Economic Models in Social Media and a Better Way Forward

Matt Ridley indicates in The Rational Optimist that markets for goods and services “work so well that it is hard to design them so they fail to deliver efficiency and innovation” while assets markets are nearly doomed to failure and require close and careful regulation.

If we view the social media landscape from this perspective, an IndieWeb world in which people are purchasing services like the ability to move their domain name and URL permalinks from one web host to another; easy import/export of their data; and CMS (content management system) services/platforms/functionalities, represents the successful market mode for our personal data and online identities. Here competition for these sorts of services will not only improve the landscape, but generally increased competition will tend to drive the costs to consumers down. The internet landscape is developed and sophisticated enough and broadly based on shared standards that this mode of service market should easily be able to not only thrive, but innovate.

At the other end of the spectrum, if our data are viewed as assets in an asset market between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al., it is easy to see that the market has already failed so miserably that one cannot even easily move ones’ assets from one silo to another or really protect them in any meaningful way. Social media services don’t compete to export or import data because the goal is to trap you and your data and attention there, otherwise they lose. The market corporate social media is really operating in is one for eyeballs and attention to sell advertising, so one will notice a very health, thriving, and innovating market for advertisers. Social media users will easily notice that there is absolutely no regulation in the service portion of the space at all. This only allows the system to continue failing to provide improved or even innovative service to people on their “service”. The only real competition in the corporate silo social media space is for eyeballs and participation because the people and their attention are the real product.

As a result, new players whose goal is to improve the health of the social media space, like the recent entrant Cohost, are far better off creating a standards based service that allows users to register their own domain names and provide a content management service that has easy import and export of their data. This will play into the services market mode which improves outcomes for people. Aligning in any other competition mode that silos off these functions will force them into competition with the existing corporate social services and we already know where those roads lead.

Those looking for ethical and healthy models of this sort of social media service might look at Manton Reece‘s Micro.blog platform which provides a wide variety of these sorts of data services including data export and taking your domain name with you. If you’re unhappy with his service, then it’s relatively easy to export your data and move it to another host using WordPress or some other CMS. On the flip side, if you’re unhappy with your host and CMS, then it’s also easy to move over to Micro.blog and continue along just as you had before. Best of all, Micro.blog is offering lots of the newest and most innovative web standards including webmention notifications which enable website-to-website conversations, micropub, and even portions of microsub not to mention some great customer service.

I like to analogize the internet and social media to competition in the telecom/cellular phone space In America, you have a phone number (domain name) and can then have your choice of service provider (hosting), and a choice of telephone (CMS) for interacting with the network. Somehow instead of adopting a social media common carrier model, we have trapped ourselves inside of a model that doesn’t provide the users any sort of real service or options. It’s easy to imagine what it would be like to need your own AT&T account to talk to family on AT&T and a separate T-Mobile account to talk to your friends on T-Mobile because that’s exactly what you’re doing with social media despite the fact that you’re all still using the same internet. Part of the draw was that services like Facebook appeared to be “free”. It’s only years later that we’re seeing the all too real costs emerge.

This sort of competition and service provision also goes down to subsidiary layers of the ecosystem. New service providers don’t necessarily need to take the soup to nuts approach that Micro.Blog does. Take for example the idea of writing interface and text editing. There are (paid) services like iA Writer, Ulysses, and Typora which people use to compose their writing. Many people use these specifically for writing blog posts. Companies can charge for these products because of their beauty, simplicity, and excellent user interfaces. Some of them either already do or ostensibly could support the micropub and IndieAuth web standards which allow their users the ability to log into their websites and directly post their saved content from these editors directly to their website. Sure there are also a dozen or so other free micropub clients that also allow this, but why not have and allow competition for beauty and ease of use? Let’s say you like WordPress enough, but aren’t a fan of the Gutenberg editor. Should you need to change to Drupal or some unfamiliar static site generator to exchange a better composing experience for a dramatically different and unfamiliar back end experience? No, you could simply change your editor client and continue on without missing a beat. Of course the opposite also applies—WordPress could split out Gutenberg as a standalone (possibly paid) micropub client and users could then easily use it to post to Drupal, Micro.blog, or other CMSs that support the micropub spec, and many already do.

