Just Wandering Away

About to post this to Facebook…:

I heard a pundit say the other day that people “are just wandering away” from Facebook. I feel that. The vibe has totally changed, and much of the old vitality is gone. Pre-Trump, Facebook was an enjoyable place for serious debate on an endless variety of topics. Post-Trump, FB became a place to rally and compare notes about the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization. But no one can stay in rage mode every day – we become exhausted. Now it feels like people are just kind of limping along, trying to keep their chins up against an inexplicable and endlessly infuriating backdrop.

Then there’s the whole Cambridge Analytica thing, and the ensuing #deletefacebook movement. If you didn’t catch tonight’s 60 Minutes interview with the developer of the app that scraped your data, must watch.

Three Facebook writers/friends I admire bigly have quit FB over the past month, leaving my stream all the poorer. Meanwhile, I find myself pining once again for pre-Facebook days, when it was all about blogs aggregated into RSS and FOAF networks. I’ve let my Twitter and Flickr accounts go somewhat stale. I don’t give Quora nearly the amount of time it deserves. Medium is an amazing resource. Reddit is a massive phenomenon of which I’ve barely scraped the surface. There are still tons of great blogs out there. And the stack of unread magazines and books on the coffee table keeps calling.

Coming to treat Facebook like it’s the internet itself, or like it somehow represents the “best of the internet” is a subtle trap, one that occurs silently, almost naturally, when you allow it suck you in. It’s too good at what it does.

I think a big part of the appeal of TV shows set in the past (“Call the Midwife,” “The Crown,” etc.) is that they let us spend an hour remembering how different the world was before the internet changed everything, for better and for worse. Lately, I’ve been leaning more toward “for the worse,” which is ironic given my chosen profession, but I can’t escape the conclusion that our culture’s seeming inability to distinguish truth from fiction, or to even care when our leaders use lies as a primary currency, or to think rationally as a collective, is largely due to the fact that anyone can now speak on the same playing field as trained professionals. What drew me to a career on the web – the revolutionary potential of an idealistic “democratization of voices” that could “give everyone their own printing press” turned out to be HORRIBLE for democracy.

Meanwhile, it feels like a third of the country views people who just want to maintain common-sense, good-for-humans policies as if they are “leftist radicals” (excuse me now, WHO are the radicals?). Today I did something truly radical: I picked up the damn phone (remember those?) and called an old friend. Sat in the afternoon sun and talked, just like in the olden days. It was truly great.

Lately, the thing that makes me happiest is not having online conversations – it’s rolling through pristine countryside on two wheels. It’s bike season, and the centuries are coming up. That’s where I feel most at peace, and I experience a deeper sense of meaning making a new friend on a bike than I do clicking Like 30 times a day. Late nights, lately I take more pleasure in writing code than in “scrolling the feed” (which is why I’ve been posting less).

This is all a long way of saying I feel increasingly depressed by it all. By the internet in part, but by Facebook’s supremacy *in particular*. I need a mental health break from this platform. Not unplugging entirely, but needing more diversity of inputs and of voices, and to do more analog reading. I’m returning to my old haunts for a spell, and looking for new ones. Just deleted FB from my phone (it only takes a second!), and will not visit FB/web for one month (though I’ll probably check in on this post for a day, and may make exceptions for a couple of big events coming up).

I know it’s going to be tough — for all of its problems, Facebook is an incredible platform. The technology is good, all my friends are here, and it serves important functions for organizing events and interest groups. This will be tough.

For updates this month, see blog.birdhouse.org and twitter.com/shacker . Come May 21, I’ll re-evaluate.

Much love,
./s

ALL YOUR FRIENDS ARE HERE

Ello was founded as a social network devoted to never selling or sharing your data. Diaspora was founded as a social network devoted to decentralization so no one could “own” your data. Google Plus offered a better experience than Facebook in dozens of ways. There have been heaps of Facebook alternatives over the years, and they’re all virtual ghost towns. Why can’t any of them succeed? Because Facebook has one feature no one else can replicate: ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS ARE HERE. Now, with many of us fed up and looking for alternatives, I’m asking: How can we break FB’s monopoly on ALL YOUR FRIENDS ARE HERE? Until we do, the number of people who truly leave the platform will be close to zero.

Notes on the Death of Google Reader

So everyone’s going apeshit over the impending death of Google Reader. Can we keep a bit of perspective on this please?

– We loved and used RSS before Google Reader, and we’ll continue to love and use RSS long after it’s gone.

– Google Reader is just another RSS client. OK, its community integration features were unique, but as a pure client, there always have been, and will always continue to be, lots of far superior alternatives.

– This has nothing to do with “the death of open standards.” Nothing is happening to the RSS standard, for godssake.

– What do you expect from free software? A lifetime commitment?

I’ll grant that the big problem here is that Reader has become the default backing store for other clients. In fact, my favorite RSS client by far, Reeder, uses Google Reader as a storage and sync mechanism. Hopefully, Reeder will act quickly to enable other aggregators to fill that role, or to let us add feeds independently of a central aggregator. If it doesn’t, I’ll find one that does. Because, after all, that’s what all RSS aggregators did before Reader existed.

It’s not that big of a loss. RSS lives.

Thank God they spared Orkut.

Update: Reeder has already stated that they’ll live on after the death of Reader.

Here are 50+ Reader replacements either working now or on the horizon.

Compassion in Social Media: Facebook and Emotion

Had the opportunity tonight to hear an excellent local talk by:

  • Dacher Keitner: Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley and director of the Greater Good Science Center
  • Aturo Bejar:  Engineering Director at Facebook

dacher

Keitner and Bejar are working together to make Facebook tools such as removal of unwanted photo tags, bullying indicators, and crisis support more effective by using emotional language in prompts and dialog boxes, fine-tuned by age ranges, gender and other indicators. By using human-ese rather than engineer-ese, their experiments are making various Facebook tools more effective at resolving intended and unintended human conflicts.  Here are a few scattered notes from tonight’s talk. Many of the points below were supported by charts and graphs not shown here.
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Like Button Fail

People joke about the limitations of the Like button, how sometimes you just want to acknowledge that something is interesting or noteworthy, even if that thing is bad news. Sometimes the dilemma is funny, but often it’s not.

Came across this while reading Salon.com today and did a double-spit-take:

likenot

This isn’t funny – this is a problem. Kind of amazing that Facebook hasn’t come up with something better in all this time. In the scope and context of All News, having nothing but “Like” to work with is just childish.

Bucketlist Infographic in Delayed Gratification

So stoked! Delayed Gratification Magazine asked for a month’s worth of data from bucketlist.org and used it to create this wonderful infographic. You can even order full-size posters from their site. Thanks so much DG! And thanks everyone who has contributed to bucketlist.org over time.

Delayed Gratification – PICKING THE BUCKET
Shareable infographic from a recent issue of Delayed Gratification

Google+: View post on Google+

FreeDive – Searchable Web DBs for Journalists

Problem: Journalists often don’t have access to programmers who can help them build searchable web databases, and are often stuck behind inflexible CMSs.

Solution: +Len De Groot and I built FreeDive, a CMS-independent web-based tool that lets journalists transform Google Spreadsheets into sortable, searchable modules that can be dropped into any web page.

FreeDive was the last big project I worked on at KDMC before moving on – incredibly proud to see its official launch today!

http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tools/freedive/