We’ve been on the road for a few weeks now, and it’s been pretty good, all told. Some highlights behind the cut.Continue reading “You can hear the crickets”
The short version is that Simone and I (and Cecil!) have put most of our belongings in storage, and have begun a grand sojourn around the country, with plans to stop at various destinations for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months at a time. Our first destination is Vermont, and we plan to be there for most of the fall (at least September and October, we’ll see beyond that). (Doesn’t mean the whole time will be Vermont – we’re definitely planning some day trips to other parts of New England, and a weekend in New York City to see a few friends. But it is where we plan to have our base of operations for the fall!)
The how is actually pretty straightforward: my job is very remote friendly, so barring the occasional travel day, I can do my job anywhere with a semi-decent internet connection. And Simone is in a remote-friendly graduate program, so again, nothing to hold us in one spot. So if you have that freedom, why not make use of it? I’m still working through all of this, which is also an interesting experiment, to see how I do keeping up with work while traveling. (And yes, they’re aware that I’m doing this and have my boss’s blessing.) Continuing to get paychecks certainly makes the traveling a lot easier!Continue reading “On the Road Again”
Just got done attending the Final Fantasy XIV Fan Fest in Las Vegas. It was two days of hanging out with 15,000 people who were all there because they love a game enough to throw down on tickets, airfare, hotel, and all the other costs to be there, to celebrate with other fans, to learn new things, and to see the announcement for the new expansion, live:Continue reading “FFFF 2023”
I’ll shush on this soon, as I’m sure y’all either are already getting flooded with thinkpieces about this, or don’t care about the topic that much. But before I move on to other things, a nice article by Watts Martin: “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This App Is About You: On Meta and Mastodon” The gist is that a lot of the hand-wringing about Threads (and more specifically, Meta) joining the Fediverse and mucking it up is probably overblown.
How can I say that so confidently? Because Threads is not a Mastodon instance. It is its own self-contained, centralized social network with plans to let its users follow Mastodon accounts and vice versa.
So, on one hand: a billion users who accept Instagram showing them ads, algorithm-jamming their timelines and hoovering up as much personally identifiable information about them as they can. On the other: two or three million users on an explicitly anti-corporate platform engineered to be highly resistant to leaking private data. I dare you to make a convincing business case for Facebook spending a single cent trying to capture a fraction of the second group, when it’s less than a percent the size of the first group.Watts Martin
I’m inclined to agree… mostly. I think them even announcing plans to support ActivityPub was a red herring, a way to hedge their bets in case they didn’t get the immediate traction they were hoping for. (And as Watts points out in their piece, it looks good to regulators.) Since they did get the rapid adoption going, I wouldn’t be surprised if that feature quietly drops off their roadmap entirely. And honestly, that’s fine – I didn’t really expect them to keep it open for very long anyway, so if it never opens up in the first place, the end result is the same.
I do also agree with Watts that mastodon instance admins being reactionary and defederating Threads before it even opens is overkill – silencing them so they don’t end up flooding your Federated tab and killing your server is probably plenty.
The truly toxic idea, though, is that Mastodon instances should not only refuse to federate with Threads, but they should refuse to federate with other servers that do federate with Threads. In other words, users should be punished for decisions they have no control over and may not even be aware of, made by the administrators of servers they don’t belong to. I am dead serious when I call this toxic. The default position must, must, be that breaking your users’ social graphs is a last resort against clear and present danger. A server explicitly welcomes Nazis, child porn, TERFs, and serial harassers? Block that fucker. But it’s absurd to insist that federating with Meta’s general-interest server presents the same threat level.Watts Martin
A while back, Cory Doctorow had an article that made the rounds called “Tiktok’s Enshittification“, and then a follow-up called “Gig apps trap reverse centaurs in wage-stealing Skinner boxes“, both of which are well worth the time to read. I’m fairly certain that’s where the term “enshittification” was coined, and damn if it doesn’t make a lot of sense:
Continue reading “Enshittification (and what to do about it)”
Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die.
