Not Who I Want To Be

Jay has a recent post up called “Not The Sort Of Person I Want To Be Online“, and it strikes pretty close to home. It’s worth the click, in my opinion. It opens with:

It would be so so easy for me to open my blog editor every week and vent and rant about the state of the world. About how crazy everything is, how detached and divorced from reality so much of the media is, how the Internet isn’t real life. But I don’t.

Jay Springett

And yeah, basically. If I want to spend my time online complaining and writing scathing takedowns of one thing or another, there is no shortage of topics (and the list gets constantly refreshed). It’s so easy to dwell on all the shit going on. But that’s not who I want to be, online or in person.

I also liked this bit:

I don’t want to be part of a negative Internet, so I choose not to add to it. I don’t see any value in doing cynicism as a service. There’s enough negativity out there without me piling on. Instead, I aim to post things that I think is going to be beneficial for both my readers and myself. 

I want to only have things online that I can stand by. The thoughts I’ve had in public should be useful to me and others 3/4/5 even 10 years down the line. Referenced, revisited, and built upon. I don’t write anything here thats written specifically for clicks and likes. Which being negative an Internet cheat code for.

Of course it’s nice when other people do link to my writing and when people share my blog with others – it’s always a thrill – and of course I’m interested in growing my audience online – who isn’t?

Jay Springett

I’ve commented before that I’m not particularly interested in “growing my brand”, and how freeing it has felt to be writing here because I want to, and maybe a few folks find it useful or interesting. If there is a magic formula for building an audience and becoming an online personage, I’m sure as hell not doing it – my site traffic is largely stable (low, but stable) and has been for years at this point. I get the occasional brief spike when someone more notable happens to link to me (and there was one point a few months ago where I suddenly got about a thousand times more visitors for like two days, and I never figured out why – if it was a botnet I don’t know why it landed on me, if it was someone big/popular linking, they must’ve had noreferrer turned on, as analytics were useless). But Jay is right that it is nice when I get linked to or new folks start reading.

It’s a conscious decision and effort, you know. When the default state you see when navigating online discourse is hate and cynicism, oneupmanship and takedowns, not only yucking other people’s yum but declaring them bad people for thinking it was yummy in the first place… it’s easy to let that become your default as well. But it’s not healthy, it’s not useful, at best it may give you a quick endorphin hit if you’re lucky.

There’s a bit from Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse that has made it into a few songs and elsewhere, and I think about it sometimes:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Kind,” said the boy.”

Charlie Mackesy

Me too, kid. Me too.

A Website is a Room

Found via Jay Springett, Nancy Wu’s thesis project, “A Website is a Room“.

I came to this conclusion sometime during quarantine when I realized that certain websites give me a sense of shelter and rest more than others.

These spaces that particularly stood out to me all had some quality of slownessquiet, and/or gathering.

We ought to carefully examine the qualities of the living environment that each web space provides for us.

Nancy Wu

The result is a semi-curated list of websites (some blogs, some just random sites) with a little info about what sort of space that site is. I’m looking forward to exploring the (fairly lengthy) list of sites as I have time to do so.

I kind of like the metaphor – it’s not true for every site, but there are absolutely sites where it works. For whatever reason, it brings to mind the infinite rooms of the world of Piranesi (by Susanna Clarke). I’m picturing sites as rooms filled with statues, and somewhere in there is the sea.

Roll up, Roll out

I ended up going down a bit of a rabbit hole via Warren Ellis, who linked to Jay Springett, who linked to Matt Mullenweg, who linked to some nifty projects, and it got me thinking about what the state of the art these days even really is, as far as blogging and forums and online spaces are concerned.

I’d rather murder myself than ever go near any kind of online forum again. But a return to forum life for people who actually want to think and talk would fit with the current tone of the dark-forest-y online discourse I’ve seen.

Warren Ellis

I’m personally with Warren on this: I’m not inclined to create, manage, moderate, or even participate in a forum again any time soon. But I appreciate that forums are useful, may scratch a need for some people, and that the tools for forums are in dire need of some attention.

