests that marginalia are inherently part of an individual reader's dialogue with the text and are distinctly unsuited to the sort of 'sharing' that Kindle readers are treated to when their e-reader underlines passages in a text that have been highlighted by other Kindle users.

I think it's important to remember that it's still very early days for the mass-market e-book. Over time, if the trend of sharing your preferences across your social network and beyond continues, we'll almost certainly see greater granularity built into the software used in e-readers to share marginalia, allowing you to decide whose comments you want to subscribe to and/or limiting the extent to which your own margin notes are shared with others.

I'd say the bigger problem is that with so many different e-reader platforms and DRM schemes it'll be harder than it needs to be to standardise a cross-platform means of sharing this sort of data, unless Amazon or Apple or whoever manages to dominate the market to the point that they can impose their standard on everyone else. Amazon probably have the best chance of establishing a critical mass of e-book readers, but look again in a couple of years, when the iPad has some real competition and the tablet computer market segment has filled out a bit, and the picture could look very different.

[Via The Browser]

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December 29th, 2010

In the wake of their decision to 'sunset' Delicious, Jason Scott is not inclined to give Yahoo's management the benefit of the doubt as regards their future intentions towards their remaining acquisitions:

I am, frankly, a mixture of disappointed and sad that after Yahoo! shut down Geocities, Briefcase, Content Match, Mash, RSS Advertising, Yahoo! Live, Yahoo! 360, Yahoo! Pets, Yahoo Publisher, Yahoo! Podcasts, Yahoo! Music Store, Yahoo Photos, Yahoo! Design, Yahoo Auctions, Farechase, Yahoo Kickstart, MyWeb, WebJay, Yahoo! Directory France, Yahoo! Directory Spain, Yahoo! Directory Germany, Yahoo! Directory Italy, the enterprise business division, Inktomi, SpotM, Maven Networks, Direct Media Exchange, The All Seeing Eye, Yahoo! Tech, Paid Inclusion, Brickhouse, PayDirect, SearchMonkey, and Yahoo! Go!… there are still people out there going "Well, Yahoo certainly will never shut down Flickr, because _______________" where ______ is the sound of donkeys.

What, because they take your money? Because they're so big? Because so many people use it and like it? Because it works well? Because it would make Yahoo! look bad? Go ahead, give me some more reasons. Flickr allows you great ability to export all your data. Get used to using it regularly.

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