"We cannot have a society in which, if two people wish to communicate, the only way that can happen is if it's financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them" - From another article about Jaron Lanier
You have a strange postal service. Where I live, the norm is that you put your letter in an envelope and it would be illegal for the postal service to open the envelope. If you pay the postage, your letter will be delivered, no matter what the content, and without any changes to the content.
(1) and (2) do not really apply to letters (i.e., communication), (3) only applies when crossing borders, and then it's not the postal/delivery service that is opening the package, but customs, and (4) at least over here would be illegal, too, if it can be used to read the mail. Both opening/reading the mail that you are supposed to deliver as well as listening to phone calls going through your network is a criminal offence.
- e-mail (effectively a federated system, before it was cool)
- a social network instance like Diaspora
- Matrix (matrix.org - "An open network for secure, decentralized communication.")
- XMPP / Jabber
- IRC (not federated, but self-hostable)
I've been on Mastodon for the last 3-4 months and it's been awesome so far. It's basically Twitter without all the drama and toxicity. Also, while I don't run my own instance, I've seen many people running one.
If you like Mastodon, I'd recommend checking out SSB. It's completely peer-to-peer, you own your own data, you host the data of people you follow, and it's one of the best communities I've ever been a part of. Plus we have other sub-protocols like secret sharding for social password management and chess and other fun stuff. Super neat, I can't recommend it enough.
It took me a while to understand Mastodon. Although it's federated and you can mostly follow people on other instances, I finally realised that the advice they give you up front is good advice: pick an instance that has conversations you are interested in and join that one. I've been having lots of fun once I realised that it's less of a publishing platform and more of a place to chat with strangers that have similar interests to you.
ISP here: The difference is that a (properly run, ethical) ISP is actually neutral and is paid to carry the traffic. It's paying for a service just like paying $30 a month for a POTS phone line was in 1985. Building an ISP as an infrastructure service is a totally viable business model, it's not sexy like selling "big data" to advertisers as Facebook does, but it's a plain old fashioned exchange of money for basic services, just the same as you pay for your household electrical service, gas service, and water/sewer.
Running an ISP costs money just as any other critical infrastructure service is. If you get all the way down to the OSI layer 1 of it, it costs a lot of money. There's major construction projects involved. Go do the budgetary figures on what it would cost to acquire the right-of-way and run a new 864 count ribbon cable of dark fiber from Hillsboro, OR to Boise, ID, for example.
An ISP that doesn't fuck with its customers' traffic is simply a pipe to run your own choice of communications protocols on top of. The job of the ISP is to manage infrastructure at OSI layers 1-3, the 4-7 are your problem.
But the ISP isn't semantically involved in the communication, so it's technically trivial to build stuff on top that prevents manipulation--namely, to encrypt everything. Also, it's not an economical problem either, as ISPs do get paid by their customers, so there is no need of any sort for them to be semantically involved.
You and I can establish a TLS connection between us through our respective ISPs, and the ISPs have no clue what we are talking over that connection, nor can they change it. The worst thing they can do is to drop the packets.
I've been running my own MatterMost (a Slack clone) instance for a little while now. I've invited some close friends, a tiny bit of family, and colleagues I particularly appreciate. It's been fantastic so far. I decided to host it on a VPS because upload speed at home truly sucks, and hosting it locally wouldn't turn into a good experience for other users. Still, I own all the data. I've told all the other members that I do, and they're OK with it.
I bought a nice sounding domain name, got an SSL certificate from Let's Encrypt, and was good to go! My mental health has been increasing since then (no joke).
As a network engineer, this is part of why I tell junior neteng and NOC staff that there is definitely such as thing as ethics in network engineering. And train them on what constitutes ethical vs unethical behavior on the part of an ISP.
I'm fortunate enough to have admin rights over the infrastructure of a small to medium sized regional player, where the senior management are principled individuals who would not even contemplate doing bullshit like hijacking http or DNS traffic.
Well we're communicating here and it's not financed by people who want to manipulate us. There's the odd job ad but that's completely up front. When I bought Byte magazine I bought it partly for the ads. My choice - not really manipulation.
The thing I keep thinking is that I want to have social software built on a co-operative model (like a food co-op): you all pay some nominal membership fee (could you fund servers and developers on $5/year/user?), and the software would then be developed to fit the agreed-upon needs of the community, without dark patterns or behavior modification projects, openly, and with some kind of community governance (which need not be exclusive of technical leadership).
Obviously this would probably never get the global reach of a no-fee Facebook, but I would use something like this in a second, many of my friends would too, and I sometimes daydream about what I would need to do to get it off the ground.
The intention was to provide hosting for web pages relating to university societies, with good facilities for transfer of ownership (since there was annual turnover of the society administrators). Nowadays this role would be filled by Facebook pages, but the SRCF is still there and still useful.
I believe if you want to get the co-op model off the ground you have to start with a particular user community that you're a member of. Then you can start scaling it to other communities. But crucially this process must be lead by thinking of the user community and their needs, not the technology - the technology is secondary and you can always tape together a solution somehow.
(We "nearly" came up with Facebook, called people.ucam.org, but we weren't even the only people in the university looking at the question of "how to stay in touch with your friends after graduating"; it was a common problem of the time)
Another example of a community-driven content hosting site / social network is "Archive of our own": AO3, for fanfic (often NSFW)
Well, while I dream the same dream, it feels awkward asking my family and friends to pay 5€ per year so that we can share the cost of running our XMPP-Server. Currently, I pay all the bills and manage the server myself (so no cost/effort for them), and they still keep using WhatsApp with most of their contacts.
I don't know what the root of that evil is, but there are undoubtedly multiple factors involved. First of all, most people have WhatsApp already.
Secondly, it is effortless to use. With federated systems, you always have to choose a provider. Once you have overcome that hurdle, the privacy-sensitive people like us do not want to share their address book with the server so finding your people is a manual setup for everyone (another hurdle).