I must admit, I’ve not really been following the Dark Forest discourse as much as perhaps I should. It doesn’t quite fit for me, as a metaphor. I feel like a lot of the folks I see talking about that particular metaphor for online interaction are people who already built an audience, found their tribe, and then opted to withdraw to their enclaves, taking their tribe with them. That’s not a dark forest, that’s a raiding party.

Don’t get me wrong, I see what they’re talking about, and how devastating it can be to become that day’s Main Character, and that there is value in keeping a lower profile. But I feel like the metaphor falls down. So much of the online discourse they’re theoretically shying away from is centered around a desire to draw attention to yourself, to build an audience — in short, a popularity contest. So does that guardedness and wariness to share yourself more openly come from a dark forest where you could be destroyed, or does it come from a desire to control your narrative with the audience you’re trying to grow? I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something.

As a side note, I decided to start putting together a Glossary of the New Web, to try and capture various terms, concepts, systems, and tools that are part of the “internet discourse” these days. It’s not exhaustive, slightly opinionated, and generally brief, but I do try to link to where you might find out more. It’s a start.

Calm Tech Institute

Amber Case just announced her new project, the Calm Tech Institute. It’s got a lofty goal (encouraging and implementing calm technology design principles in various bits of technology that we use, all the way down to creating a service mark for tech that adheres to the principles), and she’s a leading expert on the topic (she’s been talking about this stuff for a long time, and also wrote the book on Calm Technology for O’Reilly). I figure if anyone has the chops to make headway on this subject, it’s probably her. I’ll be keeping an eye on this space, as it’s definitely a worthwhile topic.

Our ultimate goal is to make our “CTI” stamp nearly as ubiquitous as the “UL” stamp became over the last century. You might have noticed it on lightbulbs and other everyday appliances: a very tiny mark placed on 22 billion products each year worldwide! And while it’s found everywhere, many of us probably don’t know the important historical story behind its origin:

But while we depend every day on invisible guidelines which protect us from electric hazards, we have few standards for technology of the 21th century. Consequently, we often encounter products and services that interfere with our time and attention in ways which degrade our well-being.

Amber Case

De-crufting Google Search

Just a quick one, but I know some folks might want to know this: it sounds like Google finally added a way to remove all the AI and other self-insert bullshit from their search results. This post by Ernie Smith over on Tedium explains more, but the TLDR is: at the end of your search query URL, add udm=14. So, for example, if you do a search for Buckaroo Banzai, then go into the URL of the search and update it to, all the cruft drops away and you just get links to stuff again. (That may seem like kind of a pain, but as that post points out, there are ways to make your searches insert that automagically, depending on your browser.)

I’ve mostly migrated away from Google search and tend to default to DuckDuckGo, but it’s still good to know. (Personally, I’d love to see a way to customize which tools get turned on or off. Like, I don’t want the AI, and I don’t need the quora answers etc, but it’d be nice to leave the calculator feature turned on. Stuff like that.)

Revisiting the need for Third Places

Over at Vox, Allie Volpe has a piece talking about a perennial topic for me: “If you want to belong, find a third place“. Third spaces and their role in fostering a sense of connection and community I feel is pretty well understood at this point, yet despite the clear value for people (and the community), these sorts of spaces are constantly defunded and deprioritized. The way things are economically, there is a real sense that if you’re not maximizing your profitability (reduce lingering, high customer rotation), you’re not going to make it. (It’s not an entirely unreasonable assumption, unfortunately.) Further, even public spaces (or semi-public — plaza courtyards, malls, et cetera) are set up to actively discourage spending time in them, and then get defunded when people stop using them precisely because the space has become hostile to humans.

It’s all a bit maddening. But the article isn’t all doom and gloom, and points out a number of actions people are taking to identify, use, and encourage third places. I also liked that they pointed out that a good third place is heterogeneous:

As Oldenburg described them, third places are great equalizers, spots where regulars of different backgrounds and perspectives can mingle in a location that is comfortable, unpretentious, and low-cost.