I call this enshittification, and it is a seemingly inevitable consequence arising from the combination of the ease of changing how a platform allocates value, combined with the nature of a “two sided market,” where a platform sits between buyers and sellers, holding each hostage to the other, raking off an ever-larger share of the value that passes between them.Cory Doctorow, “Tiktok’s Enshittification“
Two things, only one of which is probably relevant to you:
- I’ve migrated my gallery into WordPress. It currently is just the work that was in my old gallery, but I’ll be adding new stuff going forward. (It’s also linked to in the nav bar at the top of the page!)
- I’ve made some behind-the-scenes tweaks, how image attachment pages work, and also added a plugin for improving how the WordPress media library works (FileBird is what I landed on, will explain my thoughts on it all below the cut). If you notice any broken links or odd behavior, please let me know!
I’d started writing a screed here about how Threads’ purported support for interoperation with other services through ActivityPub (an open standard) is a red herring, and how they’ll be locking it down as soon as they hit a critical mass (which I stand by, for what it’s worth – I give it two years before things start shifting, shutting down APIs, breaking interoperability, adding features that “only work in Threads”, putting their thumb on the scales for changes to the standard, etc). But I realized I was wearing my Cynic Hat, and yucking peoples’ yum doesn’t really help. I’ve already mentioned my concerns about their privacy settings and intertwining with Instagram – if, knowing that, you still opt to sign up, that’s up to you, go have fun.
So instead, here’s a few projects that are giving me some hope:
- The Flickr Foundation and Wikimedia Commons are partnering to improve the bridge between the services. (For those out of the loop, Flickr has been quietly rebuilding itself since it was acquired by SmugMug back in 2018, and launched a non-profit – the Flickr Foundation – in 2022, to help steward the large body of public domain or creative commons licensed material that had accumulated. I have a soft spot for any project that aims at preservation and responsible sharing of creative work, and this seems like a good one.)
- Several museums have begun making available high quality scans of many important works from their archives. Notably, the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art are both doing this. The Creative Law Center has a page with a list of museums part of this effort! (If you haven’t checked the Creative Law Center out, it’s a fantastic resource for explaining things like copyright, trademarks, licensing, and what to do about it all as a creator.)
- Tumblr. Hear me out: after seeing it get run into the ground by corporate parent companies (for years!), seeing it get some genuine love and support from their new owners (Automattic, same folks who own WordPress) has been refreshing and appreciated. It has its own culture and customs, and while they’ve made efforts to provide some mechanisms for monetization (gotta pay that server bill somehow, right?), those efforts have very much been in keeping with the nature of the site and the people who use it. Time will tell on whether that’s enough for them to thrive, but that they’re at least trying alternatives to the current de facto default of highly targeted user-data-driven advertising gives me some hope. Obviously I’m more aligned with hosting your own shit, but if that’s not viable for some reason, going somewhere that at least isn’t going to actively sell you to the highest bidder feels like a good next-best alternative.
The continued collapse of Twitter has lead to all sorts of folks scrambling to fill the void. They’re all a bit of a shitshow in different ways (which, let’s be honest, so is/was Twitter). Will Blue Sky be the next Twitter? Will Threads be the next Twitter? Will Hive be the next Twitter? Will Twitter be the next Twitter? It’s all a bit laughable.
First there were the young scrappy services that were already trying to do a thing (think Mastodon or Hive), so already existed when the exodus from Twitter first started. None of those are going to get the mass inertia (and I think that’s a good thing, let them fill particular niches like they already were – hopefully enough folks stick around there that it just makes them more viable for their communities in the long run).
Now you’ve got the services that were either in development (Blue Sky) or fast-followed (Threads). Blue Sky might end up doing a thing – I’m not on it, but it sounds like a lot of “the cool kids” managed to land there. It’s still a semi-closed beta, so it’s got the “exclusivity” thing going (but folks say also means it feels more like pre-2013 Twitter). Threads is Meta’s fast-follow into the Twitter-like space, it just came out, and design-wise people seem okay with it, but is a privacy nightmare, and has the sort of dark patterns and bullshittery you’d expect from Meta (for instance, if you decide you don’t like Threads and want to delete your Threads account, you must also delete the Instagram account you linked to it).
