Since I have my twitter account set to delete everything older than 30 days, I’m reposting this here for posterity.
Since I have my twitter account set to delete everything older than 30 days, I’m reposting this here for posterity.
“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.”
I’m trying out Mastodon, you can find me at mastodon.xyz/@seanbonner – if you haven’t seen it yet Mastodon is the latest iteration of a very long line of wannabe Twitter replacements. Pownce and identi.ca and diaspora and app.net and ello and peach and now mastodon, oh my. That sounds like a skeptical way to start this off but as one of the first 140 people to join Twitter more than 10 years ago, who has written about the service a lot and has been disappointed with it recently to the point that I keep threatening to leave – I would love a better Twitter. Of course I would just love Twitter to be better, but if I’m honest about it they have had their chance again and again and continue to blow it, so if someone else can do it better then I’m all for that. So every time the next Twitter replacement shows up I participate in the experimentation and after a while you start seeing the same patterns repeat themselves. People keep reinventing the wheel, and keep making it square each time.
I want to be believe.
I’m just approaching it with healthy skepticism.
I’d heard a lot about Mastodon recently though admittedly it took me a while to realize people weren’t talking about the new Mastodon album, but Sarah’s Motherboard article clarified that for me. Mastodon boasts an impressive list of attributes right out of the gate, someone has obviously been listening to a lot of the complaints about Twitter.
Say no more! Selfishly I wanted to secure the username I use everywhere else on the web, and this sounded like a good start so I decided to join and check it out for myself only to find that it was closed to new sign ups.
But one of Mastodon’s features is that it’s open source and federated, so while I couldn’t sign up on the main site Mastodon.social I could sign up on Mastodon.xyz which I found on this short list of other instances and I picked it because at the time it was one of the only ones that had the word Mastodon in it which made me feel like it was somewhat more official. That list is getting longer, and here is an even more exhaustive list showing just how many instances there are already out in the world, and this is growing quickly. This is important and I’ll explain way in a moment.
Let me clarify this a little, because it took me a while to get it myself. Each Mastodon “instance” is a wholly separate installation of the Mastodon code. Think of how you can install WordPress on your own server or something like that. BUT, because it’s federated, they all talk to each other to have common timelines easily allowing someone with an account on one instance to follow and talk with someone with an account on a different instance. The immediately obvious benefit here is that this is completely decentralized, so one server can go down and Mastodon stays up. The less obvious hiccup with that is because each instance is completely independent each one has it’s own rules, or lack there of–and each instance is subject to the whim of whoever decided to set it up in the first place. Some instances are moderated, some aren’t. Some instances take a strong stand against certain kinds of speech, others don’t. But because of the federation, they all come together, right? Wrong. Each instance can also decide if it wants to federate with all the other Mastodon instances or with only select instances. So you and your friend can both be on Mastodon, with accounts on different instances and you can talk to each other, but you might be able to talk to some people your friend isn’t able to. Or more concerning, any number of things may cause other instances to stop federating the instance you or your friend are on cutting you off from each other. This is a huge problem, and one we’ve seen with with other attempts at this and I’m surprised is a mistake being repeated.
You may assume, as I did, that this isn’t really a concern because as noted earlier there are lots of other instances so you should be able to just create an account on another one and be back up to speed. And indeed Mastodon offers account detail export & import to make this easy. But again, what isn’t so clear is because each instance is independent, so is each account on each instance. Meaning just because you secured your favorite username on one instance doesn’t ensure you will get it on another. I’d assumed that upon joining I could tell people “I’m @seanbonner on Mastodon just like I’m @seanbonner on Twitter.” That turns out to be incorrect. I’m actually @firstname.lastname@example.org and if I want to be @email@example.com or @firstname.lastname@example.org or any of the other instances then I have to create separate accounts on each of those, and there is no way to sync them. This also means that some other Sean Bonner can go sign up as @email@example.com and judging by how much email I get from other Sean Bonner’s who apply for jobs and join dating sites and register bank accounts without knowing what their own email address is, that is going to be a huge problem at any kind of scale. This is the biggest flaw in my opinion because without the ability to claim your identity across an entire service there is huge potential for confusion and no way to embrace it as a home.
This is subjective, but 100% of the people I’ve talked in in person about Mastodon in the last few days have made a comment about how they should go lock in their username now, and when I’e explained the above they’ve lost the motivation to go check it out. They really should be using some shared ledger to have global usernames across the whole federation.