Allie Volpe, “If you want to belong, find a third place

Unpretentious, low cost, and made up of people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Good goal for any space, in my opinion. We’ve been traveling to a lot of different regions and cities around the country, and thinking about it, that describes a lot of the places we’ve liked the most: places where folks live, aren’t caught up in some sort of weird regional exceptionalism, and generally seem more willing to talk to you than to make assumptions. (I realize our experience might not always be what others experience on that front – we’re white and are generally pretty “presentable”, so we might get more of a pass than others.)

Just some food for thought. As we figure out where we want to land after this walkabout wraps up, I think this is probably going to rattle around in the back of my brain, trying to consider where I feel like I could cultivate a third place that I’d enjoy.

Winter is Fading

I’ve been remiss about keeping up with this blog – mea culpa. No real excuses other than being tired a lot, between the traveling and working.

The traveling does continue to be fun, though. We’ve basically done the perimeter of the continental United States – we started in Oregon, then went through Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, up into Ontario and Quebec in Canada, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and we’ll be getting back to Oregon later today.

Obviously we stayed in some of those locations longer than others, and a few were effectively drive-bys just long enough to be able to count them. Still, not a bad range to do over 7 months – 29 states and 2 provinces. And we’re not done – we’re going to spend a few weeks in Portland to see friends and do some preparations, and then we’re heading east again, this time cutting more through the center of the country. (At this point I just need to visit Alaska to have done all 50 states – Simone has more to visit, but is rapidly catching up with this trip.)

Doing the perimeter of the country worked well for us – it meant that as the weather started to get cold in the northeast, we were able to cut south and enjoy far more temperate climes for the winter (though we did still bump into the cold spell here and there, and even snow in both New Mexico and Arizona – you don’t think of the southwest as being snowy, but the northern parts of both states are high enough in elevation that they do actually get a fair bit of snow).

California is quite a bit greener than it has been in past visits – even LA was looking pretty lush. This is in large part due to the heavier rain and snow the state has received the past two winters. I’d love to believe that the shift will continue and maybe they’ll finally get out of perpetual drought conditions, but the cynic in me sees it more as building up more tinder for when the wildfires come again. Regardless, I appreciate seeing it right now.

I’ll try to update my gallery soon, but in the meantime, you can sort of see the ongoing travelogue on my Instagram.

Durable Pseudonyms

An interesting piece by Alfred Moore over at The Conversation talking about “Online anonymity: study found ‘stable pseudonyms’ created a more civil environment than real user names“. This hearkens back to a lot of thoughts I had about online identity back in the day – it’s interesting to see newer studies examining the space. The basic gist is that when comparing online discourse using real-life names, pseudonyms, or “durable pseudonyms”, stable pseudonyms led to notably more civil discussion.

Our results suggest that the quality of comments was highest in the middle phase. There was a great improvement after the shift from easy or disposable anonymity to what we call “durable pseudonyms”. But instead of improving further after the shift to the real-name phase, the quality of comments actually got worse – not as bad as in the first phase, but still worse by our measure.

Alfred Moore

This makes sense to me! I couldn’t tell you why a stable pseudonym ends up hitting the sweet spot, but anecdotally, it matches my experiences. There needs to be enough friction to spinning up a new account that folks are reluctant to do it just to talk trash, but not so heavy a process that no one will sign up. Sounds like the study authors are not 100% sure why, either, though they have some hypotheses:

We don’t know exactly what explains our results, but one possibility is that under durable pseudonyms the users orient their comments primarily at their fellow commentators as an audience. They then perhaps develop a concern for their own reputation within that forum, as has been suggested elsewhere.

Alfred Moore

Ello, Goodbye

Andy Baio has a nice, if bittersweet, elegy for ello, a social network that was (ostensibly) built for creatives, “The Quiet Death of Ello’s Big Dreams“. It is, if anything, a testament to the risks of pulling in VC money.

In June 2023, the servers just started returning errors, making nine years of member contributions inaccessible, apparently forever — every post, artwork, song, portfolio, and the community built there was gone in an instant.

How did this happen? What happened between the idealistic manifesto above and the sudden shutdown?

It’s a story so old and familiar, I predicted it shortly after Ello launched.

