Dynamic range in social media and shovels versus excavators

A developer at today’s Homebrew Website Club mentioned that they didn’t want to have a website built on a particular language because they weren’t familiar with the language and felt uncomfortable trusting their data to it. What if something goes wrong? What if it breaks? How easy will it be to export and move their data over?

Compare this with the average social media user who doesn’t know any code. In their world, they’re making a choice, likely predicated upon social pressures, to post their data, content, and identity on one or more corporately controlled silos. Because of the ease-of-use, the platform is abstracted away from them even further than from the developer’s perspective thus making it even less apparent the level of trust they’re putting into the platform. What is the platform doing with their data? How is what they’re seeing in their feed being manipulated and controlled?

The problems both people are facing are relatively equivalent, just different in their dynamic range. The non-programmer is at an even greater disadvantage however as the silos are moving faster and can do more to take advantage of and manipulate them more seamlessly than the programmer who at least has more potential to learn the unfamiliar language to dig themselves out. This difference is also one of dynamic range as the developer may only need a simple shovel to dig themselves out whereas the non-coder will need a massive excavator, which may be unavailable and still need an operator with knowledge of how to use it.

Featured image: excavator flickr photo by mbecher shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Bookmarked Gopher: When Adversarial Interoperability Burrowed Under the Gatekeepers' Fortresses by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

The Gopher story is a perfect case history for Adversarial Interoperability. The pre-Gopher information landscape was dominated by companies, departments, and individuals who were disinterested in giving users control over their own computing experience and who viewed computing as something that took place in a shared lab space, not in your home or dorm room.

Rather than pursuing an argument with these self-appointed Lords of Computing, the Gopher team simply went around them, interconnecting to their services without asking for permission. They didn't take data they weren't supposed to have—but they did make it much easier for the services' nominal users to actually access them.

Paul Linder‘s retweet of a post by Cory Doctorow ()
Read Gopher: When Adversarial Interoperability Burrowed Under the Gatekeepers' Fortresses by Corey Doctorow (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
When Apple's App Store launched in 2008, it was widely hailed as a breakthrough in computing, a "curated experience" that would transform the chaos of locating and assessing software and replace it with a reliable one-stop-shop where every app would come pre-tested and with a trusted seal of...

The Gopher story is a perfect case history for Adversarial Interoperability. The pre-Gopher information landscape was dominated by companies, departments, and individuals who were disinterested in giving users control over their own computing experience and who viewed computing as something that took place in a shared lab space, not in your home or dorm room.
Rather than pursuing an argument with these self-appointed Lords of Computing, the Gopher team simply went around them, interconnecting to their services without asking for permission. They didn’t take data they weren’t supposed to have—but they did make it much easier for the services’ nominal users to actually access them. 

Annotated on February 23, 2020 at 08:39AM

Today’s Web giants want us to believe that they and they alone are suited to take us to wherever we end up next. Having used Adversarial Interoperability as a ladder to attain their rarefied heights, they now use laws to kick the ladder away and prevent the next Microcomputer Center or Tim Berners-Lee from doing to them what the Web did to Gopher, and what Gopher did to mainframes. 

Annotated on February 23, 2020 at 08:40AM

Legislation to stem the tide of Big Tech companies’ abuses, and laws—such as a national consumer privacy bill, an interoperability bill, or a bill making firms liable for data-breaches—would go a long way toward improving the lives of the Internet users held hostage inside the companies’ walled gardens.
But far more important than fixing Big Tech is fixing the Internet: restoring the kind of dynamism that made tech firms responsive to their users for fear of losing them, restoring the dynamic that let tinkerers, co-ops, and nonprofits give every person the power of technological self-determination. 

Annotated on February 23, 2020 at 08:42AM

Read Into the Personal-Website-Verse by Matthias Ott (matthiasott.com)

Social media in 2019 is a garbage fire.

What started out as the most promising development in the history of the Web – the participation of users in the creation of content and online dialogue at scale – has turned into a swamp of sensation, lies, hate speech, harassment, and noise.

