Links from around the web

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Photo by Jack Davidson, NY Times.

Closing some browser tabs, but not forgetting them:

Williams Gibson: On Technophobia and the Power of Film – Via Alexis Madrigal’s newsletter.

The Zika Virus is getting real, and lines are getting blurry for pro-life advocates, who are now forced to face the undeniable validity of the necessity of some abortions. -Via the Washington Post newsletter

Something to put that all in historical perspective and a great read regardless: It’s Spreading: Outbreaks, media scares, and the parrot panic of 1930:

The experts who descended on Annapolis in early January, 1930, weren’t half as baffled as the Washington Post made them out to be, but the reading public must have been at least twice as confused. Was parrot fever really something to worry about? Reading the newspaper, it was hard to say. “NOT CONTAGIOUS IN MAN,” the Times announced. “Highly contagious,” the Washington Post said. Who knew? Nobody had ever heard of it before. It lurked in American homes. It came from afar. It was invisible. It might kill you. It made a very good story.

But the parrots were innocent then, and they are innocent now. If you want to know why I love parrots, read that. – NY Times Magazine, via Rick Kot.

If you think the superbowl is all just fun and games, consider that repeated head trauma can lead to neurodegeneration and forces many football stars, such as Ken Stabler, to live out the rest of their lives trapped in a mental hell. I’d like to see a halftime commercial about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.). – Via NY Times Breaking News alerts

Hacker time killa: Nested – via Jack Donovan

A cool way to search flights if you want to find the cheapest route TO a certain city. Just input get a list of airport codes separated by commas and you can see where the cheapest connections are. – Via @markmadsen

Speaking of flying, the Dutch are training eagles to hunt drones. – Wired

Turns out a media industry that favors talent inclined to sell out as quickly as possible results in a lot of bad editors. This guy has some words for them. Don’t be this kind of editor.

Tabs staying open:

“An Equal Difference” Intellect & Gender Equality in Iceland, by Gabrielle Motola. Gaby and I met over cocktails in Iceland. The next day, we hiked a volcano with some badass Icelandic women. We met up later and traveled through England, Spain, and Morocco together. She taught me everything I know about photography, which is but a drop in her bucket of knowledge.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gmotophotos/an-equal-difference-intellect-and-gender-equality/widget/video.html

Please support her independent photographic exploration in Iceland by funding her project!

Defining attributes of the ‘open web’

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“Selfie,” by Systaime. Via NewHive

In response to a previous post where I asked “Where is the ‘open web’ now?”  I received some of the most interesting feedback I’ve ever gotten in all The Millikan Daily’s years online. In attempting to pinpoint where this site lies in terms of web classification, I learned it’s definitely not on the closed web, but it’s still not totally on the open web. Maybe nothing can be in either place in absolute terms, but we can definitely be working to make more things tend toward the open web.

 

The first comment hails from Matt Terenzio, who I thought about when I wrote the initial post because we used to talk about this stuff at a weekly web discussion hosted by Dave Winer at NYU. Matt wrote:

WordPress, even the hosted stuff on WordPress.com is more open because you can export your content and move it. https://en.support.wordpress.com/export/
But you raise a serious point. Even if you have control of your data, it doesn’t mean it stays alive on the web after you die. No business can guarantee that. A library, educational institution or the government seem more capable to pull something like that off, but as of now, we don’t have a great solution.

He raises a few important attributes of online content in the scope of the open web:

  1. Exportability – Can you take your content and move it somewhere else? With WordPress, the answer is yes, technically. WordPress offers this, as Matt points out, though maybe you have to pay something if you’re using the .com version (as I am) rather than the .org version. When you export, WordPress wraps all your content up and spits out a nice, zipped-up file that you can send elsewhere.

I’m going to add to this a few other related aspects to consider:

  • Archive transfer – Once you have your data exported from the CMS, you can transfer it somewhere else a few different ways. The old-school way would be physically via a hard-drive transfer, but more likely you’d do it online. This poses an interesting conundrum though, as various entities are at work to clamp down on the ability of average users to transfer large files. Why? Maybe because the assumption is that a large file transfer will be used for malice, like ‘illegally’ downloading a movie file. I’ve never downloaded anything illegally, to my knowledge, so it’s unfortunate that the tools I have to work with are limited in this respect. Once a friend gave me a chunk of the server space he owned and maintained so I could transfer whatever to and from it without paying extra. If I wanted to do it now, I would probably have to pay for some cloud hosting service who then might technically be able to access the data I was transferring. Right now we’re talking about being open so this doesn’t matter at the moment, but later on it will.
  • Importability – With facebook, I haven’t ever heard of someone importing their timeline to a different online framework where archives and data is displayed in any meaningful way. Which isn’t to say it couldn’t be done, I’ve just never seen it. If you have, please comment below.

Moving on, Matt also brings up an important second topic:

2. A shelf-life of content dependent on mortality – Even if you are diligent in following all best practices to maintain your own slice of the open web, there’s no guarantee they will continue to be maintained after you die.

Of course there are services that make it more likely your content will be maintained and accessible online at the original hyperlinks post-mortem. I met a woman in Iceland who founded a start-up to do something similar, though I’m not sure if it is still operational. I just emailed her to see what’s up.

Then of course, there is the Internet Archive which hosts the Wayback machine. While there are ways to get them to prioritize the archiving of specific websites, I believe their methodology is mostly random, and they will save “snapshots” of certain sites at various moments of time.

Which brings me to our next comment via Scott Rosenberg:

Hey, Arikia — I think of “the open web” as more of a spectrum; some sites and services are more fully “open web”-ish and others less so. If you own your own domain and pay for hosting for your site then that gives you the most control/ownership and puts you in the best position to preserve your work. (I’m still hosting pages I first posted in 1994!) The IndieWebCamp people and their work are definitely worth checking out — building open source tools and protocols for self-owned and maintained sites to thrive and connect with the various silos. David Weinberger’s book “Small Pieces Loosely Joined” put together a lot of the strands of what made the “open web” work and become valuable during the first wide flourishing of blogs beyond the tech scene in the early 2000s. Openness/permeability to links is so central here — one reason Facebook feels so closed is that you can put a single URL into a status update but you can’t simply add links to your content the way you can anywhere else on the Web. To me that’s what really makes it a closed system…

One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t have gotten this feedback had I posted this question on facebook! Two main points here:

  1. The open web as a spectrum – Cool. I like spectrums. Many of the human systems we are taught to think of as binary for the sake of mental simplicity are indeed spectrums—why wouldn’t the web be the same? Of course this introduces another layer of complexity to the answer to the question: Is any given website open or closed? It would be easy to lump everything into a bucket of open or closed, but it seems the answer will usually be “neither—it’s some point on a spectrum between open and closed.” Does the spectrum have endpoints? If so, what are they?
  2. Control/ownership – Scott owns his domains and pays for hosting, so he inherently has more control to make his content more open OR more closed, as he wishes. Let’s focus on the open side here, because keeping closed content closed is another can of worms I’ll want the crypto folks to chime in on.

Remember PicPlz? If you don’t, it was a photo-sharing application similar to the Instagram we all know now, but it was mainly marketed to Android users, which is why I used it, because I used Android smartphones for years before I was given my first iPhone in 2013. I uploaded a bunch of pictures to PicPlz, which were shared to other users through links created by the app that were anchored on its domain. When PicPlz folded, all those links evaporated. Who knows what happened to the images themselves, probably deleted. I don’t remember if they provided an option for the user to export their data, or if I chose to if they did. But it goes to show that if you depend on an entity outside of yourself to maintain the integrity of the links to content you create over time, well, you probably shouldn’t care too much about that content, because you’ll have no control over if it stays where you put it.

Next, Eas provides a recipe for their online content maintenance:

My general approach is:

1. Register my own domain name, separately from the publishing/hosting platform (so I can move things even if the publishing/hosting service goes out of business suddenly, or we end up at loggerheads).

2. Use a publishing platform that makes it easy to export data, including comments. I’m using WordPress.org, hosted on a virtual linux server from a established web hosting company with a seemingly sound business model (I pay them every month).
3. Publish under my own domain.
4. Make daily backups.
5. Switch platforms/hosts as needed.

I don’t use wordpress.com, but it would fit into my approach, since they let you bring your own domain, and provide a way to export everything. The exported data can then be imported into self-hosted WordPress, or another system that supports the format format.

In the longer run, I’m thinking of exporting dormant sites into a static format and hosting them on something AWS S3, with the knowledge I could move them to any other static file hosting in the future.

This all requires some ongoing effort on my part. At the very least, I have to keep paying the bills, and I have to move stuff when companies and product offerings rise and fall.

This sounds great! I am lost. I consider myself relatively tech-savy, so if I’m lost, I can assume most other people who aren’t specialists in online hosting and probably just want to write things and share them with other people who write things will also be lost. I’ll make it a point to understand what Eas is saying through online research, but my point is, there is a point where access to the open web breaks down for “ordinary users,” and this resistance is what feeds the establishment of closed systems.

Luckily, as a general principle of life, I always dig into the resistance as much as possible.

Finally, Bob Mottram writes:

I’m a firm believer in the open web, and I think in the not too distant future it could enjoy a new expansionary phase. I run a project called Freedombone, which was inspired by an earlier project called Freedombox. These and similar things are intended to help people take back ownership and control of their data and online presence in a more convenient manner (sometimes also known as “userops” because it enables users to do what previously only systems administrators could). As the hardware and software combinations are further developed it will be easier to run your own blog, wiki or social network node and so you’ll be able to decide what happens to your old photos, whether you want to license your content in particular ways or what happens to your data if you’re no longer around.

So a possible solution to the multitude of privacy and data ownership dilemmas is to “be the web”. My project has the concept of the “web of backups” in which friends can help to ensure they never lose data via mutual automated encrypted backups. The more you get into hosting your own services the easier it is to see how little value the big companies actually provide and how expensive their services are in terms of privacy.

Userops? This sounds like something that should exist, albeit something that those who favor from closed online systems won’t like very much. Count me in.

I want to be the web. Bob, I’ll be in touch.

These comments have been inspirational. If the open web is a spectrum, I’d like to push as many of the people I care about as possible over to the ‘open’ side when it comes to their online behavior and where they’re depositing their mental nuggets over time. I’m working on a few projects right now to do just that, so you can expect more posts like this from me, here and elsewhere on the open web :)

 

The VR Carrie Mathison psychosis app of my dreams

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I am all for conserving trees, but I really miss the days where everyone owned a fully-loaded printer. I’m a very visual learner and spatial processor. I need to see the information all around me, spread out in a circle or across the living room floor, covering walls, black text annotated in fucking gel pens and highlighters to distinguish what is what and what should be where in the chronology. The sprawl is part of the process, as is filing is all away when the project is complete.

Many of us have been adapting to this idea of containing our workspaces within a 13-inch screen, switching tabs and documents and removing the clutter. All my possessions at the moment fit into a single suitcase, so I am experimenting with working in an unusually confined manner. Still though, I may be a digital native, but half the weight of whatever I am carrying with me at any given moment is paper. I love the clutter of the tangible expression of thought in the physical world. I need it.

When I create in my preferred mode, and I’m working on a research project or a feature-length (>1,500 words) article, my work space basically turns into Carie Mathison’s apartment. This is my ideal virtual reality app: a 10x10x10 cube with blank walls where I can pin all the different pieces of the puzzle I am trying to solve, and quickly connect the dots free from the distractions of all the other things that lurk inside our 13-inch screens.

Carrie gets a lot of shit for that in Homeland. Someone always walks in, sees her beautiful mind murals, and stands there with their hands on their hips because they know she’s been off her meds. Leave Carrie alone! If I wrote a fanfiction alternate ending to Season 2, Carrie would quit the CIA, ditch her lithium, and move to some Buddhist country to become an artist. I mean look at this fucking mandala:

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Back to work.

Where is the “open web” now?

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Photo: Arikia Millikan, Olympus Pen E-P5

I’ve been thinking a lot about the open web lately. As a concept, it is relatively abstract to me since I was born in 1986 and came of age in an online ecosystem where closed software systems were promoted in convenient packages. I got my first computer when I was eight (a Packard Bell with Windows 3.1), and my online consciousness began to develop within the confines of the AOL 3.0 interface. For those younger than me who don’t remember, it came on a CD-ROM and had a splash page of a few topics you could click to view content, which I assume some curator on AOL’s end manually updated.

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The chatrooms were glorious cesspools of humanity. My user name was SmileyA125 and I still remember the sounds of the door opening and closing when someone would enter and leave a room. Eight-year-old me could transmit messages to Japan in the blink of an eye! What power. But the closest I ever got to the open web via AOL was typing in a URL by hand. I remember I used to just guess which words to put between the www and the  dot com, and if a website actually did exist there, it was like winning a game.

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When AOL Instant Messenger came along, my peers and I rejoiced. It wasn’t so much that people my age (12-16) wanted to communicate within a closed system, but the features (profiles, fonts and text colors, and my favorite of all: the warn button) made it more appealing. Also starting was the tendency of people to be online all the time. As soon as hogging the phone line was no longer an issue, the concept of logging on and off began to fade. If you were AFK, you were simply idle.

I can’t even remember how I found my Sweet Valley High fanfiction sites—I suppose through a search on Netscape Navigator—but I think this was as close as I got to the open web. I wasn’t yet big on reading the news, so I have no idea what online news even looked like back then or how publications disseminated information online other than by email listservs or people manually keying in the homepage URL. I’d guess the news organizations would have to collaborate directly with the ISPs (like AOL) in order to get direct placement on their curated portals. I’d like to think we’ve come a long way since then, but I know of some news organizations that still require manual updating of their homepages.

I never used The Well or Mosaic or any of the other key things that came before, so I have to use my imagination where all the early stuff is concerned. After meeting Tim Berners-Lee by proxy of interviewing him with Nate Silver for Nate’s book, The Signal and the Noise, I read Weaving the Web which does a nice job of laying out the chronology and major players leading up to the AOL era. I know the open web he spoke of still exists somewhere. When I hear people like Chris Anderson and Ev Williams talk about how the Web is dead, it seems like they’re saying it out of self-interest rather than describing some factual reality. But I still don’t know what on the web is truly “open,” or what ever really was.

The summer before I began my freshman year of college at University of Michigan, The Facebook sent an invitation to my freshly generated umich.edu email address, probably along with all the other umich addresses and those of about a dozen other select Universities. We were to be the first users outside of Harvard. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of absurd that they were able to do that. I remember interpreting that invitation as a 17 year old and thinking The Facebook must be something the University was endorsing as a directory tool—a service it was providing to students like me. But why would some guy from Harvard be given (or be allowed to take) entire student email lists to promote his product, which was set up like a dating site at the time? What other closed web system that wasn’t proprietary University software got such preferential treatment?

My friends and I poured our college life data onto the Book of Faces, openly and assuming respect for our privacy at first, then more hesitantly and pulling back as cases popped up to indicate moderate to great harm could come from sharing too much. The most famous example at my school, which I’ve blogged about before, was when my classmate then two-time gold medalist Michael Phelps, lost a bunch of sponsorships because someone posted a picture of him smoking a bong on the facebook. I never deactivated my profile, but I went through at least 10 cataloging sprees to hone my privacy settings, as well as complete purges of photos of myself. None of that cataloging really matters anymore since facebook decided its users needed simplified options. Those photos I deleted may be lost forever to the internet Nothing.

OR, they may remain in data purgatory, inaccessible to me like much of the other data I’ve input into the facebook over the past 10.5 years, but stored somewhere in the recesses of facebook’s servers for whatever reason. In light of all the illegal government surveillance stuff that’s been happening, I’ve been thinking a lot about how if we give a company data, someone could then force the company to give that data to them if they want. I don’t think anyone wants pictures of me getting drunk as an 18 year old, but if they did and I didn’t want them to have them, I couldn’t stop them.

Facebook is definitely not the open web, and I’ve been posting less and less there the more I think about what it means to feed this monopolistic beast.

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In college, each student got some allotment of free server space hosted by the University. We could all store files in a shareable directory that said Index at the top. I filled mine with pictures from the internet, mp3s, and maybe some school-related things. It felt like it was mine while I was there. But it doesn’t exist anymore. It was wiped from their servers a while after I graduated. Nobody asked me if they could do it, they just did. The Nothing strikes again.

Now as I think about where the open web exists and how one could encourage publishing there, I’m searching for scenarios in which the decision-making power of what happens to user-generated content online rests not on a corporation that doesn’t share the user’s interest, but on the user, who should technically own her own data.