Going back to the import/export thing for a second, it’s true you can export your info to make setting up on a new instance easy–however you export only your following list, not your followers. So if you create a new account you are back to zero followers. Pointing out this problem on Mastodon is however assured to get you a lot of replies from accounts with anime avatars dismissing your concern and equating a Mastodon account with an email account. Almost like a talking point.
This is a quite flawed analogy for a social network. Your email address is not your public identity where as your social media accounts often are. And while it’s true that no one would try to lock in the same firstname.lastname@example.org for every email host out there, it’s also true that there haven’t been massive lawsuits and fights over email addresses the way there have been for social media account usernames. Email is inherently private and social media is inherently public. I’ve had people call me @seanbonner to my face, or introduce me to others that way, but no one has ever referred to me as my email address. I think it’s safe to say anyone making that analogy here really hasn’t thought it through.
There’s also the lag where it seems some instances don’t see posts for many hours which creates a weird reply stream, but that’s more likely attributable to the recent exponential growth and I expect will be solved.
I sound like I’m hating on Mastodon but I’m really not, I wouldn’t have bothered to write any of this if I didn’t care. I actually really like a lot of it and have high hopes for it, and I say all this because I’m concerned that these are fatal flaws that will prevent it from really taking off. This piece on The Verge dives deep into the genesis of Mastodon and the creator’s motivations and goals. He’s very clearly trying to solve his own problem, which is where all really good ideas come from. Unless he also tries to solve some other people’s problems, I’m doubtful how much of a future Mastodon will ever have.
Of course I’d very much love to be proven wrong there. I still want Twitter circa 2008 back.
On Monday as I was heading home to Los Angeles I spotted a thought provoking sticker on a sign post in Shibuya and quickly sent it off to Twitter. Currently, less than 48 hours later my tweet has received over 23k retweets and 42k likes. And growing by the second. I note those stats specifically apply to my tweet only, but as it’s been reposted without attribution all over the place and gotten similar attention elsewhere so it’s likely in the hundreds of thousands collectively at this point, though I’ll never know for sure. This isn’t the first time one of my photos has ended up having it’s own life online but it’s still a very odd thing to experience and I thought some people might enjoy a little more detail and context about this how this has played out. I also have a book of some of my other Tokyo street photos that is available now, for a deeper dive into my photo work and the neighborhood surrounding where I took the above shot.
I know that my comment in the tweet plays in significantly to the reaction it received and I’ll spend more time on that later but upfront I want to acknowledge that the sticker (and the image on it) itself is the work of anonymous Japanese street artist 281_Anti nuke. I’ve been familiar with his work for years. In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima meltdown I, along with some friends, founded an environmental monitoring non-profit called Safecast and our office is right in the middle of Shibuya, Tokyo. The neighborhood is regularly plastered with 281_’s stickers and we’ve got a few up inside our office as well. My friend, filmmaker Adrian Storey who I’ve collaborated with in the past, even made a documentary about 281_ a few years back. Shortly after I tweeted this photo 281_ also posted the image of the sticker itself which sadly hasn’t received a fraction of the attention it should.
Very quickly after I posted it people took notice and started spreading it around. I think that is a completely factual statement because, as you can tell, it has in fact been spread around. And when I say “people took notice” anyone with half a brain can deduce that by saying “people” I’m referring specifically to the people that took notice and not “all of the people on the planet.” I point that out because the by and large the number one reply I’ve gotten in response is some form of argument pushing back that this doesn’t represent the views of all the people in Japan. Again, a painfully obvious observation.
Certainly, and to 281_’s credit this is a perfectly executed and highly charged political image so one might expect it to cause a bit of a ruckus, but perhaps more than anything I’ve ever posted this one seems to have drawn a significant reaction. Beyond arguing about what I meant by “people” the next most common thing sent my way was arguments about how racists/nationalistic/immigration-unfriendly Japan is so therefore this observation is irrelevant, which is of course a red herring if ever there was one. Racist history of America, Democrats, and other countries that aren’t Japan or the US were also brought into the argument left and right. In fact if you went through this list of logical fallacies you could find perfect examples for each in my twitter mentions right now. I probably shouldn’t have been, but I was genuinely shocked how defensive people were. Not all people on the planet, or all people on twitter, but all people who were defensive. Duh.
Of course there’s also the inevitable comments from people who don’t follow me, yet felt the need to take time out of their day to tell me they don’t care what I post or that I’m wasting their time. Time they spent replying to me I guess? The logic that works in some people’s heads is baffling.
