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”