Last but not least, the client landscape of XMPP is still far from perfect. If you want to use end-to-end encryption (e.g., OMEMO) there are finally some clients which work with each other (Android: Conversations, iOS: ChatSecure, Desktop: Gajim), but configuring all that stuff (Server + Clients), is not as easy as pushing a button. Other features like video calls are still very fragmented and rarely work if different clients are involved.
I think it would take ten dedicated developers about a year to fix all those problems (if they would agree on common goals and focus on those) and even after that, we would still have to sell the product.
What the big platforms have done is eliminate friction at all the critical parts, to make it easy for users to onboard, easy to share, easy to grow within the platform, and of course hard to leave.
I've been thinking about a low cost but not free platform too. If it ever happens, it will have to be AT LEAST as frictionless and enticing as the existing platforms. The table stakes are very high. Since cost in of itself is a source of friction, that means the rest of the platform needs to be even MORE frictionless.
I think this is exactly right. Users expect a really nice, contemporary-feeling UX. And for something that cost money it would have to be above and beyond.
That said, the fact is that the mainstream alternatives are handicapped by their own success and are afraid to change anything of their core features. Starting a new platform would be an opportunity to revisit many of the original design choices, and perhaps one could do surprising new things at that point.
I think the co-operative model is interesting economically as well because as far as I can tell, there are at least some cases where it does work out to be economically stable on a reasonably long term basis (decades anyway), and I presume it changes things a lot, organizationally, if the main goal isn't just "lowest common denominator software for the sake of maximal mass adoption and growth."
The angle we can exploit is to find all the places where UX is degraded by advertisement, and attack them. With increased competition and shareholder expectation, Facebook will have no choice but maximize the value they can extract out of each user. Right now they are doing a fairly good job at keeping things minimally intrusive, but I think that boundary is going to shift with time.
I'm curious, can anyone estimate the developer hours it would take to clone WhatsApp's UX, features and functionality? Would it be doable since it's already developed and they solved the hard problems for syncing messages across timezones and it may be feasible to follow their tech stack as a blueprint/starting point?
Facebook and Instagram had no trouble stealing the concept of 'stories' from Snapchat and Facebook also copied their augmented face masks.
Did WhatsApp use a lot of open source stuff under the covers that we could leverage in building our own secure person to person/ group chat platform?
WhatsApp's popularity originally came from how it ran on many WAP phone systems, not just iOS and Android but also all the feature phones. What they did looked crazy from the outside but they effectively re-implemented SMS at a lower cost, for nearly all phones. That was not a trivial amount of effort, but it produced a lower financial friction than competition.
A disrupter would have to have even less friction but would be competing against a product that already has a significant network effect and a very generous backing by Facebook. I'm speculating that FB will eventually nudge WhatsApp users to Messenger, or find a way to gradually merge the services to the point where they are identical, especially w.r.t. advertisement.
In that respect, it was brilliant of FB to acquire WhatsApp: not just for the users, but to make it hard for any newcommer to disrupt things (hard to compete againsts free and frictionless).
I'm not sure if its true of every area, but in the cities where I've used craigslist it does not require a username or password to create or reply to a listing. It will confirm an email address when generating the listing. The link in the email contains the token allowing modification and deletion of the posting.
I don't know if I would build something from scratch that was based on XMPP or even on the idea of messaging. I keep thinking that the Twitter/FB/chat models of socializing is a very limited form of online sociability and that we could do better.
I think it would be better to build something that was sufficiently compelling and had enough new features/UX that people would want to use it all on its own, as something better than the existing ad-supported options, and then we would enable federated options as an alternative form of access. But I think the primary UX has to be "log in to web app" or "install mobile clients," not "fiddle with XMPP settings" (because that is too fiddly, like you're saying, and you have to meet people where they are).
This being said — it's excellent that you run your own server and managed to get some of your social network to actually use it!
I think the parent referred to fiddling with OMEMO fingerprints, that a) is automated in "good clients" (Conversations) b) can't be easy and paranoid-secure at the same time.
I also run XMPP server for friends and family and actually all of them are very happy with it. With Conversations this entire experience looks like any other modern messenger.
Network effects are of course a problem in any decentralized environments but looking at how quickly companies drop their solutions (Google?) or abuse the data you give them (Facebook?) I don't see any other reasonable option. Today Signal is nice and kind, tomorrow they are bought by Facebook and start "fiddling" with the app...
> I also run XMPP server for friends and family and actually all of them are very happy with it. With Conversations this entire experience looks like any other modern messenger.
Does Conversations do something extra to support sending messages to people who are offline? If so, how well does it work? Because that's what I find to be the biggest gripe people have (myself included) with XMPP.
The messages for offline users are stored on their servers and delivered when they connect. Interesting that you list this as a problem because this worked for ages (given server support for offline messages).
Conversations can display a "tick" on the sender's side so you know that a message has been delivered to the user (not just stored on a server).
I guess it works well as I've never heard about a lost message.
Sadly I don't. I have mine running since a while, and some things might not be state-of-the-art anymore.
The server doesn't really have to support end-to-end encryption as that is part of the clients (in fact, there are some server-side extensions which have to be present, but those are mostly enabled by default).
Afaik, the default ejabberd configuration is very close to what you need, and there is just one part that you have to remove to enable OMEMO . I don't understand why but recently the ejabberd devs introduced that part to their default configuration which makes it harder to use end-to-end encryption.
Nevertheless, if you are very interested in a detailed guide, I could write one as I am thinking about setting up a secondary server as a testing environment.
Here is some discussion of how to easily use Let's Encrypt certificates with the prosody XMPP server. That gets you C2S and S2S encryption which is more or less mandatory these days. End to end (OMEMO) doesn't need the server to do anything special so there isn't any setup to do past just getting the server running.
I'm not a big government advocate, generally speaking, but enacting this at a federal level, would be akin to a modern day postal service. Social media communication without the bells and whistles--or the obsession with engagement. I'd be all for it.