Andy Baio, “The Quiet Death of Ello’s Big Dreams”

I had an Ello account, joined in the initial rush when it launched, then wandered off. I’d occasionally check in on it, but was never particularly invested. Still, it’s kind of sad to see it just evaporate like that, and I feel for the users who were active on the service and lost everything they’d posted there.

It sort of reinforces the notion to me that the way tech startups are funded these days is just fundamentally broken. There’s this allure of VC money, but inherent to VC funding is this notion of perpetual rapid growth, and of either building an empire or being acquired by one. And if you’re trying to build an empire, that’s fine. But what if you only want a kingdom? Something only as big as you can manage, built to endure, but bigger and more notable than a small mom-and-pop shop. What does funding for that look like?

A few quick links about the web

Some quick links I wanted to capture. First, Joan Westenberg, writing “I miss the internet.” I miss it, too.

The homogeneity of the modern web is disheartening. Every website and platform is just a slight variation on a handful of templates. The eccentricity, the vibrant individuality, and the raw expression that once pulsated across the net all seem to have been replaced by either an inoffensive, user-friendly sameness or an algorithm-endorsed near-genocidal mania of hate speech that is somehow deemed socially acceptable.

Worse still, today’s internet is a place of scrutiny, surveillance, and unprecedented data exploitation. We’ve traded our privacy and autonomy for the convenience and connectivity it provides, and in so doing, have become commodities in an unseen market. In the pursuit of progress and personalization, we have inadvertently sterilized the very essence of the web, transforming it from a shared experience into a solitary echo chamber.

Joan Westenberg, “I miss the internet”

Then Anil Dash wrote a piece for Rolling Stone, and then elaborated on his blog, “The Web Renaissance Takes Off“:

So, while I’m still circumspect and cautious about the very real threats and harms that will come from the worst parts of the major internet platforms, I am more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time about the massive potential of the human internet to come roaring back in a way that we haven’t seen in a generation. More and more, I think of it as “the people’s web”. And like so many things that come from, and by, the power of the people, it’s a movement that can be delayed, or undermined, but increasingly I have come to believe that it cannot possibly be truly stopped.

Anil Dash, “The Web Renaissance Takes Off”

(I appreciate the optimism of it, and remain somewhat hopeful as well.)

Next, from Jason, a post asking “Where have all the websites gone?” Which feels a bit like an elegy for the internet of yesteryear, while calling out something I’ve felt myself: one of the ways the old internet worked was through the curators, and how essential the sharing was.

We used to know how to do this. Not long ago, we were good at separating the signal from noise. Granted, there’s a lot more noise these days, but most of it comes from and is encouraged by the silos we dwell in.

Somewhere between the late 2000’s aggregator sites and the contemporary For You Page, we lost our ability to curate the web. Worse still, we’ve outsourced our discovery to corporate algorithms. Most of us did it in exchange for an endless content feed. By most, I mean upwards of 90% who don’t make content on a platform as understood by the 90/9/1 rule. And that’s okay! Or, at least, it makes total sense to me. Who wouldn’t want a steady stream of dopamine shots?

Jason, “Where have all the websites gone?”

Worth a read. I like seeing the direction the discourse has been going lately.

Finally, Giles Turnbull issues a challenge to creators and developers: let’s put effort into creating a sea of new tools for the indie web, and let’s make them easy to install and use:

We need more self-hosted platforms for personal publishing that aren’t WordPress. And don’t point me to Hugo or Netlify or Eleventy or all those things – all of them are great, but none of them are simple enough. We need web publishing tools that do not require users to open the Terminal at all. And we need lots of them. 

We need a whole galaxy of options.


It’s not that I hate WordPress. I don’t use it, personally, but I don’t hate it. I can see the benefits of using it. It’s a great tool. 

But it needs more competition. People coming fresh to web publishing should have more options.

Giles Turnbull, “Let’s make the indie web easier”

I do use WordPress, and I still agree with the sentiment – the competition is useful to keep all platforms on their toes, and now may be a fantastic opportunity to go back to first principles and see what a tool for putting things on the internet should look like now.