Category: web

Ship of Fools (still)

The song from the very first post on this incarnation of my blog came up in shuffle on my drive home tonight. Coincidence? Probably. Regardless, the connection to quitting Twitter is almost too on the nose.

Ladies & gentlemen, Ship of Fools:

The bottles stand as empty
As they were filled before
And time that was in plenty
But from that cup no more
Though I would not caution all
I still might warn a few
Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag
Atop no ship of fools

Ship of fools
On a cruel sea
Ship of fools
Sail away from me

It was later than I thought
When I first believed you
Now I cannot share your laughter
Ship of fools

10,000th & Final Tweet

I wrote the first draft of this I’m-leaving-social-media post a month ago, at the beginning of March. It said I was leaving, probably, but also hedged that maybe, possibly, I’d cave and come back. Then it dawned on me that I could just quietly try out said leaving for a while without a Big Announcement.

As I stepped away, and thought about it, and missed it (or not), I also came across a copy of Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, which helped crystallize my decision. The very shortest distillation is: ok, sure, social media can be fun and helps give a voice to good people and good ideas, but in the bigger picture and longer term, its net effects on users – and society generally – are much more negative.

I’m out.

Facebook is an easy one, as I haven’t been “on” Facebook in any meaningful way in years. I can’t completely delete my account there, because I still need it for occasional work (barf) and event-RSVPing purposes, but it’s never really been part of my day-to-day life, anyway.

Twitter is another story. I’ve been active on Twitter for nearly eleven years, and the link to this blog post will be tweet number 10,000. Ten thousand! That’s a lot of free content creation!

Without being on Twitter, I don’t hear about the outrage-du-jour as quickly, and if it’s not a big enough deal to make it onto one of the news sites I read or podcasts I listen to, I may (gasp!) never hear about it. I confess to a twinge of smugness when someone asks, “Did you see what So-and-so said now?” and I have no idea what they’re talking about.

In the past year or so, in an effort to not die of an outrage embolism, I had already scaled way back on the number of accounts I follow, and how verbose I’ll put up with them being. But cutting off more completely has been pretty great. The times I was tempted back (“Ooh, there’s been Big News, I wonder what they’re saying about this on Twitter!”) were without exception either a disappointment or left me feeling vaguely gross again.

I will miss having a place where I can easily promote, retweet, or share things. Maybe that mattered sometimes, maybe it didn’t. I’ve decided to trust that my online pals will still somehow hear about the great new podcast I would have tweeted about (or survive without it).

I will still post here, on my blog, which is a more genuine effort that’s under my control and doesn’t hand our data on a silver platter to a giant online advertising company. I know that many fewer people will see those posts, and that’s okay. (Note that you can subscribe to new posts, if you like, or just visit whenever. No login required.)

I haven’t decided about Instagram yet. I like Instagram, and it’s the only place online that several friends and family members share anything. But since it feeds the even nastier beast of Facebook, its days may be numbered for me, too.

Lastly is the tiny upstart, Micro.Blog. Part social network, part independent web movement, it’s everything I want from being online. Maybe it’s only because it’s still small, or maybe the design decisions they’re making are actually working, or maybe it’s because it takes a bit of effort and/or money. In any case it’s an open, pleasant, ad-free network that’s nice to spend time on, with lots of interesting and genuine folks. The posts here are also available there.

That’s where to find my next 10,000 posts, give or take.

want a project for the holiday break? Micro.blog is giving away 3 free months ($5/mo), now through Jan. 2 (via invite; DM me your email address if you’re interested). there’s a way to be online without being a giant tech company’s livestock.

Firefox is my primary browser and has been for years. slash (/) to search (except on sites that hijack it 😡) is my oldest favorite thing, and the Containers add-on is my newest. Containers are a little fiddly to set up but super handy.

Jeremy Keith on browser diversity in a Chromium-dominated world:

“which browser you use no longer feels like it’s just about personal choice—it feels part of something bigger; it’s about the shape of the web we want”

Nick Heer, on The Bullshit Web:

“You know how building wider roads doesn’t improve commute times, as it simply encourages people to drive more? It’s that, but with bytes and bandwidth instead of cars and lanes.”

Becoming an Indie Microblogger

I first heard about Manton Reece’s Kickstarter – Indie Microblogging: owning your short-form writing via a couple of tweets and blog posts. The idea seemed interesting, but didn’t really grab me, at first. But there was something about it that kept it in the back of my mind.

In the earlier days of the web, we always published to our own web site. If you weren’t happy with your web host, or they went out of business, you could move your files and your domain name, and nothing would break.

He must be a better, more patient blog site steward than I. I’ve kept and moved old sites with various degrees of success, but thinking for a second that “nothing would break”, well, that’s overstating it a bit for me.

Today, most writing instead goes into a small number of centralized social networking sites, where you can’t move your content, advertisements and fake news are everywhere, and if one of these sites fails, your content disappears from the internet. Too many sites have gone away and taken our posts and photos with them.

I want to encourage more independent writing. To do that, we need better tools that embrace microblogs and the advantages of the open web. We need to learn from the success and user experience of social networking, but applied to the full scope of the web.