Not sure why you're getting downvoted. I don't think it's likely that government-provided social software would work all that well in the contemporary USA (unless they built it with better security and privacy than they have ever wanted to see in the private sector), but the government can be seen as a version of cooperative funding and it's certainly worth thinking about.
I would like it if my local government funded an alternative to Nextdoor, for instance.
I think the bigger problem in the US would be how to deal with free-speech issues. It either has to be moderated (sorry, no free speech here!) or it will be overrun by trolls, spammers, and other evils.
I agree that the issue arises for current systems that allow broadcast (one-to-all) communications such as this forum. I also acknowledge that it exists for email (one-to-one), but I think only because in that case it's so cheap and easy to mass mail something that one-to-one has effectively been automated into one-to-almost-all. I'd also note that modern spam filters are quite good at their job.
But for example, SMS isn't meaningfully moderated in any way yet when was the last time you had cause to blacklist a number?
I don't see any reason why a newly designed system couldn't apply different techniques to (mostly) avoid the problem. Just off the top of my head there's personal whitelists and blacklists, federated systems (pick the centralized ruleset that works for you), community moderation (ex StackExchange), web of trust, the subscription blacklist model that adblockers use...
A lot of that could be solved by just only allowing one account per person (no corporate/organizational at all) and requiring your real name, with any trangressions handled through the usual mob rule chaos. Nothing says this has to be a platform for healthy discorse, it just needs to hold well enough to announce block parties and post pictures of your dog
Every company that sends me unsolicited emails is forced by law to have an unsubscribe button on those emails. I have a huge amount of control around filtering spam and blacklisting and whitelisting specific addresses.
There is no way for me to stop the US postal office from delivering me giant catalogues of advertisements multiple times a week. I regularly get mail addressed to "current resident." I ought to be able to go to the postal office and say, "If someone doesn't know my name, just don't deliver the letter." It's friendlier for the environment, it would make the experience of checking my mail more pleasant.
The reason I can't do that is because spam is a giant source of revenue for the US Postal service. Coincidentally, the US Postal service has a number of services specifically designed to make it easier for advertisers to get mail into my mailbox. There is, in my mind, no reason to believe that a nationally owned social media platform would have any different incentives than Facebook would.
Email, a federated service that doesn't really make the government any money, doesn't have those incentives. So open protocols that are unaffiliated with any single organization (government or company) work better in my experience, unless whatever service is created is isolated from making profits in traditional ways. There are some good examples of that, but I'm not completely sure the Post Office is one of them.
Completely different example. Those advertisers are a customer of the service just like you. In most social media, we're not paying to post, but advertisers are. The rules of the game might be stretched to allow benefit to advertisers, but it's not rigged like you seem to think.
In some extends this is what the Movim project (https://movim.eu/) is building for several years now. A light solution that you can deploy on a server and that handle the communication of a small community (10 to a few hundreds people).
The good thing is that it relies on XMPP for all the communication, therefore all the instances are still connected to each others allowing communication between all the users of the network and with all the existing XMPP applications.
It offers social features (publications, blog, comments), chat (chatrooms, stickers...) and video-conferencing.
Yeah, from the perspective of starting something cooperatively funded from scratch, I think it's basically about "what would it cost to get something running and keep it worth using," balanced against "what would people actually be willing to pay?"
In my dreams, if the price point were low enough, like "the cost of two coffees per year" or something, and it wasn't irritating to pay it, there are plenty of people who want out of FB and could afford that.
"The thing I keep thinking is that I want to have social software built on a co-operative model (like a food co-op): you all pay some nominal membership fee (could you fund servers and developers on $5/year/user?), and the software would then be developed to fit the agreed-upon needs of the community"
No fees, no development needed, lightweight and has been working for decades:
This is different, but with some minor modifications this sounds a lot like Scuttlebutt. Have you tried Patchwork?
> you all pay some nominal membership fee (could you fund servers and developers on $5/year/user?)
People individually run "pubs", which are servers (with hosting costs), but every user also acts as a potential server, caching and proxying encrypted communications on behalf of other users, which acts as a sort of "cost", though it's not directly monetary.
> software would then be developed to fit the agreed-upon needs of the community, without dark patterns or behavior modification projects, openly, and with some kind of community governance
Apart from the central protocol, niche needs are met by various clients—e.g. there is a dedicated chess client for users who just want to play chess over the social network.
> need not be exclusive of technical leadership
While the SSBC is in no way dictatorial and even often jokey, I think their clients demonstrate exceptional technical leadership. The strategy of having a protocol with many clients usually leads to having many disparate clients of low quality. On the contrary, most users use Patchwork, the main stable SSBC-maintained client; it's the most "Facebook-ish" of the clients and is very intuitive.
Before everyone had to be on Facebook, a few friends and relatives used a hidden forum on someone's spare domain, and it worked really nicely.
A co-op social network sounds an interesting idea. Doubly so if it gave only the sort of features early Facebook had - i.e. the ones useful to the users, before it became about the algorithm, engagement and so on. Wouldn't be surprised if there's something along those lines on github.
It would be really nice to have some choices that actively reject the "users are data cattle" model, even if it goes back to the BBS world of lots of little, barely connected, islands.
Indeed, and I quite understand this: once relatives (parents and grandparents) joined the Facebook bandwagon, the fun was over. What once was some youngsters'-inner-circle has become the new sons-and-daughters-surveillance service.
And as with all the forms of surveillance, kids are escaping it.
Parental or familial surveillance isn't the reason at all.
I'm in SE Asia right now, in a country where Facebook Zero makes it available to everyone regardless of income, and guess what? Not only does everybody have a Facebook account, many women have at least three: one for friends, one for family, and one that is anonymous to hide their activity from their friends and family.
