This post is probably going to be a little bit scattered, because I’m still reeling from the overwhelming, unexpected response to the last post.
The people who I envisioned myself writing for—they got what I was saying and where I was focused. The very early responses to the post were about what I expected. But then it took off, and a lot of people came into it without the context I assumed the audience would have.❧
Definitely a good example of context collapse here.
–December 10, 2019 at 12:20PM
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.
Lurking, although the word seems to imply a negative connotation, has usefull aspects nonetheless. It is a way of determining rules of behaviour for new comers to a group.
The most obvious characteristic of a lurker is that he’s at the fringe of a group, listening and observing. Being at the fringe may seem like a bad place from the core, but in fact is a good position to build bridges to other groups, and be aware of other groups in the vicinity. In a face to face setting like a pub or a meeting of some kind, a lurker is visible, often shortly introduced after which the focus of attention shifts to the established group members again.
In on-line settings things are different. In some fora lurkers are encouraged to introduce themselves and then adviced to lurk, i.e. observe and learn for a while. But at all times there is no way of knowing how many lurkers are there that you are unaware of.
As lurkers are possible bridges to other groups, I as a blogger, would like to know:
How many lurkers I have, who read my blog but don’t comment or post.
Who they are
Serverlogs can give some clues, and I keep a close watch on them. Dave Winer’s RSS-tool also brings new info to light.
My utopian dream of owning all my content would be to post it on my blog first. Syndicating to whatever social media silo's I choose afterwards.
This isn't a reality as some of these silos (Instagram) don't allow posting apart through their apps.
This forces me to accept their context for my content if I consume it into my site, from them.
This context piece David Mead is talking about is a far bigger issue than most people might give it credit for. Most don’t even notice it because their lives are split up so tragically online that they simply have never had any other experiences. Seeing things from a different perspective, I can guarantee that they’re missing out.
I’m reminded of chef Alton Brown who regularly gives the cooking advice that one should never buy unitasker kitchen tools, but instead get multi-taskers that can do a variety of jobs. This typically cuts down on a lot of the mess and fuss in one’s kitchen and generally makes it a nicer place to prepare food. Nine times out of ten the unitasker is a much more expensive and infrequently used tool and ultimately gets lost in a junk drawer. More often than not, there are one or multi-taskers that can do a better job for far less.
In some sense social silos like Twitter (with functionality for notes and bookmarks), Instagram (photos), Facebook (notes, photos, links, etc.), Swarm (locations and photos), etc. are just like those unitaskers in the kitchen. They only do one (or sometimes a very few) thing(s) well and generally just make for a messier and more confused social media life. They throw off the mise en place of my life by scattering everything around, making my own content harder to find and use beneficially. On my own website, I have all of the functionalities of these four examples–and lots more–and its such a much better experience for me.
As time goes by and I’m able to post more content types (and cross link them via replies) on my own website and even to others’, I do notice that the increased context on my website actually makes it more interesting and useful. In particular, I can especially see it when using my “On This Day” functionality or various archive views where I can look back at past days/months/years to see what I had previously been up to. This often allows me to look at read posts, bookmark posts, photos, locations to put myself back in the context of those prior days. Since all of the data is there and viewable in a variety of linear and non-linear manners, I can more easily see the flow of the ideas, where they came from and where they may be going. I can also more easily search for and find ideas by a variety of meta data on my site that would probably have never been discoverable on disparate and unrelated social sites. That article I read in July and posted to Twitter could never be grouped again with the related photo on Instagram or the two other bookmarked journal articles I put on Diigo or the annotations I made with Hypothes.is. But put all that on my own website, and what a wonderful exploding world of ideas I can immediately recall and continue exploring at a later date. In fact, it is this additional level of aggregation and search that makes my website that much more of a valuable digital commonplace book.
I’ll note, as a clever bit of of search and serendipity to underscore the discussion of context, it’s nearly trivial for me to notice that exactly two years ago today I was also analogizing social media and food culture. Who knows where those two topics or even related ones from my site will take me next?
On my blog it has context. You can see all the other eat/drink posts on thier own or mixed in with everything else. I can include links to the place where I bought it, who makes it, or related posts.Instagram's context is its a photo with an optional description. It doesn't matter what it's of. It won't contain links to anything. ❧
new to queer twitter? just made your account? came out recently? well, lucky for you, i’m going to save you a whole bunch of heartache with the official:
JESS FROM ONLINE GUIDE TO QUEER TWITTER ETTIQUITE
1. REPLYING TO SELFIES
this is everyone’s first mistake. does the poster follow you? if not: you are a “rando”. a stranger. do not tweet at them as you would a friend. what does this mean practically?
