👓 How “Don’t Be Evil” panned out | Memex 1.1 | John Naughton

Read How “Don’t Be Evil” panned out by John NaughtonJohn Naughton (memex.naughtons.org)

My Observer review of Rana Foroohar’s new book about the tech giants and their implications for our world.

“Don’t be evil” was the mantra of the co-founders of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the graduate students who, in the late 1990s, had invented a groundbreaking way of searching the web. At the time, one of the things the duo believed to be evil was advertising. There’s no reason to doubt their initial sincerity on this matter, but when the slogan was included in the prospectus for their company’s flotation in 2004 one began to wonder what they were smoking. Were they really naive enough to believe that one could run a public company on a policy of ethical purity?

Social Reading User Interface for Discovery

I read quite a bit of material online. I save “bookmarks” of all of it on my personal website, sometimes with some additional notes and sometimes even with more explicit annotations. One of the things I feel like I’m missing from my browser, browser extensions, and/or social feed reader is a social layer overlay that could indicate that people in my social network(s) have read or interacted directly with that page (presuming they make that data openly available.)

One of the things I’d love to see pop up out of the discovery explorations of the IndieWeb or some of the social readers in the space is the ability to uncover some of this social reading information. Toward this end I thought I’d collect some user interface examples of things that border on this sort of data to make the brainstorming and building of such functionality easier in the near future.

If I’m missing useful examples or you’d like to add additional thoughts, please feel free to comment below.

Examples of social reading user interface for discovery


I don’t often search for reading material directly, but Google has a related bit of UI indicating that I’ve visited a website before. I sort of wish it had the ability to surface the fact that I’ve previously read or bookmarked an article or provided data about people in my social network who’ve done similarly within the browser interface for a particular article (without the search.) If a browser could use data from my personal website in the background to indicate that I’ve interacted with it before (and provide those links, notes, etc.), that would be awesome!

Screen capture for Google search of Kevin Marks with a highlight indicating that I've visited this page in the recent past
Screen capture for Google search of Kevin Marks with a highlight indicating that I’ve visited his page several times in the past. Given the March 2017 date, it’s obvious that the screen shot is from a browser and account I don’t use often.

I’ll note here that because of the way I bookmark or post reads on my own website, my site often ranks reasonably well for those things.

On a search for an article by Aaron Parecki, my own post indicating that I’ve read it in the past ranks second right under the original.

In some cases, others who are posting about those things (reading, commenting, bookmarking, liking, etc.) in my social network also show up in these sorts of searches. How cool would it be to have a social reader that could display this sort of social data based on people it knows I’m following

A search for a great article by Matthias Ott shows that both I and several of my friends (indicated by red arrows superimposed on the search query) have read, bookmarked, or commented on it too.


Hypothes.is is a great open source highlighting, annotation, and bookmarking tool with a browser extension that shows an indicator of how many annotations  appear on the page. In my experience, higher numbers often indicate some interesting and engaging material. I do wish that it had a follower/following model that could indicate my social sphere has annotated a page. I also wouldn’t mind if their extension “bug” in the browser bar had another indicator in the other corner to indicate that I had previously annotated a page!

Screen capture of Vannevar Bush’s article As We May Think in The Atlantic with a Hypothes.is browser extension bug indicating that there are 329 annotations on the page.


It doesn’t do it until after-the-fact, but Reading.am has a pop up overlay through its browser extension. It adds me to the list of people who’ve read an article, but it also indicates others in the network and those I’m following who have also read it (sometimes along with annotations about their thoughts).

What I wouldn’t give to see that pop up in the corner before I’ve read it!

Reading.am’s social layer creates a yellow colored pop up list in the upper right of the browser indicating who else has read the article as well as showing some of their notes on it. Unfortunately it doesn’t pop up until after you’ve marked the item as read.


Nuzzel is one of my favorite tools. I input my Twitter account as well as some custom lists and it surfaces articles that people in my Twitter network have been tweeting about. As a result, it’s one of the best discovery tools out there for solid longer form content. Rarely do I read content coming out of Nuzzel and feel robbed. Because of how it works, it’s automatically showing those people in my network and some of what they’ve thought about it. I love this contextualization.