Social media should be a service to and for people all the way down to its core. The more companies there are that provide these sorts of services means more competition which will also tend to lure people away from silos where they’re trapped for lack of options. Further, if your friends are on services that interoperate and can cross communicate with standards like Webmention from site to site, you no longer need to be on Facebook because “that’s where your friends and family all are.” The more competition there is for cleaner, nicer user interfaces and simple solutions, the less lock in effects will be felt from existing and predatory social services.

I have no doubt that we can all get to a healthier place online, but it’s going to take companies and startups like Cohost to make better choices in how they frame their business models. Co-ops and non-profits can help here too. I can easily see a co-op adding webmention to their Mastodon site to allow users to see and moderate their own interactions instead of forcing local or global timelines on their constituencies. Perhaps Garon didn’t think Webmention was a fit for Mastodon, but this doesn’t mean that others couldn’t support it. I personally think that Darius Kazemi‘s Hometown fork of Mastodon which allows “local only” posting a fabulous little innovation while still allowing interaction with a wider readership, including me who reads his content from there in a microsub enabled social reader. Perhaps someone forks Mastodon to use as a social feed reader, but builds in micropub so that instead of posting the reply to a Mastodon account, it’s posted to one’s IndieWeb capable website which sends a webmention notification to the original post? Opening up competition this way makes lots of new avenues for every day social tools. One might posit that it was this lack of diverse solutions and common standards in the early 2000s  that allowed corporations like Facebook, Twitter, et al. to entirely consume the market and fragment our online identities this way.

Continuing the same old siloing of our data and online connections is not the way forward. We’ll see who stands by their ethics and morals by serving people’s interests and not the advertising industry.

Primarily composed on July 03, 2022 at 02:36PM in support of and partially in response to A Silo Can Never Provide Digital Autonomy to its Users by Ariadne Conill.

Annotated a tweet by Matty Illustration (@MN_illustration) (Twitter)

Y’all, imagine Spielberg’s Sailor Moon pic.twitter.com/xZ1DEsbLTy

— Matty Illustration (@MN_illustration) June 30, 2022
The trending topics on Twitter can be used as a form of juxtaposition of random ideas which could be brought together to make new and interesting things.

Here’s but one example of someone practicing just this:

Editor’s note: The now missing image attached to the tweet was of the Twitter trending topics sidebar that showed Sailor Moon trending just above Steven Spielberg

cc: @marshallk

Annotated Mrs. Custer’s Tennyson by William Logan (newcriterion.com)
Those who read with pen in hand form a species nearly extinct. Those who read the marginal notes of readers past form a group even smaller. Yet when we write in antiphonal chorus to what we’re reading, we engage in that conversation time and distance otherwise make impossible. 
Annotated Pivoting with Hypothesis during Covid by Christine MoskellChristine Moskell (Hypothesis | OLC Innovate 2020 | YouTube)

Kicking off OLC Innovate 2020, Hypothesis held two free workshop sessions on collaborative annotation with members of AnnotatED. The sessions each started with a "Getting on the same page" introduction from Jeremy Dean of Hypotheses, followed by "Notes from the field", where a variety of AnnotatED community members talked about what's happening with collaborative annotation at their schools and participants had the chance to discuss ideas and questions with these experienced practitioners.

In this clip Christine Moskell, Instructional Designer at Colgate University, shares examples of how instructors used Hypothesis during the Covid pivot. 

Christine Moskell talks about a professor’s final exam design prompting students to go back to annotations and add new commentary (or links to other related knowledge) that they’ve gained during the length of a course.

This is very similar to the sort of sensemaking and interlinking of information that Sönke Ahrens outlines in his book How to Take Smart Notes though his broader note taking thesis goes a few additional steps for more broadly synthesizing ideas into longer papers, articles, theses, and books.

Dr. Moskell also outlined a similar tactic at the Hypothesis Social Learning Summit: Spotlight on Social Reading & Social Annotation earlier today, though that video may not be accessible for a bit.

