Tag: social networking (page 1 of 7)

The web is fragmentary

I love that this article channels both Tracey Ullman’s excellent book Close to the Machine and the weird allure of spreadsheets. I have a love/hate relationship with the latter, I have to say.

The key point that this article makes, which I think a few of us realised even before the pandemic, is that the web is fragmentary by default. Huge silos of common experience will come and go, and that’s OK.

If we were to wipe the slate clean—no more platform-specific formats, no more slick UIs, no more engagement-capturing algorithms—would web users even know what to make online? The question has felt particularly acute these past few months, as Twitter users flounder to figure out where to go next, even as they still feel tethered to the increasingly broken platform. Setting aside the very real issue of building a critical mass of users on another site, the question of what to do on another site runs through many of these conversations. In an ideal world, what would a platform allow a user to do?


Creation on the web has always been about those constraints, whether technical limitations or the specific ways systems were designed. By the late ’90s, the web had grown much more participatory than the one Ellen Ullman was writing about. With a little HTML and CSS, ordinary users could create all sorts of things on the proverbial blank page—so long it was mostly text, with maybe a few low-res images or the occasional sparkly animated gif. The first decade of the 2000s saw the rise of both social networking and blogging, but even as technical capabilities were rapidly expanding, for the average user it was far less of a free-for-all than the DIY spirit of the early years. The Web 2.0 shift to user-generated content centered the user—but it was on the platforms’ terms. And in an effort to make content creation as “user-friendly” as possible, platforms were once again, after the openness of the  webring/Geocities era, building narrow pathways for users to take.


But constraints on the web today aren’t just about what our tools encourage us to do on a technical level—they’re also about what it’s like, more broadly, to use a platform. “On the old-school internet that I was on when I was a teenager, the constraints were the tools,” says [Michael Ann DeVito, a postdoctoral computing innovation fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Colorado Boulder]. “Could you create a hit viral video in 1996? No, we did not have the technology and infrastructure to get that video distributed. For a one-minute video, you would spend two days uploading it, and nobody would have had the connection to download it. The systems didn’t afford that kind of expression.”


The ideal solution likely lies in multiplicity: no massively scaled platform can do everything, so why continue trying to make one size only sort of fit all? Fragmenting our social and creative platforms wouldn’t just expand the ways we could share things with the world; a greater variety of affordances—and yes, constraints as well—would give us a greater range of pathways into creativity. As the current big platforms rush to copy each other (or, more to the point, copy TikTok), the idea of smaller, more varied platforms might feel antithetical; so, too, might the idea that the tech industry would be willing to invest in something that won’t endlessly grow. But the current platform malaise won’t be solved by scale and brute force. Users have many different needs, and in the next era of the web, they should be offered many different solutions.

Source: There’s No Such Thing as a One-Size-Fits-All Web | WIRED

Paying less attention to the attention economy

This is a reply from John Udell, a very smart guy I’ve interacted with a few times over the years. He wisely doesn’t link to the post he’s critiquing, primarily because (ironically) it would give more attention to someone he’s suggesting has a problem weaning themselves off the attention economy.

Udell talks about the ‘sweet spot’ on Twitter having been between 200 and 15,000 followers. The most I had was around 14,500 which seemed pretty awesome for a few years. I did notice that number not going up much after 2014.

But, as he says, the point about saying things online if you’re a regular person is hanging out and discussing things. There are absolutely times when you want to shout about things and make a difference, but that’s what boosting/retweeting is for, right?

If you occupy a privileged position in the attention economy, as Megan McArdle does now, and as I once did in a more limited way, then no, you won’t see Mastodon as a viable replacement for Twitter. If I were still a quasi-famous columnist I probably wouldn’t either. But I’m no longer employed in the attention economy. I just want to hang out online with people whose words and pictures and ideas intrigue and inspire and delight me, and who might feel similarly about my words and pictures and ideas. There are thousands of such people in the world, not millions. We want to congregate in different online spaces for different reasons. Now we can and I couldn’t be happier. When people say it can’t work, consider why, and who benefits from it not working.

Source: Of course the attention economy is threatened by the Fediverse | Jon Udell

Convivial social networking

Adam Greenfield composed a thread this morning on Mastodon in which he referenced Ivan Illich’s call for conviviality. This was also referenced in a post by Audrey Watters which was shared a few minutes later in my timeline by Aaron Davis.

Such synchronicity is, of course, entirely random but meshed well with my state of mind this morning. I find it interesting that Audrey thinks it’s ridiculous to think that Mastodon is “what’s next” and instead looks to email. For what it’s worth, I see the Fediverse as being a lot like email, actually.

Given that she’s got a brain and experience several times the size of mine, I’d love it if she wrote more about this…

It’s easy to look at the world right now and focus on the shit… The Republican takeover of the House. The economy. The way my body feels after running 6.85 miles on Sunday morning and then sitting in the car for 2+ hours on the drive home. The implosion of Twitter. The ridiculousness of suggesting Mastodon is “what’s next.” And so on. I mean, I have lots of thoughts on all of these, particularly the Twitter and Mastodon brouhaha. I read an email newsletter that referenced a Twitter thread in which Alexis Madrigal argued that Twitter, at least in its original manifestation, was for “word people.” I quite like that framework, and it’s helpful in showcasing how Facebook and now TikTok really would rather the ascendant influencers be picture people. TV people, even. It’s time to pull out ‘Tools for Conviviality’, perhaps, for a re-read, because I’m loathe to make the argument that email is, in fact, where we find technological conviviality these days. But that’s the direction I’m considering taking the argument. If I were to write about it and think about it more, that is.

Source: The Week in Review: What’s Good | Audrey Watters