Blogs and blogging Social Web

More thoughts about as an indie social network

Brad Enslen is doing some great work over at, spreading the word about this innovative service. He published a post titled “The Case for Moving Your Social Network to“, that’s pretty self-explanatory.

I think there’s certainly merit in shifting your social network over to something like, in the near term at least. As Enslen explains –

As the name implies the primary thing you can do on it is write short form posts like Twitter and Facebook.  But you can also post long form posts just like you would on a conventional blog, just keep typing and when you hit 280 characters in a post a Title Field appears and you are long form posting – effortlessly.  There is no friction or barriers between you and just writing.

Posting is easy, like posting on Twitter and the blog just auto-generates itself.  You can post, “I like pizza.”  You can post a picture of your cat plus a poem about your cat. You can post a 600 word essay about the Chicago Cubs. Whatever you want, however short or long you want. It’s one of the features I like the most.  Posting photos is very easy on MB.  There are quite a few dedicated photoblogs there.

And you can move.  If you decide to move you can export all your posts and import them on a different blogging platform.  This is exactly why MB strongly encourages you to use your own domain it makes moving easier.

Brad Enslen

There are two challenges, as I see it at the moment:

  1. If your social graph/network isn’t using, it’s value for you may be pretty limited (or you can create a new network!); and
  2. I worry that shifting over to another, single service is repeating the same mistake we all made focusing our social streams into a small number of social networks that we don’t control. is certainly more open than Twitter or Facebook, and you don’t even need to host your blog there to participate, so it’s better in that respect.

I’ve been using as a pseudo-Twitter for a little while now. My blog posts publish there automatically, and I’ve discovered some fascinating people there along the way.

The syndication aspect is why I think there’s definitely something to adopting as a social network, even if it’s more of a stepping stone to something else. I’d love that “something else” to be a distributed social fabric that’s informed by posts on our personal sites/blogs.

I don’t think we’re quite there yet (wherever there is?), but I’m hopeful that we can move beyond a site as a static site or as a chunky blog, to a point where a site/blog can be a source of articles, and also simpler shares like status updates, Instagram-like photos, and so on. is the closest to that, that I’ve seen. Here’s Manton Reece’s overview of I think it offers a pretty good perspective on what this distributed social experience could look like:

I’m not really interested in moving my site away from WordPress, and that’s not because I work at Automattic. Overall, I enjoy using WordPress, and I think it’s one of the best options out there for publishing just about everything from a personal blog, to more complex publications.

Hopefully WordPress will evolve, and incorporate technologies that feed this loose vision of a federated social Web based on personal sites that talk to each other seamlessly. In the meantime, there’s a growing collection of plugins that add these pieces along the way (such as the wonderful IndieWeb plugins).

So, perhaps is a good candidate for an alternative to Facebook, and Twitter*. It’s certainly a couple steps in the right direction, while we figure out what a post-Facebook/post-Twitter social Web looks like.

*well, certainly Twitter given that doesn’t support privacy options you may want to use in a Facebook alternative, and assuming that the people you want to follow are on Twitter too …

Blogs and blogging Useful stuff Web/Tech

I’m not sure what webmention badges are, but they sound interesting

Chris Aldrich mentioned something about using “webmention badges” on a project site:

This would have made it easier to send webmention-based badges which could have been done by creating a badge page on which he could have added simple links to all of the student pages that had earned them.

I’m not sure what these would look like, but the idea fascinates me. Also, this reminds me how little I seem to understand about how webmentions work.

Blogs and blogging Creative expression Social Web

Your life as a creativity donor

I watched a really interesting interview this morning that got me thinking about yet another reason why it really is better to own your own little node on the Web and use that as your primary sharing platform.

One of the ideas that came up during Leo Laporte‘s discussion with Damon Wayans (yes, that one) is this notion that whenever we share stuff on social services (such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and so on), we are basically donating content and ideas to those services to make money from those donations.

We usually don’t receive a share of the money earned and, as Leo put it in his interview with Andrew Keen (I’m watching that at the moment, during dish washing and train commutes), we are paid in kind. This is a simpler version of the idea that if you are not paying for a product online, you are the product (a so-called “truth” that I am still not convinced is completely accurate).

I also started looking at an interesting service called Known this morning. The service is part of the IndieWeb and the central idea is that you should have your own space and publish there first. Known is a lot like WordPress except it was designed to connect to external services like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, SoundCloud and others so you could publish to your Known site first and easily syndicate to those other profiles.

