Recently, I made my 100,000th annotation with Hypothesis. I know what you must be thinking: Doesn’t she have a life? Why would anyone make 100,000 annotations? Just a few short years ago, I would have dismissed this prospect as preposterous. I disliked reading online and abandoned most online tools at the first hurdle. Yet, here I am, a self-diagnosed annotation addict. (For those of you who don’t know me, I used to work for Hypothesis. Leaving to build open infrastructure didn’t mean that I left the tool behind — far from it!)
I hadn’t included it at the time, but private groups are also an interesting way to share ideas and private posts with small groups of people. You could also use those groups as taxonomies for keeping private notebooks as well. While the primary instance of Hypothes.is that many use would technically be considered a silo, keep in mind that it’s open source, so you could technically host it for yourself as an IndieWeb project! Now to get support for Webmention and Micropub! 😉
I’d also recently done a quick survey of some of the bigger accounts I was aware of and suspected that there must be one or two edge cases in the 10,000+ range. I knew a bot user or two were likely way ahead, but figured there was at least one person with a huge number of posts hiding out there. Great to know my hypothesis was right!
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.
I’ve attended both IndieWebCamp Düsseldorf and Utrecht last month. At the first one, we had a very good session about the UI side of private posts. The blogpost I wrote about it unfortunately stayed in draft. The summary: I used to denote private posts by adding the word ‘privé’ in bold below the post, next to the timestamp. Since the hackday I now show a sort-of header with a lock icon, and a text telling you that only you can see the post, or you and others, if that’s the case.
A big takeaway from Düsseldorf was that I don’t need to do it all at once. To me, the first step to private posts is letting people login to your site. This can be done with IndieAuth, or by using IndieAuth.com (which will move to IndieLogin.com at some point). The second step is to mark a post as private in your storage, and only serve it to people who are logged in. The third step is to add a list of people who can see the post, and only show it to those people. This is the place where I was at.
In the aftermath of white supremacist attacks in New Zealand, there's a tension between reporting on the shooter's motivations and not amplifying his message. This week, On the Media examines how the press can navigate that persistent dilemma. Plus, the debate over whether online archives of jihadi terrorist propaganda should be open to the public.
1. Joan Donovan [@BostonJoan] describes the way the press has evolved in its responses to far-right terrorism, and argues for continued caution in coverage of white supremacists. Listen.
2. Kathleen Belew [@kathleen_belew] describes the White Power roots of the Christchurch attack, and argues that to effectively fight this hate, we must understand the movement in which it grows. Listen.
3. Dan Feidt [@HongPong] of Unicorn Riot [@UR_Ninja] on what alt-right groups are discussing in their secret online chatrooms, and what we learn by reading them. Listen.
As I was listening to the last two segments I was thinking that there are some interesting bits of user interface and ethics hiding in here for the IndieWeb community to examine. They’re definitely worth a listen and some thought for how we design public versus private and what we archive or don’t. Some in the academic arena may want to consider how we make research facing sites that don’t create more harm than good.
There was a spark of recognition on my part as I was listening to the Unicorn Riot segment, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I looked at the episode notes just after. The interviewee is Dan Feidt (aka HongPong) a member of the IndieWeb community whose Drupal work relating to webmention I’ve always been a big fan of. His work here is far more interesting and valuable however (and that’s really saying something because I LOVE webmention).
I had resistance at first from Consultants who feared content being public - worried re reputation risk. I was careful abt content, & explicit how feedback would be used - protecting #trainees confidentiality, & considering public content.#RespEd#MedEd#PressEdConf19 /11
Content doesn’t always need to be public. On my WordPress-based commonplace book (aka my website), a huge amount of it is either private or password protected for smaller groups. Would something like that have worked in your case?
Today I launched some updates to OwnYourSwarm, the service that sends your Swarm checkins to your own website. It does this by watching your Swarm account and sending checkins to your site via Micropub.
I made two changes to how OwnYourSwarm can handle private posts. Private posts ar...
This is awesome Aaron! Thanks for continuing to push the boundaries.