Appreciation for Micro.blog.

(I ended my M.B hosting subscription before I thought of making a final post on vega.micro.blog, so this will have to do.)

I’ve moved fully to my own domain. Now blogging at v.hierofalco.net, which includes the posts that were originally on vega.micro.blog. That M.B blog has been mothballed, but I’m still on the M.B social-media front.

Many thanks to Micro.blog for hosting vega.micro.blog for a short while. A few months, but they were important ones. If I hadn’t found M.B, I probably would’ve remained adrift in social media, ignorant of the Indieweb and the decentralized Internet, for a long while yet. If M.B hadn’t hosted me first, I wouldn’t have regained the desire and drive to have my own domain/website again. In a way, M.B was a midwife to reviving my webmastering hobby, and continues to prompt conversation and personal reflection on what social media means to me, and what goods and ills it brings into my life.

Thank you, @manton and Micro.blog. Keep up the good work; you don’t know what kind of impact you’re making on people.

Weird Indieweb idea of the day: guestbooks.

If the Indieweb is reviving “Web 1.0” artifacts that foster a sense of community, such as site directories and webrings, I’d like to see a comeback of guestbooks. I remember how you could sign up with a guestbook host — they did all the scripting/hosting, and you pasted a link on your webpages to “sign guestbook” and “view guestbook”, and watched as visitors signed in over time. In the days of static websites, those were delightful methods of public, mutual discovery, through leaving a mark on someone’s website while also including a link to your own. At least, they were delightful before the spammers and big commerce arrived.

I suppose it’s still possible to make a “guestbook” by pinning a static page on your blog that people can comment on. Comments on a blog’s post seem to be the present-day equivalent to guestbook signings on a static, mute website. That doesn’t have the same feel as “sign guestbook” and “view guestbook”, though.

Something to try out one day when the site has gotten off the ground. But I’m a little doubtful that guestbooks will catch on. For one, the Internet is a very different place, and when the manual act of signing guestbooks has been replaced by automated metrics and anonymous trackers, this “neighbourly” practice has been lost. But it’s worth a go to see what kind of people might bother to sign a guestbook.

Diversity and infrastructure.

Thanks everyone for the kind words about my post on diversity.

@jgmac1106 brings up a great point – it’s all well and good to acknowledge M.B’s challenges with diversity, but what can we do next, practically?

An example, and an exegesis.

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Example.

The owner of Pinboard restructured his service to accommodate the needs of a subculture — namely, fan-fiction writers. Here’s his blog post about it. (I think he also posted a presentation online, but I can’t find the weblink currently.)

This looks like a success story to me. The fanfic subculture has very specific priorities and desires, and Maciej adjusted Pinboard’s infrastructure to accommodate their needs without compromising the needs of the other users. Tools were designed to foster diversity without compromising the vision and integrity of the service.

I think there are parallels between Maciej’s handling of an exodus from del.icio.us, and Manton’s handling of an exodus from Twitter.

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Exegesis.

I think Micro.blog should give thought to how the tools we use to engage on M.B are going to foster the kind of culture we want. This is because the structure and function of tools influence the way we perceive and engage with the world.

This thought has been shaped by reading From the Garden to the City by John Dyer and The Shallows by Nick Carr and a lot of blog posts to this effect, having some understanding of Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” (yet to read Amusing Ourselves to Death though), and my observations of the world at large.

An example: People who say that “guns don’t kill, people kill” fail to understand that a gun is a tool whose purpose is to wound and hurt from a distance. You can kill a person with a shovel too, but the shovel’s original purpose is to dig holes and move things around. Yes, the person holds the final responsibility, but holding a shovel in your hand puts you into a different frame of mind than holding a gun in your hand.

I’ve held both before. I was thinking quite different thoughts in both cases.

Digital tools do the same thing to our minds. Everyone knows about the smartphone.

I think if M.B wants to be a warm, thoughtful, small-villages-and-houses community (and it is, which is wonderful!), the people who build its infrastructure would do well to consider what kind of end state of being — culture — might arise from this infrastructure.

