Tag Archives: history

Anil Dash Writes About The Web We Lost

[fr] Le web qu'on a perdu. Nostalgie.

Yes, there are people who have been blogging for longer than me. Quite a few of them, actually. Anil Dash is one. You should read him.

His most recent article (found thanks to danah, who has also been blogging for longer than me, and whom you should also read) is titled The Web We Lost. It hits right on the nostalgia that has been creeping up on me these last years, expressed for example in A Story About Tags, and Technorati, and Tags or Ye Olde-School Blogs Are Still Around.

Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and Pinterest are all great, but they tend to suck us in, and I feel we are all collectively high on real-time content and interaction. I miss the slower days. I miss the sense of “community” I felt with other bloggers in the old days, as I mention in the wrap-up post to my “Back to Blogging” challenge. I feel that on Twitter and Facebook community has been replaced with network. Networking is great. I love spending time with my network. But it’s not the same thing.

Most of all, the timeline we now live in is made up of transient content. It’s there and gone. It’s the world of orality, of the spoken word which evaporates once pronounced, even though we are typing. We are going back to an oral tradition. Blogs and wikis, however, are still part of the written tradition. We are losing searchability. We are also using content portability due to the lack of RSS feeds on certain platforms, and increasingly restrictive API access. APIs seem to be the promise for more holes in our buckets, but they seem more and more to be a way to control tightly what happens to the content locked in a given platform.

That’s sad. That’s not the way I hoped things would go.

There is more. Go and read Anil’s piece. And leave a comment there through Facebook.

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Posted in Thinking | Tagged blogs, facebook, history, lock-in, nostalgia, openness, rss, twitter, web | 2 Comments

Mon interview “Orange Blogger Dialog”

[en] An interview I gave at the end of the last year on blogging, and blogs, and me and blogging, and me and my blog.

L’an dernier, j’ai été interviewée pour le “Orange Blogger Dialog” — une discussion très sympa par téléphone sur mon blog, les blogs, pourquoi je blogue, etc. Ça m’a donné un peu l’occasion de plonger dans le passé, et j’ai beaucoup aimé! De plus, j’ai trouvé que Sabine (avec qui je travaille maintenant dans le cadre de mon mandat Orange “relations blogueurs”) était une excellente intervieweuse.

“Orange Blogger Dialog” avait été mise sur pied entre autres pour faire connaître HD Voice, lancée à l’époque par Orange. Vous entendrez d’ailleurs dans mon interview qu’à un moment donné on perd le HD Voice, puis on le récupère. Comparaison en direct de la différence de qualité!

Alors voilà, si vous avez une demi-heure tranquille, je vous invite à écouter cette interview.

Et ensuite, pourquoi pas, écouter celle de Xavier Bertschy (mais oui vous connaissez!), et si vous êtes assez à l’aise en Allemand, ceux de Hans Fischer (technikblog) et Mirjam Herms (chic & schlau).

Ah oui, avant que vous disiez quoi que ce soit: la mise en ligne sur SoundCloud est encore un peu rustique, on le sait. A l’origine les interviews n’étaient disponibles qu’à l’intérieur de Facebook, et il nous a paru important de les mettre sur le web public. Pour le moment, on est concentrés sur OrangeCinema, mais on viendra bientôt rajouter des liens et des descriptifs jolis là où il faut. Merci de votre patience!

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Posted in Blogging | Tagged blog, blogging, climb to the stars, hd voice, histoire, history, interview, orange, orange blogger dialog, orangech, stephanie booth | 1 Comment

Real-Time is Burying History on the Web

[fr] Notre obsession pour le temps présent en ligne et la vitesse handicape grandement nos outils de recherche quand il s'agit d'explorer notre passé numérique. A lire, l'article de Suw Sacrificing Web History on the Alter of Instant, un compte-rendu consternant de l'état lamentable de nos outils de recherche pour la passé récent (l'éruption du volcan Eyjafjöll, en l'occurrence).

Plus près du commun des mortels peut-être que ces considérations d'historiens du web: Twitter ne nous donne accès qu'à nos 3000 tweets les plus récents. Les autres sont là, archivés, même en ligne si on connaît leur URL -- mais inaccessibles même à leur producteur.

I am somebody who believes that history is an extraordinarily important asset in trying to understand our present. Unfortunately, when we are too focused on the future, and innovation, and moving ahead, it’s very easily to neglect history.

