Throwback from 2005: “Aggregating Our Webs

One of the first iterations of QuakerQuaker, from January 2006.
One of the first iter­a­tions of Quak­erQuak­er, from Jan­u­ary 2006.

Look­ing back at a 2005 post that start­ed to lay out what was to become Quak­erQuak­er:

Maybe the web’s form of hyper­link­ing is actu­ally supe­rior to Old Media pub­lish­ing. I love how I can put for­ward a strong vision of Quak­erism with­out offend­ing any­one – any put-off read­ers can hit the “back” but­ton. And if a blog I read posts some­thing I don’t agree with, I can sim­ply choose not to com­ment. If life’s just too busy then I just miss a few weeks of posts. With my “Sub­jec­tive Guide to Quak­er Blogs” and my “On the Web” posts I high­light the blog­gers I find par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, even when I’m not in per­fect the­o­log­i­cal uni­ty. I like that I can have dis­cus­sions back and forth with Friends who I don’t exact­ly agree with.

Preaching our lives over the interwebs

Hel­lo Jon, A.J. and Wess,

So we’ve been asked to write a “syn­chroblog” orga­nized by Quak­er Vol­un­tary Ser­vice. It is a week­day and there are work dead­lines loom­ing for me (there are always dead­lines loom­ing) so my par­tic­i­pa­tion may be spot­ty but I’ll give it a shot.

The top­ic of this par­tic­u­lar syn­chroblog is Friends and social media and in the invite we were asked to riff on com­par­isons with ear­ly Friends’s pam­phle­teer­ing and the web as the new print­ing press. I’m spot­ty on the details of the var­i­ous pam­phlet wars of ear­ly Friends but the web-as-printing-press is a famil­iar theme.

I first man­gled the metaphors of web as print­ing press nine­teen years ago. That sum­mer I start­ed my first new media project to get paci­fist writ­ings online. The metaphors I used seem as fun­ny now as they were awk­ward then, but give me a break: Mark Zucker­berg was a fifth grad­er hack­ing Ataris and even the word “weblog” was a cou­ple of years away. I described my project as “web type­set­ting for the move­ment by the move­ment” and one of my sell­ing points is that I had done the same work in the print world.

Frac­tured as my metaphors were, online media was more like pub­lish­ing then that it is now. Putting an essay online required tech­ni­cal skills and com­par­a­tive­ly high equip­ment costs. The con­sis­tent arc of con­sumer tech­nol­o­gy has been to make post­ing ever eas­i­er and cheap­er and that has moved the bar of qual­i­ty (raised or low­ered depend­ing on how you see it)

Back in the mid-1990s I remem­ber jok­ing snark­i­ly with friends that we’d all some­day have blogs devot­ed to pic­tures of our cats and kids – the humor in our barbs came from the ridicu­lous­ness that some­one would go to the time and expense to build a site so ephemer­al and non-serious. You’d have to take a pic­ture, devel­op the film, dig­i­tal­ly scan it in, touch it up with a pro­hib­i­tive­ly expen­sive image soft­ware, use an FTP pro­gram to upload it to a web serv­er and then write raw HTML to make a web page of it. But the joke was on us. In 2014, if my 2yo daugh­ter puts some­thing goofy on her head, I pull out the always-with-me phone, snap a pic­ture, add a fun­ny cap­tion and fil­ter, tag it, and send it to a page which is effec­tive­ly a pho­to­blog of her life.

The ease of post­ing has spawned an inter­net cul­ture that’s cre­ative­ly bizarre and won­der­ful. With the changes the print­ing press metaphor has become less use­ful, or at least more con­strained. There are Friends who’s inten­tion­al­i­ty and effort make them inter­net pub­lish­ers (I myself work for Friends Jour­nal). But most of our online activ­i­ty is more like water cool­er chitchat.

So the ques­tion I have is this: are there ways Friends should behave online. If we are to “let our lives preach,” as the much-quoted George Fox snip­pet says, what’s our online style? Do we have any­thing to learn from ear­li­er times of pam­phle­teer­ing? And what about the media we’re using, espe­cial­ly as we learn more about elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance and its wide­spread use both here at home and in total­i­tar­i­an regimes?

Visual storytelling through animated gifs and Vine

NPR’s Plan­et Mon­ey recent­ly ran an arti­cle on glass recy­cling, How A Used Bot­tle Becomes A New Bot­tle, In 6 Gifs. The Gif part is what intrigued me. A “gif” is a tightly-compressed image for­mat file that web design­ers leaned on a lot back in the days of low band­width. It’s espe­cial­ly good for designs with a few dis­creet col­ors, such as cor­po­rate logos or sim­ple car­toons. It also sup­ports a kind of prim­i­tive ani­ma­tion that was com­plete­ly overused in the late 90s to give web­pages fly­ing uni­corns and spin­ning globes.