Nuzzel’s interface shows the title and an excerpt of an article and also includes the avatars, names, network, and commentary of one’s friends that interacted with the piece. In this example it’s relatively obvious that one reader influenced several others who retweeted it because of her.


Naturally sites for much longer form content will use social network data about interest, reviews, and interaction to a much greater extent since there is a larger investment of time involved. Thus social signaling can be more valuable in this context. A great example here is of Goodreads which shows me those in my network who are interested in reading a particular book or who have written reviews or given ratings.

A slightly excerpted/modified screen capture of the Goodreads page for Melanie Mitchell’s book Complexity that indicates several in my social network are also interested in reading it.

Are there other examples I’m missing? Are you aware of similar discovery related tools for reading that leverage social network data?

👓 Don’t just Google it! First, let’s talk! | Jon Udell

Read Don’t just Google it! First, let’s talk! by Jon UdellJon Udell (Jon Udell)
Asking questions in conversation has become problematic. For example, try saying this out loud: “I wonder when Martin Luther King was born?” If you ask that online, a likely response is: “Just Google it!” Maybe with a snarky link: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=when was martin luther king born? https:...

I love the idea of this… It’s very similar to helping to teach young children how to attack and solve problems in mathematics rather than simply saying follow this algorithm.

👓 Toast | Adactio: Journal

Read a post by Jeremy KeithJeremy Keith (adactio.com)
Shockwaves rippled across the web standards community recently when it appeared that Google Chrome was unilaterally implementing a new element called toast. It turns out that’s not the case, but the confusion is understandable. First off, this all kicked off with the announcement of “intent to i...
Read Google uses Gmail to track a history of things you buy — and it's hard to delete by Todd Haselton,Megan GrahamTodd Haselton,Megan Graham (CNBC)
Google collects the purchases you've made, including from other stores and sites such as Amazon, and saves them on a page called Purchases.

Apparently https://myaccount.google.com/purchases is a reasonable place one could start for creating acquisition posts on their website. The downside is the realization that Google is tracking all of this without making it more obvious.

👓 The former lead designer of Gmail just fixed Gmail on his own | Fast Company

Read The former lead designer of Gmail just fixed Gmail on his own (Fast Company)
The free Chrome extension Simplify will give you the Gmail you want.

👓 Former Mozilla exec: Google has sabotaged Firefox for years | ZDNet

Read Former Mozilla exec: Google has sabotaged Firefox for years by Catalin Cimpanu (ZDNet)
Former and current Mozilla engineers are reaching their boiling points.

👓 ‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism | John Naughton | The Guardian

Read 'The goal is to automate us': welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism by John NaughtonJohn Naughton (the Guardian)
Shoshana Zuboff’s new book is a chilling exposé of the business model that underpins the digital world. Observer tech columnist John Naughton explains the importance of Zuboff’s work and asks the author 10 key questions

If you can’t read Zuboff’s new book in full, this article/interview may convince you that you should anyway. It may be one of the most important things you read all year.

📑 ‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism | John Naughton | The Guardian

Annotated 'The goal is to automate us': welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism by John NaughtonJohn Naughton (the Guardian)

We saw the experimental development of this new “means of behavioural modification” in Facebook’s contagion experiments and the Google-incubated augmented reality game Pokémon Go.  

📑 ‘The goal is to automate us’: welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism | John Naughton | The Guardian

Annotated 'The goal is to automate us': welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism by John NaughtonJohn Naughton (the Guardian)

Larry Page grasped that human experience could be Google’s virgin wood, that it could be extracted at no extra cost online and at very low cost out in the real world. For today’s owners of surveillance capital the experiential realities of bodies, thoughts and feelings are as virgin and blameless as nature’s once-plentiful meadows, rivers, oceans and forests before they fell to the market dynamic. We have no formal control over these processes because we are not essential to the new market action. Instead we are exiles from our own behaviour, denied access to or control over knowledge derived from its dispossession by others for others. Knowledge, authority and power rest with surveillance capital, for which we are merely “human natural resources”. We are the native peoples now whose claims to self-determination have vanished from the maps of our own experience.  

👓 How to replace Facebook with “Nicebook” | Mike Elgan

Read How to replace Facebook with "Nicebook" by Mike Elgan (Mike Elgan)
Many people would like to leave Facebook, but fear that leaving Facebook means losing connection with family and friends. But that’s not true. You CAN leave Facebook and still stay in touch with your loved ones. I call my replacement a “Nicebook” because if give...

