Tag: Web

Through a Tom Critchlow post that appeared in my RSS reader but doesn’t appear to exist anymore, I learn of Ponder – “a fresh approach to group journaling” — which I feel like some people I know might find interesting. My own interest isn’t so much because I feel I have a use for it in mind but because I have a passing interest in people developing more closed-but-shared places on the web.

Blogging does need a search engine, as Colin Devroe and Brent Simmons have said, but Devroe raises an interesting point as to deciding what’s a blog these days; many publications are structured and formatted more or less like blogs. What we need is an independent or hobbyist blog search engine: personally, I don’t need a blog search site that includes The Verge or io9. Maybe the folks behind Wiby could take a separate stab at blog search?

One thing Lizzie O’Shea might be misconstruing is that back in the web’s crude, ugly days, one’s own presence on the internet tended to be more personal — whether through one’s own homepage or “just” through profiles you needed to fill out on early social networks (as opposed to later social media platforms, which are different) like Friendster. One tended to have some sort of “home” through which you described and defined your persona or personality. While there was no mythical “single collective experience” what we did have — and this is significantly what Joanne McNeil’s book was about — was an internet of people rather than an internet of users. So, I wonder if O’Shea isn’t mistaking being able to look back at the past internet and see people for being able to look back and see public space in the way in which she conceives of it. It was never public space in that sense, but it was a peopled space. In a very real sense, and one that runs against the grain of O’Shea’s argument, the move toward mass platforms — closer to, not farther away from, the “single collective experience” O’Shea mythologizes — in fact depersonalized cyberspace.

What ‘Single Collective Experience’?

Lizzie O’Shea, in Future Histories, just said something that I had to re-read a few times to make sure I was reading it right. About two-thirds of the way through the second chapter, “An Internet Built around Consumption Is a Bad Place to Live”, she remarks upon a changing internet.

In other words, shared public space begins to vanish; increasingly there is no single collective experience online.

“In general arc if not always specific sites and services,” I observed about Joanne McNeil’s recent book, “Lurking is the story of my internet, too. For her, it was AOL and Geocities; for me: gopherspace, MindVox, IRC, and Usenet.” I’m reminded of that statement because it serves to contradict O’Shea’s allegation, in that there never has been a “single collective experience” on (or of) the internet — there might have been places within all that ethereal expanse which this or that group of people might have shared, but not some overall “shared public space” in the sense O’Shea seems to mean.

People who got online around the same time often, as I suggested, have similar arcs to their onboarding and initial experiences, but the specifics will have been more or less unique.

O’Shea doubles-down on what I feel is a fundamental misconception in her next paragraph.

If we think about the Internet as a place rather than a service, this process of abstract identification is not empowering — it causes fragmentation and distance between people. It creates a world where the population is subject to different framing effects, making for increasingly insurmountable political and social divisions, worlds that stand apart from each other despite nominally existing in a communal space.

What I find weird here is that in many ways, the modern internet has more widely-spread and shared communal spaces (if not places) than it has since the heyday of Usenet — which arguably doesn’t count as a true “public space” due to the comparatively small population of the internet at the time — due to platforms like Instagram and Twitter, where anyone and everyone mostly can access anyone and everyone else almost at whim.

(Whether or not that lack of friction itself actually precludes the idea of such platforms being usable as any kind of true “public space” is another thing altogether.)

The usefulness, to me, of the early metaphor of “cyberspace” precisely lay in its amorphousness, but it’s weakness lay in conveying the idea that there was a there there — instead of communicating simply that there was room for any number of places to arise. It suggested, perhaps, that there was a sort of virtual firmament and if everyone was going there it must be “public space”.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t be trying to find better ways for us all to be online than the current ways so dominated by marketing companies abstracting our collected and collated behavior into just so many lobotomized versions of Max Headroom (“people translated as data” indeed, Bryce).

It’s just to say that, given O’Shea’s exhortations early in the book to properly characterize, and take a kind of ownership of, our past in order to inform how in the present we conceive of possible futures, it sticks out to me that she seems to get such a basic idea about how the internet has or has not changed so wrong.

Back in February, I threatened to do a re-read of some books that were formative of my experience of the early web, but then didn’t get around to it, in part because I didn’t get to move quickly enough when several of them for some reason were on sale. Today, though, I noticed that the ebook of We’ve Got Blog had dropped to $3.99, so expect some thoughts on beginning to look back at these early books, once I’m done with Future Histories.