Ani­mat­ed gifs have grown up. They make up half the posts on Tum­blr. They are often derived from fun­ny scenes in movies and come with humor­ous cap­tions. The Plan­et Mon­ey piece uses them for sto­ry­telling: text is illus­trat­ed by six gifs show­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the recy­cling process. The move­ment helps tell the sto­ry – indeed most of the shots would be visu­al­ly unin­ter­est­ing if they were sta­t­ic.

The short loops reminds me of Vine, the six-second video ser­vice from Twit­ter which I’ve used a lot for sil­ly kid antics. They can also tell a sim­ple sto­ry (they’re par­tic­u­lar­ly well suit­ed to repet­i­tive kid antics: up the steps, down the slide, up the steps, down the slide, up…).

In my work with Friends Jour­nal I’ve done some 7 – 12 minute video inter­views with off-site authors using Google Hang­outs, which essen­tial­ly just records the video con­ver­sa­tion. It’s fine for what we use it for, but the qual­i­ty depends a lot on the equip­ment on the oth­er end. If the band­width is low or the web­cam poor qual­i­ty, it will show, and there are few options for post-production edit­ing. But hon­est­ly, this is why I use Hang­outs: a short web-only inter­view won’t turn into a week­long project.

Pro­duc­ing high-quality video requires con­trol­ling all of the equip­ment, shoot­ing ten times more footage than you think you’ll need, and then hours of work con­dens­ing and edit­ing it down to a sto­ry. And after all this it’s pos­si­ble you’ll end up with some­thing that doesn’t get many views. Few Youtube users actu­al­ly watch videos all the way through to the end, drift­ing away to oth­er inter­net dis­trac­tions in the first few min­utes.

I like the com­bi­na­tion of the sim­ple short video clips (whether Vine or ani­mat­ed gif) wed­ded to words. My last post here was the very light-weight sto­ry about a sum­mer after­noon project. Yes­ter­day, I tried again, shoot­ing a short ani­mat­ed gif of Tibetan monks vis­it­ing a local meet­ing­house. I don’t think it real­ly worked. They’re con­struct­ing a sand man­dala grain-by-grain. The small move­ments of their fun­nel sticks as sand drops is so small that a reg­u­lar sta­t­ic pho­to would suf­fice. But I’ll keep exper­i­ment­ing with the form.

A social media snapshot

When I first start­ed blog­ging fif­teen years ago, the process was sim­ple. I’d open up a file, hand-edit the HTML code and upload it to a web­serv­er – those were the days! Now every social web ser­vice is like a blog unto itself. The way I have them inter­act is occa­sion­al­ly dizzy­ing even to me. Recent­ly a friend asked on Face­book what peo­ple used Tum­blr for, and I thought it might be a good time to sur­vey my cur­rent web ser­vices. These shift and change con­stant­ly but per­haps oth­ers will find it an inter­est­ing snap­shot of hooked-together media cir­ca 2012.

The glue services you don’t see:

  • Google Read­er. I still try to keep up with about a hun­dred blogs, most­ly spir­i­tu­al in nature. The old tried-and-true Google Read­er still orga­nizes it all, though I often read it through the Android app News­Rob.
  • Diigo. This took the place of the clas­sic social book­mark­ing site Deli­cious when it had a near-death expe­ri­ence a few years ago (it’s nev­er come back in a form that would make me recon­sid­er it). When­ev­er I see some­thing inter­est­ing I want to share, I post it here, where it gets cross-posted to my Twit­ter and Tum­blr sites. I’ve book­marked over 4500 sites over the last seven-plus years. It’s an essen­tial archive that I use for remem­ber­ing sites I’ve liked in the past. Diigo book­marks that are tagged “Quak­er” get sucked into an alter­nate route where they become edi­tor fea­tures for Quak​erQuak​er​.org.
  • Pock­et (for­mer­ly Read it Lat­er). I’m in the envi­able posi­tion that many of my per­son­al inter­ests over­lap with my pro­fes­sion­al work. While work­ing, I’ll often find some inter­est­ing Quak­er arti­cle that I want to read lat­er. Hence Pock­et, a ser­vice that will instant­ly book­mark the site and make it avail­able for lat­er read­ing.
  • Flip­board is a great mobile app that lets you read arti­cles on top­ics you like. Com­bine it with Twit­ter lists and you have a per­son­al­ized read­ing list. I use this every day, most­ly for blogs and news sites I like to read but don’t con­sid­er so essen­tial that I need to catch every­thing they pub­lish.
  • Ifttt​.com. A handy ser­vice named after the log­i­cal con­struct “IF This, Then That,” Ifttt will take one social feed and cross-post it to anoth­er under var­i­ous con­di­tions. For exam­ple, I have Diigo posts cross-post to Twit­ter and Flickr posts cross­post to Face­book. Some of the Ifttt “recip­ies” are behind the scenes, like the one that takes every post on Word­Press and adds it to my pri­vate Ever­note account for archival pur­pos­es.