I know Mike has always been a major fan of Google+, so it’s nice to see that he’s finally got his own website now. It’s not surprising to see him suggest Google Photos as a potential replacement for something like Facebook, especially since a lot of his content is so visually done. For him I suspect that a lot of the functionality of Google+ is baked right into Google Photos.

It’s an interesting idea in general, but wouldn’t work for me because of a lot of pieces I would be missing as a complete solution. However, for small scale social sharing with family and friends with the ability to have some general private communication, it’s probably not a very bad idea.

🎧 Triangulation 380 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism | TWiT.TV

Listened to Triangulation 380 The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Leo Laporte from TWiT.tv

Shoshana Zuboff is the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. She talks with Leo Laporte about how social media is being used to influence people.


Even for the people who are steeped in some of the ideas of surveillance capitalism, ad tech, and dark patterns, there’s a lot here to still be surprised about. If you’re on social media, this should be required listening/watching.

I can’t wait to get the copy of her book.

Folks in the IndieWeb movement have begun to fix portions of the problem, but Shoshana Zuboff indicates that there are several additional levels of humane understanding that will need to be bridged to make sure their efforts aren’t just in vain. We’ll likely need to do more than just own our own data, but we’ll need to go a step or two further as well.

The thing I was shocked to not hear in this interview (and which may not be in the book either) is something that I think has been generally left unmentioned with respect to Facebook and elections and election tampering (29:18). Zuboff and Laporte discuss Facebook’s experiments in influencing people to vote in several tests for which they published academic papers. Even with the rumors that Mark Zuckerberg was eyeing a potential presidential run in 2020 with his trip across America and meeting people of all walks of life, no one floated the general idea that as the CEO of Facebook, he might use what they learned in those social experiments to help get himself (or even someone else) elected by sending social signals to certain communities to prevent them from voting while sending other signals to other communities to encourage them to vote. The research indicates that in a very divided political climate that with the right sorts of voting data, it wouldn’t take a whole lot of work for Facebook to help effectuate a landslide victory for particular candidates or even entire political parties!! And of course because of the distributed nature of such an attack on democracy, Facebook’s black box algorithms, and the subtlety of the experiments, it would be incredibly hard to prove that such a thing was even done.

I like her broad concept (around 43:00) where she discusses the idea of how people tend to frame new situations using pre-existing experience and that this may not always be the most useful thing to do for what can be complex ideas that don’t or won’t necessarily play out the same way given the potential massive shifts in paradigms.

Also of great interest is the idea of instrumentarianism as opposed to the older ideas of totalitarianism. (43:49) Totalitarian leaders used to rule by fear and intimidation and now big data stores can potentially create these same types of dynamics, but without the need for the fear and intimidation by more subtly influencing particular groups of people. When combined with the ideas behind “swarming” phenomenon or Mark Granovetter’s ideas of threshold reactions in psychology, only a very small number of people may need to be influenced digitally to create drastic outcomes. I don’t recall the reference specifically, but I recall a paper about the mathematics with respect to creating ethnic neighborhoods that only about 17% of people needed to be racists and move out of a neighborhood to begin to create ethnic homogeneity and drastically less diversity within a community.

Also tangentially touched on here, but not discussed directly, I can’t help but think that all of this data with some useful complexity theory might actually go a long way toward better defining (and being able to actually control) Adam Smith’s economic “invisible hand.”

There’s just so much to consider here that it’s going to take several revisits to the ideas and some additional research to tease this all apart.

🎧 “The Daily”: The Business of Selling Your Location | New York Times

Listened to "The Daily": The Business of Selling Your Location by Michael Barbaro from New York Times

Smartphone apps track a staggering amount of data about our whereabouts every day. That data has become a hot commodity.

Just the national security implications for this alone should require regulations of these tech companies.

🔖 Google+ Exporter

Bookmarked Get Google+ Exporter desktop app (gplus-exporter.friendsplus.me)
Export your Google+ feeds to Wordpress, Blogger and JSON. Simply choose your OS.

I haven’t tried it yet, but this is one of the first Google+ exporters I’ve seen.

hat tip: