Lurking is the quiet watching/listening that what many people of the web do in chat rooms in order to begin gauging culture, learning jargon or lingo, and other community norms or unspoken principles before diving in to interact on a more direct level with other participants.
While the word lurking can have a very negative connotation, online it often has a much more positive one, especially in regard to the health and civility of the commons. Rather than rehash what Ton has done an excellent job of doing, I won’t go into the heavy details and history of online lurking, but instead, let’s take a look at where it isn’t in today’s social media landscape.
Since 2004, Twitter and a slew of other social media has popped up on the scene and changed many of our prior behaviors concerning lurking. In particular, Twitter’s interface has made it far easier to either like/favorite a post or retweet it.
In comparison the the preceding era of the blogosphere represented by Tons’ post, Twitter has allowed people to send simple notifications back and forth about each others’ posts indicating a lower bar of interaction than writing a thoughtful and measured comment. Now instead of not knowing about dozens, hundreds, or thousands of lurkers, a (micro)blogger would more quickly know who many more of their readers were because they were liking or resharing their content. Naturally there are still many more potential lurkers who don’t interact with one’s posts this way, but these interactions in some way are like adding fuel to the fire and prompt the writer to continue posting because they’re getting some feedback that indicates they’ve got an audience. Twitter has dramatically lowered the bar for lurkers and made it more socially acceptable for them to make themselves known.
Of course, not all is rosy and happy in Twitterland as a result of this lowering the social bar. Because it’s so easy to follow almost anyone and interact with them, naturally everyone does. This means that while before one may have lurked a blog for weeks or months before posting a response of any sort, people are now regularly replying to complete strangers without an resistance whatsoever. While this can be valuable and helpful in many instances, oftentimes it comes off as rudely as if one butted into the private conversation of strangers at a public gathering. At the farther end of the spectrum, it’s also much easier for trolls to tag and target unsuspecting victims. As a result, we have the dumpster fire that Twitter has become in the past several years for many of its users.
The problem for the continued health of the commons is how can we maintain a bar for online lurking, but still provide some feedback? How can we keep people from shouting and yelling at passer-by from their proverbial front porches or vice-versa? How might we encourage more positive lurking online before directly jumping into a conversation?
Read Posts and Private Posts
For several years now, as a part of the IndieWeb movement, I’ve been more directly controlling my online identity and owning my content by using my own domain name and my own website (boffosocko.com). While I still use Twitter, I’m generally only reading content from it via a feed reader. When I post to or interact with it, I’m always publishing my content on my own website first and syndicating a copy to Twitter for those who don’t own their online identities or content and (sadly) rely on Twitter to do that for them.
Within this setting, since roughly late 2016, I’ve been posting almost all of what I read online or in books, magazines, or newspapers on my own website. These read posts include some context and are often simply composed of the title of the article, the author, the outlet, a summary/synopsis/or first paragraph or two to remind me what the piece was about, and occasionally a comment or two or ten I had on the piece.
In tandem with these posts, I’m also sending webmentions to the websites of those pieces. These (experimental) read webmentions are simply notifications to the originating site that I’ve read their piece. In our prior framing of lurking or Twitter, I’m sending them the simplest notification I can think of to say, “I’m here lurking. I’m reading or looking at your work.”
I’m not saying that I liked it, favorited it, disliked it, bookmarked it, commented on it, or anything else, but simply that I read it, I consumed it, I spent the time to interact with it. But in contrast with Ton’s older method of looking at server logs to see what kind of traffic his posts are getting, he can see exactly who I am and visit my website in return if he chooses. (Ton’s old method of sifting through those logs was certainly not a fun experience and the data was usually relatively anonymous and useless.) These newer read notifications could potentially give him a much richer idea of who his (lurking) audience actually is. Then when someone shows up with a comment or reply, it’s not completely from out of the dark: they’ve previously indicated that they’re at least somewhat aware of the context of a potentially broader conversation on his site.
These read notifications are semantically different from likes, favorites, or even bookmarks on other platforms. In fact many platforms like Twitter, which has moved from “stars” (with the semantic idea of a favorite) to “hearts” (with the semantic idea of a like), have so few indicators of reaction to a post that the actual meaning of them has been desperately blurred. Personally I’ll use Twitter’s like functionality variously to mean: “I’m bookmarking this (or the linked article within it) for reading later”, “I like this post”, “I’ve read this post”, or even “I’m acknowledging receipt of your reply to me”. That’s just too much meaning to pack into a silly little heart icon.
