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Vision for W3C

This is exactly what I'd hope to see from a standards organization like the W3C:

"W3C leads the community in defining a World Wide Web that puts users first, by developing technical standards and guidelines to empower an equitable, informed, and interconnected society.

The fundamental function of W3C today is to provide an open forum where diverse voices from around the world and from different organizations and industries work together to evolve the web by building consensus on voluntary global standards for Web technologies."

There's no shirking away from the importance of equity or diversity: it's right there in the first two paragraphs of the vision, and stated again further down in more detail:

"Diversity: We believe in diversity and inclusion of participants from different geographical locations, cultures, languages, disabilities, gender identities, industries, organizational sizes, and more. In order to ensure W3C serves the needs of the entire Web user base, we also strive to broaden diversity and inclusion for our own participants."

This is exactly as it should be, and it makes me really happy to see it. Of course, this is only a draft of sorts from the working group; it needs to now get consensus from the wider organization. I hope its pro-human focus remains front and center.

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What you see

"Too often, [...] we assume that the person who is the object of our feedback has something to learn and fail to notice the same thing about ourselves."

This is a really important observation. Without checking ourselves, our feedback can be a way to ensure our vision remains myopic, and can enforce a kind of conservatism that (like all conservatism, I believe) ultimately serves nobody.

Feedback is important, but curiosity, care, and respect are even more important. Starting off with an assumption that our colleague might know something we don't - and a need to get to the "why" of everything we notice, and consider what we might not be noticing - is more than healthy.

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AI isn't useless. But is it worth it?

"I find my feelings about AI are actually pretty similar to my feelings about blockchains: they do a poor job of much of what people try to do with them, they can't do the things their creators claim they one day might, and many of the things they are well suited to do may not be altogether that beneficial."

This description of the uses and pitfalls of the current generation of AI tools is a characteristically sharp breakdown from Molly White.

I've found AI useful for similar sorts of things: proofreading in particular. But I agree with her conclusions - in fact, I agree with every single point she brings up in this piece. One to share with your colleagues who are thinking about deeply integrating LLMs based on the hype cycle alone.

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Amazon is filled with garbage ebooks. Here’s how they get made.

"Virtually every single part of the self-publishing grift world that can be automated or monetized has been automated and monetized."

This is a really depressing read: fascinating, for sure, but what's left unsaid is what happens to traditional publishing as these folks become more and more successful, and book marketplaces become more and more saturated.

Or perhaps it'll drive everyone to real-life bookstores? There, at least, I know I'm not going to run into the kind of trash sold by Big Luca or the Mikkelsen Twins.

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What’s next for me…

"I am absolutely convinced that journalism’s most essential role at this critical moment goes far, far beyond what it’s doing. The status quo in political (and related) coverage consists of sporadically noting that gosh-maybe-there’s-a-problem, while sticking mostly to journalistic business as usual. The status quo is journalistic malpractice."

A strong implied call to action from Dan Gillmor, who has long argued for a more principled journalism industry (alongside a more principled software ecosystem that supports it).

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Making version noir

This is completely lovely: a responsive, noir-inspired personal homepage in the form of a comic. I'm inspired.

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The Thing That's Coming

An interesting opinion piece about the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the aftermath thereof, and how it all relates to the election.

"But even if we had performed adequate maintenance, the bridge was probably doomed. Dali is the size and mass of a skyscraper (far larger than container ships used to be permitted to be, but larger ships lower prices in supply chains, and lower prices in supply chains help profits, and profits are important)."

And:

"DEI is just diversity, equity, and inclusion, by the way. That's all it is. It's become the new word that racists say when they want to say a slur but they realize they're in mixed company. It's a handy watchword for people who have decided that every problem is the result of the proximal existence of Black people and other marginalized people groups, because what they actually intend is to end the existence of such people, as soon as they can, with as much violence as possible."

And:

"Things are already very very bad for a great number of people in this country; institutional supremacy sees to that, and this supremacy is mostly accommodated by power—not only by openly fascist power like the cabal of creepy Christian weirdos who want to control everyone's bodies, but by run-of-the mill power, because run-of-the-mill power is interested in keeping things as they are, and mostly recognizes supremacy as what it is, which is the way things are."

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The US aims to 'crack the code' on scaling up geothermal energy production

This hadn't really been on my radar:

"Just one type of next generation geothermal — called superhot rock energy, where deep drilling reaches temperatures 400 degrees Celsius (752 degrees Fahrenheit) or hotter — is abundant enough to theoretically fulfill the world’s power requirements. In fact, just 1 percent of the world’s superhot rock potential could provide 63 terawatts of clean firm power, which would meet global electricity demand nearly eight times over."