I know it's against Facebook's TOS, but it's so easy to create a pseudonymous username. So it's the same for American teenage kids: they just create a new account with a fake name. If they are abandoning Facebook it's because they like Instagram or Snapchat more, not because their parents are on Facebook.
Hey, can I contact you somehow? I got some questions to ask about a comment you made about your remote work arrangement? I work in tech in SF and am wondering how you managed to get to work from the Ph where my Fiance recently had to move back to. Thanks!
A good guess, but that's not the reason. She and many in her group use Snapchat and Instagram (if I have those names right - I've never even opened a page, if they have pages, on one of these services) knowing that at least a handful of parents established accounts specifically to keep an eye on things. They don't care. They even happily interact with the parents on the platforms. They just don't like Facebook. When they want to have (what they think are) private conversations they use WhatsApp, etc.
In there, you can have some communities that run co-op and some that are free to use. It also makes the ecosystem more open compared to centrally managed software, even if it's transparent and without dark patterns.
(Plus, how do you police it if you're talking about a company that is well versed in the art of 'taking it over the line by 1 inch per year')
Federated communities would be neat and basically are how the "real world" already interconnects, socially speaking. I don't think that's exclusive of what I had in mind.
But you have to actually have the communities before you can do the federation (this is also how it works in the offline world — it's not like people design interoperability protocols and THEN found villages).
It's more like: we could build nicer, community-funded, sanely run social software, and alongside them we could support XMPP type features for hackers who are able to use them, or to interoperate with other alternative online communities that may be emerging.
I think some mastodon servers are run this way: users pay a small portion to cover hosting costs and there is usually some topic that brings that server/community together. However, you are not limited to a single mastodon community because they are federated (similar to email where gmail users can communicate with hotmail users).
People are already doing that. For example one of the communities I'm involved in is using HumHub on a VPS. It's supercheap, something like 5€/month, so the per-person cost is almost nil. Nobody objects to paying for hosting and the platform itself is a pleasure to use - maybe because you can relax and know you're in a good company, and there's nobody to manipulate you.
If you could get the users together that model could work, but you still run into the winner takes all problem with social networks: nobody likes Facebook, but that is where all your friends are.
Of course, for some communities the value is that all your friends aren't there, but in general even if I was willing to pay for that service (and it would probably have to be 5 usd/month, not per year due to scale) most of the people I know wouldn't be willing to pay that and so the idea is DOA.
It is however quite possible that model would work for other types of software -- after all that model was exactly what Danish farmers used to fund the companies that could process their milk.
Global reach has also given us a global misinformation and harassment crisis that nobody has figured out how to manage effectively. We'd probably be better off if we moved the good parts to smaller platforms.
Misinformation and harassment also exists on smaller platforms, it is a matter how to deal with it. Smaller platforms usually have a more tightly bound user-group and moderation, so it is detected and prevented earlier. But this also means that someone you trust in the group needs to be the moderator or have certain privileges.
So, effectively it is more work per user to manage smaller groups than larger ones -- which is fine, if you find people who want to do this task. Another approach might be a community driven model -- where detractors could be ostracized. For very small groups this might work out well, but as the group gets larger, the potential for misuse rises also.
My thought about the article is that basically the author has gotten too negative. He is so distracted with attacking the ad-supported social software we have that he gave up thinking about the software we need.
Some tasks of our life can be taken over by software, but others should stay with us.
Especially with the advent of AI, engineers are racing to automate everything: from suggesting us new friends, new music, with which dresses we look smart, and so on.
Automating everything will cause the atrophying of our skills and we will become a bunch of lonely depressed, smartly dressed users with thousands of virtual friends and perfect music playlists that never deviate from our preferred music.
Automation is fine and dandy, but not for everything.
Your response is literally a use of software to socialize. Of course we don't "need" it, but that's a meaningless statement. We don't need computers or electricity either.
The idea that we're all being duped and manipulated into using something we don't need so that we'll view ads is overblown. It's not false, it's just not a new thing and it's not a problem.
Media has been intertwined with market research, ratings, feedback, and advertising since before the electronic age. Advertising platforms have been getting incrementally better at learning what people want, how to push their psychological buttons, and how to retain customers.
There's a tendency to treat social media users as helpless victims of an evil empire who don't realize their personal details are being used to target them for exploitation. People aren't that stupid. They know what they're trading for these great free products we all use.
The fact that ads and news (!) are individually targeted is new, and I'd consider it a huge threat. Decades ago, some news and shows were watched by everyone. There was still plenty of variety to go off in individual directions, but there was a common ground. That is being threatened.
> People aren't that stupid. They know what they're trading for these great free products we all use.
Maybe for most HN readers, but I don't think that is the case for most users.
To some extent yes, but then again, social media is public billboard meets address book. There's nothing in there that fundamentally shouldn't be automated, it's just the sum of those parts that enable a new dimension in social interaction.
Also: we don't need software for most things in life. But we like software, as it usually makes things better.
I had to look that up. I thought that app.net (despite the name) was a twitter clone except that you could write somewhat bigger messages and had to pay for it.
Searched for it on ddg and here is what the excerpt from Wikipedia says: "App.net was an ad-free online social networking service and microblogging service which enabled its users to write messages of up to 256 characters."
Turns out that they did a lot of stuff later that I would have liked but by then I was probably using WhatsApp.
My thought is that something new would need to not replicate the UX of existing social software, but would need to think of better alternatives. Competing with existing giants on their own terms, but with a different business model, is a hard sell, probably too hard.
if the SafeNetwork ever gets released we could easily have things like that. with monetisation being built in it will be fairly frictionless for poeple to pay or for an app or service to take a micropayment any time you use it.
so if getting more users means getting more money, then the focus could be just on making the best service possible instead of focusing on ads and tracking to keep things running
It's a good question. I guess I would say that in my limited experience, co-operatives that fund by providing products and services (food, housing) seem to accumulate less organizational bloat and overhead, because their continued funding is directly coupled to providing a good user experience.
But in foundations and donation-based nonprofits, what you see is that they become organizationally focused on chasing donations, they have more and more irritating "please donate to us" fundraising staff, they may have to bend their mission towards whatever can please the local philanthropists, and they sometimes end up seeming more worried about organizational survival (via procuring money) than with whatever their mission is supposed to be. Another way of putting this is that it seems pretty hard to make voluntary donations provide stability, and organizations like stability.
I'm open to having my mind changed about this, but it seems to me that it creates some major new organizational failure modes when you decouple the mission from the source of revenue.
Based on how often Wikipedia runs banners asking for donations, I'm not sure the 'voluntary donation' model actually works.
The plain truth of it is that most people want their internet fix for free, and are prepared to expose all manner of personal information in order for it to STAY free. The moment Facebook actually starts charging for features, people will start to jump ship en-mass to the next free social platform.
I would argue that people are only willing to share all manner of personal data for free because they don't actually understand what is out there about them.
I live where HN has absolutely no audience, think middle of nowhere midwest. And I can 100% say that not one person I talk to has any idea what data is available about them, for sale, right now. They don't even understand why it's important to know what permissions your apps on your phone ask for.
I think if tech folks made an effort to get people to understand, in language they can access, what data is out there, we would see a massive (attempt at a) shift in how people use the internet
Edit: Proof of what I say, that i just remembered. My father is extremely right wing, pro-Trump. He was told, by whatever 'news' agency he happens to listen to on AM radio (Maybe Laura Ingram?) that Facebook was doing awful things and they explained, in the most basic terms, what kind of data Facebook may have on you. So father dear deleted his Facebook account.
I do feel like I'm a sysadmin for my life. I don't know how non tech people deal with it. Some of the BUMMER platforms I dislike (unnamed) are ones I rely on to make money, and they constantly prod you to engage with the platform to fix their bugs. Examples are they allow phishing attacks but then force you to reply or your "ranking" score goes down. Super irritating.
I do notice the most engaged communities are the ones that feel they are part of improving the product. The developers are responsive and there is good flow. Everyone feels good, except, they're basically the product managers for a sub par product and they will not be rewarded for their time.
They silently suffer, develop coping mechanisms and time-intensive workarounds. Most don't even understand how things could be better. This is part of the reason so many interfaces are horrible. This isn't even specific to social media platforms. People adapt to crap. Sounds like this is what Jaron is talking about.
Design thinking should be taught in schools or as Gen Ed in colleges.
When I worked on user-facing apps my silent motto was "reduce user suffering". Of course, this isn't the kind of thing your employer usually wants to hear.
I'm 49. I got my first computer at 10. I've been dealing with family, friends, coworkers, and church congregants ever since about how to use computers and software and web sites. What I've just come to realize is how much effort normal users put into getting their stuff to work, because, when it finally comes time for them to ask for help, they are resistant to changing anything about their behavior. That tells me that they have SIGNIFICANT investment into getting to the place they already are.
Perfect, ready example: It's telling that my wife and kids struggle to find files they've saved on a MacBook, which should be the KING of usability. I mean, this is a problem we should have solved 20 years ago, right? Yet, any time I suggest ways to search or sort in Spotlight or Finder, I get pushback about not having time to learn how to do it better.
I think about all the stupid crap I put up with from computers and web sites on a daily basis -- as a full-time programmer/sysadmin/devop -- and I despair. I just had to register an account to download Docker to my work computer. And wait for the confirmation email. And fish it out of my spam folder. And fish the saved password out of Firefox's password manager, which had saved it under a different domain. You and I, as people who read this site, deal with this crap all. day. long. I'm totally with Jaron: How do normal people deal with this world WE have created?
It seems the term "design thinking" has been hijacked by consultants. What I mean by it: being aware of how tools/artifacts drives people's actions/behaviors and changing the former to proactively make people's lives better. Sounds simple, but in practice today's world is obsessed with needs, wants and features, not the actual process of living with technology and other human artifacts.
Not sure exactly what type of "design thinking" you are looking to learn. In my experience, a lot of people think about design only as it applies to visual/UX. Design Thinking, on the other hand, is more a way to problem solve and understand the issues at hand (and of course, how to solve them).
One resource I recommend is IDEO.org...it's tailored more towards humanitarian type Design Thinking, but it might be a good place to look depending, of course, on your needs ;)
I saw an absolutely epic debate between Jaron and a Singulatarian. He totally called them out on being religious in that they were just trying to make a geek version of the Christian rapture. I agree that the guy is like RMS in that he is an original thinker who works from first principles and that tends to give him an understanding that is unique and worth listening to.
BTW, Speaking of RMS and Jaron, is there some requirement that you have to have an iconic hair style to be a revered tech commentator?
Thinking singularity is geek rapture isn't really original thinking, it's just regurgitation of a cliché. Now dead blog by Steven Kaas had a nice article, listing reasons why this comparison is not valid.
I won't quote the long list of arguments, just a tangential remark:
"It’s also interesting to think about what would happen if we applied “Rapture of the Nerds” reasoning more widely. Can we ignore nuclear warfare because it’s the Armageddon of the Nerds? Can we ignore climate change because it’s the Tribulation of the Nerds? Can we ignore modern medicine because it’s the Jesus healing miracle of the Nerds? It’s been very common throughout history for technology to give us capabilities that were once dreamt of only in wishful religious ideologies: consider flight or artificial limbs. Why couldn’t it happen for increased intelligence and all the many things that would flow from it?"
I may be misreading this blog post, but it seems like the author believes that calling the singularity the "geek rapture" is saying the singularity is unlikely to happen (presumably what the author believes about the the non-geek rapture). That is...not the critique I believe anyone is making when they call the singularity the "geek rapture."
I believe the phrase is used to critique the singularity for the way it is used to hand-wave away a huge set of problems. It's pointing out that, even if you believe in the singularity, its time horizons are uncertain at best. Bringing it up as a response to problems that exist in there here and now is textbook "apocalyptic thinking" and should be called out.
> That is...not the critique I believe anyone is making when they call the singularity the "geek rapture."
I think you read the article correctly, and that this is precisely the critique being made. The way I seen it used is, "this quacks like religion, so it is religion, therefore it's all bullshit".
The arguments about the nature of Singularity and possible time frames are made from applying logical reasoning to extrapolate from observable facts. The reasoning can, and absolutely should be criticized on the object level. But just dismissing it because it sounds sorta, kinda similar to some religion shouldn't be considered valid criticism. It's a thought-terminating cliché.
> I believe the phrase is used to critique the singularity for the way it is used to hand-wave away a huge set of problems.
Such uses of the concept should definitely be shot down. But it's not something I see popping up frequently among people discussing the concept seriously.
Or be from MIT? Not sure which debate you saw, but I recently watched an Intelligence Squared about "the promise of AI" in which he made a similar argument, along with many others. His team jumped 29% percent audience agreement in the post-poll.
I don't know how many in the audience would know the reference, but the fact that he worked directly with Minsky made it a pretty lopsided debate, in terms of credentials.
Jaron Lanier is an interesting character. He's not just a smelly hippy. He's pretty smart but I don't buy into him being a "Silicon Valley Philosopher". No one can predict the future.
Anyways, for a rip roaring good time I highly recommend this debate on artificial intelligence featuring Jaron (https://youtu.be/Qqc0t8ghvis). On the opppsing side is Martine Rothblatt (male turned female, inventor of satellite radio, found a cure for the previously incurable disease her daughter had!). The panelists are definitely capable of producing novel ideas.
I view Jaron as going by his feelings more than anything. Like I doubt he has some statistical evidence for any of his claims. But I can't help but agree with him on this.
Most of what Lanier has to say isn't predictive - it's description and prescriptive. In other words he's not guessing at some ghastly future, he's describing the ways that social networks are manipulating behaviour right now, and some of the affects that's having. Similarly his analysis of AI is about reframing whats actually going on as digital sharecropping, rather than laying out a future course of developing.
Also - should hardly need pointing out, but philosophy has never had a project to 'predict the future'. That's futurology, which I agree is largely hooey.
I know philosophy isn't about predicting the future but Silicon Valley has a strong focus on the future. I'm saying I don't think it's possible to be a "Silicon Valley Philosopher" because the industry changes so fast that you can't speculate on either thr present (as it will soon change) or the future (which we can't predict).
I do like the cut of his jib. Like I said he has a few novel ideas which are always worth listening to.
Is he? To me he comes off as the quintessential rich Silicon Valley outsider nerd. His path has been so singular and so rewarding that he gives the impression of someone who doesn't need to be the least bit concerned about how he expresses himself.
From a street hobo, that gets you instantly dismissed, but there's a counter-intuitive aspect where if you're a Jaron Lanier, it just further underscores that you're Jaron Lanier and can do as you like. Because he is not trying to maximize trust in any way, he comes off as plausible even when expressing stuff that's unusual.
For instance, his reaction to 'how do you define a BUMMER platform?'. He essentially said, "I know Russian Intelligence made special effort to control this, this and this platforms, so define it as those!"
I'd not heard about the specific agencies he cited, but I've personally seen all sorts of sketchiness going down in every platform he listed, and it clicked. I stuck 'em all in a folder with each other, and they do seem to belong together.
I can think of people who're purportedly much more trustworthy, that I would not accept their statements on things like that without investigation. But I've heard from Jaron before and he's always (a) speaking out about something with NO concern for how his statements will come across, and (b) citing stuff that he's deeply familiar with. There are times I've looked into his details and found them interesting and all he said they were, so it only underscores the impression of him as the Cassandra truth-teller, privy to important things that are typically overlooked.
Maybe he consciously adopts that manner for that very purpose. In marketing it's always best if you can brand yourself using the core truths of yourself: then you can't get it wrong, or slip up and reveal inconsistency. He may take pains to seem the raving prophet.
>From a street hobo, that gets you instantly dismissed, but there's a counter-intuitive aspect where if you're a Jaron Lanier, it just further underscores that you're Jaron Lanier and can do as you like. Because he is not trying to maximize trust in any way, he comes off as plausible even when expressing stuff that's unusual.
I wish there was still hope for Ted Nelson's concept of Hypertext.
Up until some time in the mid 90's people were thinking of the internet as something intrinsically decentralized. The idea was that we, as individuals, would participate in new forms of discourse and creation through the "media" of hypertext _without_ intermediaries other than (perhaps) agents we would create for ourselves on an individual basis (like your own personal "max headroom").
Instead what we got are giant "media" companies acting as middle-men, cattle-herders or disinterested extractive entities that are pursing goals totally unrelated to the actual services they provide to the people who use "their media".
Why do we need colossal-scale datacenters for social media anyway? Could there be a totally decentralized solution consisting of just the people and their devices? Or is that just a pipe-dream or sitcom plot like "Pied-piper" on the Silicon Valley TV show?
"Up until some time in the mid 90's people were thinking of the internet as something intrinsically decentralized. The idea was that we, as individuals, would participate in new forms of discourse and creation through the "media" of hypertext _without_ intermediaries other than (perhaps) agents we would create for ourselves on an individual basis"
This exists, and is ubiquitous, and has succeeded beyond everyones wildest expectations.
You may, for free (or almost free), control a public, routable IP address and run any kind of publishing platform or online community on it that you choose to - from a listserv to a full blown Drupal CMS.
You have exactly what you have always wished for. It turns out, however, that all the people that used to just watch TV ... still just want to "watch TV" (whatever that means these days ...)
The biggest roadblock is Nelson's need to control it. Nelson had great a concept but he is bad businessman and not good enough software developer.
Ted Nelson actively sabotaged attempt to create open source implementation.
He initially seemed to approve it, but turned against it. Nelson has patented zzstructure, so there is little you can do until the patent expires (I think it will expire very soon)
Yes, to be fair, I really only want to comment on the concepts that Ted Nelson wrote about. The concepts are great and I wish they had been baked into the internet as we know it.
I don't think there's much use now (40-ish years later) to attempt actual implementations of Ted Nelson's stuff according to his specifications. So much has changed. Perhaps it would be an interesting curiosity?
It is sad, however, to think about how we imagined cyberspace as a dual plane of existence, how it was going to be a liberating and life-changing experience that makes people better versions of themselves. Only some of that came to be and, increasingly, in cyberspace we're just "product" being handled disinterested "social media" monoliths.
Related, I was sad to see that in the neighbouring Soyuz-ballistic-descent thread most references to news and updates were not the informative NASA blog , but Twitter "tweets". Talk about unnecessary centralisation.
It is only the media itself that is centralized in Nelson's vision. Today it is the giant middle-men that are "centralized" and call themselves "media".
According to Jaron Lanier, Xanadu (Ted Nelson's concept) was all about "two-way" connectivity, not in a trivial sense like client/server websites today but deeply as in a "we're all authors" sense.
> "A core technical difference between a Nelsonian network
> and what we have become familiar with online is that [Nelson's]
> network links were two-way instead of one-way. In a network
> with two-way links, each node knows what other nodes are
> linked to it. ... Two-way linking would preserve context.
> It's a small simple change in how online information should
> be stored that couldn't have vaster implications for
> culture and the economy."
The two-way connectivity was between documents (or actually, pieces of media, regardless of type), not in the "we're all authors" sense (the latter was common back then, and in fact the early web browser was also an editor and server).
The Xanadu idea was that if a link was created from A → B, it would be visible in B as well. They have some cute 3D renderings of XanaduSpace on their website that makes it clearer: http://xanadu.com/XanaduSpace/btf.htm
Lanier further claims this would make Google redundant (since you'd "just see where most of the links led" - it's not clear to me how you'd do that without processing (ie, scraping with a bot) all the documents and their links), and also Facebook because, apparently, what we were missing is a way to see who is linking to our content, so we can "meet people who share out interests" (personally, this is what I see forums or Reddit being used for, whereas Facebook was primarily about people you knew personally).
I would be interested in his opinion about slapping the user in the face with greyed-out content and a subscription box on top when he tries to follow a link to read this interview. Isn't this a great example for how the digital world doesn't let us do what we intend to and doesn't deliver on its promises?
Jaron supports premium payment for articles. I don’t know why so many hacker news readers both are illogically irate about paywalls and also irate about data collection. The irony is almost overwhelming.
You can have your paywalls if you delete capitalism.
Otherwise, you're forcing a population that's trying to survive with less and less capital, to choose what information sources they'll agree to keep open. Network effects come into play, and you end up with a system where only the top information sources can survive and there just isn't the public support for anything else.
Ditch capitalism and treat money like something provided to people as a citizenship right (like a vote, or like UBI) and then maybe you can have paywalls and have enough superfluous capital that you'll have a functioning market that allows for challengers and alternate choices to persist.
Right now, both paywalls and data collection are pushing things towards centralized solutions due to network effects (when you can search for the 'one best' thing worldwide, people generally will wish to do that) and the results of that are proving catastrophic. Capitalism merely underscores this mechanism and makes it seem mandatory that you will pay to serve the centralized systems that control you.
Jaron's looking for more of a decentralized thing. If you asked him whether he supported a paywall for the 'BUMMER' stuff he talks about, he would hope that the paywall would bring down those systems, and he'd be afraid that the lock-in would be so great that it wouldn't matter.
> I don’t know why so many hacker news readers both are illogically irate about paywalls and also irate about data collection.
I have no idea what you are rambling about. The dark pattern demonstrated behind the article link is modal newsletter subscription boxes in front of the content, i.e. distracting, disrupting the user's reading to show him something he didn't click the link for. It's annoying, it wastes time and energy and it makes the web unattractive like dumb clickbait headlines when following a descriptive link doesn't lead to the promised content (without extra effort).
In a sense, writing a whole book about your decision to delete some social media accounts is just as bad as social media. The whole world doesn't need to know about every mundane detail about your life. You can do things and not feel inclined to tell everyone about it.
You need to get shot to know what getting shot actually feels like and you need to be a pregnant woman to know what being a pregnant woman feels like. Obviously you can make some assumptions based on an observers perspective, but that doesn't seem as relevant in a discussion that is subjective like leaving social media as a lifestyle change.
Sure, it's going to affect the set of people you interact with in the future. It might hurt your relationships or cut you off entirely from some people. It limits your ability to ask for help or look for work. And it could lead to feeling left out, always behind on what's happening, constantly missing out.
> Yeah, actually, one thing that’s really interesting is that Facebook is not a normal company, in the sense that its valuation when it went public wasn’t based on how much money it made, which is what would normally happen with a business. It actually somehow talked the SEC into creating this other category, where it would be valued based simply on how much it was used, just on user engagement. And I think that was one of the most dreadful decisions in the history of financial governance, because, unfortunately, it set the pattern for other companies that went public later, like Twitter. So it’s almost like a government mandate that, instead of actually making money and serving customers, a company will become an addiction and behavior modification empire.
I didn't know this, can someone give more information on exactly how/why this happened?
Even trying to interpret in the most charitable way, I can't view what the author is writing as making sense in any way.
Just because the SEC allows a metric to be used doesn't mean investors are going to use it, and most definitely are not forced to use it in how they calculate the value of the shares they are purchasing. The fact that Facebook has amazing profit margins, ability to scale, and great revenue numbers also undermines the author's point.
Jaron is very good at articulating his ideas. He is preaching to the choir with me though. I was somewhat addicted to Twitter, but snapped out of it 7 years ago, and find the idea of using one of those networks tiresome.
Funny, the thing that struck me the most was the tag at the end where he's talking about learning pedal steel guitar. I tried and failed - it's the most difficult musical instrument I've ever played. It's harder than drums, which are really really hard to play well.
Pedal steel involves doing a lot of things simultaneously. Chords are assembled from strings and slide, but there are pedals and knee levers that change the pitch of individual strings up or down. So you can do something like play a DGB triad (G major chord), and press a pedal to turn it into EGC (C major chord), while the strings are still ringing. No other instrument can do this. It can be sort of faked by bending a note against another note on guitar, but it's pitifully shallow next to pedal steel. But the pedals and levers, plus the slide, plus right hand picking, plus a volume pedal to control attack and sustain... wow. It's so complex.
There is a new documentary called "The Creepy Line", it's on both Amazon Prime and Apple I-Tunes that also talks about this. Well worth watching. This is a big issue today, and makes it far too easy for big tech to have enormous power, and as we've seen with Google etc. it is not being used for good the way the marketeers are trying to portray they are.
I am of the belief that we are better off trying to connect everyone in the world than going back to living in our community bubbles. I also think that it's too late to change the centralized nature of WWW. That ship sailed two decades ago. So we just need to live in the reality we have and try to incrementally make it better.
> Well, a pretty good test for whether a platform is BUMMER, is whether the Russian intelligence warfare units like the Internet Research Agency decided to target it and use it for manipulating people. That’s a really good measure. And so, if that’s the way you’re going to classify BUMMER, then the list is Facebook, Google including YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, and, of course, a few other Facebook properties like Instagram. There are a few others out there, but those are the primary ones. Snapchat is an interesting one. I just spent some time with them and they’re sort of an edge case; they’re better, but they still have some problems.
> Another example is LinkedIn, which has some addictive techniques but doesn’t seem to bring out the worst in people. So, you know, I don’t think this is exactly a universal criticism of the whole idea of social media — in fact, I’m sure it isn’t. I’m sure there could be better social media. Basically, if Putin was there, maybe you shouldn’t go there. Maybe that’s a good rule of thumb. Basically, don’t sleep in the bed where anybody who works for Putin has been lately. I think it’s a very good rule for us all to follow.
It never ceases to surprise me how any mention of the Russian spooks in the context of social media inevitably comes to the same conclusion: you cannot co-exist with them. Either you fight them (which is the mainstream position) by demanding that social networks ban them, or you leave the social network.
Weirdly, there doesn't seem to be any middle ground. I do not hear of any messages directed at users about developing some sort of online personal hygiene. Maybe take any ads with a grain of salt? Maybe do not trust total strangers until you get to know their online personality (if you are interested in their opinion at all)? Maybe limit your social circles? Maybe exercise more self-control in online debates? There are probably numerous other suggestions of how to be a more intelligent consumer of media content. And then Putin won't be such a comical bogeyman of online media he has lately become.
Here is why the middle ground wont work. Changing technology is a lot faster than changing human nature. Propoganda works because it exploits how our mind works. Sure we can learn to listen to our better angels more often--we need better media education and critical thinking in schools for sure. But that takes time, and it's not perfect either. In many cases, the problems are better served with changing the plarforms or the technology.
In the article:
"... And in Trump, that’s saying a lot, because he has a number of pretty bad sides."
"... and then the Trump election really nailed it home that something was changing in society, and in a way that was potentially going to get worse and worse and weirder and weirder."
There's also an article called:
"Jaron Lanier: The Internet destroyed the middle class"
And from his book: "Who Owns the Future" he says:
“Saving the Winners from Themselves:
Is the present trend really a benefit for those who run the top servers that have come to organize the world? In the short term, of course, yes. The greatest fortunes in history have been created recently by using network technology as a way to concentrate information and therefore wealth and power.
However, in the long term, this way of using network technology is not even good for the richest and most powerful players, because their ultimate source of wealth can only be a growing economy...”
“...I’m no Marxist. I love competing in the market, and the last thing I’d want is to live under communism. My wife grew up with it in Minsk, Belarus, and I am absolutely, thoroughly convinced of the misery. But if you select the right passages, Marx can read as being incredibly current...”
“...One reason companies like Facebook should be interested in what I am proposing is that planning a regulation regime is better than morphing involuntarily into a dull regulated utility, which is what would probably happen otherwise. Suppose Facebook never gets good enough at snatching the “advertising” business from Google. That’s still a possibility as I write this. In that event, Facebook could go into decline, which would present a global emergency...”
“...Imagine a future industry of “decision reduction” that would be (gasp!) regulated so as to remain unaligned with other services. You’d choose a decision reduction service the way you choose a broker now. The decision reduction service would use its particular style and competence to create bundles of decisions you could accept or reject en masse. You could switch to other services without penalty at any time. Such services would be prohibited from having conflicts of interest. That is a proper place for regulation...”
“...Making information free is survivable so long as only limited numbers of people are disenfranchised. As much as it pains me to say so, we can survive if we only destroy the middle classes of musicians, journalists, and photographers. What is not survivable is the additional destruction of the middle classes in transportation, manufacturing, energy, office work, education, and health care. And all that destruction will come surely enough if the dominant idea of an information economy isn’t improved...”
He just seems so out of touch! I wonder why he is held up by TED and others as THE guy to follow when you're deleting your accounts for following people :)
Well... Facebook is worth ~$15bn and Google is worth ~$740bn. I'm sure Google could scrounge up 2% of it's overall worth to buy-out Facebook... but then, Google already know everything about you, so for them, Facebooks data is worthless.
>> "I haven’t been on FB, Insta, Twitter in years, or Reddit in months and I don’t even think about those things anymore."
The terms used to talk about those things today might have their origins on social media, but the issues existed before someone coined a term. You might want to re-evaluate your associations if no one talks about sexual assault and harassment or the over-policing of black people.