I’ve seen it as a characteristic of developing countries (sweeping generalization here, stop me if I’m wrong), with the thoughtless chopping down of centenarian trees and bulldozing of historical monuments in Bangalore. What’s important is where we’re going — we don’t really care about where we came from, and in some cases, would rather forget.

And we’re seeing it now in the hyper-technological cutting-edge world of the internet, where web history is being sacrificed on the altar of instant (do read Suw Charman‘s excellent post and then come back here).

A year and a bit ago, the theme of LeWeb’09 in Paris was “Real-Time Web”, and indeed, everybody was a-buzz with everything real-time. So much so that I had to give that year’s official bloggers a little wake-up call (I blogged it later) a day before the conference, because I was hearing increasingly worrisome comments (to my “official bloggers’ mom” ears) along the lines of “well, I actually don’t think I’ll blog much this year, I’ll mainly be tweeting”. I was interviewed about something along the lines of “curating the real-time stream” by my friend Cathy Brooks (there’s a priceless moment in that video, watch it), and overall, everything was about now, now, now, now now nownownownownownow.

I’m tired of real-time.

It feels to me as if we’re driving with our nose in the steering-wheel, never stopping long enough to look behind us and see what road we’re on and where it’s really heading. I’ve noted over the last year or so that a lot of our content is migrating into these real-time flowy presency streamy services, and that some of the precious tools we had to make sense of our online publications are all but dead, like Technorati.

But link rot aside, it’s all still there online. And that makes it all the more frustrating to know that we just don’t have a way of getting to it in a useful way, as Suw describes very well in her article. In response, Reg Chua points out that search is skewed towards speed and the present — a perfect corollary to our obsession with real-time and progress.

My tweets from day 1 (December 8, 2006 with a lot of enthusiasm) are still online somewhere. Here’s the oldest one I could lay my hands on (the podcast in question was Fresh Lime Soda), thanks to the wayback machine (if you go down that alley, note how we get a peek at what early tweeting was like in pre-hashtag times). It makes it all the more maddening that they are impossible to access if I don’t have a link to them. Twitter has them, they’re there, but they’re not organized in a way that makes them of any use.

Sidenote: this blog post is moving from “lack of access to general online history” to “lack of access to personal online history”, which is a subset of the problem.

Within that “personal online history” subset of the problem, let me state that I find it a disgrace that Twitter will not even let its users download a copy of their own data in the service, barring the last 3000 tweets.

I understand the need to restrict access to the huge number of tweets in the database for general use. I get that. But I don’t get why I should not be able to do a one-time download of what I put in the service.

I hate the expression data theft because when you take data, you always leave a copy somewhere (and theft removes the copy), but in this case, this is what it feels like. Twitter has my data and can do stuff with it, and I can’t. That just doesn’t feel right. (And don’t wave the “Twitter is free, don’t complain” argument in my face: just like Suw, I would be more than ready to pay for Twitter as a service, but they won’t let me.)

Away from Twitter and back to our obsession with real-time and what it is doing to our history: where are the online historians? who is going to build the tools we need to dig through the tremendous wealth of data online? the buzzword of 2011 seems to be “curator”: well, we don’t just need curators to avoid getting knocked over by the firehose of the real-time web — we also need curators (preferably machines) to help us organise and sort through our online history.

 

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Posted in Thinking, Tools | Tagged history, real-time, Research, search, tools, twitter, web | 3 Comments

A Story About Tags, and Technorati, and Tags

[fr] Une conversation sur Twitter au sujet des tags, de la grande époque de Technorati, et de où on en est maintenant. Ce qu'on a perdu: un "tagspace" commun pour la blogosphère (c'était ce qu'offrait Technorati...).

Yesterday I innocently answered a tweet about Technorati tags from Luis Suarez. This led to an interesting three-way conversation between Luis, Thomas Vander Wal. Ideas got tossed around, and we decided to continue the discussion through our blogs, as if it were 2003 (2001?) all over again. You know, I really miss the old blogging days, sometimes. But more about that in another post.

Now, before I get to the meat, I want to tell you a little about the history of tags and tagging. I was there, you see — and I’d like to tell you what I saw of history unfolding at the time, because it gives some background to the ideas that came up for me while chatting with Luis and Thomas.

(Note that I am absolutely not using the sacred inverted pyramid here. I’m not trying to optimize. I’m taking you for a ride, come along if you wish.)

A long long time ago, when the blogosphere was frisky and bloggers were still strange beasts, Movable Type invented the Trackback.