How can we better center and model these educational practices in our pedagogies?

Annotated The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp and Mark ReiterTwyla Tharp and Mark Reiter (Simon & Schuster)

She puts the ideas together and tries to broker a deal for the conglomerate to acquire a radio network. At the end, she’s challenged to describe how she came up with the plan for the acquisition. It’s a telling scene. She has just been fired. On her way out of the building, with all her files and personal items packed in a box (a box just like mine!), she gets a chance to explain her thought process to the mogul:

See? This is Forbes. It’s just your basic article about how you were looking to expand into broadcasting. Right? Okay now. The same day—I’ll never forget this—I’m reading Page Six of the New York Post and there’s this item on Bobby Stein, the radio talk show guy who does all those gross jokes about Ethiopia and the Betty Ford Center. Well, anyway, he’s hosting this charity auction that night. Real bluebloods and won’t that be funny? Now I turn the page to Suzy who does the society stuff and there’s this picture of your daughter—see, nice picture—and she’s helping to organize the charity ball. So I started to think: Trask, Radio, Trask, Radio.... So now here we are.

He’s impressed and hires her on the spot. Forget the fairy-tale plot; as a demonstration of how to link A to B and come up with C, Working Girl is a primer in the art of scratching. 

The plot twist at the end of Working Girl (Twentieth Century Fox, 1988) turns on Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) explaining her stroke of combinatorial creativity in coming up with a business pitch. Because she had juxtaposed several disparate ideas from the New York Post several pages from each other in a creative way, she got the job and Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) is left embarrassed because she can’t explain how she came up with a complicated combination of ideas.

Tess McGill (portrayed by a big 80's haired Melanie Griffith) packing a brown banker's box with her office items and papers leaving her office and her job.
A Working Girl’s Zettelkasten

Tess McGill has slips of newspaper with ideas on them and a physical box to put them in.

slips with ideas + box = zettelkasten

Bonus points because she links her ideas, right?!

Annotated Marshall Kirkpatrick on source selection, connecting ideas, diverse thinking, and enabling serendipity (Ep14) by Ross Dawson (Thriving on Overload)

Marshall’s method for connecting which he calls Triangle Thinking (26:41) 

Marshall Kirkpatrick describes a method of taking three ostensibly random ideas and attempting to view each from the others’ perspectives as a way to create new ideas by linking them together.

This method is quite similar to that of Raymond Llull as described in Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory (UChicago Press, 1966), though there Llull was memorizing and combinatorially permuting 20 or more ideas at a time. It’s also quite similar to the sort of meditative practice found in the lectio divina, though there ideas are generally limited to religious ones for contemplation.

Other examples:
https://hypothes.is/users/chrisaldrich?q=%22combinatorial+creativity%22
https://hypothes.is/users/chrisaldrich?q=%22Llullan%20combinatorial%20arts%22

Annotated Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto EcoUmberto Eco (Secker & Warburg)
No piece of information is superior to any other. Power lies in having them all on file and then finding the connections. There are always connections; you have only to want to find them.
If you’re not sure how to start the first card in your zettelkasten, simply write this quote down on an index card, put a number in the corner, and go…
Replied to Monks, a polymath and an invention made by two people at the same time. It’s all in the history of the index by Aaron DavisAaron Davis (Read Write Collect)
Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Julie Street discuss Dennis Duncan research in the index. He explains how the practice evolved separately in Paris and Oxford during 1230. Although the two inventions were not connected, they were both associated with the rise of the university and the lecture. In the early 13th...
Great find Aaron. Thanks for the ping.

I’ve gone back further than this for the commonplace and the florilegium which helped to influence their creation, though I’ve not delved into the specific invention or general use of indices in the space heavily. I suspected that they grew out of the tradition of using headwords, though I’m not sure that indices became more popular until the paper by John Locke in 1689 (in French) or 1706 (in English).

I’ll put Dr. Duncan’s book into the hopper and see what he’s got to say on the topic.

A Domain of One’s Own for use as a personal Learning Management System (pLMS)

I love that Johannes Klingbiel’s article Building a new website highlights having his own place on the Internet as a means to learn.

To learn—A rather obvious one, but I wanted to challenge myself again. 

While I suspect that part of the idea here is to learn about the web and programming, it’s also important to have a place you can more easily look over and review as well as build out on as one learns. This dovetails in part with his third reason to have his own website: “to build”. It’s much harder to build out a learning space on platforms like Medium and Twitter. It’s not as easy to revisit those articles and notes as those platforms aren’t custom built for those sorts of learning affordances.

Building your own website for learning makes it by definition a learning management system. The difference between my idea of a learning management system here and the more corporate LMSes (Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) is that you can change and modify the playground as you go. While your own personal LMS may also be a container for holding knowledge, it is a container for building and expanding knowledge. Corporate LMSes aren’t good at these last two things, but are built for making it easier for a course facilitator to distribute and grade material.

We definitely need more small personal learning management systems. (pLMS, anyone? I like the idea of the small “p” to highlight the value of these being small.) Even better if they have social components like some of the IndieWeb building blocks that make it easier for one to build a personal learning network and interact with others’ LMSes on the web. I see some of this happening in the Digital Gardens space and with people learning and sharing in public.

[[Flancian]]’s Anagora.org is a good example of this type of public learning space that is taking the individual efforts of public learners and active thinkers and knitting their efforts together to facilitate a whole that is bigger than the sum of it’s pieces.

Bookmarked I Like Index Cards by Aegir Aegir (Aegir.org)
I've been meaning to do some kind of index card style template for the site for ages and never got round to it. Now I have. I’m quite pleased with it. CSS repeating gradient lines and all that. 
An absolutely beautiful design for short notes. This is the sort of theme that will appeal to zettelkasten users who are building digital gardens. A bit of the old mixed in with the new.

Pete Moor in // pimoore.ca ()

Annotated a tweet by @AmberRegis (Twitter)
I’d probably have done it digitally with @Hypothes_is to share with others, but kudos to those who can still fathom the analog.
https://via.hypothes.is/https://www.gutenberg.org/files/145/145-h/145-h.htm

Does Spirit hide in the filing cabinet?

On a slip in his zettelkasten (a card catalog or filing cabinet of personal notes), entitled “Does Spirit hide in the filing cabinet?”, Niklas Luhmann wrote a note about people who came to see his system:

“People come, they see everything and nothing more than that, just like in porn movies; consequently, they leave disappointed.”

This is a telling story about people’s perception of the simplicity of the idea of a slip box (zettelkasten, card catalog, commonplace book or whatever you want to call your note taking system).

yellowed index card with the identifier 9/8,3 with almost illegible handwriting in German Niklas Luhmann, Zettelkasten II, index card no. 9/8,3

It’s also a testament to the fact that the value of a zettelkasten is in the upfront work that is required in making valuable notes and linking them. Many people end up trying out the simple looking system and then wonder why it isn’t working for them. The answer is that they’re not working for it.

Just as sex can be fun, working with a system of notes can be fun. (“Just” can be a problematic word, n’cest pas?)  In either framing, both partners need to do some work—neither necessarily the same work. The end result can be magic.

As Potter Stewart might have said, “I may not be able to define proper note taking, but I know it when I see it.”

Annotated About by Mandy BrownMandy Brown (A Working Library)
books are a means of listening to the thoughts of others so that you can hear your own thoughts more clearly. 
to which I might add:

And annotation helps you save those thoughts, share them with others, and further refine them.

Annotated Have you “Moved to Substack”? by Ray (Blogroll.org)
...when I browse from someone’s blog over to their Substack it feels like going from a sweet little neighborhood into a staid corporate park. A little piece of joy dies in me when that happens because it’s another reminder of the corporatization of the web. 
Annotated Curating a Public Conversation about Annotation (commonplace.knowledgefutures.org)
For academics, annotation is also essential to scholarly communication and knowledge production. With Annotation, we eagerly accepted a social and scholarly responsibility to spark, curate, and facilitate discussion about annotation. 
The tools for thought crowd should all be reading Kalir and Garcia’s book Annotation.