What's absolutely fascinating to me is the idea that fracking techniques could be used to unlock geothermal energy. Is that good? Fracking has negative side effects that go beyond the carbon footprint from oil and gas. On the other hand, of course, moving away from fossil fuels is obviously great.

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Here's the column Meta doesn't want you to see

"On Thursday I reported that Meta had blocked all links to the Kansas Reflector from approximately 8am to 4pm, citing cybersecurity concerns after the nonprofit published a column critical of Facebook’s climate change ad policy. By late afternoon, all links were once again able to be posted on Facebook, Threads and Instagram–except for the critical column."

Here it is. And if this censorship is taking place, it's quite concerning:

"I had suspected such might be the case, because all the posts I made prior to the attempted boost seemed to drop off the radar with little response. As I took a closer look, I found others complaining about Facebook squelching posts related to climate change."

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Why we invented a new metric for measuring readership

"One particular piece of the journalism model that is broken? How news organizations measure their readership."

Pageviews are not a million miles away from hits - which is how we measured success in 2003. This is much-needed innovation from The 19th. Alexandra Smith, who wrote this piece and works on audience there, is brilliant and is a voice who should be listened to across journalism and beyond.

The trick isn't convincing a newsroom to consider these ideas. The real trick is to get funders and the broader ecosystem on board. But it's work that must be done.

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A ProPublica Lawsuit Over Military Court Access Moves Forward

From my colleagues: "ProPublica has “plausibly alleged that the issued guidelines are clearly inconsistent with Congress’ mandate.” This is most apparent, the judge said, in the allegation that the Navy denies the public access to all records in cases that end in acquittals."

ProPublica continues to do great work not just in its reporting, but in setting the groundwork for open reporting in the public interest.

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Replay: Memoir of an Uprooted Family, by Jordan Mechner

Just fabulous. Maybe it's because his family history is not a world of different from mine, or maybe it's because his journey and interests feels intertwined with my own, but I wept openly as I read the final third of this. It's beautiful and heartbreaking; true and relevant; deeply resonant in the way Maus was a generation ago. I learned about myself as I read it; I can't recommend it enough.

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With 'Cowboy Carter,' Black country music fans are front and center, at last

"In interviews with The 19th, a dozen Black fans of country discussed reconciling their love for the music with its racist, misogynistic past, as well as the pervasive image of White men who continue to dominate the mainstream industry. They are hopeful that Beyoncé and “Cowboy Carter,” released Friday, will help elevate Black country artists and serve as a bridge for more Black people to feel comfortable listening."

It's a superb album: musically and thematically breathtaking. Even if you might not ordinarily listen to Beyoncé (the "why" of which might be worth examining in itself), you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

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Facebook let Netflix see user DMs, quit streaming to keep Netflix happy: Lawsuit

"By 2013, Netflix had begun entering into a series of “Facebook Extended API” agreements, including a so-called “Inbox API” agreement that allowed Netflix programmatic access to Facebook’s users' private message inboxes, in exchange for which Netflix would “provide to FB a written report every two weeks that shows daily counts of recommendation sends and recipient clicks.”"

This seems like it should be wildly illegal - collusion on user data to the point where a third party had access to users' private messages. I have to assume that this data was then used as part of Netflix's then-famous recommendation algorithm.

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Russell T. Davies on Why Doctor Who's Disney Partnership Is So Important

"You’ve also got to look at the long-term, at the end of the BBC, which somehow is surely undoubtedly on its way in some shape or form. What, is Doctor Who going to die then?"

This is a pretty clear-eyed quote from Russell T Davies. And there's more here, which is all about finding ways to tell these stories using whatever tools and vehicles and funding are available right now to do it.

Doctor Who is the best TV show ever made - and I'm grateful that he keeps finding ways to make it work.

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The Deaths of Effective Altruism

"This is a stranger story of how some small-time philosophers captured some big-bet billionaires, who in turn captured the philosophers—and how the two groups spun themselves into an opulent vortex that has sucked up thousands of bright minds worldwide."

This jumped out to me:

"If you’re earning-to-give, you should maximize your wealth. And if you think each moment should be optimized for profit, you’ll never choose to spend resources on boring grown-up things like auditors and a chief financial officer. For SBF, good-for-me-now and good-for-everyone-always started to merge into one."

It's absolutely bankrupt thinking - and at the same time, absolutely rife. This isn't how we make the world better for everyone. But plenty of people have tricked themselves (and/or the people around them) into thinking it is.

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Facebook and X gave up on news. LinkedIn wants to fill the void

"All of this has led to some pretty serious soul-searching among America’s journalists. Is the future email newsletters? Will podcasts save the news? Does everything need to be short vertical video now? Well, here’s a question that it might be time to start asking: What about LinkedIn?"

