Showing all posts tagged: social media

An indie guide to the IndieWeb, by Wing Pang

22 May 2024

Sydney based product designer Wing Pang, whom I wrote about last week, has published a comprehensive guide to the IndieWeb.

Coming from a design background, joining the IndieWeb was an incredibly exciting and rewarding, yet maze-like journey. To be honest, almost every step of the way was like a leap! But I’ve learnt so much and got a lot of feedback throughout this process from the passionate and friendly community.

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Blog of the .Day, bringing back the blogosphere one blog at a time

22 May 2024

Blog of the .Day, yes, styled as Blog of the .Day, a collaboration between James of James’ Coffee Blog, and Joe Crawford, will highlight a new blog every day.

Aside from casting the spotlight daily on a blog, another goal of the project is to bring the term blogosphere back into popular usage. For those coming in late, the blogosphere — that great interconnectedness of blogs — preceded the Twitterverse, and now looks to have outlived it as well.

Long live the blogosphere.

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Like describing a photo to a friend, how to write alt-text

15 May 2024

Web designers and bloggers have been able to use alternative text, often referred to as “alt-text”, to describe images and photos, for decades. Alt-text helps people with little or no vision comprehend a website image, so long as the description is reasonably accurate.

In recent years social media has caught up, and most channels, Instagram, Threads, Mastodon, and Bluesky among them, allow users to add alt-text to images they post.

The facility has left people wondering though about the best way to describe an image. Sadly, writing something like “a photo of my cat” as alt-text for a photo of a pet, doesn’t quite cut it.

A person with low vision knows your photo is of a cat, but is left wondering what sort of cat, what colour is the cat’s hair, and so on. So some degree of detail is useful.

Scott Vandehey, writing at Cloud Four, offers a straightforward suggestion for writing alt-text: imagine yourself describing something you’re looking at, to someone who you’re on the phone to:

I find people often get too wrapped up in what the “rules” are for alternative text. Sure, there are lots of things to be aware of, but almost all of them are covered under this simple guideline. If you were talking to a friend on the phone and wanted to describe a meme you saw, you might say “There was this dog wearing safety glasses, surrounded by chemistry equipment, saying ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.'”

The great thing about writing alt-text is the way you can write it once, say on a Notes file, but publish indefinitely, depending how many channels you end up posting the image to. It’s what I do now. Write a caption and alt-text first, then start posting across my socials.

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An Australian study on IndieWeb, decentralised social media

13 May 2024

Wing Pang is studying Design in Visual Communications at the University of Technology, Sydney, in Australia. As part of the degree course, she’s doing an assignment looking at IndieWeb, and decentralised social media, such as Mastodon. She’s interested in hearing the views of people on the subject, and if you’re interested in offering your thoughts, you can do so via this study form.

Pang will be using the data she gathers here, as the basis for creating an easy to understand guide to Small/IndieWeb, for people who are new to the topic. The study only takes a few minutes to complete, so is well worth considering.

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Share links on your personal website like it was a socials channel

13 May 2024

Matthias Ott, writing at Own Your Web:

Today, social media sites have made it seductively convenient to quickly post links that will immediately be rewarded with views, likes, and reposts. As a result, many of us seem to instinctively drop most of the interesting links we find right into the timelines of the many — oh, so many! — social media silos. With the recent revival of personal websites and blogs, however, a lot of people are rediscovering a more thoughtful and persistent alternative: sharing links on their personal websites.

I’ve always considered disassociated to be a link blog — as well as being a regular blog — and have frequently posted one sentence posts embedding a link to something I found interesting. Awhile back, I set up a separate WordPress category for them, but haven’t used it much recently.

So yes, my socials channels took precedence, and then sometimes I’d add them here. I was also wary of upsetting certain of the search engines, who seemingly will only consider a post for indexing, if it is made up of at least three hundred words.

This according to the SEO experts, you understand. I know this not to be wholly true though, as one of my most popular posts with a certain search engine, weighs in at about two hundred words, and two years on, traffic still flows in. I think trying to figure what search engines will, or won’t do, is like trying to time the markets, when it comes to making a financial punt.

No matter what you might know about a certain asset class, the market will always do its own thing, whether you’re betting for or against a certain price movement.

But I’ve always had a complicated relationship with the search engines, one in particular, but I think when it comes to sharing links, I might let it be. So going forward, I’ll look at posting links in short posts, to items of interest. Which you’ve probably seen anyway, but no matter. But not today, since I’m writing this on a Sunday night, instead of a Friday afternoon.