I read this a year ago when it first came out and appreciated it then. Fun to revisit it with more experienced eyes.
Read Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech by Mike Masnick (knightcolumbia.org)
Altering the internet's economic and digital infrastructure to promote free speech

Meanwhile, politicians from the two major political parties have been hammering these companies, albeit for completely different reasons. Some have been complaining about how these platforms have potentially allowed for foreign interference in our elections.3 3. A Conversation with Mark Warner: Russia, Facebook and the Trump Campaign, Radio IQ|WVTF Music (Apr. 6, 2018), https://www.wvtf.org/post/conversation-mark-warner-russia-facebook-and-trump-campaign#stream/0 (statement of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.): “I first called out Facebook and some of the social media platforms in December of 2016. For the first six months, the companies just kind of blew off these allegations, but these proved to be true; that Russia used their social media platforms with fake accounts to spread false information, they paid for political advertising on their platforms. Facebook says those tactics are no longer allowed—that they’ve kicked this firm off their site, but I think they’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”). Others have complained about how they’ve been used to spread disinformation and propaganda.4 4. Nicholas Confessore & Matthew Rosenberg, Facebook Fallout Ruptures Democrats’ Longtime Alliance with Silicon Valley, N.Y. Times (Nov. 17, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/17/technology/facebook-democrats-congress.html (referencing statement by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.): “Mr. Tester, the departing chief of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, looked at social media companies like Facebook and saw propaganda platforms that could cost his party the 2018 elections, according to two congressional aides. If Russian agents mounted a disinformation campaign like the one that had just helped elect Mr. Trump, he told Mr. Schumer, ‘we will lose every seat.’”). Some have charged that the platforms are just too powerful.5 5. Julia Carrie Wong, Up Big Tech: Elizabeth Warren Says Facebook Just Proved Her Point, The Guardian (Mar. 11, 2019), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/11/elizabeth-warren-facebook-ads-break-up-big-tech (statement of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)) (“Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor. .”). Others have called attention to inappropriate account and content takedowns,6 6. Jessica Guynn, Ted Cruz Threatens to Regulate Facebook, Google and Twitter Over Charges of Anti-Conservative Bias, USA Today (Apr. 10, 2019), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/04/10/ted-cruz-threatens-regulate-facebook-twitter-over-alleged-bias/3423095002/ (statement of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)) (“What makes the threat of political censorship so problematic is the lack of transparency, the invisibility, the ability for a handful of giant tech companies to decide if a particular speaker is disfavored.”). while some have argued that the attempts to moderate discriminate against certain political viewpoints.

Most of these problems can all fall under the subheading of the problems that result when social media platforms algorithmically push or accelerate content on their platforms. An individual with an extreme view can publish a piece of vile or disruptive content and because it’s inflammatory the silos promote it which provides even more eyeballs and the acceleration becomes a positive feedback loop. As a result the social silo benefits from engagement for advertising purposes, but the community and the commons are irreparably harmed.

If this one piece were removed, then the commons would be much healthier, fringe ideas and abuse that are abhorrent to most would be removed, and the broader democratic views of the “masses” (good or bad) would prevail. Without the algorithmic push of fringe ideas, that sort of content would be marginalized in the same way we want our inane content like this morning’s coffee or today’s lunch marginalized.

To analogize it, we’ve provided social media machine guns to the most vile and fringe members of our society and the social platforms are helping them drag the rest of us down.

If all ideas and content were provided the same linear, non-promotion we would all be much better off, and we wouldn’t have the need for as much human curation.

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:13AM

That approach: build protocols, not platforms.

I can now see why @jack made his Twitter announcement this morning. If he opens up and can use that openness to suck up more data, then Twitter’s game could potentially be doing big data and higher end algorithmic work on even much larger sets of data to drive eyeballs.

I’ll have to think on how one would “capture” a market this way, but Twitter could be reasonably poised to pivot in this direction if they’re really game for going all-in on the idea.

It’s reasonably obvious that Twitter has dramatically slowed it’s growth and isn’t competing with some of it’s erstwhile peers. Thus they need to figure out how to turn a relatively large ship without losing value.

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:20AM

It would allow end users to determine their own tolerances for different types of speech but make it much easier for most people to avoid the most problematic speech, without silencing anyone entirely or having the platforms themselves make the decisions about who is allowed to speak.

But platforms **are **making **huge **decisions about who is allowed to speak. While they’re generally allowing everyone to have a voice, they’re also very subtly privileging many voices over others. While they’re providing space for even the least among us to have a voice, they’re making far too many of the worst and most powerful among us logarithmic-ally louder.

It’s not broadly obvious, but their algorithms are plainly handing massive megaphones to people who society broadly thinks shouldn’t have a voice at all. These megaphones come in the algorithmic amplification of fringe ideas which accelerate them into the broader public discourse toward the aim of these platforms getting more engagement and therefore more eyeballs for their advertising and surveillance capitalism ends.

