Hello. This is no longer Bix's blog.


I struggle a lot with what it means to be a part of music fandom and stan culture more broadly during this cultural moment. Celebrities are often viewed as more than just idols—they’re valorized as both representatives and defenders of marginalized identities, and pop culture is framed as a springboard to broader social and political consciousness. But on Twitter, constant consumption—and belligerence—are often the easiest and most high-profile ways to prove your devotion.

From The Empowered Stan by Keidra Chaney

#Fandom #Community #SocialMedia #Highlights #September2019

Earlier this evening, David Gasca, product manager at Twitter, announced that next week is “hack week” at the company. “What would you build,” he asked, “to improve conversations on Twitter?” I've been following Gasca, and a number of other Twitter employees, ever since Arielle Pardes' epic thread from a wide-ranging conversation at Twitter last month.

My initial suggestions will be familiar in light of all the things I've posted here about finding ways to instill more “friction” on our social media platforms. Among them: eliminating engagement counts, providing tools allowing users to control who does and who does not get to participate in replies to their tweets (an expansion of Twitter's author-moderated replies being tested in Canada), and the ability for users to self-organize into their own Twitter groups in a a sort of internal analogue to different Mastodon instances.

On that last, I argued, Twitter simply is too big at this point. If users could login to Twitter and be in a sort of “home community timeline”, a kind of safe space and home base from which to engage with the larger Twitter community and experience, perhaps that might provide a greater sense both of responsibility and control. Perhaps these chosen community timelines then could also (to borrow a term) “federate” internally on Twitter with other communities, creating shared timelines between or amongst them.

Gasca's reply: “Totally.”

To be clear, what I am not talking about here is Twitter's apparent push to allow users to follow topics in addition to following people. I'm talking about, in a way, something of a fundamental reorganization of the Twitter experience for those who want it: establishing the tools for users to create their own Twitter communities which would be subject not just to Twitter's wider community standards but in fact could construct their own and enforce them for its own members.

The “federation” model (which most people know, if they know it at all, from Mastodon) really is what I'm talking about but in the absence of literally breaking up Twitter into physically separate instances like in true federation, I think this sort of virtual internal federation is the way to go.

It's difficult to envision. Perhaps it would work much like Mastodon instances running forks such as Hometown which institute a “local-only” posting layer which vanilla Mastodon lacks, where you'd have to set the audience for each tweet as you go: some local-only, some private, some open to the entire network. Or perhaps a Twitter user could log in and literally spend their entire session just in a “local-only” mode consisting of their home community and/or any allied communities to which it's been linked, and never even look at the wider Twitter universe.

There'd be lots of details like that to work out. Personally, I like the latter model better, since you could just immerse yourself in that local community. But there'd be ways when browsing and engaging with the wider Twitter community to share things you find there just to your home-base community rather than publicly on your open timeline.

Like I said, it'd require a fundamental shift on the part of Twitter in terms of what service it thinks it's providing. I do think that if they were willing to made such a radical movie, certainly no user should be required to set up or be a part of a home-base community. You should be able to continue having the typical Twitter experience if that's what you prefer.

I'm just thinking that if users had the ability to have shared but private conversations—think of it like a group that is locked the way an individual Twitter account can be locked—people could feel a sense of security and a sense of ownership. Not, of course, over the service, but over their own experiences on it.

Maybe that's the thing that Twitter the experience is missing, and that Twitter the company missed. Communities require buy-in from their members, and they require some sort of emotional investment. Twitter users frequently have emotional investments in each other, but it's difficult to maintain that kind of investment in or as a group because Twitter can be so treacherous, often with no real safe place to retreat and be refreshed except by logging off.

What if the Home timeline really was just that: a home each Twitter user could make for themselves, with their friends or their family or their chosen family or whatever kind and size of group they wished, that no one else could touch except by invitation?

ETA: I got so carried away with the above that I forgot to reiterate something I've said before a number of times now: “Do away with likes in favor of highlighting. Do away with retweets in favor of commenting. Interaction over indication. Expression over excitation.”