I was also attacked and held suspect pretty frequently. A quick scan of replies finds no shortage of statements calling me a faggot, which I found hilarious in it’s retro cliche nature but was surprisingly being used as a genuine insult in these cases. For simply posting this photo and my observation I’m also apparently a liberal, libtard, SJW, fascist, racist, expat, tourist, etc in the eyes of anonymous twitter accounts with single digit follower counts. I find all of this terribly amusing and fascinating, though I can also understand how someone else in my shoes might take these attacks more personally. I’m simply lucky(?) to have 20+ years of experience with trolling so I see such retorts as almost a script that gets followed again and again with only minor details swapped out each time. So maybe these trolls and shitposters are just unknowingly taking my bait. Who’s trolling who??? I’m laughing, so that’s good enough for me.
A not insignificant number of replies also accused me of making and posting the sticker myself just to manufacture the drama, and even in the face of the existence of 281_’s own gallery showing the image, these folks would then jump to the conclusion that I created 281 as well rather than accept their initial reaction was misplaced. New thing time however was quite a few people calling this fake news. But I guess we all know that in 2017 “fake news” is a term applied to anything you don’t agree with, no matter it’s basis in fact.
Another new twist this time is the number of media outlets that have reached out to me. I’d say this is a net positive as most often in the past these places would just take the extra lame “it’s on the internet so anyone can use it” approach, so outlets asking for permission is a welcomed change. I use a CC-BY license for these kinds of things as there’s really no way I can stop people from stealing it and using it for whatever purposes they want so fighting that is a losing battle from the beginning, and I’m quite happy to just have proper attribution. More than one outlet did ask me to agree to their terms which would have given them an eternal, transferable, non-exclusive license to do whatever they wanted with it for ever and I said no and pointed them to the CC-BY license.
I don’t want to sound like the reactions were all negative, I’ve definitely gotten countless replies from people agreeing with the sentiment, or complimenting the photos which is nice. But at the end of the day, I really was just responding to a question I’ve repeatedly heard with a quick image that I thought answered it pretty well.
(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter. Subscribe or else.)
I’m fried. I’m exhausted. I’m overloaded. I have so much I want to do and I feel like I’m not getting anything done. I blame the internet. I need an internet vacation.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently but not exactly sure how to put my finger on it, or explain it but I think I’m getting there. That is, I’m getting no where. I’m feeling like I’m working all day and getting nothing done and I think it’s because I’m always on. Because of everything that I do and everything I’m involved with it’s not realistic for me to be offline for any extended period of time so the thought of an “internet vacation” in the sense of being offline for some giant chunk of time. That said, I think it’s imperative that I find a way to not be online all day long.
I don’t have the kind of relationships and connections with people online that I used to and I feel like I spend a lot of time and effort chasing that, whereas perhaps that time would be better spent building and fostering offline relationships and connections.
I’ve experimented a bit with this, about 6 months ago I moved my phone charger to the living room so I plug it in before I go to bed and don’t look at it again until after breakfast (unless I have an early morning meeting). This has helped, I sleep better, I can read a book in bed, I get a solid chunk of things done in the morning. Then the day begins – so to speak – I’m in front of my laptop or ipad or phone, or some combination of all three constantly. I’m juggling emails, slack teams, tweetdeck, an ever present search window for research, news feeds, etc. Not to mention todo lists, kid/family stuff, eating, and all the rest of it. I also chopped my following list on twitter in half, moving a lot of people to lists I check more sporadically and that’s been a good step, but it’s not enough.
I’m very seriously wondering if I could somehow engineer limited internet access for myself. One hour a day. Or two one hour blocks spaced throughout the day. In the offline times I could focus on the things I want and need to focus on, and knowing I only have an hour of connectivity maybe I’d be more discerning about how I spend that. Random browsing would disappear but I’m pretty sure I’m OK with that, and I could keep a text file with things I need to look up and then batch them.
I have Freedom App but I never use it because anytime I’ve tried something comes up and I need to get online and end up quitting it. But maybe it’s worth a shot – try it for a week or something and just put in 6 hours as how long I want to be offline, then quit browsers, and set a countdown clock somewhere. Is this even reasonable? I know don’t know, but I think I want to try it.
I’ve been ranting about this on twitter for days, or years if you think about it, but thought it was time to collect some of these thoughts in one place. I purposely didn’t include punctuation in the title of this piece because it could just as easily be “How to save twitter!” as it could be “How to save twitter?” – in fact it might be both.
If you are reading this you likely know about @dickc, CEO of twitter, sending an internal note accepting that twitter is horrible at dealing with abuse and taking ownership of that problem. This of course is a problem that the rest of the world has known about, and has been discussing, for quite some time.