If they choose, some website owners display these read post notifications in one or more ways. Some sites like Aaron Parecki’s or Jeremy Keith’s will show my interactions as bookmarks. Others, primarily WordPress-based websites that support Webmention (via plugin), will actually show these interactions in their comment sections under the heading “Read” and display my photo/avatar as an indicator that I’ve interacted with that post. In the case of read posts on which I’ve written one or more comments, the receiving site also has the option of showing my interaction not as a read/bookmark intent, but could also show my comments as a reply to their post. I’ve written a bit about this and its potential for large news outlets before in Webmentions: Enabling Better Communication on the Internetfor A List Apart. There are also some older legacy sites that might show my interactions as a trackback or pingback, but these seem few and far between these days, particularly as those systems are major targets for spam and the Webmention protocol has a richer interaction/display model.
A new itch
But as I think about these read posts, lurking, and being more civil on the internet, I have a new itch for some functionality I’d like to add to my website. I very frequently use my website as a digital commonplace book to collect links of things I’ve read, watched, and listened to. I’ll collect quotes, highlights, and even my own marginalia. As I mentioned above, my read posts sometimes have comments, and quite often those comments are really meant just for me and not for the author of the original post. In many cases, when my comments may be too egregious, sensitive, or perhaps even insulting to the original author, I’ll make these posts private so that only I can see them on my site. Of course when they’re private, no notifications are sent to the site at the other end of the line.
Sometimes I would like to be able to send a read notification to the site, but also keep my commentary privately to myself. This allows me to have my notes on the piece and be highly critical without dragging down the original author or piece who I may not know well or the audience of that same piece which I haven’t properly lurked (in the positive community-based sense indicated above) to be as intelligently and sensitively commenting as I would otherwise like. Thus I’d like to build in some functionality so that I can publicly indicate I’ve read a piece (and send a notification), but also so that I can keep the commentary on my read private to either myself or a smaller audience.
I suspect that I can do this in a variety of meta-fields on my website which aren’t shown to the public, but which might be shown to either myself or logged in users. In some sense, this is a subset of functionality which many in the IndieWeb have been exploring recently around the ideas of private posts or by limiting the audience of a post. In my case, I’m actually looking at making a post public, but making smaller sub-portions of it private.
To begin with, I’ll most likely be looking at doing this at a small scale just for myself and my commonplace book, as I can definitely see second and third-order effects and a variety of context collapse issues when portions of posts are private, but others who may be privy to them are commenting on those pieces from the perspective of their public spheres which may not be as private or closed off as mine. i.e.: While I may have something marked as private, privy readers will always have the option of copy/pasting it and dragging it out into the public.
The Weekly Top 30 (WT30) is the weekly ranking of the thirty most streamed tracks of the week by Michael L. Douglas, MD, MBA. It represents an active hobby by its creator and is subject to augmentation, suspension, or cancelation at any time.
Over the past several weeks I’ve been thinking more and more about productivity solutions, bullet journals, and to do lists. This morning I serendipitously came back across a reply Paul Jacobson made about lab books on a post relating to bullet journals and thought I’d sketch out a few ideas.
I’m honestly a bit surprised that no one has created a bullet journal plugin for WordPress yet. Or maybe someone comes up with a bullet journal stand alone product a bit like Autommatic’s Simple Note? Last week after a talk I attended, someone came up to me who had self-published 400+ copies of a custom made bullet journal that they wanted to sell/market. I’ve also been looking at some bullet journal apps, but my very first thoughts were “Who owns this data? What will they do with it? What happens if the company goes out of business? Is there a useful data export functionality?” For one of the ones I looked at my immediate impression was “This is a really painful and unintuitive UI.”
Naturally my next thought was “how would the IndieWeb build such a thing?”
Perhaps there’s a lot of code to write, though I can imagine that simply creating Archive views of pre-existing data may be a good first start. In fact some good archive views would be particularly helpful if one is using a plugin like David Shanske’s Post Kinds which dramatically extends the idea behind Post Formats. This would make tracking things like eating, drinking, reading, etc. a lot easier to present visually as well as to track/journal. One could easily extend the functionality of Post Kinds to create “to do” items and then have archive views that could be sorted by date, date due, tags/categories for easier daily use. Since it’s all web-based, it’s backed up and available almost everywhere including desktop and mobile.