Trackbacks were exciting. You have to understand that at the time, comments on blogs were barely a couple of years old, and bloggers still had the good habit of carrying on conversations through their blogs, linking to each other’s articles like there was no tomorrow. Trackbacks allowed us bloggers to tell each other we were mentioning each other’s posts without having to “head over there and leave a comment” or rely on the linkee’s obsession with referrer monitoring (all our metrics and stats tools were much more primitive at the time, and we didn’t have Google Alerts).

Some people started sending trackbacks when their posts were simply related to posts on other blogs — an abusive practice, if you ask me, laying the grounds for what was to become trackback spam.

Enter TopicExchange. It doesn’t exist anymore, but I fell in love with it right away. TopicExchange was a site which hosted “channels”, keywords that you could trackback so that your post would appear in a given channel. TopicExchange was, in fact, a somewhat clumsy precursor of tagspaces. The idea was there, but it was built on trackbacks rather than microformats.

Roughly around that same period (of years), delicious started using tags to allow users to classify bookmarks. Flickr followed, and tagging started to take off.

In 2005, Technorati started tracking tags in blog posts it indexed, and the microformat for tagging was born. Days later, I’d released the first WordPress tagging plugin, Bunny’s Technorati Tags. Now, you may not care much about Technorati in 2010, but at the time, it was a Big Thing.

First of all, Technorati were the only ones indexing what they then called the “Live Web” (or was it the “Living Web”, I can’t remember). Forget Twitter, Facebook, and today’s real-time craziness: in 2005, blogs were pretty much the fastest form of publication around. Google Blogsearch didn’t exist. So, bloggers (and blogging software) would ping Technorati each time they published an article, Technorati would crawl their RSS feed and index their content. This meant you could search for stuff in blogs. Technorati indexed links between blog posts, so you could look up the “Technorati Cosmos” for any URL (ie, the collection of blog posts linking to it.)

If you were serious about blogging, you made sure you were in Technorati. And your properly tagged articles would appear on the corresponding Technorati tag page. (See where this meets TopicExchange?)

Second, and this is where in my opinion the Technorati implementation of “let’s group posts from different bloggers about a same topic on a single page somewhere” beats TopicExchange: it’s based on a microformat, technologically much simpler to implement than a trackback. Anybody who could write HTML could add tags. It also meant that other tools or companies could create their own tagspaces and index existing tags — which was not possible with a trackback-based implementation, as trackbacks are “pushed” to one specific recipient.

The blogosphere went wild with tags, and my brain started bubbling on the topic.

TopicExchange died, drowned under trackback spam.

And as far as I’m concerned, Technorati is dead (at least to me), probably drowned or crippled by splogs and tag spam.

Which leads me to express a law which I’ll call “Stephanie Booth’s Law of Death by Spam”, just in case nobody had thought of it before, and it catches on and makes me famous:

Sooner or later, all smart ideas to better connect people or ideas through technology drown in spam, unless the arms race to defeat it is taken seriously enough and given the ressources it needs.

Right, I think you have enough context now, and I can come back to the conversation that kept Luis, Thomas and I occupied for a bit last night. Luis was asking if anybody still cared about Technorati tags, and we drifted off (at least I did) on the Golden Days of Technorati (hence the slightly nostalgic storytelling that makes up the first big chunk of this post).

Clearly, Technorati is not playing the role it used to play for the blogosphere (whatever that is nowadays, the blogosphere I mean, now that every online publication is a “blog”).

There’s Icerocket, which actually does a not-too-bad job of letting you search for stuff over blog posts (check out my ego search and blog search). Actually, as I’m writing this, I’m discovering that their advanced search is pretty neat (though I’m not certain why this query returns nothing).

One issue I see with Icerocket is that you have to actively sign up and include tracking code on your blog — which means that less bloggers will go through the trouble of getting themselves indexed (and less spammers, of course, which is probably the idea, though I did spot a few splogs in my searches above). Another one is that it’s not very visible. Do you bloggers know about it? Have you registered? Does it bring you traffic? Technorati had cosmos and tag links that made it visible on the blogs it indexed (just as I tried to make TopicExchange more visible in my blog when I was using it).

Another more systemic issue is that a “blog” today and a “blog” in 2005 is not the same thing. Well, some are (I hope this one is), but nowadays we have all these big online publications that I call media-blogs: run as businesses, multi-author, revenue-stream… Their quality ranges from cheap content-factory to properly journalistic. Are they still blogs? In 2010, what is a blogger? What kind of blogs do I want to see indexed by a service like Icerocket — and is there some objective way to draw lines, or am I letting my personal bias take over? As you may know, my work around blogger accreditations for LeWeb has led me to ponder the lines between journalist, blogger, other-online-publisher. I don’t have answers yet.