I’m not a twitter employee, investor or anything, so why do I even care? Because I love twitter, or at least I loved it, but it’s been bumming me out a lot recently.
As one of the first 140 people to sign up for twitter, I’ve seen almost every change the site has gone through first hand. Some of those changes were natural evolutions and just made sense – for example getting rid of the “All” feed which showed you every tweet by every user on twitter at once – eventually there were too many people posting too often for this to be useful at all. Similarly the addition of the “Replies” feed where you could see tweets by people talking directly to you rather than having to scroll through the feed comprised of lists of your friends or the aforementioned “All” feed to see if anyone had mentioned you. These were natural evolutions based on how people were using the site. The addition of “replies” changed everything, and overnight a jumbled string of comments turned into conversations you could follow. This little change has irreversibly changed how people communicate online. It’s impossible to downplay the importance of that.
The benefit of enabling conversations came with the side effect of bubbling up comments, or “replies” from people whom the recipient might not already be acquainted. This was a positive thing because it allowed anyone in the world to talk to anyone else, but it was also a negative because it allowed anyone in the world to talk to anyone else. The positive was more immediately apparent than the negative, but it wasn’t long before the negative was impossible to ignore. This was the start of a problem that was never effectively dealt with.
This is a lot of history but I’m getting to a point here so stick with me.
“Verified” accounts were introduced after St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa sued twitter after someone else set up an account in his name, the suit claiming twitter enabled this impersonation. Twitter denied responsibility sticking to their hands off “platform not publisher” approach to dealing with such complaints, but created “verified” accounts as a future solution – so that the public could tell the difference between real and parody accounts. At face value this seems like a viable solution. But it came with problems of it’s own (like new users assuming anyone not verified is fake), the largest however is twitter never publicly disclosed a set of standards or process for people to get their accounts verified. Worse, they quickly turned “Verified accounts” into a marketing product. Celebrities and high profile people who would give this new user class(* I’ll get to this in a minute) validity and value started popping up as twitter hand picked who to give these accounts too. Blue checkmarks became a hot commodity and it wasn’t long before business partners, read that as paying advertisers, ended up with verified accounts as well. As of this moment there are 121,215 verified accounts (of 288 million users) and a quick scan of that list shows lots of brands, and lots of people associated with those brands, not a lot of people at high risk for impersonation. I clicked 6 or 7 of the most recent names on that list at random and not one of them had over 1000 followers. Meanwhile a guy who was on the original team that built twitter, the guy who started #hashtags and people with tens of thousands of followers aren’t. Hell even current twitter employees who are followed by the CEO aren’t verified.
I think we can all agree “verified” has nothing to do with how high someone’s profile is, or if twitter is assured the person is who they claim to be. Just sayin’.
It’s pretty obvious that twitter has felt that brands and businesses are their primary customer for quite some time. Which might be true, but only because they’ve never offered a way for people to be customers as well. Giving people access to their ad platform which is 100% designed for businesses doesn’t really count. The mistake here is assuming that their primary customers were their primary users. Or even should be. Individual people far out number the brands on twitter, and this is a loyal resource that twitter has been taking for granted. So it’s no surprise that when all efforts are spent to attract brands, people get left behind. Brands don’t harass each other, when all focus is on how to make brands happy, is it any surprise ordinary people fell through the cracks?
I’ve ranted for years about my problems with this system and won’t go back over all those here, suffice to say “verified” implied confirmation of identity when it fact it should have been something like “twitter gold” or “premium.” The manufactured exclusivity made it valuable, but detracted from it’s value. If you know what I mean.
This is actually where I think they made the biggest mistake, and where they can correct it all pretty much overnight.
I mentioned earlier that verified accounts are a user class. This isn’t transparent. To the general public a verified account looks just like any other account with the addition of a blue checkmark. But behind the scenes verified accounts have access to additional tools and filters which are designed specifically to improve the experience. Not the least of which is the ability to ignore everything but other verified accounts. As you can imagine there is very little verified on verified harassment.
So here’s the roadmap:
1. Give up the exclusivity of “verified” and create a transparent process for anyone to prove they are who they say they are and get verified. This isn’t a “real name” policy, it’s a “I’m a real person attached to this account” policy. Essentially letting “verified” be what it was initially promised to be – a way for people to know if the account is actually run by who it says it is.