#Community #SocialMedia #Web #September2019

Reading The Outline's profile of Lower Duck Pond, I found myself wondering how CityLab would cover this, or what would happen if The New York Times sent an economist to study its urban planning, or whether there's any conscious sense of race within the town's population.

#Cities #Community #UrbanPlanning #Web #September2019

For the life of me I can't remember where I came across it, and apparently I forgot to make a note of it, but there's all sorts of great stuff in this epic post about the indieweb and fandom spaces. You don't have to care about fandom, specifically, to find this worth your time if you care at all about the past, present, and future states of online community.

There are some especially terrific thoughts on how too much of a move into the indieweb ideal of having everything you do up for access on your own site might not actually be ideal for community-building.

Basically, if “own your content and host it on your site” also applies to your comments, interactions, etc, it starts running counter to one of the strengths of the Old Web. Which was community contexts where you explicitly weren’t posting to your own space or addressing everyone who might be looking at the main clearinghouse of all your different stuff. You were posting to the commons shared by a particular group with a particular culture and interests, not all of whom were people you’d necessarily want to follow outside that limited context, some of whom you might disagree with or dislike, but in any case you knew what audience you were broadcasting to. You knew what the conversation was, how similar conversations had gone in the past, and the reputations of all the main participants–not just the ones you yourself would subscribe to and the ones attention-grabbing enough to get shared by the people on your subscription list. And you weren’t spamming all your other acquaintances with chatter on a topic they weren’t interested in.

This is a tension between the ideals of the indieweb and the idea community that had never occurred to me, but to highlight it and raise concerns about it certainly makes a great deal of sense to me.

To my mind, what we need is not so much everyone having a central, personally-owned-and-hosted clearinghouse of all their online activity as a way for both personal sites and smaller community sites to have areas through which they can interact or follow each other in some fashion, without turning one's own “personal feed” into just another unceasing river of noise.

Marianne also has some great thoughts about whether relentlessly organizing things chronologically (or, rather, reverse-chronologically) itself can have a detrimental effect on community. To wit: “Relentless chronological ordering + the signal-to-noise ratio of any space with regular social interaction = greatest hits falling down the memory hole unless a community practices extensive manual cataloguing.”

These two sets of observations aren't even the half of what's on offer over there, and if there's anything I've run across in the past few months that I would shove to the top of the reading list for anyone looking at where the indieweb could, should, or might take us, it would be this post.

#Blogging #Community #Fandom #SocialMedia #Web #September2019

Over in Micro.blog's “discover” feed (parenthetically, I'm again wondering if I should be over there instead of here on Write.as) I found these pretty great thoughts by Ton Zijlstra on technology, scaling, and community, in which he laments technologists “talking about how to create a community for their tech to help it scale”.

While crediting that, yes, some technologies help “communities ... form that otherwise wouldn’t, because of geographic spread, shame, taboo or danger to make yourself visible in your local environment”, Zijlstra argues that tech perhaps should “focus on me using it for my communities as is, and rather present itself as having me join a made up community whose raison d’etre is exploiting our attention for profit”.

This, perhaps, is the failing of Twitter, and one of the strengths of federation, in that what we need are technologies which enable people to support their existing communities, or ones they wish to create, while then also providing bridges into other communities and wider, more general streams of “content”. The model behind Twitter somehow thinks an unfettered river of such “content” alone is good enough.

Sites that are fundamentally about ads (and, really, that's typically what “scaling” is all about: adding more and more eyeballs for what advertisers are serving up, not for what users are doing) perhaps can never also fundamentally be about any sort of community for which it would be worth using that word.

#Community #SocialMedia #Technology #Web #September2019

Reading this CityLab interview with Aaron Greiner of CultureHouse about “physically occupying vacant storefronts and turning them into pop-up public places” with the direct assistance of property owners (or, in the words of CultureHouse itself, “facilitating the creation of public social infrastructure through the transformation of unused spaces into vibrant places to work, play, and foster connections”), I kept thinking of the debunked “broken windows theory” and how this is sort of its more effective inverse: a sort of “inviting windows theory”.

#Cities #Community #UrbanPlanning #September2019

One of the issues Brendan Schlagel is encountering in his “networked communities” blogchain with Tom Critchlow is that approaches to “positive gatekeeping” likely won't be the same across different types of communities. The sorts of communities that evolve, or are fostered, in and around blogs are not the same sorts of communities that arise in and around social media platforms.

It's perhaps hard, for example, to take any direct lessons from something like Darius Kazemi's approach to Mastodon via his Hometown fork and apply them to the (or a) blogosphere, because these forms do different things, for different reasons.

Social media, even in Hometown's approach, is designed for networks, while blogs mostly have been designed for, or at least around, an individual. Many will generate certain kinds of communities in user comment areas, but few if any so far have generated any sort of community through the networking tools available (e.g. trackback, pingback, and, now, webmention).

There's always been far more curation in the blogosphere than has tended to be the case in social media because of blogging's focus on the individual blogger and how they did or did not want to engage in a wider community, whether on or off their own blog.

What, exactly, would a more internetworked blogosphere look like? What degree of internetworking even is possible, let alone desirable, in this format? It's one thing to want to encourage people to respond and react to blog posts they've read by posting to their own blogs while pinging or mentioning the original post, leaving it to the latter to decide what, if anything to do in terms of displaying, or interacting with, these reactions, but is there more? Should there be more?

ETA: One thing of relevancy in terms of community-building and positive gatekeeping: I tried to ping/mention Schlagel's post and was told my post here was spam.

#Blogging #Community #SocialMedia #Web #September2019

As near as I can tell, this position by Dave Winer mostly just exposes his complete lack of understanding of abuse on social media platforms. Users block other users in large part as a barrier to abuse. This is an over-simplification, but blocking abusive users, trolls, or bots not only protects the blocking user but often serves also to protect other users because it keeps the abusers, trolls, and bots from being able to reply to the original user's tweets, and therefore keeps them out of the discussion. I can't think of any other situation where someone would be “[b]locking people from reading things posted publicly”, so it seems like Winer really has just not kept up with how abuse works in the age of social media.

ETA: To make this all the weirder: he's blocked me on Twitter. To quote, erm, Dave Winer: “If it's public it seems everyone should just be able to read it without phony barriers.”

#Abuse #Community #SocialMedia #Web #September2019

Paul Bausch likes Micro.blog's “discover” feed for its lack of engagement numbers or solicitations. Possibly worth noting as well is that it's human-curated, not algorithmic. Write.as' public feed is neither algorithmic nor human-curated, an aspect I continue to think will at some point bite the platform in the ass. As to Bausch's general point, not that this will be a surprise, this is the way things need to go now. While I do very much want both incoming and outgoing webmention support here, I've no real interest in any other forms of engagement, although I do still think trying to truly standardize highlights/annotations as an alternative to likes/favorites is worth pursuing. Combine all of this with Pouya Tafti's thoughts on the return of “polling” instead of “push”, and there's clearly a chance to put more focus on interaction over indication, expression over excitation.

#Blogging #Community #SocialMedia #Web #September2019

Will Oremus for some reason agrees with Twitter itself that one of Twitter's “problems” was that the chronological timeline made users not follow many people, and that following as many people as possible apparently is an important metric. It might be an important one for Twitter, but should it be considered an important one for users themselves? I don't see how. Really, this post is just one long apologia for the algorithmic timeline.

ETA: Arguably, the idea that a Twitter user should follow as many people as possible itself is one of Twitter's problems. Where did this idea come from? Oremus doesn't appear even to challenge it.

ETA: In fact, arguably this is just another example of social media's obsession with indication over interaction, excitation over expression. Get those retweet numbers up, get those likes numbers up, get those follow numbers up. It's an empty signifier.

#Community #SocialMedia #Web #September2019