I think this is hard to do. It requires extrapolation and reflection, and of course we can’t control what the future holds, nor people’s behaviour. Technology can mitigate but can’t wholly eradicate the evil in a person’s heart. I still believe an individual holds the final responsibility for their behaviour and engagement on M.B, but like guns and shovels, the tools we use to engage with the M.B community puts us into a certain frame of mind.

I thought about the discussions about tagmojis and followers when I wrote that paragraph above.

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I also think about tools because scalability is already an issue, and its effects are seen in this perceived lack of diversity.

I admire what Manton and Jean are doing with community management, but there will come a point where the community will become too large to rely on a couple of people to manage. Furthermore, diversity means not aligning with the current ‘status quo’/majority culture. As ecumenical as Manton and Jean may be, they are still embedded in their own cultural milieu (I mean, the Micro.blog landing page has a certain “look”), and the way they do community management is going to reflect that. This is all well and good for a small community, but it puts a limit on how much diversity can flourish.

(Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with having a narrow demographic. Narrow can mean a lot of things, including focused and specific and particular. Is that what M.B wants to be?)

Currently we all want a warm, thoughtful, small-villages-and-houses vibe. Community management can foster some of that, but it has its limits for scaling and for diversity. So the digital infrastructure will have to do some heavy lifting and management of the boundaries at “we are X” and “not-X”. So how can the infrastructure be the boundary keeper that fosters the formation of small villages and houses — a farming community, a kampong village, a cluster of adobe huts, 12 units on a strata plan, isolated shacks in a forest linked by footpaths, a monastery, a Roman villa, large feudal estates with serfs? One may be uncomfortable with the presence of a feudal estate or a monastery, next to their shack in a forest. But aren’t they also small villages? Beyond that, do we agree that we don’t want a noisy metropolis around?

We cannot wholly prevent the metropolis from growing up around us. But I think we can design tools that, structurally, encourage small communities and discourage big urbanization.

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I’m just one voice. I don’t work in IT, I’m not a developer. I just watch the world and think a lot about stuff, and try to do my part to make M.B pleasant for myself and others. I’m not the last word on anything, and I will be appalled if I was read as gospel just because I identify as a minority. This is meant to foster more thinking.

Diversity on Micro.blog, from a minority viewpoint.

There’s been a bit of hand-wringing in the Micro.blog community about its apparent lack of demographic diversity. This thread¬†was the latest that got me thinking.

I’m the minority in just about all of the diversity categories the Micro.blog community has defined for itself, except that English is my first language. (There, I’ve outed myself.)

From my point of view, M.B’s diversity challenge comes out of Indieweb’s own priorities and values. Decentralization, independence, tech-centrality, building your own bespoke blog/website with home-grown/open-source tools… to me, these values originate from a particular paradigm and method of engaging with the world. This paradigm is itself shaped by the wider culture. To put it in reductionist and stereotypical terms, the “self-made” webmaster who builds a self-contained website, independent of the centralized aggregate (and by extension, The Man), using home-grown tools, falls very much in line with the values of the American Dream.

M.B can’t be reduced to stereotypes, of course. But there’s also a bar to entry into this social-media network, and it’s a distinctly technophilic, first-world, Western bar. One needs the finances to have your own webhost/domain or pay M.B to host it, the technological know-how of building your own website and establishing social-media capabilities on said website, and most importantly, the _desire_ to have a blog/online presence independent of the centralized aggregate, before you can even begin to join the M.B social-media community.

These are many hurdles. The way I see it, they all come from the Indieweb movement and how that movement was birthed in the first place.

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An example of some hurdles I faced getting into M.B.

Many Indieweb pages have a certain “look” in my eyes: American, technophile, and Apple-centric. M.B’s signup/landing page has “that look”. I remembered thinking, when I first landed on Micro.blog, “Heh, looks like yet another American-Silicon-Valley-Mac-exclusive-technophile enclave.” But after reading about the Indieweb movement and realizing that it encapsulated some of the things I missed from the old Web 1.0, I understood my first impression (like all my first impressions) was prejudiced and reductionist. Being a non-technophile with only basic HTML/CSS skills (enough to know the meaning of what I’m copy-pasting, not enough to interpret the meaning for troubleshooting purposes), M.B currently offered the simplest “in” into microblogging and self-hosting according to Indieweb principles. And I was tired of being spread out over WordPress.com and Twitter anyway. So I signed up for hosting to try it out.

