Six years ago I received an email from a colleague in the mathematics department at UC Berkeley asking me whether he should participate in a study that involved “collecting DNA from the brigh…
Not sure how I had missed this in the brouhaha a few weeks back, but it’s one of the more sober accounts from someone who’s actually got some math background and some reasonable idea about the evolutionary theory involved. It had struck me quite significantly that both Gowers and Tao weighed in as they did given their areas of expertise (or not). Perhaps it was worthwhile simply for the attention they brought? Gowers did specifically at least call out his lack of experience and asked for corrections, though I didn’t have the fortitude to wade through his hundreds of comments–perhaps this stands in part because there was little, if any indication of the background and direct identity of any of the respondents within the thread. As an simple example, while reading the comments on Dr. Pachter’s site, I’m surprised there is very little indication of Nicholas Bray’s standing there as he’s one of Pachter’s students. It would be much nicer if, in fact, Bray had a more fully formed and fleshed out identity there or on his linked Gravatar page which has no detail at all, much less an actual avatar!
This post, Gowers’, and Tao’s are all excellent reasons for a more IndieWeb philosophical approach in academic blogging (and other scientific communication). Many of the respondents/commenters have little, if any, indication of their identities or backgrounds which makes it imminently harder to judge or trust their bonafides within the discussion. Some even chose to remain anonymous and throw bombs. If each of the respondents were commenting (preferably using their real names) on their own websites and using the Webmention protocol, I suspect the discussion would have been richer and more worthwhile by an order of magnitude. Rivin at least had a linked Twitter account with an avatar, though I find it less than useful that his Twitter account is protected, a fact that makes me wonder if he’s only done so recently as a result of fallout from this incident? I do note that it at least appears his Twitter account links to his university website and vice-versa, so there’s a high likelihood that they’re at least the same person.
I’ll also note that a commenter noted that they felt that their reply had been moderated out of existence, something which Lior Pachter certainly has the ability and right to do on his own website, but which could have been mitigated had the commenter posted their reply on their own website and syndicated it to Pachter’s.
Hiding in the comments, which are generally civil and even-tempered, there’s an interesting discussion about academic publishing that could have been its own standalone post. Beyond the science involved (or not) in this entire saga, a lot of the background for the real story is one of process, so this comment was one of my favorite parts.
Update: We’ve added comments at the end of the post pointing out that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) considers an email address to be personally identifiable information or PII. Gravatar is a service that provides users with a profile image that can appear on many sites across the Net. It is integrated with …
@chrisaldrich did you document anywhere how to change the default image associated with posts? At the moment it is using my profile pic, which does not work.
Also on: Twitter
Associated how? In the webmentions you send? Typically the receiving site will parse your page to find the h-card and pull out the u-photo for it, so depending on your theme or a custom marked up h-card, that will dictate the photo that shows up.
I have been noticing some issues recently with a lot of photos not showing up in webmentions I receive. Typically they’re for WordPress or micro.blog sites which may mean issues for Gravatar-based images.
My friend Alan Jacobs, a key inspiration in my return (such as it is, so far) to blogging and RSS and a generally pre-Twitter/Facebook outlook on the scholarly internet, is pondering the relationship between blogging and other forms of academic writing in thinking about his next project. Perhaps needless to say, this is something I’m considering as well, and I’m right there with him in most regards.
But there are a few spots where I’m not, entirely, and I’m not sure whether it’s a different perspective or a different set of experiences, or perhaps the latter having led to the former.
I really like where you’re coming from on so many fronts here (and on your site in general). Thanks for such a great post on a Friday afternoon. A lot of what you’re saying echos the ideas of many old school bloggers who use their blogs as “thought spaces“. They write, take comments, iterate, hone, and eventually come up with stronger thoughts and theses. Because of the place in which they’re writing, the ideas slowly percolate and grow over a continuum of time rather than spring full-formed seemingly from the head of Zeus the way many books would typically appear to the untrained eye. I’ve not quite seen a finely coalesced version of this idea though I’ve seen many dance around it obliquely. The most common name I’ve seen is that of a “thought space” or sometimes the phrase “thinking out loud”, which I notice you’ve done at least once. In some sense, due to its public nature, it seems like an ever-evolving conversation in a public commons. Your broader idea and blogging experience really make a natural progression for using a website to slowly brew a book.
My favorite incarnation of the idea is that blogs or personal websites are a digital and public shared commonplace book. Commonplaces go back to the 15th century and even certainly earlier, but I like to think of websites as very tech-forward versions of the commonplaces kept by our forebears.
There’s also a growing movement, primarily in higher education, known as A Domain of One’s Own or in shortened versions as either “Domains” or even #DoOO which is a digital take on the Virgina Woolf quote “Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days.”
