Much of our courage and support comes from the people we read and talk to and love online, often on the very networks that expose us—and our friends—to genuine enemies of freedom and peace. We have to keep connected, but we don’t have to play on their terms.
Thursday, February 16th, 2017
Saturday, November 26th, 2016
Whereas before content used to be spread out on numerous domains in numerous ways, content now mostly makes its home on the three domains that are most hostile to thoughtful human discussion: Twitter, Medium, and Facebook.
So what? you may ask..
Think about how many times you’ve tweeted. Or written or commented on a Facebook post. Or started a Medium draft. These are all our words, locked in proprietary platforms that controls not only how our message is displayed, but how we write it, and even more worrying, how we think about it.
Tuesday, November 8th, 2016
A list of books that have been published in their entirety on the web. If you know of any others, please contribute.
Sunday, June 12th, 2016
An in-depth, thoroughly-researched look at the threatened health of the web. It’s grim reading, for the most part, but there’s a glimmer of hope towards the end.
Sunday, June 5th, 2016
Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an x-ray that could peer into the true intention behind words on a screen? Sadly we don’t have that x-ray yet (for most of humanity’s existence, we had body language to enrich our words and enhance understanding, but we live in interesting times where so much, perhaps even the majority, of our communication lacks body language) and so we have to be mindful of how our words might be perceived, and what the ramifications of publishing them might be. That’s not to say we should hold off completely, but it does mean we should be mindful if we’re to be most effective.
The latest piece from Jonathan Harris explores online life in all its mundanity, presenting it in an engaging way, all the while trying to make you feel bad for doing exactly what the site is encouraging you to do.
Monday, October 5th, 2015
Monday, December 16th, 2013
I was going to say that this is a really lovely post from Jim about Second Life, but it’s no actually about Second Life at all: it’s about a person.
Tuesday, August 13th, 2013
The Internet, day one. A sad tale of data loss.
Saturday, July 21st, 2012
A good recap of the recent online/offline/does-it-really-matter discussion …although it does lend a bit too much credence to the pronouncements of that king of trolls, Nicholas Carr.
Thursday, June 28th, 2012
A nice timeline visualisation of recent history.
Wednesday, February 29th, 2012
Getting ahead in advertising
One of the other speakers at this year’s Webstock was Matthew Inman. While he was in Wellington, he published a new Oatmeal comic called I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened.
I can relate to the frustration he describes. I watched most of Game of Thrones while I was in Arizona over Christmas. I say “most” because the final episode was shown on the same day that Jessica and I were flying back to the UK. Once we got back home, we tried to obtain that final episode by legal means. We failed. And so we torrented it …just as described in Matt’s comic.
The single least-attractive attribute of many of the people who download content illegally is their smug sense of entitlement.
As Marco Arment points out, Andy might be right but it’s not a very helpful approach to solving the real problem:
Relying solely on yelling about what’s right isn’t a pragmatic approach for the media industry to take. And it’s not working. It’s unrealistic and naïve to expect everyone to do the “right” thing when the alternative is so much easier, faster, cheaper, and better for so many of them.
The pragmatic approach is to address the demand.
I was reminded of this kind of stubborn insistence in defending the old way of doing things while I was thinking about …advertising.
Have a read of this wonderful anecdote called TV Is Broken which describes the reaction of a young girl thitherto only familiar with on-demand streaming of time-shifted content when she is confronted with the experience of watching “regular” television:
“Did it break?”, she asks. It does sometimes happen at home that Flash or Silverlight implode, interrupt her show, and I have to fix it.
“No. It’s just a commercial.”
“What’s a commercial?”, she asks.
“It is like little shows where they tell you about other shows and toys and snacks.”, I explain.
“Well the TV people think you might like to know about this stuff.”
“This is boring! I want to watch Shrek.”