Find your audience. Known integrates with a number of social networks. When you publish on your site, you can choose to syndicate your content to a variety of sites. Just connect your favorite services to get started.

I love the idea and started playing around with a site just to test it all out. I still like using WordPress and what I’d like to be able to do with this site, for example, is publish different post formats (status, full posts, media posts and so on) as easily as I could on, say, Tumblr or Known. I’d also like to be able to share stuff on this site selectively using connection/member profiles that have the same sorts of distinctions as Facebook’s “friends”, “acquaintances” and “close friends”, for example.

On a related note, BuddyPress looks interesting and I might try it out. I’d love to be able to establish variable member profiles and give people the ability to sign in using existing credentials from WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and so on.

Returning to the donations metaphor, I think this is pretty much what is happening. Most of us donate a fortune of content (much of it doesn’t have much intrinsic value to outsiders) in return for being able to use the service. We really are letting ourselves being taken advantage of but that is mostly our fault for making an easy choice instead of the tougher one which is to create our own space on the Web and go through the process of figuring out how to make it a good user experience for the people important to us.

It’s not that being a creativity donor is necessarily a bad thing. We do receive some value in the exchange but is it enough? Do these choices leave us without our personal profiles if those services change how they work or go away?

I often talk about how much I want to publish here (and don’t). I still feel pretty strongly about having my own node on the Web that I control (well, more than not). At the same time, a modern site/node that could be a substitute for, say, Facebook requires more nuanced membership options, at the very least, so I could share some stuff with a select group of connections. BuddyPress might be the answer for that on WordPress (if not, any suggestions?). Known certainly seems to have figured this out and it is also possible to connect a WordPress site to the IndieWeb.

Like I mentioned earlier, having my own nodes for my stuff is really important to me. Short of having my own server in my apartment, though, I have to rely on 3rd party services like Media Temple for my hosting, Amazon S3 for file storage and various other services for my social interactions online. Probably not ideal if you are dogmatic about this stuff but it works for now.

We just have to figure out whether being a creativity donor is desirable? If it is, great, carry on. If not, what do we do about this?

Mindsets Social Web

Our hyperconnected social Web can be a desperately lonely place

I think it is possible to be so connected online and be lonely at the same time. We connect to so many people, call so many people “friends” who probably aren’t. Although we have hundreds or thousands of “friends”, can we meaningfully share our intimate moments, fears and challenges when they could betray insecurities when we have to be seen to be courageous and confident to survive?

We have more and more ways to share our lives. How many of those channels really allow us to be authentically vulnerable and terrified by the challenges we face before we find the strength to persevere? This is one of the costs of the social Web we don’t quite realise yet because we are so caught up in connecting and “friending”.

Mindsets Social Web

Why we fear Facebook and why we shouldn't?

Rian van der Merwe published a post which touches on a recurring theme which I have been thinking about for a while: we should fear Facebook/Google/Twitter because of all the data they hold about us.

I keep wondering why? There are good reasons to be afraid of what these services may know about us in some circumstances. If, for example, you are in a country run by ruthless despots, being identified as the person behind a Twitter profile advocating revolution is worrying. If you are engaged in criminal acts, you should be worried that the authorities may be able to use your Foursquare or Facebook location data to tie you to your escapades.

On the other hand, if you live in a country that doesn’t (overly) victimise its citizens and leaves you to express yourself legitimately and without reprisals, what do you have to fear from these major social services? Certainly sharing your home or children’s schools’ locations could compromise their and your security and you should be concerned about that (or you just shouldn’t share that information in the first place). Facebook could decide to make all shared updates public and expose your private thoughts. That could be worrying too.

But what about Facebook knowing more about our preferences and activities and presenting us with more relevant (if somewhat annoying) ads? Why is that a problem? Sure, we would probably mostly prefer not to see ads at all but Facebook is free, is really large and requires a lot of mine to operate. The same is true of Twitter, Foursquare and Google services.

Conventional wisdom is that if you are not paying for a product, you are the product. That may be true, as a generalisation. I prefer to think it isn’t so much we who are the products on Facebook but rather our preferences and attention. What does that buy us? For starters, it buys us Facebook, Twitter, Google services and more. It also buys us slightly less annoying ads that can be remarkably relevant. It buys advertisers a better chance that we may want to buy their products and services (we’re not doing that because our lives or our loved ones’ loves are at stake) because those products and services may just be what we are looking for at that point in time.

I’m not so sure we should be afraid of social networks. We should be afraid of persecution dictatorial governments and overreaching government bodies that make use of what we share to further their oppressive agendas, but social networks because they enable sharing in the first place? I don’t think so. What should concern us more is our ignorance of what our privacy controls are on different services and our failure to make smarter and more considered decisions about what to share and where to share that.

In many respects the social services we have today give us more ways to safeguard our privacy than we had when the social Web was largely comprised of blogs and discussion fora. Back then (about a decade ago), sharing was public and if you wanted to share something on the Web with a select group of people, you either password protected your blog, published posts with password access enabled or shared limited content with pre-approved people (limited sharing on Flickr comes to mind).

Facebook and Google+ enable users to share selectively using Facebook Lists or Google+ Circles. You can create lists or circles to suit your sharing preferences and ensure that only the connections you want to share something with, will see it (for the most part). Unfortunately, that level of sophistication can also be accompanied by a degree of complexity in the sharing controls. Both services have options for closed groups or communities in addition to selective sharing at a post level. As a user, it remains your responsibility to explore your privacy controls and make sure that they are configured for your sharing comfort level. You should also bear in mind that whatever you share online could still be made public through a policy change or an exploit so decide for yourself, in advance, what you will never share online and you don’t share that stuff. Good examples of stuff not to share include identity numbers, your home address, where your kids go to school or even your home phone number (it could be cross-referenced with your name to locate your home address in a phone book).

One trend that bothers me is a shift to Twitter for personal sharing. Twitter gives you two options for sharing: publicly or completely privately. I suppose this largely depends on what you are comfortable sharing publicly. Your Twitter profile is public by default and this means everything you tweet is public and anyone can see it if they know where your profile is. The alternative is a private profile where sharing is limited to followers you approve. Twitter doesn’t really have selective sharing capability like Facebook or Google+ and it is the equivalent of trying to have a conversation in a crowded room. You may think you are talking to a select group of people but you potentially have a much larger audience.

Another option worth mentioning is Path which a mobile only social network and which is designed for only your real friends and family. It is a beautiful app and a terrific sharing experience but the challenge, for me, is that very few of my friends and family are using it and that diminishes it value to close to zero. If my close friends and family were using it, it would be a terrific choice. For now, I have set up my Facebook lists to emulate the sharing capability I would have in Path.

Social services like Facebook have been somewhat cavalier with our data but a spate of privacy controversies and increased attention from regulators has persuaded these services to take greater care with our data and our privacy options. Using social media is not a risk free proposition by any means but the social Web gives us the ability to share in ways we just weren’t aware were possible a few years ago. The real cost is vigilance and increased personal responsibility but that is how it should be anyway. After all, it is our data and our lives we are sharing. We should take responsibility for that anyway.

Social Web Web/Tech

Tent: a protocol for an open and distributed social Web

I wrote about our increasingly urgent need for a distributed and open Web last week and I came across a Google+ post linking to Tent which is a protocol designed to help make that happen:

Tent is a protocol for open, decentralized social networking. Tent users share content with apps and each other. Anyone can run a Tent server, or write an app or alternative server implementation that uses the Tent protocol. Users can take their content and relationships with them when they change or move servers. Tent supports extensible data types so developers can create new kinds of interaction.

Tent is for sharing with others and seeing what others have shared with you. You can ask to follow other users and other users can follow you. Because you control your own Tent server, it is also a good place to store things you do not want to share with others, a sort of personal data vault. It can also be used as a secure site login replacement so you don’t need passwords when accessing other sites on the web.

Governments and companies are debating the future of the Web in closed sessions and are talking about regional firewalls and similar efforts to balkanise the Web. As citizens and users, we are often left out of the loop and information about those closed proceedings are deliberately kept from us. Invariably the motivation behind these efforts is to protect content- and IP-based businesses and while it’s important to protect intellectual property and encourage creativity and innovation, these efforts are focused more on protecting established business models at the expense of the open Web.

Tools to build an open Web are increasingly important and urgent for a variety of reasons, whether those reasons include protecting the Web from virtual land grabs or overreaching political bodies and their corporate sponsors. This stuff is important.

Mindsets Social Web Web/Tech

After Twitter and Facebook

The latest sign of an increasingly closed and Balkanised Web is Twitter’s controversial updates to its API which further restrict anything that is not actually made by Twitter. Developers’ reactions range from disappointment to outrage Twitter remains dominant in its space because there is nothing else. Facebook also dominates the social sharing space with its addicted userbase. What users are distracted from seeing is that the Web, as a platform, is regressing to darker times when competing and competing email services from the like of AOL and Compuserve led users into a spirally abyss out of a desire to control segments of the marketplace through exclusive protocols and closed systems.