There are a growing number of educators, researchers, and technologists reshaping how the web is used which makes keeping an online commonplace much easier. In particular, we’re all chasing a lot of what you’re after as well:
Part of what I’m after is consolidating my presence online as much as possible, especially onto platforms that I can control.
To me, this sounds like one of the major pillars of the IndieWeb movement which is taking control of the web back from corporate social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et. al. Through odd serendipity, I came across your micro.blog account this morning which led me to your website. A lot of the underpinnings of micro.blog are informed by the IndieWeb movement. In many subtle ways, I might suspect the two had a lot of influence on your particular choice of WordPress theme.
Tonight I’ve also seen your reply to Dan Cohen’s question:
Has anyone set up WordPress so that “standard” post types continue to show up on your blog, but “status” (or “aside”) post types feed into social media platforms such as Twitter or https://t.co/kisv1mbGgT?
No worries! Replies/notifications stay within their own domains, for better or for worse. The good news is that the original post can reach people where they are; the bad news is that the conversation around it is increasingly diffuse.
Interestingly, your presumption that the replies/notifications stay within their own domains isn’t necessarily fait accompli, at least not any more. There’s a new web specification in the past few years called Webmention that allows notifications and replies to cross website boundaries unlike Twitter @mentions which are permanently stuck within Twitter. Interestingly, because of the way you’ve set up your WordPress website to dovetail with micro.blog you’re almost 90 percent of the way to supporting it easily. If you add and slightly configure the Webmention and Semantic Linkbacks plugins, the asides and other content you’re syndicating into micro.blog will automatically collect the related conversation around them back to your own posts thus allowing you to have a copy of your content on your own website as well as the surrounding conversation, which is no longer as diffuse as you imagined it needed to be. Here’s an example from earlier this evening where I posted to my site and your response (and another) on micro.blog came back to me. (Sadly there’s a Gravatar glitch preventing the avatars from displaying properly, but hopefully I’ll solve that shortly.)
This same sort of thing can be done with Twitter including native threading and @mentions, if done properly, by leveraging the free Brid.gy service to force Twitter to send your site webmentions on your behalf. (Of course this means you might need to syndicate your content to Twitter in a slightly different manner than having micro.blog do on your behalf, but there are multiple ways of doing this.)
I also notice that you’ve taken to posting copies of your tweeted versions at the top of your comments sections. There’s a related IndieWeb plugin called Syndication Links that is made specifically to keep a running list of the places to which you’ve syndicated your content. This plugin may solve a specific need for you in addition to the fact that it dovetails well with Brid.gy to make sure your posts get the appropriate comments back via webmention.
I’m happy to help walk you through setting up some of the additional IndieWeb tech for your WordPress website if you’re interested. I suspect that having the ability to use your website as a true online hub in addition to doing cross website conversations is what you’ve been dreaming about, possibly without knowing it. Pretty soon you’ll be aggregating and owning all of your digital breadcrumbs to compile at a later date into posts and eventually articles, monographs, and books.
In any case, thanks for sharing your work and your thoughts with the world. I wish more academics were doing what you are doing online–we’d all be so much richer for it. I know this has been long and is a potential rabbithole you may disappear into, so thank you for the generosity of your attention.
In what way are avatars a privacy risk? To display an avatar image, you publish an encrypted version (MD5) of the e-mail address in the gravatar’s image URL. Gravatar.com then decides if there is an avatar image to deliver, otherwise the default image is delivered. The default image’s address is also part of the overall gravatar …
ReadAvatar Privacy by Peter Putzer, Johannes Freudendahl(WordPress.org)
Avatars from Gravatar.com are great, but they come with certain privacy implications. You as site admin may already know this, but your visitors and users probably don’t. Avatar Privacy can help to improve the privacy situation by making some subtle changes to the way avatars are displayed on your site.
The plugin works without changing your theme files if you use a modern theme, and it does support (simple) multisite installations. It requires at least PHP 5.6 and WordPress 4.9. For the plugin to do anything for you, you need to visit the discussion settings page in the WordPress admin area and save the new settings. Please note that the plugin does not provide an options page of its own, it rather adds to the existing discussion settings page.
Not a day goes by that I don’t run across a fantastic blog built or hosted on WordPress that looks gorgeous–they do an excellent job of making this pretty easy to accomplish.
Invariably the blog’s author has a generic avatar (blech!) instead of a nice, warm and humanizing photo of their lovely face.
Or, perhaps, as a user, you’ve always wondered how some people qualified to have their photo included with their comment while you were left as an anonymous looking “mystery person” or a randomized identicon, monster, or even an 8-bit pixelated blob? The secret the others know will be revealed momentarily.
Which would you prefer?