- do not proposition them
- do not make a “playful” rude joke
- do not make a sexual comment or observation
best general rule: do not place yourself in the reply. if you want to compliment someone, you can do that, but be careful with “i” or “me”.
yes, this includes “i’m gay!”. while not true of everyone, many people will be made uncomfortable by the way that places *you* into the compliment. this is okay to do with friends, but not when you’re a rando!
final note: jealousy is not a compliment! attempting to compliment them but telling them how you wished you looked like that or how much better you look is you venting your dysphoria, not a compliment, and can be very upsetting to read!
2. RETWEETING SELFIES
some people love having their selfies retweeted. some people absolutely hate it. it’s best that you know which someone is before you RT that selfie. if a selfie has 10+ RTs already you’re probably good. otherwise, if you dont know, ask first!
3. FOLLOWING LOCKED ACCOUNTS
many people have a private “locked”/“sad”/“vent” account and a private “AD”/“lewd” account
if you come across a private account and you don’t know who it is or you’re not mutuals with their main DO NOT REQUEST TO FOLLOW
4. OTHER PEOPLE’S MENTIONS
if you see two people talking in a reply chain and you don’t know either party (or if you’re being safe, both parties) DO NOT FAV OR REPLY. reply chains are a private convo between two people and many people find it very uncomfortable!
5. CAREFUL WHO YOU TAG
if someone mentions a person, especially a microcelebrity, who has a twitter account, but doesn’t use ther @, that’s probably for a reason! don’t tag someone you don’t know just because someone else you don’t know is talking about them.
6. HORNY ON MAIN
here’s a controversial one. while not everyone finds it acceptable, it’s not uncommon for queer people to be horny on their public accounts nowadays. that said, THIS DOES NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO BE HORNY AT THEM.
a person having sexual content on main says “i am okay with you opting into seeing my sexuality” not “i am opting in to seeing your sexuality”. if you’re a rando, you probably shouldn’t reply with or tag someone in horny-on-main content.
7. REPLYING TO RTS
don’t make us tap the sign. if you’re going to reply to a retweet, either be 100% sure it’s Premium Content or, more safely, pull up the tweet separately so you can reply to it without including the person who retweeted it.
8. TWEETS YOU “SHOULDN’T SEE”
twitter is terrible and implements features that break ettiquite patterns. as a general rule: faving or replying to tweets of people that you don’t follow that haven’t been retweeted or visibly quote tweeted will likely make someone uncomfortable.
9. CURATE YOUR FOLLOWERS
this is more advanced, but also important. if you allow bad followers, it means that you expose those you retweet to bad followers. unless you don’t plan to ever retweet people, it’s impolite to be irresponsible about followers. what does this look like?
first, if a rando is homophobic, transphobic, racist, ableist, etc. in your mentions, block/softblock.
second, if someone breaks these rules in your mentions, gently correct them. if unsuccessful or dont have the bandwith, then block/softblock.
third, are you trans? especially a trans woman? do you post selfies? you’re going to start getting chasers! these are men who fetishize trans people/trans women and will follow you to jerk it to your selfies. it’s disgusting! (cont.)
for the sake of both those you RT and *yourself*, watch out of chasers. i vet almost every follower, but a good rule of thumb: no icon, generic male name and icon, or entire bio in language that is not your’s, means check their “Following” or
“Likes”. if they’re a chaser their likes will usually be full of pornography of trans women and their “Following” will be contain mix of both porn + non-porn accounts of trans women. BLOCK THESE PEOPLE ON SIGHT. i usually block a couple each day.
10. DON’T REPEAT YOURSELVES
this is a good rule in any twitter community: before you reply with a joke or suggestion, especially to a popular tweet or account, check the existing replies. make sure this isn’t the second (or tenth) time someone had said the same thing.
i realize some of these rules are unintuitive! this is why i’m collecting them; it’s always felt a little unfair that people are expected to “just know” them. it’s ok to have messed up. many of us learned the hard way. but hopefully this will help that happen less often!
11. TAGGING OUT
almost missed a big one. if youre going to have a conversation in replies between two people who aren’t the original poster, you should remove the OP. anything more than 2 back and forths without OP and make sure you tag them out aka remove them from reply chain.