I’m wondering if WordPress is considered the open web. It certainly feels more open than facebook. I met Matt Mullenweg (the WordPress founder) on two occasions and he seems like a nice guy. But WordPress owns the servers where all the content I’ve authored on this blog over the past eight years is hosted. Matt Mullenweg could theoretically disappear my entire literary archive if he wanted to. He probably doesn’t want to. It would be unlikely for him to do that, but why should I assume that he wouldn’t? It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

So, if the open web ever existed, and if it still exists, where is it? How is one to publish on it and what benefits does that have for the individual user and the overall health of the web in general? How can I be absolutely sure that content I publish on the web will remain there until I decide to take it down? How can i ensure it will remain there at its original URL after the event of my death? I’m going to do some research, because I’m prepared to go deep with this quest. But I wanted to share the beginning of my thought process, so feel free to leave comments if you can point me toward the open web.

 

 

 

Links from around the web

Time to close some browser tabs, but not forget them:

The Next System Project: “The challenging realities of growing inequality, political stalemate, and climate disruption prompt an important insight. When the old ways no longer produce the outcomes we are looking for, something deeper is occurring.”

Invisible Infrastructures: Surveillance Architecture, by the good folks at the Share Foundation.

The UNHCR report on Eastern Europe. To be taken for what exactly it is and no more.

Social cognition in social anxiety: first evidence for increased empathic abilities (2011). Conclusion: “High socially anxious individuals may demonstrate a unique social-cognitive abilities profile with elevated cognitive empathy tendencies.” (H/t Eve)

Write Till You Drop, a 1989 NY Times essay by Annie Dillard that is equally applicable now. (H/t Taylor Wallace)

US defense chief says Isis strongholds will be targeted by coalition in 2016, by Spencer Ackerman for The Guardian, maybe the only journalist who could slickly end a piece about ISIS with a quote from Steve Zissou.

The Republic, By Plato. The part about the cave.

Woman who was engaged to police spy sues Met over ‘psychological torture’— Sounds like an Alias plot line but no this really happened: “It is the latest legal action against the Met police over the conduct of undercover spies who infiltrated hundreds of political groups from 1968 onwards. A number of them entered into relationships with the women they spied on. In November the force unreservedly apologised and paid compensation to seven women who had been deceived into forming “abusive and manipulative” long-term relationships with undercover officers.”

And a feel-good to balance it out from my daily self-care reading staple, The Berlin Art Parasites (because emotional intelligence is just as important as the other kind): About The Way We Self-Sabotage Our Relationships And The Guilt That Comes With It— “…the most generous thing to do is to free another being from guilt.”

Tab staying open:

http://www.knightfoundation.org/apply/

 

 

Conceptually rethinking “ignorance is bliss”

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“Ignorance is bliss,” as the age old expression goes.

I have always been deeply offended by this concept. I remember hearing it for the first time as a twelve year old, from a boy in class using it out of context in an attempt at flirtation with my best friend. It was a signpost slamming down in front of me, bifurcating the road ahead. Did that imply the only way to obtain bliss was through a life of ignorance? How does one impose ignorance upon oneself? It was an unfathomable maneuver for twelve-year-old me. It defied the laws of entropy we were learning about in science class. You can push a ball downhill and it will roll, but to push a ball uphill requires work. For some it seemed, knowledge acquisition was an uphill venture, but my ball was rolling easily downhill. Ignorance would require some forceful blockade.

I couldn’t contemplate it much more at the time, as we were headed to a field trip at a water park. So I added “ignorance is bliss” to the arsenal of insults I kept on deck to sling back at boys who would dare to pull my pigtails. I guess I was supposed to feel jealousy of those naturally predisposed to ignorance, and of the pleasures they are able to easily derive through capitalism. Sometimes I do. But only in the fleeting way one might feel jealous of a labrador, unable to process injustice in the world beyond not being allowed outside to chase a squirrel.

These days, I am quite certain that bliss, true bliss, can not be obtained via any willful practice of ignorance. We should really revise this phrase, so as to not offend those high-bandwidth minds that could begin to get this planet unfucked. Ignorance may be “contentment,” “satisfaction” at most. But bliss, real bliss, comes from being able to see those things in their places on a much more robust spectrum, and seeking out the upper limits while not fearing the lower. After all, these states temporary.