Somehow, knowing how to replace that dreadful randomized block with an actual photo is too hard or too complicated. Why? In part, it’s because WordPress separated out this functionality as a decentralized service called Gravatar, which stands for Globally Recognized Avatar. In some sense this is an awesome idea because then people everywhere (and not just on WordPress) can use the Gravatar service to change their photo across thousands of websites at once. Unfortunately it’s not always clear that one needs to add their name, email address, and photo to Gravatar in order for the avatars to be populated properly on WordPress related sites.
(Suggestion for WordPress: Maybe the UI within the user account section could include a line about Gravatars?)
So instead of trying to write out the details for the third time this week, I thought I’d write it once here with a bit more detail and then point people to it for the future.
Another quick example
Can you guess which user is the blog’s author in the screencapture?
The correct answer is Anand Sarwate, the second commenter in the list. While Anand’s avatar seems almost custom made for a blog on randomness and information theory, it would be more inviting if he used a photo instead.
How to fix the default avatar problem
What is Gravatar?
Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums, so why not on any site?
Need some additional motivation? Watch this short video:
Step 1: Get a Gravatar Account
If you’ve already got a WordPress.com account, this step is easy. Because the same corporate parent built both WordPress and Gravatar, if you have an account on one, you automattically have an account on the other which uses the same login information. You just need to log into Gravatar.com with your WordPress username and password.
If you don’t have a WordPress.com account or even a blog, but just want your photo to show up when you comment on WordPress and other Gravatar enabled blogs, then just sign up for an account at Gravatar.com. When you comment on a blog, it’ll ask for your email address and it will use that to pull in the photo to which it’s linked.
Step 2: Add an email address
Log into your Gravatar account. Choose an email address you want to modify: you’ll have at least the default you signed up with or you can add additional email addresses.
Step 3: Add a photo to go with that email address
Upload as many photos as you’d like into the account. Then for each of the email addresses you’ve got, associate each one with at least one of your photos.
Example: In the commenters’ avatars shown above, Anand was almost there. He already had a Gravatar account, he just hadn’t added any photos.
Step 4: Fill out the rest of your social profile
Optionally you can additional social details like a short bio, your other social media presences, and even one or more websites or blogs that you own.
Step 5: Repeat
You can add as many emails and photos as you’d like. By linking different photos to different email addresses, you’ll be able to change your photo identity based on the email “key” you plug into sites later.
If you get tired of one photo, just upload another and make it the default photo for the email addresses you want it to change for. All sites using Gravatar will update your avatar for use in the future.
Step 6: Use your email address on your WordPress account
In the field for the email, input (one of) the email(s) you used in Gravatar that’s linked to a photo.
Don’t worry, the system won’t show your email and it will remain private–WordPress and Gravatar simply use it as a common “key” to serve up the right photo and metadata from Gravatar to the WordPress site.
Once you’ve clicked save, your new avatar should show up in the list of users. More importantly it’ll now show up in all of the WordPress elements (like most author bio blocks and in comments) that appear on your site.
WordPress themes need to be Gravatar enabled to be able to use this functionality, but in practice, most of them do, particularly for comments sections. If yours isn’t, then you can usually add it with some simple code.
In the WordPress admin interface one can go to Settings>>Discussion and enable View people's profiles when you mouse over their Gravatars under the heading “Gravatar Hovercards” to enable people to see more information about you and the commenters on your blog (presuming the comment section of your theme is Gravatar enabled.)
Some WordPress users often have several user accounts that they use to administer their site. One might have a secure administrator account they only use for updates and upgrades, another personal account (author/editor admin level account which uses their name) for authoring posts, and another (author/editor admin level) account for making admin notice posts or commenting as a generic moderator. In these cases, you need to make sure that each of these accounts has an email address with an an associated Gravatar account with the same email and the desired photo linked to it. (One Gravatar account with multiple emails/photos will usually suffice, though they could be different.)
Example: In Nate’s case above, we showed that his photo didn’t show in the author bio box, and it doesn’t show up in some comments, but it does show up in other comments on his blog. This is because he uses at least two different user accounts: one for authoring posts and another for commenting. The user account he uses for some commenting has a linked Gravatar account with email and photo and the other does not.
Want more information on how you can better own and manage your online identity? Visit IndieWeb.org: “A people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’.”
To help beautify your web presence a bit, if you notice that your photo doesn’t show up in the author block or comments in your theme, you can (create and) use your WordPress.com username/password in an account on their sister site Gravatar.com. Uploading your preferred photo on Gravatar and linking it to an email will help to automatically populate your photo in both your site and other WordPress sites (in comments) across the web. To make it work on your site, just go to your user profile in your WordPress install and use the same email address in your user profile as your Gravatar account and the decentralized system will port your picture across automatically. If necessary, you can use multiple photos and multiple linked email addresses in your Gravatar account to vary your photos.