Tag Archives: Facebook

Why am I still blogging? (And why about this stuff?)

This blog has been around 15 years. Social media has mostly moved on, to silos like Facebook and Twitter. People don’t follow random personal blogs. Topic-focused sites are what people actually read, and even that mainly following links from silos.

Meanwhile there are so many major things going on that make the things I post about here — comics, fandom, photos of things I found interesting, random tech thoughts — seem trivial.

So why keep a blog going? And why write about trivialities, and not big things like the battles over civil rights, healthcare, environmental protections, war?

As for the first: Some of it is stubbornness. And some of it is wanting to keep part of my writing/photo presence somewhere “permanent” (to the extent that anything online is).

As for the second: I’ve never really liked talking news and politics online. I rarely feel like I can add anything that hasn’t already been said (probably better) by someone else. Also, online conversation has gotten way too toxic. On the other hand, while the little things may be trivial, they add up. They add up to your life. It feels like I might actually have something to say that’s not already been said a thousand times by people more familiar with the issue than I am.

Plus it’s a way to assert some normality in a world that feels decidedly abnormal.

I’m not likely to come up with anything super-profound on the most important topics, but I can make short statements, and I can amplify other voices. And I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that that’s important. I’ve been reading a lot more and posting a lot less over the past year or so, but even if I can’t say anything profound, I shouldn’t stay silent.

So I’ve been microblogging, and linking, and reposting — all things that are better suited for a service that’s built around those use cases. When I have something longer to say, I do try to pull it in here, because a blog post is better than a Twitter thread… But I think more people probably see my retweets than my blog posts, anyway.

What makes online posts feel “permanent?”

Facebook is testing a feature to hide new posts from your timeline so they don’t feel so permanent. Of course they’re still searchable until you actually delete them, so they’re still permanent in that sense.

What’s odd: Facebook posts don’t feel permanent to begin with, even though they effectively stick around forever.

Thinking about it, two things make an internet post feel permanent to me:

  1. Can I count on it sticking around?
  2. Can I count on finding it again?

Facebook, despite a lot of improvements over the years, is a mess. The newsfeed algorithm means you can’t just keep scrolling back. The timeline view isn’t reliably complete. Search is kind of a crap shoot. Don’t get me started on trying to find a particular old post on Twitter!

And that’s dealing with sites I can expect to stay online over time. A post on a forum, or a comment on someone else’s blog, or any social network could easily vanish in someone’s server crash or business shutdown.

If I can’t count on being able to find what I post a few years down the line, it feels like it’s temporary, even if it isn’t.

This is one reason that my Flickr portfolio feels more permanent than my Instagram photos: I can find them without resorting to third-party apps. If I want to find a particular photo on Instagram, I have to page down through my profile until I find it. On Flickr, I can find a 10-year-old photo of a fountain in seconds by searching for “fountain” and expanding the “Your photos” section of the results.

Then again, running my own site is only reliable as long as I can afford it. If something happens to me, and I can’t pay for hosting anymore, what then? I figure I’d simplify things down to where I could get a basic, super-cheap hosting plan. Make the blogs read-only so they can be served statically from a shared server or S3 bucket, or move them to WordPress.com, or just be willing to let them crash under load. But what if I’m incapacitated and can’t convert it? Or just plain not there anymore? If I really want to keep my corner of the web up “permanently,” I’m going to have to make a plan ahead of time.

Otherwise my carefully preserved photos, articles, and extended musings will be toast…leaving behind as context only broken links and all my supposedly (but not really) ephemeral offhand remarks on Twitter and Facebook.

I “Liked” Twitter Favorites

It shouldn’t make any difference that Twitter renamed Favorites★ as Likes♥. It’s a coat of paint. But labels do matter. Just like “friend” and “follower”, “like” and “favorite” (and hearts and stars) conjure up different expectations.

Twitter says, “You might like a lot of things, but not everything can be your favorite.” Paradoxically, I find “likes” to be more specific. The star-and-favorite model comes out of Internet Explorer*, and modern browsers still use stars for bookmarks. This made “favorite” seem a little more versatile, anything from a stamp of approval to a simple check-back-for-later.

“Like,” on the other hand….

After years of requests for a “dislike” button, Facebook finally admitted that “like” isn’t sufficient to respond to everything, and will be expanding to multiple reaction buttons. I know Twitter keeps trying to be more like Facebook, but c’mon — even Facebook knows people don’t want to “like” sad news.

*Microsoft didn’t want to call their bookmarks “bookmarks.” Nobody wanted to use the same terminology as anyone else back then. They tried to call links “shortcuts” too.

What’s Wrong With Facebook Updating Itself on Android?

Yesterday, my phone suddenly started downloading something called “Facebook build (somethingorother).” It didn’t show any progress, wouldn’t go away, and I worried that maybe it was a piece of malware or something buggy. A quick search turned up nothing. A later search found other people asking what this was. Late last night, there were articles about “Hey, why is Facebook updating itself!”

It turns out that yes, Facebook is now downloading its own updates on Android phones and tablets instead of just pushing them out through the relevant app stores (Google Play and Amazon, mainly). I’m sure they thought it was a great idea — web browsers like Firefox and Chrome have been doing this for several years on the desktop.

The problem is that it violates expectations of what the app will do, and where your software is coming from.

Imagine your car’s manufacturer issues a recall. Now imagine three scenarios:

Scenario 1: You receive a notice of the recall, asking you to make an appointment to bring the car in for maintenance. (For those of you who don’t drive, this is how it normally works.)

Scenario 2: You receive a notice offering to send a technician out to do the repairs at your home or workplace. (This would be awesome, but impractical.)

Scenario 3: You’re sitting in the living room when you hear a noise from the garage. You go out to investigate and find someone messing with your car.

That’s what this feels like.

It’s one thing to offer software through third-party channels. The fact that it’s possible is one of the reasons I prefer Android to iOS. In that case, notifying me of updates, maybe even simplifying the download would be very convenient — if I know ahead of time that it’s going to happen. And if they’re not switching channels on me. A download coming from some new location, but claiming to be a familiar piece of software, and a notice telling you to install it? That’s how trojans work.

In short, it’s a violation of trust…and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Facebook over the last few years, it’s that the social network has enough problems with trust.

Who Owns Your Online Profile? Thoughts on Instagram, Facebook, and Blogging

Spectrum on the Floor (Not Pink Floyd)

You’ve probably heard about Instagram’s new terms of service, which claim the right to sell your photos. [Update: Instagram has posted a “that’s not what we meant!” statement and promised to revise that section.]

To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.

Monetization is one thing, but selling my creative output, using it or my likeness for advertising, without my permission? That’s stepping over the line. Add this to the recent decision to hide image previews from Twitter, and a pattern emerges of a service that was once open and free starting to close ranks.

I’m not personally worried about Instagram in particular. I’ve only really dabbled in it over the last few months, treating it most of the time as a first draft for Flickr. I have maybe 50 photos and a handful of followers, and most of the people I follow there are also on other networks. If Instagram doesn’t back down or clarify the language [Update: they did], I can easily repost the photos I want to keep online and go somewhere else.

I am worried about the trend it highlights: You can’t always rely on social media.

And I am worried about the fact that these changes were announced after the Facebook acquisition went through, and after Facebook revised their terms so that they no longer have to put new terms of service to a vote. I’ve got a lot more invested in Facebook than I have in Instagram.

Where Have All The Photos Gone?

GloomI used to blog about web browsers at Spread Firefox and Opera Watch. Both sites are long gone. Countless articles I’ve linked to have vanished as publishers restructured or went out of business.

I’ve got an extensive LiveJournal from a few years back. It’s still there, but when I let my paid account lapse, I started moving over some of the less personal, more tech- and entertainment-focused posts (like convention reports) to this site, just in case a BOFH deletes it, or they change their terms of service to something unacceptable.

The question “Who owns your data?” has been repeated so often over the years that I can’t look up the post I’m thinking about, which advocated open file formats over proprietary ones (like Microsoft Office) on the basis that you should always be able to find a reader for a text document, but if you lose access to Word, or if Microsoft decides to drop support for an older format, you’re at their mercy.

The problem with social networks as services is that, like with those proprietary file types, you’re at their mercy. Want to search for a three-year-old Tweet? Tough. Facebook changed their privacy settings again? Oops. Twitter decides they don’t want apps like yours to exist, so they close off part of their API? Bye! The site you posted all your photos to decides to close up shop? *Poof!* There go your photos.

So What’s the Alternative?

Train ArrivingWhen it comes down to it, the only way to be sure you aren’t going to be exploited or abandoned is to do it yourself.

Blogging is basically the same as social networking, except distributed:

  • People publish written posts, photos, videos, and more.
  • Other people comment on them.
  • You can “share” a post by linking to it, and pingbacks/trackbacks will let them know you’ve done so.
  • You can subscribe to someone’s updates through RSS, and services like RSSCloud and PubSubHubub can make updates appear quickly.
  • Services like OpenId make it possible to authenticate visitors, which means you can start locking down who gets to see what.

The upside is that you, not Facebook or Google or Twitter, have full control of your content. The downside is that you have to exercise that control. You have to maintain the infrastructure, you have to guard against attackers, you have to filter out spam, you have to do your own backups, and you have to know at least something about the system under the hood.

We keep going to social networks because they’re so damn convenient. They take care of all that, and make your stuff easier for people to discover as a bonus.

But when you leave the network — or when it leaves you — what happens to all your photos, status updates, rants, raves, and commentary?

Who owns your profile?