12. BIGOTS IN REPLIES
similarly, if you feel like you need to reply to a bigot in someone’s mentions, do NOT include the @ of the OP in the reply. they may have even blocked the bigot and now your replies to them are in OP’s mentions, and that is Not Good.
something i’ve definitely learned from having this thread go viral is just how many people are fine being rude and making people uncomfortable because they “disagree” with a social convention
This is a great set of general rules for everyone on Twitter, not just for the particular audience to whom it’s directed. There are a few things on it that I’ve been aware of but sometimes don’t actively practice, though I’ll try to make more of an effort in future.
I saw the internet create and destroy a bizarro version of myself.
I’ve been reading some pieces from my archive on context collapse and people losing jobs/opportunities as the result of online bullies digging up old social media posts which has become a bigger issue as of late. Many people have been wanting to leave social media platforms for their toxic cultures, and this seems to be a subset of that in that it has people going back and deleting old social posts for fear of implications in the present.
Quinn Norton has some relatively sage advice about the internet in this piece. Of course it’s no coincidence that The New York Times editorial board wanted to hire her.
Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia
History doesn’t ask you if you want to be born in a time of upheaval, it just tells you when you are. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:00AM
I have a teenage daughter, and I have told her all her life that all the grown-ups are making it up as they go along. I have also waggled my eyebrows suggestively while saying it, to make it clear to her that I mean me, too. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:00AM
This taught me that not everyone worthy of love is worthy of emulation. It also taught me that being given terrible ideas is not a destiny, and that intervention can change lives. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:02AM
Not everyone believes loving engagement is the best way to fight evil beliefs, but it has a good track record. Not everyone is in a position to engage safely with racists, sexists, anti-Semites, and homophobes, but for those who are, it’s a powerful tool. Engagement is not the one true answer to the societal problems destabilizing America today, but there is no one true answer. The way forward is as multifarious and diverse as America is, and a method of nonviolent confrontation and accountability, arising from my pacifism, is what I can bring to helping my society. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:03AM
I am not immune from these mistakes, for mistaking a limited snapshot of something for what it is in its entirety. I have been on the other side. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:04AM
I had been a victim of something the sociologists Alice Marwick and danah boyd call context collapse, where people create online culture meant for one in-group, but exposed to any number of out-groups without its original context by social-media platforms, where it can be recontextualized easily and accidentally. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:05AM
I had even written about context collapse myself, but that hadn’t saved me from falling into it, and then hurting other people I didn’t mean to hurt. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:06AM
It helped me learn a lesson: Be damn sure when you make angry statements. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:07AM
Don’t internet angry. If you’re angry, internet later. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:07AM
Context collapse is our constant companion online. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:07AM
I used to think that showing someone how wrong they were on the internet could fix the world. I said a lot of stupid things when I believed that. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:08AM
I am not, and will never be, a simple writer. I have sought to convict, accuse, comfort, and plead with my readers. I’m leaving the majority of my flaws online: Go for it, you can find them if you want. It’s a choice I made long ago. ❧
August 03, 2018 at 08:09AM
If you look long enough you can find my early terrible writing. You can find blog posts in which I am an idiot. I’ve had a lot of uninformed and passionate opinions on geopolitical issues from Ireland to Israel. You can find tweets I thought were witty, but think are stupid now. You can find opinions I still hold that you disagree with. I’m going to leave most of that stuff up. In doing so, I’m telling you that you have to look for context if you are seeking to understand me. You don’t have to try, I’m not particularly important, but I am complicated. When I die, I’m going to instruct my executors to burn nothing. Leave the crap there, because it’s part of my journey, and that journey has a value. People who came from where I did, and who were given the thoughts I was given, should know that the future can be different from the past. ❧
I can’t wait to have not only salmentions, but saltruths as a thing. This way when people spread bogus information online and it gets shared, then potentially one (or a few posts) could travel back upstream and to debunk the whole thing.
The first time I linked to Colin Walker, which was only about 4 months ago, it was because he was fiddling with his blog, trying to come up with the right way to display his content for him and his audience.
It is a topic that has fascinated me for 20 years and to see someone else thinking about it out loud is great.
I've been thinking some more about the idea of a required reading page.
Could the things held here be placed on an About page? Possibly - it depends what they are. If they are links to your own posts then almost certainly. External links? Maybe, maybe not.
So, why have a required page and what does ...