The issue we ought to be looking at is the dynamic range between people and the messages they’re able to send through social platforms.

We could also analogize this to the voting situation in the United States. When we disadvantage the poor, disabled, differently abled, or marginalized people from voting while simultaneously giving the uber-rich outsized influence because of what they’re able to buy, we’re imposing the same sorts of problems. Social media is just able to do this at an even larger scale and magnify the effects to make their harms more obvious.

If I follow 5,000 people on social media and one of them is a racist-policy-supporting, white nationalist president, those messages will get drowned out because I can only consume so much content. But when the algorithm consistently pushes that content to the top of my feed and attention, it is only going to accelerate it and create more harm. If I get a linear presentation of the content, then I’d have to actively search that content out for it to cause me that sort of harm.

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:39AM

Moving back to a focus on protocols over platforms can solve many of these problems.

This may also only be the case if large corporations are forced to open up and support those protocols. If my independent website can’t interact freely and openly with something like Twitter on a level playing field, then it really does no good.

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:42AM

And other recent developments suggest that doing so could overcome many of the earlier pitfalls of protocol-based systems, potentially creating the best of all words: useful internet services, with competition driving innovation, not controlled solely by giant corporations, but financially sustainable, providing end users with more control over their own data and privacy—and providing mis- and disinformation far fewer opportunities to wreak havoc.

Some of the issue with this then becomes: “Who exactly creates these standards?” We already have issues with mega-corporations like Google wielding out sized influence in the ability to create new standards like Schema.org or AMP.

Who is to say they don’t tacitly design their standards to directly (and only) benefit themselves?

Annotated on December 11, 2019 at 11:47AM

👓 Why Elizabeth Warren should be on the open web | Dave Winer

Read Why Elizabeth Warren should be on the open web by Dave Winer (Scripting News)
Why the open web is a better choice for a thoughtful and futuristic campaign like Warren's.
Many of my own thoughts reflected here.

👓 Unwalled.Garden: souped-up RSS for P2P social apps | Paul Frazee

Read Unwalled.Garden: souped-up RSS for P2P social apps by Paul Frazee (pfrazee.hashbase.io)
Beaker is an experimental peer-to-peer Web browser. In this post, I will describe a new files-oriented protocol we are developing called Unwalled.Garden which will drive the applications stack for Beaker sites.
Read Scripting News: Tuesday, June 4, 2019 by Dave Winer (Scripting News)
I've been working on the next River product. This time I'm using a MySQL database. Three tables -- feeds, items and subscriptions. The folder structure is exactly as in River5, except there is no data folder (the data is in the database). I am still a relative newbie in SQL databases, but I think this model works. I'm documenting as much as I can and of course I will release the Node.js source. I hope it serves as a basis for distributing RSS intelligence around the net. Last time around (Google Reader) we centralized. That was a mistake. If enough people run instances of this database we'll have a less interruptable base of functionality. I want to try out more new ideas as well. We've been really stuck for a long time.

👓 Chan Zuckerberg Initiative acquires and will free up science search engine Meta | TechCrunch

Read Chan Zuckerberg Initiative acquires and will free up science search engine Meta (TechCrunch)
Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s $45 billion philanthropy organization is making its first acquisition in order to make it easier for scientists to search, read and tie together more than 26 million science research papers. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is acquiring Meta, an AI-powered r…
Following up on the fate of Sciencescape.

👓 Game of Phones: Podcasts and podcast apps are now treating each other like wary rivals, protecting their turf | Nieman Lab

Read Game of Phones: Podcasts and podcast apps are now treating each other like wary rivals, protecting their turf (Nieman Lab)
Luminary gets pushback from Spotify and The New York Times: temporary glitch or the real start of the platform wars? Plus: Gimlet gets a union, a new podcast incubator, and Mueller Mueller everywhere.

👓 L’affaire Luminary continues with more podcasts dropping out and allegations of technical bad behavior | Nieman Lab

Read L’affaire Luminary continues with more podcasts dropping out and allegations of technical bad behavior (Nieman Lab)
The paid podcast app may well be doing nothing wrong in its hosting of podcasts from the open web — but nonetheless, what they've been best at thus far is generating pushback.

👓 Luminary says it’s not copying your podcast files and it’s no longer screwing with your stats — but it is killing all your show-notes links on purpose | Nieman Lab

Read Luminary says it’s not copying your podcast files and it’s no longer screwing with your stats — but it is killing all your show-notes links on purpose (Nieman Lab)
Those links to your donate page or Patreon signup are "security concerns."