Tag Archives: social networking

Alternate Sharing Buttons (Now with Less Tracking!)

I’ve been trying out some alternate sharing buttons that don’t talk to Facebook, Twitter, etc. — or to a third-party button provider like ShareThis — until you actually click on the button. Facebook can track you across the internet when sites include the standard “Like” button hosted on their services. Same with Google and the +1. Even WordPress’ Jetpack buttons will call out to Facebook and Pinterest to display the share count. I want to reduce my contribution to ubiquitous tracking.*

Sharingbuttons.io is totally self-contained and doesn’t even use any JavaScript. You use their site to generate a set of buttons for a particular page, then copy the HTML and CSS to your site. Downsides: The HTML includes embedded SVG that has to be repeated on every page, and your page title and URL are repeated in each button within the page. I used this set on the old Alternative Browser Alliance site, replacing ShareThis. It’s only around five pages, so it was faster to repeat the generator five times than write a tool to template it.

Share42 uses locally-hosted JavaScript to avoid repeating the title and URL on every button, and a single image sprite generated from the set of buttons that you choose. You copy both files to your own site, so that it doesn’t contact a third-party server just by appearing. This also made it simpler to add to WordPress, because I only need to add an easily-templateable stub and enqueue a local script. So I put it on Speed Force, replacing Jetpack’s sharing module. I may put it on the old Flash reference site (which used to have ShareThis on it) if it seems like it’s worth it.

These are both topic-based projects. For my personal blog here, I’ve decided to just drop the share buttons entirely. I’m not sure how useful they are these days, anyway, especially on mobile, where sharing to an app is built into the system.

*Yes, I said reduce, not eliminate. I’m still using WordPress stats, for instance, though I’m phasing out Google Analytics on my personal sites, and of course anywhere you actually embed content from another site, the remote site can potentially track your visitors.

Mastodon: Welcome to the Federation

Mastodon is one of a newer crop of decentralized social networks that are trying to put the users first instead of building everything around ads, tracking, and attention-grabbing feedback loops.

It’s open source software run on a bunch of smaller networks, mostly volunteer-run, each with its own policies and moderators. (You can even run one yourself if you want!) These smaller networks can talk to each other behind the scenes, allowing you to follow and interact with people across networks (that’s where “federation” comes in). Each instance has a different community and flavor, and each is part of the broader community.

I’ve been on for a few months now. It takes a while to settle in, and it feels kind of like the early, optimistic days of Twitter, plus there’s an effort to learn from the past and make it better this time. You can find me at @kelsonv@mastodon.social (general discussion) and @kelsonv@photog.social (photography).

If you’re interested in trying it out, joinmastodon.org is a good place to start, and can suggest which instances might be a good fit. And this Brief Introduction to Mastodon goes into a bit more detail on how to use it and what the culture and etiquette is like.

Flickr vs. Instagram / Who’s in Control?

Social media is a mess these days. Most of us follow too many people and organizations to keep up, so we need some way of narrowing it down…but the tools are typically built into each service, which has different priorities about what it wants you to see than you do. As they say, if you’re not paying, you’re the product.

I realized this is why I still prefer Flickr to Instagram: I’m still in control when I browse Flickr. With Instagram, the best I can do is pick from one firehose or another. Flickr has its issues, but I can find stuff there, and the timeline isn’t re-ordered to suit someone else’s priorities.

Ironically, I post more often on Instagram than on Flickr. Because I like Flickr more, I feel like I should take my time & curate my photos better. But I also end up posting many at a time on Flickr, and single photos on Instagram. I don’t feel like I’m spamming if I post twenty pictures to Flickr, but I do if I post that many* to Instagram.

I mentioned this on Mastodon, and my brother remarked that Flickr feels more like “adding to a collection,” while other sites are more “shoveling things at my friends/followers.” That’s true of most social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even Mastodon are all about now. Going back to look at someone’s history feels like an accident. Or stalking.

On Facebook, it would be really weird to go through someone’s old posts and comment on them. On Flickr, that’s totally normal. If Twitter is like shouting into the void, hoping someone will hear you, Flickr is like building a gallery and hoping someone will visit. When someone finally does,** they’ll see it, and look around. But that scream on Twitter is already fading on the wind.

Especially if Twitter thinks your friends would be more interested in seeing a sponsored post instead.

*Instagram does let you post multi-photo stacks, but the stack only ever appears as a unit. Only the cover photo appears in timelines or searches, and the whole stack shares one description and one set of tags. Flickr lets you group photos into albums however you want, and people (including you) can find any individual photo and go from there to the rest of the album.

**Not that Flickr isn’t subject to the siren call of now either, but the long tail still exists there.

It’s not all here.

I talk about different things in different places.

Just because I’m not talking about something on one site, doesn’t mean I’m not talking about it.

Just because I’m not talking about something online doesn’t mean I’m not talking about it offline.

Just because I’m not talking about something doesn’t mean I’m not learning about it and trying to do something…or at least be better.

Link Sharing and Source Trails

I read a lot of articles in one of two ways:

  1. Open a bunch of tabs and then read them one at a time
  2. Save a bunch of interesting-looking stories to Pocket and then read them one at a time

So by the time I’ve decided to share a link to the story on Facebook Twitter, Mastodon, etc., I’ve often forgotten where I saw it to begin with.

If it’s a site I follow regularly, or I found it through a search, or if it was recommended by Pocket, no big deal, but if someone else shared the link and I saw it, I feel like I ought to give a little credit.

Now, the share/retweet buttons do automate this trail…but only if you do it immediately on Facebook or Twitter, because they have a nasty tendency to update your timeline when you come back, making it difficult to find the post you clicked on.

(It took me 30 minutes to find this tweet, since I couldn’t remember who had written it, only who on my list had retweeted it.)

This encourages you to share articles before you read them, no doubt contributing to the problem of people sharing stuff that turns out to be total BS, sending it halfway around the world before the truth can get its proverbial pants on.

I’m not sure how much people care about the trail these days. Citing the original source? absolutely. Posting someone else’s idea as yours? Hell yeah, just search for “stolen tweets.”

But the intermediary? Whether you follow the person you retweeted, or you follow someone who follows someone who follows someone who retweeted them, it looks the same to the rest of the world. Back when reposts and linkblogging were done manually, it was a BIG DEAL. I remember people getting upset that big-name bloggers would share links to things that smaller bloggers had already shared without crediting them. (Admittedly, I don’t remember whether it was a common complaint or just a few people.)

On the other hand, if you’re studying the spread of ideas, opinions, information or misinformation, it’s invaluable. And if you’re trying to hide a propaganda operation, you might want to disguise the trail…

But social media users do care about share counts and like counts. Original posters want the validation. Viewers see high counts as social proof that other people find the post valuable. And the platforms themselves use it as a signal to prioritize display in the newsfeed algorithm du jour. So there’s a strong incentive to get people (or bots) to use those share, reblog, retweet buttons.

So when it comes down to it, the normal use case preserves that link trail (even if you only see the oldest and newest links in that chain)…and I’m just an outlier when it comes to the way I use social media.