2. Step 1 in play gives anyone access to these enhanced filters if they want them. Web and mobile should have mirrored features. Right now anyone using the web interface can filter replies to only see messages from people they follow, but they don’t have this option in mobile. Giving everyone all filters on all platforms makes harassment infinitely easier to manage, block and ignore.
3. To compensate for lost revenue from brands by removing the exclusivity of “verified” twitter should introduce paid accounts. Maybe this is tied to the verification process, but web users are far more comfortable with paying for accounts in 2015 than they were in 2006 when twitter launched. We happily pay for accounts all over the web these days so the oft repeated argument that people won’t pay for accounts rings hollow. If verification cost $5 a month, or $20 a year I can’t imagine enough people wouldn’t jump on it to more than cover the difference. In fact, I’d bet this route is way more profitable.
Now this doesn’t solve everything, but it takes some massive steps in the right direction. I put up Dear Dick C (dot com) in hopes to bring some attention to this, it worked (sort of) when I tried it with Marissa, so I thought I’d give it a shot again.
Followers is a term I’ve never been too comfortable with. It implies acceptance of leadership when in fact it’s more like just half assed interestingness. Am I a follower of someone I “follow” on twitter or am I just curios what they might be thinking about. That’s a pretty big difference. And worse is when followers are called “fans” – just because I “follow” someone doesn’t mean I like them, or am their fan, again I might just be curious about their thought process. I don’t have a better term, but this one is no good either. Anyway, this is all something I think about when people talk about influence and attention online. How much influence does having some number of people’s attention translate to? It’s very hard to say.
I have 38,781 followers on Google+
I have 11,442 followers on Twitter
I have 2,237 followers on Tumblr
I have 510 subscribers to my mailing list
I have 112 subscribers to my podcast
I have other profiles online but you get the point I’m making I hope.
WTF does that mean? Certainly you can’t add those together as inevitably there is some overlap, and while there are certainly some people following on Google+ who aren’t subscribed to my podcast, it’s probably less likely that many of the podcast subscribers aren’t also following on twitter. Is the difference in numbers due to platform adoption or personal messaging? How many people are actually paying attention to any given thing I post? Accepted wisdom is that all those things should reference each other so people can easily find one or the other, but does that build in some redundancy?
I don’t have answers here, just something I was thinking about and wondering what others thoughts are.
Why using encryption is seen as suspicious — the difference between privacy and secrecy.
Not long ago I discussed some of the steps I was taking to ensure some privacy online and since then have had quite a few conversations with other people about their own efforts to do the same. We most frequently talk about how easy or hard something is to implement and express shared desire to have more of these options baked in as standard features on normal applications used by everyone. If encrypting an email was as easy as CCing some for example, it’s safe to assume more people would encrypt their emails.
These discussions also inevitably note that the simple act of encrypting your email is more likely to draw the attention of folks like the NSA because to some people this is seen as suspicious behavior. But I don’t buy it — if encrypting your email is suspicious that’s only the case because not many people do it, which is only the case because it’s not that easy. And now we’re running in circles. But lets think about this a bit more for a second.
What’s so suspicious about it?
(crossposted on Medium)
A conversation on twitter last night reminded me of a list I’d seen compiled many years ago of the first 140 people to sign up for Twitter – known as twttr at that point. The site where the list had been posted was down but thanks to The Wayback Machine I was able to find the list. I thought I’d repost it here just for posterity.
I find this list incredibly fascinating for a number of reasons. We all know what twitter is now, but no one knew what it would be then so if nothing else (with the exception of the people who worked at Odeo) this is a snapshot of a somehow connected (it was invite only) group of people who were willing to try out new things that likely made no sense to them at the time. Who is on the list is just as interesting as who isn’t – and seeing how it spread. Jason Cosper invited me and I invited both Xeni Jardin and Richard Ault who signed up immediately. I recall the first few days much more vividly than I do the following 6 months. Random text messages from people stating that they were making sandwiches or going to the store, and the feeling that this info was probably important in a context I couldn’t quite wrap my head around – which made it exciting. It was also annoying. But it found it’s groove and as I’ve said before the service went on to change my entire world and how I communicate with people, and I’d argue I’m not the only one who feels that way. I can’t imagine a world without Twitter today. And because those first few days and weeks were so new and weird, this list is a bit nostalgic for me. I don’t know how it makes anyone else feel, but like I said I just thought it was worth archiving.
(Note: Unfortunately it seems that a few people on this list, over the last 7 years, changed their usernames or stopped using them and someone else has snatched those names up. They are obvious when you follow the links below, so this list is more an archive of the names and accounts, no so much the current users.)