I know a few people like Jonathan LaCour and Eddie Hinkle have been tinkering around with monthly, weekly, or annual recaps on their websites (see also: https://indieweb.org/monthly_recap). Isn’t this what a lot of bullet journals are doing, but in reverse order? You put in data quickly so you can have an overview to better plan and live in the future? If you’re already using Micropub tools like teacup (for food/drink), OwnYourSwarm (for location), or a variety of others for bookmarking things (which could be added to one’s to-do list), then creating a handful of bullet journal-type views on that data should be fairly easy. I also remember that Beau Lebens had his Keyring project for WordPress that was pulling in a lot of data from various places that could be leveraged in much the same way.
I started thinking about some of this ages ago when I prototyped making “itches” for my own website. And isn’t this just a public-facing to-do list? I don’t immediately see a to-do list entry on the IndieWeb wiki though I know that people have talked about it in the past. There’s also definitely no bullet journal or productivity entries, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t build them.
There are a lot of preexisting silos on the web that do to-do lists or which have productivity related personal data (Google notes, Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, etc.), so there are definitely many UI examples of good and bad display. For distributed group task management I could easily see things being marked done or undone and webmentions handling notifications for these. I suspect for this to take off on a wide, distributed scale for company-wide project management however, more work would need to exist on the ideas of audience and private or semi-private posts. The smaller personal side is certainly much more easily handled.
As another useful sub-case for study, I’ll note that several within the IndieWeb are able to post issues on their own websites, syndicate to GitHub’s issue queue, and get replies back, and isn’t this just a simple example workflow of a to-do list as well?
Greg McVerry has also mentioned he’s tinkered around in this area before primarily using pre-existing functionality in WithKnown. In his case, he’s been utilizing the related idea of the Pomodoro Technique which is widely known in productivity circles.
I’d be thrilled to hear ideas, thoughts, additional brainstorming, or even prior art examples of this sort of stuff. Feel free to add your thoughts below.
Over the past year, I've been working on the side on a WordPress plugin that implements an idea that has been growing in me over the last couple of years. Decentralized Social Networking. The plugin that does it is called Friends.
Starting with the frustration that there are few alternatives for pe...
There are a lot of tutorials floating around the internet that describe how to create a custom RSS feed in WordPress. Most of them have you creating a new page template, copying the code that WordPress uses to generate feeds into the page … Continue reading →
I’ve run into a lot of the sort of tutorials that Philip is talking about. This way, while more sophisticated and non-intuitive to the non-profession, seems much more solid. Makes me want to play around.
One of the discussions this weekend in Berlin was on the topic of private feeds. Martijn and Sven made great progress by implemeting a flow to fetch private pages using various endpoints for tokens and authentication.
Apart from the question how to fetch private feeds, there is also the question how...
More and more I’m wishing I had gone to Germany to attend camp…. I’m glad folks spent some time to write about and document their work there. Private posts/feeds are some of the missing pieces that represent the next frontier.
I mention it because I was specifically intrigued by a small piece of excellent user interface and social graph data that Reading.am unearths for me. I’m including a quick screen capture to better illustrate the point. While the UI allows me to click yes/no (i.e. did I like it or not) or even share it to other networks, the thing I found most interesting was that it lists the other people using the service who have read the article as well. In this case it told me that my friend Jeremy Cherfas had read the article.1
The tougher follow up is: how could we create a decentralized method of doing this sort of workflow in a more IndieWeb way? It would be nice if my read posts on my site (and those of others) could be overlain on websites via a bookmarklet or other means as a social layer to create engaged discussion. Better would have been the ability to quickly surface his commentary, if any, on the piece as well–functionality which I think Reading.am also does, though I rarely ever see it. In some sense I would have come across Jeremy’s read post in his feed later this weekend, but it doesn’t provide the immediacy that this method did. I’ll also admit that I prefer having found out about his reading it only after I’d read it myself, but having his and others’ recommendations on a piece (by their explicit read posts) is a useful and worthwhile piece of data, particularly for pieces I might have otherwise passed over.
In some sense, some of this functionality isn’t too different from that provided by Hypothes.is, though that is hidden away within another browser extension layer and requires not only direct examination, but scanning for those whose identities I might recognize because Hypothes.is doesn’t have a specific following/follower social model to make my friends and colleagues a part of my social graph in that instance. The nice part of Hypothes.is’ browser extension is that it does add a small visual indicator to show that others have in fact read/annotated a particular site using the service.
I’ve also previously documented on the IndieWeb wiki how WordPress.com (and WordPress.org with JetPack functionality) facepiles likes on content (typically underneath the content itself). This method doesn’t take things as far as the Reading.am case because it only shows a small fraction of the data, is much less useful, and is far less likely to unearth those in your social graph to make it useful to you, the reader.
I seem to recall that Facebook has some similar functionality that is dependent upon how (and if) the publisher embeds Facebook into their site. I don’t think I’ve seen this sort of interface built into another service this way and certainly not front and center the way that Reading.am does it.
The closest thing I can think of to this type of functionality in the analog world was in my childhood when library card slips in books had the names of prior patrons on them when you signed your own name when checking out a book, though this also had the large world problem that WordPress likes have in that one typically wouldn’t have know many of the names of prior patrons necessarily. I suspect that the Robert Bork privacy incident along with the evolution of library databases and bar codes have caused this older system to disappear.
This general idea might make an interesting topic to explore at an upcoming IndieWebCamp if not before. The question is: how to add in the social graph aspect of reading to uncover this data? I’m also curious how it might or might not be worked into a feed reader or into microsub related technologies as well. Microsub clients or related browser extensions might make a great place to add this functionality as they would have the data about whom you’re already following (aka your social graph data) as well as access to their read/like/favorite posts. I know that some users have reported consuming feeds of friends’ reads, likes, favorites, and bookmarks as potential recommendations of things they might be interested in reading as well, so perhaps this would be an additional extension of that as well?
 I’ve certainly seen this functionality before, but most often the other readers are people I don’t know or know that well because the service isn’t huge and I’m not using it to follow a large number of other people.
 I knew he was generally interested already as I happen to be following this particular site at his prior recommendation, but the idea still illustrates the broader point.
Are rituals still needed in a world mediated through digital devices?
We tend to think of rituals as solemn ceremonies, usually associated with religion. But rituals exist in our everyday life, as a way of helping us to make sense of the world. They can be communal or solitary. But how are they changing as we become increasing digital? Can rituals still have power and relevance in a world mediated through digital devices?
Michael Norton – Professor, Harvard Business School
Vanessa Ochs – Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Member of the Jewish Studies Program, University of Virginia
Viktor Lysell Smalanning – Ritual designer
Alexandra Samuel – digital columnist for JSTOR Daily and regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal
Nicolas Nova – Associate Professor, Geneva School of Art and Design
A fascinating topic in general, but there are some interesting tidbits that the IndieWeb movement could pick up as transitional rituals within its workflow. Similarly, while some of the jargon helps to identify group membership, we still need to do a better job of simplifying it to make it easier to have a broader membership. The episode actually brings up the idea of UI and designers taking ritual into account in our daily lives.
What types of rituals can we create to help mark the leaving behind of the old social world and becoming a fully fledged member of the indie web by registering one’s own domain and having one’s own website? Perhaps a ritual to celebrate not only this but the addition of standards like Webmention, Micropub, and Microsub? In some small sense, this is what we’re celebrating in the use of displaying buttons (or badges) on our sites.
This is definitely worth listening to again and brainstorming ideas for extending the concept. Perhaps at an upcoming IWC??
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Inspired by Brad Enslen’s ‘exit page’ concept, I’ve added a ‘the end’ post to this blog. (I also have to say that many of my upcoming changes are inspired by h0p3’s wiki—moving away from just a blog of recent posts, to a kind of modern home page with updates and Indieweb intertwingliness.) ‘The end’ can be seen right now on /page3, if you scroll to the very bottom. Small, needless things—lovely.
As I am semi-regularly importing more content to my site, I wonder about where to put the “end”. What happens when I post something and something gets imported at a timestamp before it? I’ll have to think about how to architect it so as not to need to move it around so much in the future.
For today’s #dailyponderance I want you to put the computer away, grab some paper and pencil and map out what you think your homepage and about me page should contain.
You don’t need to be an artist, boxes and stuick figures will do.
You don’t have to be writer. Copy can come later. Think layout.
If you already have an about me and a home page sketch it out for others to see what your “prototype” looks like.
I’ve actually been doing some small revamping of both my Home and my About pages on the site recently, so this is actually a nice little exercise that’s reminding me about some of the small changes I’d like to effect. It also reminds me of some of the changes I want to make with regard to some of my menu structures too.
Lately I’ve added a bunch of different ways to slice and dice the content on my site so that readers can hopefully more easily find or discover the content they may be most interested in reading. I’ve also been trying to pare down on the amount of information and detail which I present.