But I digress.

When WordPress finally implemented proper tags, the default tagspace was not Technorati (as it had been with my plugin), but a tagspace local to the WordPress installation. This made sense in some way (probably by that time tag spam on Technorati was already taking its toll) — but we lost something precious in the process: a shared space where separate blogs and blog posts could collide over common topics.

I want that back. But maybe I don’t want a tagspace shared by the whole humungous somethingsphere of 2010. So, how about this?

Let’s imagine a tool/platform which allows a certain number of bloggers to gather together, as a group. You know all about groups, in their various incarnations: Flickr groups, Google groups, Facebook groups, new Facebook groups… What about blogger groups? I could gather a bunch of bloggers I know and like, and who know each other, and who tend to read each other, and we could decide to create a little blogosphere of our own. The group could be public, private, invitation-only, whatever.

And this group would have a shared tagspace.

If you’re starting from scratch, you’d do this with a multi-user WordPress implementation (go to WordPress.com for example: there is a shared tagspace for the blogs there). But here, imagine the bloggers in question already have blogs. Would there be no way to recreate this, independantly of which blogging tools they’re using?

This is similar but not identical to shared spaces like SxDSalon. SxDSalon slurps in all posts with a given tag from a list of bloggers. It’s nice, it works, it’s useful, but it’s not what I’m thinking of.

Planet is a cool tool too, but to my knowledge it only aggregates posts. Maybe we could add a shared tagspace to it?

I look forward to reading what Luis and Thomas will write on their blogs about our conversation. ;-) Blogs are alive! Twitter has not killed them!

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Posted in Thinking | Tagged blogging, history, icerocket, tags, technorati, topicexchange | 8 Comments

How Do You Personally Define or Explain “Web 2.0″?

[fr] Lors de la prochaine journée à thème du GRI, consacrée au web 2.0, je vais donner une conférence d'introduction sur le terme "web 2.0", son origine, ses usages (et mésusages). Au-delà de tout ce qu'on peut dire de factuel sur l'évolution de ce terme, je serai très intéressée de voir mes lecteurs (et d'autres) répondre à la question suivante:

Comment définissez-vous personnellement le "web 2.0"? Que signifie ce terme pour vous, en 2010, en quelques phrases? Si on vous demande ce que c'est, comment l'expliquez-vous (simplement)?

Merci beaucoup si vous pouvez prendre une minute ou deux pour mettre votre réponse dans les commentaires, avec une ou deux infos à votre sujet (en particulier: êtes-vous un professionnel des médias sociaux? étiez-vous en ligne à faire des choses comme écrire un blog avant 2004?)

Précision: Je ne suis pas à la recherche de la définition du web 2.0. Je sais comment je comprends ce terme et comment je l'utilise (ou pas). Ce qui m'intéresse c'est de mettre en avant qu'il y a une grande variété de façons de comprendre et d'utiliser ce terme multifacettes et souvent ambigu.

On Tuesday I’m giving an introductory keynote at the next GRI theme day here in Lausanne. I’ll be setting the stage for the day by clarifying what “web 2.0″ is and is not, where it comes from, how it’s used (and abused). I’m doing quite a bit of research to get my facts straight (and they’re starting to look pretty starched by now) and I thought I’d ask you, readers (or not) of this blog, to contribute a little to my research by answering the following question in the comments:

How do you personally define “web 2.0″? Today, in 2010, what is the meaning of “web 2.0″ (the expression) for you, in a few sentences? If somebody asks you what it is, how do you explain (simply)?

I can read the Wikipedia page and the history of the term, and see how various people use it. But what I’m interested in here is the way you use it. Beyond all official definitions, what does “web 2.0″ mean when people actually speak the words or write them?

So, thanks a lot if you can take a minute or two to write down what it means to you here in the comments.

It would also help me contextualise if you could add a little info about your background: I’m interested in knowing if you’re a social media professional, or power user, or “just a user”, and also if you were online doing things like blogging before 2004.

Update: I’m not looking for the definition of “web 2.0″. I know how I understand it and use it (or don’t use it). I’m interested in seeing how various people have various ways of explaining something that is often pretty fuzzy, complex, and overused. It’s not about “good” or “bad” ways of saying what it is, it’s about collecting a variety of definitions which will show how multifaceted and ambiguous “web 2.0″ can be.

Update 2: If you’re feeling a bit self-conscious about going public with this, you may use this form instead of the comments!

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Posted in Conferences, My work, Thinking | Tagged conference, context, gri, groupement romand d'informatique, help wanted, history, question, speaking, talk, terminology, usage, web 2.0 | 13 Comments

Lift09: Turning Lake Leman into Silicon Valley?

I participated in a Birds of a Feather session earlier, titled How can we make Lac Léman into an entrepreneurial hub? — I found it a little frustrating to start with, but it ended up really lively and interesting.

One issue that I’d like to insist upon is the cultural component of the problem. It’s easy to dismiss it as irrelevant, but I think it’s a mistake, because culture is the constraint within which we work. I’d like to share a few thoughts on the cultural differences between the US and Switzerland. I’m not a sociologist, so maybe they’re a bit naive, but I think they make sense and we should pay attention to them.

Not to say that all is impossible “because of culture”, but I do believe that there are cultural reasons this area is not “another Silicon Valley”. I don’t mean that it cannot become a good place for entrepreneurs. I hope it can, but if it can, it will be in a rather different way than the US, and taking into account the cultural differences between the two areas.

Let’s look at the heritage of Switzerland and the US.

Switzerland is over 900 years old as a nation, and the people living in these areas have been occupying them for a looong time. (There’s immigration, of course, proof typing these letters, but our culture has not been shaped by it in the distant past.) We are stable here. We don’t move. We are the decendants of farmers and mercenaries, and people who decided to “go alone” (Schwytz, Uri, Unterwald in 1291) besides the big political powers of the time. Face it, we’re a bit better than our neighbours and we don’t really need anybody.

The USA, on the other hand, is a young nation, founded by adventurers or pilgrims who set off to cross the bloody Atlantic to settle on a new continent peopled by savages (that’s how they must have seen things at the time). Many would die. It was risky. It was the land for innovators, for those who were not afraid of new things, who would try to do things differently. Dream a dream and make it come true.

These are (part of) our cultural backgrounds. Now, you can go against the grain, there are exceptions, but to some extent, we are prisoners of our culture, or at least, we must work within it.

I think that this historical and cultural heritage can help explain why the US is often branded as “entrepreneur-friendly” (what is new is better, and innovators and risk-takers are the kings) whereas in Switzerland, we are seen as more risk-averse. As we say in French, we tend to want to chop off the heads that stand out from the crowd. Don’t draw attention to yourself. I think the Swiss are less naturally inclined towards self-promotion, for example.

Now, these are cultural trends. An atmosphere. It doesn’t mean you won’t find risk-averse Americans, or extraordinary Swiss entrepreneurs. But I think these cultural traits end up being reflected in our institutions.

For example, during the session, Lucie mentioned how many administrative hurdles an entrepreneur needed to go through here to even get close to receiving money.

Another thing that came up which rings very true to me is that in Switzerland, we are really very comfortable. And as employees, particularly. Things like a mere two-week notice (what seems current in the US) would be unthinkable here (you get a month when you start, and it goes up to two and even three months after a few years of employment for the same company). We have incredibly good unemployment benefits (over a year at 80% of your last salary).

Now, I would not dare suggest we give up the security we have here in Switzerland. No way! But we have to take this into account when analysing the situation. If we want to improve things for entrepreneurs here, we need to identify the problem and offer solutions to it. And those solutions need to take into account things that we cannot change, like cultural settings.

So, what can we do?

It was pointed out during the session that there are lots of local initiatives to encourage entrepreneurs, but they tend to be stuck in silos. An index of all the “happenings” here would be a good start. It was also suggested to bring Venture to Suisse Romande on the years it’s not happening in Suisse Allemande.

Discussion participants wrote ideas down on a big sheet of paper at the end of the session, and Vittorio said he’s make something available from the discussion page on the Lift conference website. Keep an eye on there. Things are going to happen.

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Posted in Being the boss, My corner of the world | Tagged business, Culture, entrepreneuring, entrepreneurs, geneva, heritage, history, lac léman, lausanne, léman lake leman, silicon valley, Stuff that doesn't fit, suisse romande, switzerland, usa, web 2.0 | Leave a comment

WordPress Finally Has Tags!

[fr] Après des années d'errance, WordPress implémente enfin un système de tags qui ne sont pas des catégories. Un billet un peu plus complet en français s'impose probablement. Qu'en pensez-vous?

I’ve known for some time that version 2.3 of WordPress would support real tagging. Today, Matt has just announced the deployment of tagging on WordPress.com.

From the start, I’ve been a very vocal supporter of the differentiation between tags and categories — and I really appreciate Matt acknowledging this in his announcement.

When I first met Matt offline for the first time nearly a year ago, at Blogtalk Reloaded in Vienna, I jumped on the occasion to pester him about tags and categories. He listened — but I don’t think he was convinced at the time.

A few months later, I was in San Francisco — and one of the first things Matt told me when we met again was “you know, I finally saw the light about tags and categories”. He told me version 2.3 would have both. I was overjoyed. I’ll never know exactly what role I played in Matt’s “seeing the light”, but I like to think I contributed :-)

Looking back in time, Technorati started indexing tags in January 2005. They weren’t new for me then (I’d been tagging things on del.icio.us since May 2004 and on Flickr since October of the same year) but clearly, being able to tag posts was a great thing. You know me — my brain can’t sit still — two days later, I was rambling about some ways to combine tags in searches/sorting. Some of the stuff I talk about in there isn’t possible yet, but I hope it will someday.

Two days after that, I wrote my first WordPress plugin, Bunny’s Technorati Tags — which became quite popular and which I still use to this day.

I’m really glad to be able to retire this plugin, specially as Peter Westwood has written an importer for it. That means you should have no problems converting your bunny-tags into wp-tags. Thank you very much, Peter.

Bear with me while I dig though my archives: weighted tags by category is something I’d forgotten I’d wanted… does anything like that exist now?

My only gripe with the implementation of tags in WordPress, for the moment, is that they will be comma-separated. No! Please! We’ve been typing space-separated tags into Flickr and del.icio.us for three years now. Three years! When I chose space-separation for the tags in my plugin, it was because the existing interfaces for tags did it like that.

Spaces, please. Or at least an option to input them space-separated. Or a simple plugin. Tags separated by spaces, and multi-word tags between quotes.

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Posted in Wordpress | Tagged announcement, Blogger musings, blogging, bunny-tags, commas, history, input, interface, plugin, spaces, tagging, tags, Weblog Technology, Wordpress, wordpress.com | 4 Comments

Disturbed About Reactions to Kathy Sierra’s Post

[fr] Comme cela avait été le cas lors de l'affaire SarkoWeb3, la blosophère s'est maintenant emparée de la triste histoire des menaces reçues par Kathy Sierra, telle une meute affamée et sans cervelle. Hypothèses présentées pour faits, coupable car non prouvé innocents, noms, déformation d'information, téléphone arabe, réactions émotionnelles trop vite bloguées et sans penser... tout y est.

Encore une fois, je suis déçue des gens.

Since I read and posted about Kathy Sierra’s latest post, and stayed up until 3am looking at blog post after blog post pop up on Technorati and Google Blogsearch, I’ve been growing increasingly uneasy about what I was reading in the blogosphere.

Like many other people I suppose, I was hit with this “tell me it ain’t so” feeling (denial!) that makes one sick in the stomach upon reading that Kathy had cancelled her ETech appearance out of fear for her safety. My heart went out to her. Of course, I felt angry at the people who had cause her such fear, and I also felt quite a bit of concern at seeing known blogger names appear in the context of this ugly affair.

And then, of course, there was the matter of getting the word out there. I blogged it (and blogged it soon — I’ll be candid about this: I realised it was breaking news, heck, I even twittered it before Arrington did!), and although I did use words like “horrible” and “unacceptable” (which are pretty strong in my dictionary, if you are familiar with my blogging habits), I refrained from repeating the names mentioned in Kathy’s post or demanding that the culprits be lynched.

One of the reasons for this is that I had to re-read some parts of Kathy’s post a couple of times to be quite certain to what extent she was reporting these people to be involved. Upon first reading, I was just shocked, and stunned, and I knew I’d read some bits a bit fast. I also knew that I had Kathy’s side of the story here, and though I have no reasons to doubt her honesty, I know that reality, what really happened, usually lies somewhere in between the different accounts of a story one can gather from the various parties involved. So I took care not to point fingers, and not to name names in a situation I had no first-hand information about, to the point of not knowing any of the actors in it personally.

In doing this, and taking these precautions, I consider that I am trying to do my job as a responsible blogger.

Unfortunately, one quick look at most of the posts coming out of Technorati or Google Blogsearch shows (still now, over 15 hours after Kathy posted) a collection of knee-jerk reactions, side-taking, verbal lynching, and rising up to the defense of noble causes. There are inaccurate facts in blog posts, conjectures presented as fact, calls to arms of various types, and catchy, often misleading, headlines. I tend to despise the mainstream press increasingly for their use of manipulative headlines, but honestly, what I see some bloggers doing here is no better.

Welcome to the blogmob.

The blogmob is nothing new, of course. My first real encounter with the mob was in May 2001, when Kaycee Nicole Swenson died (or so it seemed) and somebody dared suggest she might not have existed. The mob was mainly on MetaFilter at that time, but there were very violent reactions towards the early proponents of the “hoax” hypothesis. Finally, it was demonstrated that Kaycee was indeed a hoax. This was also my first encounter with somebody who was sick and twisted enough to make up a fictional character, Kaycee, a cancer victim, and keep her alive online for over two years, mixing lies and reality to a point barely imaginable. I — and many others — fell for it.

Much more recently, I’ve seen the larger, proper blogmob at work in two episodes I had “first-hand knowledge” about. The first, after the LeWeb3-Sarkozy debacle, when bad judgement, unclear agendas, politics and clumsy communication came together and pissed off a non-trivial number of bloggers who were attending LeWeb3. There were angry posts, there were constructive ones and those which were less, and then the blogmob came in, with hundreds of bloggers who asked for Loïc’s head on a plate based on personal, second-hand accounts of what had happened, without digging a bit to try to get to the bottom of the story. Loïc had messed up, oh yes he had, but that didn’t justify painting him flat-out evil as the blogmob did. In Francophonia it got so bad that this episode and its aftermath was (in my analysis) the death stroke for comments on Loïc’s blog, and he decided to shut them down.

The second (and last episode I’ll recount here) is when the whole blogosphere went a-buzz about how Wikipedia was going to shut down three months from now. Words spoken at LIFT’07 went through many chinese whisper (UK) / Telephone (US) filters to turn into a rather dramatic announcement, which was then relayed by just about anybody who had a blog. Read about how the misinformation spread and what the facts were.

So, what’s happening right now? The first comments I read on Kathy’s post were reactions of shock, and expressions of support. Lots of them. Over the blogosphere, people were busy getting the news out there by relaying the information on their blogs. Some (like me) shared stories. As the hours went by, I began to see trends:

  • this is awful, shocking, unacceptable
  • the guilty must be punished
  • women are oppressed, unsafe
  • the blogosphere is becoming unsafe!

Where it gets disturbing, and where really, really, I’m disappointed and think bloggers should know better, is when I read headlines or statements like this (and I’m not going to link to all these but you’ll find them easily enough):

  • “Kathy Sierra v. Chris Locke”
  • “Kathy Sierra to Stop Blogging!”
  • “Kathy Sierra hate campaign”
  • throwing around names like “psychopath” and “terrorist” to describe the people involved
  • “Personally I am disgusted with myself for buying and recommending Chris Locke’s book…” and the like
  • the assumption that there is a unique person behind the various incidents Kathy describes
  • taking for fact that Chris Locke, Jeneane Sessum, Alan Herrell or Frank Paynter are involved, directly, and in an evil way (which is taking Kathy’s post a step further than what it actually says, for the least)

In my previous post, I’ve tried to link to blog posts which actually bring some added value. Most of the others are just helping the echo chamber echo louder, at this point. Kathy’s post is (understandably) a little emotional (whether it is by design as

I’d like to end this post with a recap of what I’ve understood so far. (“What I’ve understood” means that there might be mistakes here, but I’m giving an honest account of what I managed to piece together.) I’m working under the assumption that the people involved are giving honest accounts of their side of the story, and hoping that this will not unravel like the Kaycee story did to reveal the presence of a sick, twisted liar somewhere.

Please, Blogosphere. Keep your wits. This is a messy ugly story, and oversimplications will help nobody. Holding people guilty until proven innocent doesn’t either. (Trust me, I’ve been on the receiving end of unfounded accusations because somebody didn’t hear my side of the story, and it sucks.)

The problem with bullying is that perceived meanness isn’t the same on both sides. Often, to the bully, the act is “just harsh” or “not to be taken seriously” (to what extent that is really believed, or is some kind of twisted rationalisation is not clear to me). To the bullied, however, the threats are very real, even if they were not really intended so. Bullying is also a combination of small things which add up to being intolerable. People in groups also tend to behave quite differently than what they would taken isolately, the identity of the individual tending to dissolve into the group identity. Anonymity (I’ve blogged about this many times, try a search) encourages people to not take responsibility for what they say, and therefore gives them more freedom to be mean. Has something like this happened here?

If you have something thoughtful to say, then say it. But if all you have to say has already been said out there ten times, or if you won’t take the trouble to check your sources, read carefully, calm down before blogging, avoid over-generalisations, and thus avoid feeding the already bloated echo-chamber — just go out for a walk in the sun and let the people involved sort themselves out.

The word is out there, way enough, and I trust that we’ll get to the bottom of the story in time.

Update: I’m adding new links which actually add something to this story to my first post as I find them, so check over there for updates.

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Posted in Connected Life | Tagged alanherrell, Blogger musings, blogging, blogmob, Blogosphere Interest, bullying, chinesewhispers, chrislocke, deaththreats, disinformation, Essay-Like, frankpaynter, group, history, jeneanesessum, kathysierra, kaycee, kayceenicoleswenson, leweb3, lies, lift07, llm, loïclemeur, meankids, mentality, metafilter, mob, Online Culture, Psychology / Sociology, sarkoweb3, sarkozy, subjectivity, Theories on Life and the World, twitter, unclebobism, Venting, video, Vie de la blogosphère, wikipedia | 24 Comments

Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

[fr] Une vidéo qui vaut vraiment la peine d'être regardée (si vous comprenez l'anglais).

I really enjoyed this video and want to share it with you.

Thanks to Joi for pointing it out on IRC.

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Posted in Social Media and the Web | Tagged Cyberspace, demonstration, evolution, history, internet, Internet / Computers, Psychology / Sociology, video, Videos, web, web2.0, youtube | 12 Comments

SpiroLattic Resurrection

[fr] En 2001, j'ai créé ce qui était (à ma connaissance) le premier wiki qui soit à la fois conforme aux standards web, joli, et partiellement francophone. Je fais dans ce billet l'historique du wiki, des pages marquantes qu'il a hébergées (dont la page qui a donné naissance à SwissBlogs.com!), de sa mort par le spam, et de sa lente résurrection. J'ai récupéré certaines pages dans l'archive internet.

In November 2001, I discovered wikis. I decided to set one up for myself and the people I was gravitating around with: SpiroLattic. The wiki died due to spam and is now up again. Prepare for a trip down memory lane.

Back in 2001, I was all a-buzz about web standards, after the “browser push” campaign. Who remembers those times? It seems like so long ago, now. I first thought about it, translated “To Hell With Bad Browsers” and launched Pompage.net in the process, before converting my site to a tableless layout and publishing a tutorial which soon became pretty popular. As I understood very recently during an interview, I’m interested in doing what not many people are doing. I like the cutting-edge stuff. So at the time, it was web standards — because people needed evangelising and convincing that you could do great stuff with CSS, and that producing standards-compliant markup was important. Now, most people are sold on the topic, so I’ve moved on. I guess that when nobody wonders if they need a blog or not, or what blogs can do for them, I’ll have moved on to something else too.

So, anyway. That’s for the historical context. At the end of 2001, there were hardly any French-language wikis (I think I found a couple), and wikis were bland-looking and didn’t validate.

So, I downloaded PHPWiki, because it was in PHP and I knew I could hack it, dug through lines and lines of code, and finally ended up with a wiki engine which output valid HTML. Then, with the help of Stephanie Troeth, who came up with the neat background graphic and kept my bad design sense in check while I did the CSS, I came up with what was, to my knowledge, the first pretty standards-compliant wiki.

We had fun for a moment with it. It was bilingual, like CTTS. We talked about hiding one’s real name, about education. I wrote one of the first articles on what a weblog was in French on SpiroLattic: C’est quoi un weblog?. Sometime in May 2002, I started collecting all the Swiss blogs I could lay my hands upon, and that list grew and grew, to finally become SwissBlogs.

So, what happened?

Well, first, the wiki never reached critical mass, so contributions slowly dwindled away. Then, spam. Some of the pages on the wiki were very popular and became the target of ugly spambots. At some point, I got tired of cleaning up all the spam and decided to pull the site down and install another engine. Which I did. It just took time.

So, dating from today, SpiroLattic is back into existance. As transferring the pages from PHPwiki to MediaWiki proved a monstrous problem, particularly as I don’t have a working install of PHPwiki anymore, I’ve hunted through the internet archive for clean versions of some old pages that I’ve either transferred into the new wiki or just collected on a special page.

I know it won’t reach critical mass or even attract much public, but at least I have a wiki playground for whenever I need it!

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Posted in Web Standards | Tagged alistapart, browserpush, browserupgrade, Essay-Like, history, internet, mediawiki, Offsite, phpwiki, pompagenet, pretty, spirolattic, swissblogs.com, wasp, Web Standards, webstandards, wiki | 4 Comments