The Public-Facing Me:

  • Word­Press (Quak​er​ran​ter​.org). The blog you’re read­ing. It orig­i­nal­ly start­ed as a Move­able Type-powered blog when that was the hip blog­ging plat­form (I’m old). A few years ago I went through a painstak­ing process to bring it over to Word­Press in such a way that its Disqus-powered com­ments would be pre­served.
  • Twit­ter. I’ve long loved Twit­ter, though like many techies I’m wor­ried about the direc­tion it’s head­ed. They’ve recent­ly locked most of the ser­vices that read Twit­ter feeds and reprocess it. If this weren’t hap­pen­ing, I’d use it as a default chan­nel for just about every­thing. In the mean­time, only about half of my tweets are direct from the ser­vice – the remain­der are auto-imports from Diigo, Insta­gram, etc.
  • Tum­blr (Quack​Quack​.org). I like Tum­blr although my site there (quack​quack​.org) gets very few direct vis­its. I most­ly use it as a “links blog” of inter­est­ing things I find in my inter­net wan­der­ings. Most items come in via Diigo, though if I have time I’ll sup­ple­ment things with my own thoughts or pic­tures. Most peo­ple prob­a­bly see this via the side­bar of the Quak­er­Ran­ter site.
  • Face­book. It may seem I post a lot on Face­book, but 95 per­cent of what goes up there is import­ed from some oth­er ser­vice. But, because more peo­ple are on Face­book than any­where else, it’s the place I get the most com­ments. I gen­er­al­ly use it to reply to com­ments and see what friends are up to. I don’t like Face­book per se because of its pater­nal­ist con­trols on what can be seen and its recent moves to force con­tent providers to pay for vis­i­bil­i­ty for their own fan pages.
  • Flickr. Once the dar­ling of pho­to sites, Flickr’s been the heart­break of the hip­ster set more times than I can remem­ber. It has a ter­ri­ble mobile app and always lags behind every oth­er ser­vice but I have over 4000 pic­tures going back to 2005. This is my pho­to archive (much more so than the fail­ing disk dri­ves on a suc­ces­sion of lap­tops).

Honorable Mentions

  • I use Foursquare all the time but I don’t think many peo­ple notice it.
  • Right now, most of my pho­tos start off with the mobile app Insta­gram, handy despite the now-tired con­ceit of its square for­mat (cute when it was the art­sy under­dog, cloy­ing now that it’s the billion-dollar main­stream ser­vice).
  • Like most of the plan­et I use Youtube for videos. I like Vimeo but Youtube is par­tic­u­lar­ly con­ve­nient when shoot­ing from a Google-based phone and it’s where the view­ers are.
  • I gave up my old cus­tom site at Mar​tinKel​ley​.com for a Fla​vors​.me account. Its flex­i­bil­i­ty lets me eas­i­ly link to the ser­vices I use.

When I write all this out it seems so com­pli­cat­ed. But the aim is con­ve­nience: a sim­ple few key­strokes that feed into ser­vices dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion across a series of web pres­ences.

Fifteen years of blogging

Even I’m a bit shocked by the title of this post. Have I real­ly been blog­ging for fif­teen years? I keep double-checking the math but it keeps adding up. In Novem­ber 1997 I added a fea­ture to my two-year-old peace web­site. I called this new enti­ty Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront and updat­ed it week­ly with orig­i­nal fea­tures and curat­ed links to the best online paci­fist writ­ing. I wrote a ret­ro­spec­tive of the “ear­ly blog­ging days” in 2005 that talks about how it came about and gives some con­text about the proto-blogs hap­pen­ing back in 1997.

But I could arguably go back fur­ther than 15 years. In col­lege, my friend Brni and I start­ed an alter­na­tive print mag­a­zine called VACUUM. It came out week­ly. It had a mix of opin­ion pieces and news from all over. Famil­iar, huh? Columns were made up from a dot matrix print­er and past­ed down with scotch tape, with head­lines scrawled out with a sharpie. The ethos was there. Next April will mark its Sil­ver Jubilee.

What’s most strik­ing is not the huge leaps of tech­nolo­gies, but the single-mindedness of my pur­suits all these years. There are cross-decade echos of themes and ways of pack­ag­ing pub­li­ca­tions that con­tin­ue in my work as edi­tor of Friends Jour­nal.