Broderick had a good observation that’s been making the rounds:
I think hardcore Twitter users have rose-colored glasses about the site’s coolness. The reason for its success, if you can argue that it was ever really successful, wasn’t that it was cooler than Facebook. It was because of its proximity to power. The reason it was so popular with activists, extremists, journalists, and shitposters was because what you posted there could actually affect culture. The thing that ties together pretty much everything that’s happened on Twitter since it launched in 2006 was the possibility that those who were not in power (or wanted more) could influence those who were. And I don’t think it’s an accident that a deranged billionaire broke that, nor do I think it’s accident that we’re suddenly being offered smaller, insular platforms or an offshoot of a Meta app as replacements. The folks in charge clearly don’t want that to happen again.Ryan Broderick, “Paying to use a site you can’t use anymore“
I think he’s right. I also think that will probably continue to be an anomaly. The “social media” era in general I don’t think has been a healthy one, both for individuals and as a culture. There have been some great benefits (rapid information dissemination in times of crisis, methods to have dialogue with folks in positions of power, etc), but it’s lead to some pretty massive drawbacks as well (a rise in depression and feelings of isolation, conflation with personal identity and “brand”, influencer culture in general).
I don’t know what shape things will go from where, what the transition will be, or if we’ll not actually move on and instead just limp along with a shittier, rotted husk of an internet. I think the corporate-driven shambling zombie outcome is just as likely (or more likely) as the outcome where we move past this and figure out a healthier, better method for interacting online. The internet is pretty shit right now, but shit can make good fertilizer, so a part of me remains hopeful that there’s a seed somewhere out there that will germinate and grow, and in like a year or three we start hearing about something that is surprisingly awesome. (I don’t think it’ll be any of the services from now, though.)
Over at sabrinas.space, Sabrina Cruz has a great breakdown of how web design differs between western and Japanese sites, written in support of their video on the same topic. Well researched, and they even go into details on how they collected their data. Good stuff.
While the rest of the world’s smart phone adoption began with the iPhone, Japan was years ahead – but alone. This article points out:
[Japanese cellphones had] e-mail capabilities in 1999, camera phones in 2000, third-generation networks in 2001, full music downloads in 2002, electronic payments in 2004 and digital TV in 2005.
The result was that Japan’s smart phone culture evolved separately from the rest of the world. There was less emphasis on large pictures and text was more acceptable since it had been the norm since the early days.sabrinas.space
Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s fascinating to see how this sort of stuff differs in different cultures and regions. Makes you wonder what sort of further shifts in technology will influence design in the future (looking at you, Vision Pro).
The slow train wreck that is Elon’s Twitter continues to both entertain and dismay. Damion Schubert has a solid summary of the latest mess (blue-check/verification shenanigans), and why it’s yet another example of a tone-deaf cock-up by the owner. I particularly liked this gem from his post:
The problem is that status isn’t why the blue checkmark was important . And because he didn’t understand it, now the status associated with the blue checkmark is roughly as desirable to wear as a dead fish found in the anus of a rotting skunk.Damion Schubert, “It’s Not About Status, Elon. Only Now It Is.“
Other “delightful” recent shenanigans include:
- Updating their abuse policies to no longer protect trans folk.
- Listing news organizations like NPR as state-run media (who aren’t) while removing the state-run media tag from other organizations like RT (who are). (NPR finally had enough and has left Twitter, and I don’t blame them.)
- Banned left-wing activists, while unbanning and welcoming back actual neonazis.
- The list goes on, hopefully you get the gist.
I’ve not been talking much about this tire fire lately, partly because I haven’t been blogging much at all, but also because it’s the sort of thing that you probably either a) don’t care about, or b) are already following along and are aware. But still, sometimes it’s useful just to touch base. It’s not frequent that you get to see as major a service as Twitter actively implode. It feels kind of like if you were able to get an accelerated, bird’s eye view of the fall of Rome.