Indeed, Twitter had more or less killed my blogging. I’ve been fired up (as they say) since Il Douché’s victory, but before that I was lucky if I posted anything between one annual best-of music post and the next. I’ve always tended to be a link-and-blockquote kind of blogger, so once I could come close enough to that with Twitter, it was over. In fact, my last post on a long-deceased blog on Blogger (lol) ended with, “If either of my former readers are finding it hard to get through the day without these invaluable links to other sites, then you can follow me on Twitter. It’s like a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of this blog, but with bonus randomness, non sequiturs and inside jokes that you probably aren’t in on. FTW!

But Reece’s idea isn’t either/or. It’s not: Twitter is the devil and writing solely on your own blog is the only salvation! It acknowledges the value of the social network, but also acknowledges there are real problems there, too. It points the way to having more control and independence, without necessarily throwing away all the followers, retweets, and “likes”.

So, I backed the Kickstarter after all, and I also hunted down some of the implementation details that he hinted at, in particular, his post on microblogging with WordPress. And then I set up something similar here, which so far I’m pretty happy with. It’s not everything from my Twitter feed (regular retweets are still only on Twitter, for example), it’s not as quick & easy yet (counting characters is more tedious, and I’m manually shortening URLs with bit.ly like some kind of Neanderthal from 2008), and I’m not even trying to do any of this from my phone. Still, having what feels like a more permanent home for these comments is making me think a little differently about what I post. And I’m hopeful that when Reece gets micro.blog up and running, this setup will be mostly compatible with its simpler writing tools.

Looking for Amazon’s “US-East”

image: Shapiro's laptop & Chris Watterston

image: Shapiro’s laptop & Chris Watterston

Interesting article from The Atlantic (a new favorite website and daily news email of mine): Why Amazon’s Data Centers Are Hidden in Spy Country. The author tries to track down the actual, physical data-centers that make up Amazon Web Services’ “US-East” region, as well as the historical reasons why they’re all somewhere in Northern Virginia.

That’s the main part, and interesting enough on its own, but then the conclusion gets very suddenly philosophical, which I found hilarious, but touching, too.

And maybe my desire to submerge myself in that sediment, to weave The Cloud into the timelines of railroad robber-barons and military R&D, emerges from the same anxiety that makes me go try to find these buildings in the first place: that maybe we have mistaken The Cloud’s fiction of infinite storage capacity for history itself. It is a misunderstanding that hinges on a weird, sad, very human hope that history might actually end, or at least reach some kind of perfect equipoise in which nothing terrible could ever happen again. As though if we could only collate and collect and process and store enough data points, the world’s infinite vaporware of real-time data dashboards would align into some kind of ultimate sand mandala of total world knowledge, a proprietary data nirvana without terror or heartbreak or bankruptcy or death, heretofore only gestured towards in terrifying wall-to-wall Accenture and IBM advertisements at airports.

Google Minus

Via Marco.org, a great post by Mark Wunsch: The Great Google Goat Rodeo.

My serious problem with Google is that their products for users (the ones that collect information to inform advertising) are becoming confused, inarticulate, and increasingly malicious. Malicious in that Google is effectively transforming the World Wide Web itself into one of its products by controlling (through a natural monopoly) traversal and discovery (Google Search).

I don’t feel quite as strongly about Google as he does, but I do cast a wary eye at them, for most of the reasons in that post. And the explanation of Google’s behavior, that it boils down to “an organizational clusterfuck that is unable to decide what [way] it thinks is truly the best”, sounds dead-on.

He ends with this:

Angry about this? Here’s what to do. Switch to Firefox. Mozilla is a non-profit whose mission “is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web”, which seems pretty cool. Use DuckDuckGo as your primary search engine; they “believe in better search and real privacy at the same time”, which seems pretty cool. I’m probably not going to be doing either of those anytime soon. I’m too stuck in my ways.

As I was reading that, I was thinking, “yes! Firefox, DuckDuckGo, I use those!”, and then I got to his “aww, who am I kidding, I can’t quit you” letdown. Too bad. They’re both good, I recommend them both. But I also don’t use them exclusively, and that’s why I wanted to post this, to encourage y’all to try them, and other Google alternatives as well.

I use Firefox as my primary browser, despite ridicule from hipsters and small children, though that choice is more because I love slash-to-search, tab groups, and the “awesome bar” than because of any anti-Chrome bias. And DuckDuckGo is my default search engine (easily set that way in Firefox, natch (and not hard to set in Chrome either, tbh)). I scoff at Google+ (like everyone), and I purposefully log out of Google’s services when I’m done with them.

But I do use them: I have a gmail.com email address for home and work, plus Calendar, Drive, etc., etc. And when I’m doing web development, I use Chrome because the devtools are (currently) far superior. And it’s not uncommon for me to add a “!g” to the end of a DuckDuckGo search, which forwards the search to Google, especially when I’m looking for answers to specific technical questions. I also use “!m” to get Google Maps for all my map searches. And you can bet your ass I’ll get Google Fiber, coming to Austin next year, as soon as humanly possible.

Hmm, that sounds like a pretty mixed conclusion. But I suppose that’s appropriate. Like Wunsch, I don’t think Google is “evil”, but their power is tremendous, and growing, and that makes me nervous, and then they do stuff like this, dropping support for open interoperability standards. I’m not handing out tinfoil hats, but at least realize that there are alternatives out there, and some of them are great.

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