Tag Archives: facebook

Defining attributes of the ‘open web’

art-systaime-remix1

“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 :)

 

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Why don’t young people blog?

Today I came across a post by the famous Bora Zivkovic, whose sense of Internet omnisciency makes my own pale in comparison. Bora has been following an experiment of sorts by Mason Posner, a professor of biology at Ashland University in Ohio, in which Posner had his students create science blogs as part of the curriculum.

Bora writes:

…take a look at last year’s (2009) student blogs – wonderful writing on all of them, good stuff. But! One of them is already deleted. There are four other blogs that stopped posting around early May of last year, probably at the time the course ended. Only one of the blogs is still running today. Why did they stop?

Now, you may remember a similar experiment at Duke – see this and this and especially experiences of Erica Tsai who ran the program. Why did all the Duke student blogs end once the class was over? There is always a lot of chatter online (see the most recent commentary about a Pew study hereherehere and here) about teens and college students not blogging…

Bora notes that members of this younger demographic use social networking sites like Twitter and the facebook, sometimes more than their elders, but they are more likely to keep private accounts. His main question is, why do these Web savvy kids fall off with blogging?

My hunch is that a lot of it has to do with visibility. For some perspective, my class (graduating college in 2008), was the first to  have access to the facebook, and to have it all four years of college. I remember the day I got the invitation the August before I left for school, and how it shaped my interactions throughout college. We voluntarily exposed our personal lives in a time that was the height of our debauchery. We navigated our social worlds knowing people before we actually met them, and, more commonly, we learned way too much about people after only meeting them once, shaping our decisions for future meetings.

We saw our peers become examples of what not to do on the facebook. Their drunk party pictures became grounds for expulsion, job termination, and removal from athletic teams. Public embarrassment became easier than ever. One guy I (unfortunately) knew in college created a group called “The 100 Hottest Ladies at University of Michigan.” After reaching quota, he changed the group name to “MICHIGAN’S DIRTIEST WHORES,” and had a good laugh. Some people remained in that group for weeks without realizing.

With job scarcity what it is, and the aspect of Internet permanence introduced by companies like Google, kids are instilled with the advice to not post anything they wouldn’t want a potential employer to see with the fervor of sex ed campaigns promoting condom use: You don’t want to do something impulsive that will fuck up your life forever. One of my colleagues at The Michigan Daily published this article with some pretty compelling examples of how this could happen (which prompted me to make a facebook album called “This’ll fuck up your political career” and tag him in it. PWND!). We even had a policy at The Daily that editors couldn’t be in certain groups, as they might put a dent in The Daily’s credibility if someone cried “Conflict of Interest” on a news article. And of course, we all watched the defamation (not to mention contract terminations and loss of incredible amounts of revenue) of our classmate Michael Phelps.

So you see, the paranoia about putting yourself out there on the Web in an unedited form is a rampant inhibitory factor in young individuals. Hence, the locked twitter accounts and private facebook pages. Even though science blogging seems like a tame enough activity, and one that would promote one’s job acquisition instead of jeopardizing it, I think the overall skepticism about Web publicity could have something to do with young people’s hesitancy to maintain blogs. Also, young people want to talk about young people things sometimes. If they’re blogging on a platform where they can’t fully express themselves, then yeah, it does start to feel like a job or a chore.

Personally, I think the social networking paranoia is way overblown for the same reasons I think people worried about the Internet turning into Big Brother and enslaving us all need to relax: People just don’t care that much, and don’t have enough time to dig through all the content a kid can generate. I still keep my facebook page private with five different privacy filters for my friends, and have a locked Twitter account in addition to a public one, but I also have a lot of publicly available references to my debauchery too. My current employer Google stalked me pretty thoroughly before he offered me a job, but I’d like to think he hired me because of my quirky Web remnants, not in spite of them. Now he has full access to my facebook page, and doesn’t think any less of me or my ability to get the job done.

In the words of Bora Z himself, “20 years from now, a person who does NOT have drunk Facebook pictures online will be suspicious… ‘Drunk at a party’ is just a shorthand for having a normal, relaxed human online presence and not just something on LinkedIn that looks like a Resume.” People are people, and even if a person is your potential boss, they should understand that you’re just a person too. Maybe if we didn’t set extreme standards about people’s personal lives for admittance into certain professions, kids wouldn’t be so discouraged from sharing on the Web. And our politicians might be a little less fucked up.

So I think that if we want kids to get engaged with blogging, even science blogging at an early age, they have to hear messages from their elders that their any future employer who would judge them for expressing themselves isn’t someone they really want to work for anyway. And then we, as their potential future employers, need to follow through.

While we’re at it, I want to see older people post the remnants of their college debauchery on the facebook. I mean it, bust out the photo albums, scan those pics and post em. You all have job security! You really have no excuse to deny your students this joy.

Advertisers acknowledge the primary purpose of the Facebook is indeed stalking…

… and adjust their strategies accordingly:

facebookad-booyfriend

It was creepy enough when companies annouced products for parents to keep tabs on their teenage children via GPS. This is just over the top….

Luckily, there’s one for reverse-stalking as well:

facebookad-reverse stalking

I know advertising models are falling apart at the seams, but do they really have to resort to giving people the willies to secure click-throughs? This image haunts my dreams.

Full circle in the fall

I am sitting in the control station at the Internet Garage, surrounded by computer monitors. I haven’t worked here since January but the manager was going out of town and asked if I wanted to pick up shifts, so I said sure, if for no other reason than that I’m always looking for excuses to avoid going out Friday nights. But this place has its charm. It’s good to be back in IT, troubleshooting and giving people the most precious gift of all: Internets. Well, selling it to them for exorbitant rates, but whatever.

It’s also a bit strange to be back here. For one, because people are all like “O hey the IG girl is back!” (I’m the only girl who has worked here in the past ~2 years). But also because things have kind of come full circle. The fall is when that kind of thing usually happens for me. I mean, this is where it all started. I was sitting in this very seat when I made my first WordPress account, when I pressed publish on my first blog post. The IG customers were the first to hear my exclamations of glee when I saw what a link from the New York Times website could do for the traffic of a quirky, small-time culture blog (an old pseudonymous one, not TMD). And it was working here that I collected the dozens of hilarious remnants I occasionally post in the Found series on here.

I guess this is also where I decided that the blogosphere was something that I wanted to be deeply involved with, as a writer and as a Web 2.0 technophile. When I was in college and an editor on my school newspaper, I used to be skeptical of the blogosphere and its ability to provide rewards for the writer, professionally and financially. I once even made a facebook group called “Fuck blogging. My thoughts are worth $$”. Yes yes, while you may know me now as a major blog enthusiast and proponent of Open Access, Open Science, and the idea that the web is changing journalism as we know it for the *way* better, I admit I had my curmudgeonly moments. But this was back when Twitter was saturated with the breakfast-describer variety and it was a rarity to encounter people over 40 on the Facebook. It’s funny how things change.

There really isn’t a purpose to this post other than reflection…