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The personal website returns: the good, the bad, and the ugly of it

6 May 2024

Kyle Chayka, writing for the New Yorker, in an article heralding the demise of the platform era:

Now digital-distribution infrastructure is crumbling, having become both ineffective for publishers and alienating for users. Social networks, already lackluster sources for news, are overwhelmed by misinformation and content generated by artificial intelligence. A.I.-driven search threatens to upend how articles get traffic from Google. Text-based media have given way to short-form videos of talking heads hosted on TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube. If that’s not how you prefer to take in information, you’re out of luck. Surrounded by dreck, the digital citizen is discovering that the best way to find what she used to get from social platforms is to type a URL into a browser bar and visit an individual site.

Platform refers to walled garden environments such as Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. Places you can check out of, but never leave. I may not be a one-hundred percent fan of some of them, but I don’t necessarily welcome their total demise either. Social networks are part of the internet’s evolution, and fabric. They play a role. But when you find yourself trapped within their confines twenty-four/seven, something’s not right.

Needless to say, I welcome the homecoming of the homepage, personal or otherwise. Not that some ever really went away. Some websites, as Chayka notes, were determined to remain outside the walled gardens. Tech news site The Verge is one, even going so far as to incorporate a social-media feed/stream like feature, when they revamped their website about two years ago. If you can’t beat them, join them. Sort of.

But another line in Chayka’s article sent a shiver down my spine:

One could argue that its [The Verge] makeover, which has now become a subject of admiring chatter among media executives and the editors who work for them, heralds the revenge of the home page.

It’s great The Verge has shown us what a post-platform internet could look like. Not so good, perhaps, is the news that “media executives” are seemingly salivating in delight at the prospect. Out goes one money-making model: the platforms, back comes another: the homepage. But we’ve been there before. And depending how many websites you continue using, still are.

When blogs — perhaps the first descendent of the personal website — began to really take off, about twenty years ago, the first influencers were not far behind. The monetisation strategies quickly followed. This wasn’t all bad. That a writer could make a living, independently, from their craft, was an ambition many aspired to. But as time went on, things began to get out of hand.

And I’m not referring to the plethora of blogs-about-blogging, the content farms, and who knows what else. Reading many blogs had become a trying experience. I lost count of the number of times I’d made my way to a blog — often through a search engine query — to look up something, only to be immediately greeted by a popup box, obscuring the content. They’re called “entry popups”.

“Would you like to subscribe to this publication by email?” read the annoying message. Well, I might, but I’m in no position to decide, as I’ve not been able to read a single word of what’s written here, so have no idea if subscribing is worth my while. Give me ten minutes, I might have a better idea.

Equally irritating were the so-called “exit popups”. Move your mouse pointer towards the top of the page, and, on the assumption you were leaving the blog, one would appear. Their purpose was to entice you to stay, perhaps by offering a discount on an e-book (which you had no interest in), and/or making another attempt to garner an email address.

The early years of the social networks were positively refreshing in contrast. Here was an online experience devoid of popup boxes, ads, and content of questionable quality. Short wonder so many people sought refuge on the platforms. Of course the respite would be short-lived. Now people, “digital citizens”, are returning to websites. But my question: how long before the money hungry marketers make the same transition?

You can still peruse The Verge without being blocked-out by those annoyingly ubiquitous popup boxes. They still carry adverts, but they’re relatively unobtrusive. Of course, The Verge is not a personal website, and the primary goal of personal sites is generally not to turn a profit. But there’s nothing wrong, I think, with a publisher of a personal website, or blog, deriving some income from their website, especially where they are creating content others find useful or enjoyable.

But does that make it ok? To therefore monetise personal websites? Those unkempt public parks, as Mike Grindle eloquently describes them?

I think it’s vital that we still have web spaces where rampant monetization and marketing are frowned upon or outright disallowed – spaces like the Fediverse, personal blogs, and the indie web. They are like the unkempt public parks of the internet’s town square-turned-metropolis. They are places where we should be careful to not let the billboards outgrow the trees.

The billboards had outgrown the trees, particularly towards the end of the first homepage era. And then they eventually swamped the platform era apps. Can anyone else see the trend here? I’m sure the aforementioned media executives can, as they eagerly anticipate the return of the homepage. But they’re not interested in collateral damage.