Andy Ihnatko might argue that the young girl needs to sit there and just take the adverts because, hey, that’s the way things have always worked in the past, dagnabbit. Advertising executives would agree. They would, of course, be completely and utterly wrong. Just because something has worked a certain way in the past doesn’t mean it should work that way in the future. If anything, it is the media companies and advertisers who are the ones debilitated by a sense of self-entitlement.
Advertising has always felt strange on the web. It’s an old-world approach that feels out of place bolted onto our new medium. It is being interpreted as damage and routed around. I’m not just talking about ad-blockers. Services like Instapaper and Readability—and, to a certain extent, RSS before them—are allowing people to circumvent the kind of disgustingly dehumanising advertising documented in Merlin’s Noise to Noise Ratio set of screenshots. Those tools are responding to the customers and readers.
There’s been a lot of talk about advertising in responsive design lately—it was one of the talking points at the recent Responsive Summit in London—and that’s great; it’s a thorny problem that needs to be addressed. But it’s one of those issues where, if you look at it deeply enough, keeping the user’s needs in mind, the inevitable conclusion is that it’s a fundamentally flawed approach to interacting with readers/viewers/users/ugly bags of mostly water.
Can UX designers make a difference in the advertising field? Possibly. But I see it as a a quixotic endeavour, swimming against the tide of a value system that frequently causes the disempowerment of the user.
I realise that in pointing out that advertising is fundamentally shit, I’m not being very helpful and I’m not exactly offering much in the way of solutions or alternatives. But I rail against the idea that we need to accept intrusive online advertising just because “that’s the way things have always been.” There are many constructs—advertising, copyright—that we treat as if they are immutable laws of nature when in fact they may be outmoded business concepts more suited to the last century (if they ever really worked at all).
So when I see the new IAB Display Advertising Guidelines which consist of more of the same shit piled higher and deeper, my immediate reaction is:
“This is boring! I want to watch Shrek.”
Sunday, February 20th, 2011
Voice of the Beeb hive
Ian Hunter at the BBC has written a follow-up post to his initial announcement of the plans to axe 172 websites. The post is intended to clarify and reassure. It certainly clarifies, but it is anything but reassuring.
He clarifies that, yes, these websites will be taken offline. But, he reassures us, they will be stored …offline. Not on the web. Without URLs. Basically, they’ll be put in a hole in the ground. But it’s okay; it’s a hole in the ground operated by the BBC, so that’s alright then.
The most important question in all of this is why the sites are being removed at all. As I said, the BBC’s online mothballing policy has—up till now—been superb. Well, now we have an answer. Here it is:
But there still may come a time when people interested in the site are better served by careful offline storage.
There may be a parallel universe where that sentence makes sense, but it would have to be one in which the English language is used very differently.
As an aside, the use of language in the “explanation” is quite fascinating. The post is filled with the kind of mealy-mouthed filler words intended to appease those of us who are concerned that this is a terrible mistake. For example, the phrase “we need to explore a range of options including offline storage” can be read as “the sites are going offline; live with it.”
That’s one of the most heartbreaking aspects of all of this: the way that it is being presented as a fait accompli: these sites are going to be ripped from the fabric of the network to be tossed into a single offline point of failure and there’s nothing that we—the license-payers—can do about it.
I know that there are many people within the BBC who do not share this vision. I’ve received some emails from people who worked on some of the sites scheduled for deletion and needless to say, they’re not happy. I was contacted by an archivist at the BBC, for whom this plan was unwelcome news that he first heard about here on adactio.com. The subsequent reaction was:
It was OK to put a videotape on a shelf, but putting web pages offline isn’t OK.
I hope that those within the BBC who disagree with the planned destruction will make their voices heard. For those of us outside the BBC, it isn’t clear how we can best voice our concerns. You could make a complaint to the BBC, though that seems to be intended more for complaints about programme content.
In the meantime, you can download all or some of the 172 sites and plop them elsewhere on the web. That’s not an ideal solution—ideally, the BBC shouldn’t be practicing a deliberate policy of link rot—but it allows us to prepare for the worst.