More evidence sits below:

"According to a Pew survey released last November, a little under a quarter of LinkedIn users say they get their news on the site. According to that same survey, LinkedIn news consumers are fairly evenly split between men and women, are overwhelmingly liberal, and almost 70% of them are under 49. So even though the platform may feel like an artifact from a different era of the web, where social networks functioned primarily as directories of personal contacts, that does appear to be changing."

I don't particularly like it, but I understand why LinkedIn might be a good partial solution. My eggs remain in the decentralized social web basket: I think the Fediverse remains the ecosystem with the best possible outcomes for publishers, both in terms of potential audience and how publishers can own their relationships with their communities.

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Lawsuit filed by Elon Musk's X against CCDH thrown out by judge

"A federal judge in California dismissed a lawsuit filed by Elon Musk’s X against the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, writing in a judgement Monday that the “case is about punishing the Defendants for their speech.”"

Irony alert!

This was always going to happen: Musk's complaint sat on shaky ground, and the man himself is a hypocrite who says he believes in free speech but is seeking to squash speech he doesn't like at every turn.

My questions are about his other companies. He's shown his true colors through the Twitter acquisition; at what point do stakeholders at SpaceX and Tesla say enough is enough?

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Pedal coast-to-coast without using a road? New program helps connect trails across the US

This is completely lovely and the kind of thing America absolutely should be doing.

"O’Neil hopes the trail born from eastern Indiana’s old railroad tracks will eventually become a central cog in the proposed Great American Rail-Trail — a continuous network of walking and biking routes spanning from Washington state to Washington, D.C."

Yes, please!

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Elon Musk, X Fought Surveillance While Profiting Off Surveillance

"While it was unclear whether, under Musk, X would continue leasing access to its users to Dataminr — and by extension, the government — the emails from the Secret Service confirm that, as of last summer, the social media platform was still very much in the government surveillance business."

The hypocrisy shouldn't be particularly surprising, of course. And we have to assume that something similar is happening with every centralized system. But there is an undeniably rich irony in the gap between what Musk says and what he does.

"Privacy advocates told The Intercept that X’s Musk-era warnings of government surveillance abuses are contradictory to the company’s continued sale of user data for the purpose of government surveillance."

Quite.

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Threads has entered the fediverse

"We’re taking a phased approach to Threads’ fediverse integration to ensure we can continue to build responsibly and get valuable feedback from our users and the fediverse community."

It's really great to see Meta do this and communicate well about it. However you see the company, it's a big step for one of the tech giants to embrace the open social web in this way.

In the future, this is how every new social platform will be built - so take note both on the detail and of their overall approach.

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Big Journalism’s hopeless myopia

"One way you know that it’s business as usual for journalists is that so many have remained on Twitter, a platform whose owner has taken right-wing trollery to extremes lately. He loudly supports people who want to install a fascist government in the United States, and it’s clear enough that he would support fascism if and when it arrives."

"[...] If fascism arrives, a lot of these journalists will be fine. After all, they’re helping to create the conditions for a new Trump presidency. But a lot more will not be fine — and even the ones that are in favor under a Trump government will eventually realize that their safety and livelihoods are at the whim of the extreme right-wing cultists who’ll be in control."

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The Intercept charts a new legal strategy for digital publishers suing OpenAI

A detail I hadn't noticed: while the New York Times OpenAI lawsuit rested on copyright infringement, the Intercept, Raw Story, and AlterNet are claiming a DMCA violation.

"A study released this month by Patronus AI, a startup launched by former Meta researchers, found that GPT-4 reproduced copyrighted content at the highest rate among popular LLMs. When asked to finish a passage of a copyrighted novel, GPT-4 reproduced the text verbatim 60% of the time. The new lawsuits similarly allege that ChatGPT reproduces journalistic works near-verbatim when prompted."

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AI Is Threatening My Tech and Lifestyle Content Mill

"Sure, our articles maintain a rigid SEO template that creatively resembles the kitchen at a poorly run Quiznos, and granted, all our story ideas are gleaned from better-written magazine articles from seven months ago (that we’re totally not plagiarizing), but imagine if AI wrote those articles? So much would be lost."

Touché.

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ASCII art elicits harmful responses from 5 major AI chatbots

"Researchers have discovered a new way to hack AI assistants that uses a surprisingly old-school method: ASCII art."

So many LLM exploits come down to finding ways to convince an engine to disregard its own programming. It's straight out of 1980s science fiction, like teaching an android to lie. To be successful, you have to understand how LLMs "think", and then exploit that.

This one in particular is so much fun. By telling it to interpret an ASCII representation of a word and keep the meaning in memory without saying it out loud, front-line harm mitigations can be bypassed. It's like a magic spell.

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