I can’t imagine though, too many Indie Web/Small Web personal websites sacrificing screen real estate for a great many billboards. There are other means of monetising, some so low key they’re almost invisible. While hardly the best examples of personal websites, even if they are published (mostly) by individuals, Daring Fireball and Kottke nonetheless make for noteworthy role models.

Enduring also, both have been online for decades. Daring Fireball, whose revenue model I’ve written about previously, features a single, small, advert in its left hand column. And it doesn’t look half bad either. Kottke meanwhile, draws income from a voluntary membership system. There’s barely a billboard to be seen, but I’m guessing both publishers are doing well.

If that’s not proof less is more, what is?

Meanwhile plenty of personal website readers are happy to make “buy a cup of coffee” type donations to content creators whose work they like, or buy their products. There’s also going to be other ways to go about this, without a return to those homepage destroying, oversize, billboards.

There’s also something else that may help prevent a repeat of the overgrown billboard homepage apocalypse. Something that was not present twenty-years ago, at least not entirely in the form it is today, and that’s the Indie Web/Small Web community. A community determined to see independent publishers thrive. Massive billboards may one day again overwhelm, and wipe out, resurgent homepages, but not in all quarters of the internet.

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Forget WhatsApp and Messenger, contact me via my website

2 May 2024

Despite their convenience, ease of sharing content, and even security, I steadfastly resist using the likes of WhatsApp, Messenger, Signal, Telegram, Wire, Viber, and whatever else is out there. I probably infuriate friends and family by refusing to assimilate, but really feel I can only keep up with a certain number of communication channels: chiefly email and SMS/text messaging.

Even though I might only have two main means of communicating with the outside world, three if phone calls or Facetime are included, there’s also a number of secondary channels. Conversations and comments on social media (across a number of networks), forums, and an in-house work app (not Slack), are among them. Some of those interactions can be quite time consuming.

We’re probably carrying on more conversations than we realise, and that’s before we get to face-to-face interactions. I’ve barely written three paragraphs about communicating, and already I’m feeling overwhelmed. Exactly what I set out to avoid in shirking all those messaging apps in the first place. Needless to say then, a recent blog post by Robert Kingett, on the general subject, struck a chord:

“Yeah, found you! I couldn’t believe it dawg. I looked you up on Facebook a billion times, but the app just wasn’t showing you, at all. Neither in the message screen or the actual timeline or anything.”

“Well, you know I have a website now, so that’s where I post. I’m a Blogger now. I stay on my website.”

I’m a Blogger now. I stay on my website. That’s something that should be printed on t-shirts.

When I catch up with friends, they ask me: “how’s disassociated going?” Then a few minutes later, “oh, and are you on Whatsapp by any chance?” Sometimes I’d like to respond by saying, “well, I don’t need a messaging app, because you know you can reach me through my website. You know, the same one that predates Facebook, most of the social networks, and messaging apps.”

But I don’t. I just shake my head. And it can’t be all that bad after all. Some of my friends live interstate and overseas, and we still manage to meet in person when in each other’s respective places of residence, hassle free. All without the need to involve messaging apps, aside from some texts. If you’re an avid user of messaging apps — go for it — don’t let me dissuade you.

But if you want to reach me, you know where I’ll be.

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It is a mistake to think all mistakes have a silver lining

1 May 2024

Social media is awash with motivational quotes extolling the virtues of making mistakes. I probably glanced sideways at some quote or other on Instagram — like, five years ago — because now my search tab is full of the things.

Daily I’m reminded that experience is simply the name we give our mistakes, or remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned at the worst times and from the worst mistakes.

Mistakes and missteps are a part of life, but spend too much on social media, and anyone would think errors are roads paved with gold. After all, mistakes have the power to turn you into something better than you were before. That’s comforting.

Except it may not be the case. Janan Ganesh, writing for the Financial Times, says that while people can bounce back from some mistakes, others can have a profoundly negative impact:

A mistake, in the modern telling, is not a mistake but a chance to “grow”, to form “resilience”. It is a mere bridge towards ultimate success. And in most cases, quite so. But a person’s life at 40 isn’t the sum of most decisions. It is skewed by a disproportionately important few: sometimes professional, often romantic. Get these wrong, and the scope for retrieving the situation is, if not zero, then overblown by a culture that struggles to impart bad news.