Addenda

  1. I ended up going ahead and grabbing The Weblog Handbook now as well, as it’s only $8.99.
  2. While getting the latter book, I stumbled into The Personal Weblog: A Linguistic History, a $90 textbook from 2016 which I will not be rushing out to get, although I might try to learn a bit more about it.

Tinkered a bit again with the “now” page off my homepage over on the shell machine. I do sort of miss the semi-automated version I’d been doing on my blog, but I like this one better.

‘Crude, Ugly, But Heartfelt’

Setting aside that the “early internet” had no hyperlinks (this is the problem with everyone having grown to conflate “internet” and “web”, and I’m always really picky about linguistic specificity), Rebeccah Toh has a nice look back at the early days of the web and its “feeling of childish excitement and this sense that really interesting things were waiting to be discovered just around the corner, a hyperlink or two away” — back before play gave way to monetization.

I know we can never time travel back to the days before we lost our internet innocence, but we can remind ourselves that we always have the permission to be hobbyists and amateurs, whether on the internet or not, and that we never need to feel guilty spending ungodly amounts of time playing and tinkering and being immersed in whatever we’re interested in. In fact I cannot think of a better way to live, to be always curious and having fun.

Civic Signals is seeking “five graduate student researchers with expertise in digital ethnography and urban spaces to conduct research for a two month fieldwork project on digital public spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning June 2020”.

Research will focus on key issues such as digital inequalities, infrastructures, misinformation, digital publics, and digital literacies, in relation to community building, education, activism, exercise, nightlife, and more. How are understandings of public and private shifting and for whom? What are the material conditions of these shifts? Researchers will conduct fieldwork independently, but will collaborate with the research team and the research leads, Dr. Mona Sloane (Principal Investigator) and Dr. Jordan Kraemer.

The Granular Control Of Novels On Sticky Notes

It’s no secret that I generally dislike Twitter threads and tend to wish more people would just blog, and then selectively quote it in a couple choice tweets. Most of the time, like Alan Jacobs, I find threads to be “choppy, imprecise, abstract, syntactically naïve or incompetent, lacking in appropriate transitions” — as Robert of Frosted Echoes said it’s like “reading a novel written on sticky notes”.

(In some ways even worse still, threads open the door to people retweeting every tweet in a thread, which: I mean, come on.)

That said, Jacobs’ post reminded me of a terrific defense of threads by Jessica Price in which she notes the unique degree of control threading gives her over how thoughts are conveyed and constructed.

I can’t necessarily control which tweets people will read or not read, but people rarely read only part of a tweet. It’s almost impossible to only read part of it, given the length and how it’s displayed.

So if I can fit a complete thought into a single tweet, I can at least guarantee that people will see that thought as a unit.

Moreover, people almost never quote part of a tweet. They retweet or embed it as a whole. So if I can fit that complete thought into a single tweet, I can almost guarantee that a single phrase in it won’t be quoted out of context.

Price also notes the “granularity” threads offer in terms of being able to pick and choose what conversations to have based upon to which tweets people respond.

I’m always going to vigorously nod whenever someone hates on Twitter threads, but ever since Price’s thoughts on why she threads I’m never going to nod without also thinking about her take, which I kept forgetting to blog about — if only so I could find it again, because I didn’t bookmark it. If nothing else, Jacob’s post finally gave me the excuse.

Apparently over on Micro.blog they are doing a book recommendation challenge this week, and I’d be interested if anyone is assembling any stats on what sites people are linking to for their recommendations; I’m particularly curious about use of Bookshop.

One Unsuccessful Blog

I’m hesitant to link to this TTTThis post due to their position on hate speech which unlike them I will not put in scare-quotes (link, again, via Colin Walker), but for better or worse they said this really interesting thing about blogging.

When you search for blogs now on you see things like ‘Top 100 Blogs.’ ‘How to Make a Successful Blog.’ ‘Most Powerful 50 Blogs.’ But what you really want is 10,000 unsuccessful blogs. Web search now suggests ideas for your blogs to get views, shares, indexed, but what you really want is no ideas. It’s almost impossible now to find a blog that’s not on a focused theme because that’s what search engines focus on and how websites profit. But you want the opposite, a blog that never tried to focus or even thought about it.

Emphasis mine, because hello: it me.

Every single Am I the Asshole? story reads to me like fanfiction. Like, I totally believe someone would behave this way, I just never believe the person posting has behaved that way.