I hope that whoever at the BBC has responsibility for this decision will listen to reason. Failing that, I hope that we can get a genuine explanation as to why this is happening, because what’s currently being offered up simply doesn’t cut it. Perhaps the truth behind this decision lies not so much with the BBC, but with their technology partner, Siemens, who have a notorious track record for shafting the BBC, charging ludicrous amounts of money to execute the most trivial of technical changes.
If this decision is being taken for political reasons, I would hope that someone at the BBC would have the honesty to say so rather than simply churning out more mealy-mouthed blog posts devoid of any genuine explanation.
Saturday, February 19th, 2011
Long Bets - The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.
This is my prediction. If you think it’s wrong, challenge it. We shall then partake in a wager.
Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
Most people were as saddened as I was, although Emma described my post as being “anti-BBC.” For the record, I’m a big fan of the BBC—hence my disappointment at this decision. And, also for the record, I believe anyone should be allowed to voice their criticism of an organisational decision without being labelled “anti” said organisation …just as anyone should be allowed to criticise a politician without being labelled unpatriotic.
It didn’t take long for people to start discussing an archiving effort, which was heartening. I started to think about the best way to coordinate such an effort; probably a wiki. As well as listing handy archiving tools, it could serve as a place for people to claim which sites they want to adopt, and point to their mirrors once they’re up and running. Marko already has a head start. Let’s do this!
But something didn’t feel quite right.
I reached out to Jason Scott for advice on coordinating an effort like this. He has plenty of experience. He’s currently trying to figure out how to save the more than 500,000 videos that Yahoo is going to delete on March 15th. He’s more than willing to chat, but he had some choice words about the British public’s relationship to the BBC:
This is the case of a government-funded media group deleting. In other words, this is something for The People, and by The People I mean The Media and the British and the rest to go HEY BBC STOP
The BBC has always been an excellent citizen of the web. Their own policy on handling outdated content explains the situation beautifully:
We don’t want to delete pages which users may have bookmarked or linked to in other ways.
Moving a site to a different domain will save the content but it won’t preserve the inbound connections; the hyperlinks that weave the tapestry of the web together.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the Internet Archive. I think that Brewster Kahle is doing fantastic work. But let’s face it; once a site only exists in the archive, it is effectively no longer a part of the living web. Yet, whenever a site is threatened with closure, we invoke the Internet Archive as a panacea.
So, yes, let’s make and host copies of the 172 sites scheduled for termination, but let’s not get distracted from the main goal here. What we are fighting against is link rot.
I don’t want the BBC to take any particular action. Quite the opposite: I want them to continue with their existing policy. It will probably take more effort for them to remove the sites than to simply let them sit there. And let’s face it, it’s not like the bandwidth costs are going to be a factor for these sites.
Instead, many believe that the BBC’s decision is politically motivated: the need to be seen to “cut” top level directories, as though cutting content equated to cutting costs. I can’t comment on that. I just know how I feel about the decision:
I don’t want them to archive it. I just want them to leave it the fuck alone.
“What do we want?” “Inaction!”
“When do we want it?” “Continuously!”
Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Brilliant; just brilliant. Connor O’Brien remains skeptical about the abstract permanence of “the cloud.” The observations are sharp and the tone is spot-on.
If your only photo album is Facebook, ask yourself: since when did a gratis web service ever demonstrate giving a flying fuck about holding onto the past?
Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
The BBC’s decision to actively delete old content (rather than simply allowing it to take up some space on a server) really gets my blood boiling.
The BBC asked the public to contribute their memories of World War Two to a website between June 2003 and January 2006…” and five years later some suit decided to bin them.
Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
Aaron Swartz gets technical about online digital preservation.
Sunday, January 9th, 2011
An accurately-downbeat look at digital preservation.
Sunday, April 25th, 2010
A beautiful reminder.