Photo of the Day: Dawn of the Web


The first pho­to on the web pho­to turns 20 next Wednes­day and its sto­ry is more inter­est­ing that you’d think:

The first pho­to­graph­ic image ever uploaded to the Web was a Pho­to­shop dis­as­ter. It was cre­at­ed to sell some­thing, and fea­tured attrac­tive women in a come-hither pose. In short, photo-uploading was born with some orig­i­nal sins that have nev­er quite washed away.

Bonus Youtube: Les Hor­ri­bles Cer­nettes per­form “Col­lid­er”

The Limits of the Real Time Web

Beth Kantor's nonprofit blog has an good article asking about the possibilities for real-time web interaction and asks whether it's possible for the web to let someone be in two places at the same time:

What interests me is if this is the next evolution of the social web -
what is the culture shift that needs to happen within a nonprofit to
embrace it?  Of course, I want to also know what the value or benefit
is to nonprofits?

For
me, the eye-opening moment of real-time collaboration came last winter when I was planning a conference with two friends. The three of us knew each other pretty well and we had all
met each other one-on-one but we had never been in the same room together (this wouldn't happen until the first evening of the conference we were co-leading!). A month to go we scheduled a conference call to hash out details.

I got on Skype from my New Jersey home and called Robin on her Bay Area landline and Wess on his cellphone in Los Angeles. The mixed telephony was fun enough, but the
amazing part came when we brought our computers into the conversation. Within minutes we had opened up a shared Google Doc file and started
cutting and pasting agenda items. Someone made a
reference to a video, found it on Youtube and sent it to the other two
by Twitter. Wess had a secondary wiki going, we were bookmarking resources on Delicious and sending links by instant messenger.

This is qualitatively different from the two-places-at-once scenario
that Beth Kantor was imagining because we were using real-time web tools to be more present with one
another. Our attention was more focused on the work at hand.

I'm more skeptical about nonprofits engaging in the live tweeting phenomenon--fast-pace, real-time updates on Twitter and other "micro-blogging" services. These tend to be so
much useless noise. How useful can we be if our attention is so divided?

Last week a nonprofit I follow used Twitter to cover a press
conference. I'm sorry to say that the flood of tweets amounted to a lot of useless trivia. So what that the
politician you invited actually showed up in the room? That he actually
walked to the podium? That he actually started talking? That he ticked
through your talking points? These are all things we knew would happen
when the press conference was announced. There was no NEWs in this and no take-away that could get me more involved.

What would have been useful
were links to background issues, a five-things-you-do list, and a five
minute wrap-up video released within an hour of the event's end. They
could have been coordinated in such a way to ramp up the real time buzz: if they had posted an Twitter update every half
hour or so w/one selected highlight and a link to a live Ustream.tv link I
probably would have checked it out. The difference is that I would have
chosen to have my workday interrupted by all of this extra activity. In the online
economy, attention is the currency and any unusual activity is
a kind of mugging.

When I talk to clients, I invariably tell that "social media" is inherently social, which is to say that it's about people communicating. The excitement we bring to our everyday communication and the judgment we show in shaping the message is much more important than the Web 2.0 tool de jour.

Convergent Friends: Content not designed for our market?

Henry Jenkins (right) mixes up the names but has good commentary on the Susan Boyle phenomenon in How Sarah [Susan] Spread and What it Means. I've been quoting lines over on my Tumblr blog but this is a good one for Quaker readers because I think it says something about the Convergent Friends culture:

When we talk about pop cosmopolitanism, we are most often talking
about American teens doing cosplay or listening to K-Pop albums, not
church ladies gathering to pray for the success of a British reality
television contestant, but it is all part of the same process. We are
reaching across borders in search of content, zones which were used to
organize the distribution of content in the Broadcast era, but which
are much more fluid in an age of participatory culture and social
networks.

We live in a world where content can be accessed quickly from any
part of the world assuming it somehow reaches our radar and where the
collective intelligence of the participatory culture can identify
content and spread the word rapidly when needed. Susan Boyle in that
sense is a sign of bigger things to come -- content which wasn't
designed for our market, content which wasn't timed for such rapid
global circulation, gaining much greater visibility than ever before
and networks and production companies having trouble keeping up with
the rapidly escalating demand.

Susan Boyle's video was produced for a U.K.-only show but social media has allowed us to share it across that border. In the Convergent Friends movement, we're discovering "content which wasn't designed for our market"--Friends of all different stripes having direct access to the work and thoughts of other types of Friends, which we are able to sort through and spread almost immediately. In this context, the "networks and productions companies" would be our yearly meetings and larger Friends bodies.