Twitter, Facebook and, to an extent, Google are the new closed systems of the Web’s early days although their talk about open protocols and open source software, coupled with the activity on their networks, distract us from what is going on here: a virtual land-grab where these services are consolidating their sovereign status and severing meaningful interoperability ties with each other. Pretty soon interoperability between these services will become the digital equivalent of border crossings between the former East and West Germany in the Cold War era.

S what does this mean for us? It means the notion of the Open Web will be relegated to the digital wilderness where open source and open Web activists and believers will roam, fashioning services and platforms from driftwood and whatever else they can find. The rest of us will become highly monitored and regulated citizens of these new social nations which, ironically, rely on open source software and protocols to scale while building higher and more sophisticated walls and feeding us dreams of targeted marketing Nirvana and more rounded corners to complete our social experiences.

Unfortunately the open source community, generally speaking, hasn’t helped steer us away from this likely future. With a few shining exceptions like Ubuntu Linux and WordPress, open source software and platforms lack the visual appeal and, often, the functionality to really draw mainstream users in. As good as the open source communities are at building scalable, stable and powerful software and systems, it just looks like it was made in the late 1990s (LibreOffice is a case in point).

In contrast the paid social services and proprietary software are generally far better designed and more visually appealing to the uneducated masses (myself included). The result is that these open systems don’t gain much traction and we head further into these closed environments. One example which stands out in the context of the Twitter is StatusNet (formerly which is an open source, distributed Twitter equivalent. You can install it on your own server and interconnect with other Status.Net users participating in their own communities because there is an underlying common set of protocols and services. StatusNet pivoted and is available as both a free option and pretty compelling enterprise version priced at about $3 per user per month (as I type this) which could be a terrific alternative to other options like Yammer. What we find is bundled with that better user experience is varying degrees of lock-in (either actual or effective) and we, as users, carry on merrily.

Many in the open source community will only use open source software and freely licensed content because they are ideologically opposed to any proprietary software and closed content. That is a little extreme as far as I am concerned but they represent an important counter-point to the totally closed and proprietary model. While they tend to polarise the space with sometimes extreme views, they highlight something pretty important: if the Web is ever truly going to be an open platform, we need practical, feasible, appealing and functional alternatives to the Twitters, Facebooks and, yes, even the Google+’s of today. Android begins to come close with a terrific user interface, mass deployment and low price point. I believe Android smart devices will become the Nokia of the early 21st century and one day the people who all had Nokia feature phones will have basic Android smartphones. At that point the world will be a different, vastly more connected place but if all people will have to connect to are a few massive closed ecosystems, we will have squandered the opportunities that come when everyone is connected with a powerful, media rich pocket computer.

We are on the verge of a potential evolutionary step in our journey towards a smartly connected culture with IPv6. I don’t pretend to grasp the technical side but what little I understand about IPv6 suggests we could reach a point where our default connection becomes peer-to-peer and not through centralised hubs as gateways. Every device will have a unique IPv6 address and if we have systems in place along the lines of StatusNet where they are distributed and share common, open communications protocols, we could have the next big thing in our digital social experience: a truly distributed, dynamic and open social Web. A planned update to LibreOffice demonstrates what this sort of Web could look like: imagine that you could collaborate on a document in a similar way that you do in Google Docs with multiple people contributing to a document at the same time but where the updates are distributed using a peer-to-peer model based on XMPP as the transport protocol (apologise if I am mangling the technical terminology). XMPP is the same protocol that powers Google Talk and a couple other open instant messaging services and what makes it possible for you to talk to someone using Google Talk from some other XMPP-based service. This model removes the central server we rely on to co-ordinate and distribute the updates and, instead, we just use common protocols to maintain meaningful connections.

I don’t think that sort of system is far away, technically, but applying that model to a social Web experience faces a substantial challenge in the form of the sexy, closed and better integrated social experience we have today in the form of Twitter, Facebook and so on. Until the open systems that hover on the periphery drastically improve their integration with each other and can present a better and more coherent experience to end-users, they can’t begin to tackle the awful future that awaits us as the current social giants become more entrenched and dominant in their respective areas. In other words, if the open source communities don’t get their design, usability and functional shit together, we are going back to the days when you couldn’t send an email to anyone else because each system talks a different, proprietary language.