A hosted M.B may have been my simplest “in” into Indieweb, but I face another hurdle in USD $5 and the monthly currency conversion and fees involved. It is not a big hurdle. I can afford it. But it is still a reality for someone not living in North America, and every month the hurdle reappears and I have to face and jump over it. And not for much longer: I recently got a domain/webhost on a local provider, and a big motivation was to remove this USD $5 hurdle, even if it meant spending a bit more effort to setting up my domain. I understand this cash flow is necessary for this independent M.B community to survive and thrive, which is why I supported it. But I’m willing to bet that this USD $5 is a significant barrier to getting non-technophile, non-North-American voices heard on M.B.

Finally, the Indieweb value of decentralization is, by definition, in tension with “social media”. And people are complicated and have diverse motives and priorities: not everyone who has an Indieweb-type website desires an Indieweb-type social media hub to broadcast their activities. Personally, I’ve always had a disinterested attitude towards social media: it’s the necessary, annoying evil I have to put up with when getting my content out on Tumblr and Twitter and Instagram. So far, I’m only interacting on M.B because of proximity, ie. I have to go through my Timeline to get to the “Add New Post” button. I appreciate what goods M.B has brought and is bringing to me currently, but in the big scheme of life and things, I have other priorities, and between blogging and social media, the latter will be first to jettison. If I follow Indieweb’s in-built inertia of decentralization and move my blog wholly to my domain, M.B runs the risk of losing my voice — a tiny inconsequential one, but still a voice. Well, so be it, then. Independent and decentralized means that a person has the freedom to self-select out of a community.

Just a few examples of structural barriers; I’ve encountered a few more on M.B and getting my head around Indieweb worldview and ideas at large. I don’t think that is necessarily a problem: it’s good to face challenges and figure out how to conquer them, and allow my paradigms be challenged in turn. But while I’m willing to put in effort to overcome them and live with the discomfort of facing them constantly (sometimes repeatedly), someone else may not.

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Is M.B a privileged place? Perhaps. (I abhor how that good word, “privilege”, now carries so much inflammatory, politicized baggage with it.) Rather, I’d say M.B has hurdles that are technical and structural, born out of the wider Indieweb cultural milieu, itself a specific, particular culture. And these hurdles, and that culture, end up sifting the potential entrants to allow a certain, particular demographic through.

I don’t know of any solutions. I’m not sure that removing the hurdles I mentioned above will necessarily be good or right. Maybe they will be! But maybe they won’t. These cultural boundaries are currently, for better or worse, part of (but not necessarily the whole of) what makes M.B the place it currently is. Every culture, in defining the boundaries of who/what it is, will inevitably exclude a subset; “I am X” necessitates such a thing as “not-X”.

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There is another discussion happening on M.B currently: whether or not to show your Followers, and how to implement tags/”tagmojis”. It’s not an accident that those are happening simultaneously with this discussion on diversity, because they’re all about the same thing: M.B is trying to find and define its identity. From identity then comes culture, and from there, the extent of diversity the culture can contain.

The boundaries of every culture are always being contested, from within and from without. To know what boundaries to bend, and which to maintain, involves knowing (or at least, having a vision or ideal of) who we want to be. These are good discussions happening on M.B. We will see what emerges.

Weird webring idea of the day.

There ought to be a webring for lists of words. Surely there are other logophilic nerds like me out there who like to indulge their inner lexiconologists, make wordlists of all sorts, and then share them with the world. Wordnik is already a gathering place for said nerds, but since decentralization is the name of the game…

Flagging to “do this one day” when I have the motivation and focus to be a webmaster again, if no one else gets to it first. Also a good time to migrate all my wordlists (amassed over many years) onto my Micro.blog.

Hat-tip: @bradenslen and others’ very interesting blog posts about the revival of webrings. That’s neat, encouraging, and surreal – to see a staple of the early “1.0” Web being revived in this post-Web2.0 era.