We err, but we go on. Getting it wrong with the big calls in life doesn’t mean someone will be doomed to an existence of abject misery. There’s always a plan B. It may not be as alluring as plan A, but it might still be pretty good. As for the social media mistake-advocates, they’d serve more good if they instead advised people not to wallow in their errors.

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What happens to American TikTok influencers if the app is banned?

26 April 2024

A few days ago the United States Congress passed a law stipulating that video-sharing social network TikTok either be sold by Chinese owned company ByteDance, or face being banned in America. It seems like drastic move, but American lawmakers have their reasons.

The proposal has been on the table for some time, and when I heard about it early last year, I wondered what might happen to the American TikTok influencers, many of whom make a living through their activities on the app. I guess we’re going to find out.

Apparently nearly half of the US population are TikTok members, and a reasonable number of them would be deriving some sort of income from it. But I doubt US TikTok influencers could launch a campaign to have the law overturned, by encouraging voter turnout for a particular political party.

The law had strong bi-partisan support from both the Democrat and Republican parties, so the outcome of upcoming elections in the US would probably make no difference. From the point of view (I should say POV) of American TikTok members who livelihoods depend on the app, I hope a buyer favourable to the US government comes along, if that means TikTok continues operating in America.

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Tracking versus privacy, are Pay or Ok consent models ok?

23 April 2024

So called “pay or ok” consent models allow social media users to access services such as Facebook or Instagram, without adverts, if they’re prepared to pay a subscription. Otherwise they’ll see ads, possibly targeted ads, at some point, and obviously be OK with that. At face value, this seems reasonable. There’s no such as a free lunch. If people want to continue using big social networks, they either need to pay to do so, or accept the presence of ads.

But regulators at the European Union’s (EU) European Data Protection Board (EDPB) aren’t happy with the “pay or ok” arrangement. In particular, the idea of targeted advertising. Long story short, to place targeted ads in a social media user’s content feed, it’s necessary to track that user. This is something the EDPB objects to.

Instead, they’d prefer a third option. Freely available access to social media services, but with non-targeted advertising. This might be akin to radio and television advertising, where a more blanket approach is taken to ad placement. As far as the social networks go, this sort of strategy could prove to be hit and miss though. One or two revenue generating ads may be relevant to a user, but not enough to be viable.

I didn’t want to write in-depth today on the topic of online tracking, whether consensual or not, but a point John Gruber, writing at Daring Fireball, made last week caught my eye. According to Gruber, the majority of EU residents, when it comes to the likes of Facebook and Instagram at least, prefer free access to these social networks, and are prepared to see targeted ads in return.

Gruber paraphrases late Apple founder Steve Jobs in making the point that people are smart, and perfectly capable of making informed choices when it comes to — in this instance — accepting targeted ads on their social media services. Gruber suggests regulatory bodies such as the EDPB believe many people are not so switched on though:

But Jobs was right too: people are smart, and they can — and should be allowed to — make their own decisions. And many people are more comfortable with sharing data than others. The privacy zealots leading this crusade in the EU do not think people are smart, and do not think they should be trusted to make these decisions for themselves.

That seems reasonable. Or is it? Jack Baty suggests the problem isn’t to do with how smart people are, but rather their general lack of concern. Particularly when it comes to comes to opting into targeted ads, in exchange for a payment-free social media experience.

I wouldn’t say I’m a zealot, but I think John mis-characterizes people here. It’s not that people aren’t smart, it’s that they don’t care. If we can’t get them to care about doing things that might be harmful to themselves or others, maybe the government should step in and care for them.

Baty’s point raises the question: how much thought are people really giving to some of the decisions they make? Do we indeed need the support of lawmakers because we may not be fully aware of what we’re agreeing to sometimes? It’s a pertinent point. For my part, I know I have, on occasion, clicked the “agree” button when presented with a text-wall of small print, so I can gain access to an app or service quickly.

Updates to the operating system of my smartphone are one example of what I mean. I try to skim read what I’m being asked to agree to, often numerous pages of legalese, but I can imagine many time-poor people would baulk at the prospect. Particularly those who need to use their phone urgently. And in doing so, not fully reading what they’re agreeing to, what tribulations might they be setting themselves up for later on?

People probably aren’t asked to read voluminous terms and conditions when agreeing to targeted ads appearing in their content streams, but are they aware of just what they’re signing away? The exact degree of privacy they might be forfeiting? Targeted ads can only be generated by tracking, but just how deep does this tracking go?

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