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Sharing Openly About ShareOpenly

[Alan Levine at CogDogBlog]

"ShareOpenly breaks the door even wider than sharing to Mastodon, and I intend to be using it to update some of my examples listed above. Thanks Ben for demonstrative and elegant means of sharing."

Thank you, Alan, for sharing!

There's more to come on ShareOpenly - more platforms to add, and some tweaks to the CSS so that the whole thing works better on older devices or smaller phone screens. It's a simple tool, but I'm pleased with how people have reacted to it, and how it's been carried forward.

There are no terms to sign and there's nothing to sign up for; adding a modern "share this" button to your site is as easy as following a few very simple instructions.


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Microsoft Refused to Fix Flaw Years Before SolarWinds Hack

[Renee Dudley at ProPublica]

"Former [Microsoft] employee says software giant dismissed his warnings about a critical flaw because it feared losing government business. Russian hackers later used the weakness to breach the National Nuclear Security Administration, among others."

This is a damning story about profit over principles: Microsoft failed to close a major security flaw that left the government (alongside other customers) vulnerable because it wanted to win their business. This directly paved the way for the SolarWinds hack.

This doesn't seem to have been covert or subtext at Microsoft:

"Morowczynski told Harris that his approach could also undermine the company’s chances of getting one of the largest government computing contracts in U.S. history, which would be formally announced the next year. Internally, Nadella had made clear that Microsoft needed a piece of this multibillion-dollar deal with the Pentagon if it wanted to have a future in selling cloud services, Harris and other former employees said."

But publicly it said something very different:

"From the moment the hack surfaced, Microsoft insisted it was blameless. Microsoft President Brad Smith assured Congress in 2021 that “there was no vulnerability in any Microsoft product or service that was exploited” in SolarWinds."

It will be interesting to see what the fallout of this disclosure is, and whether Microsoft and other companies might be forced behave differently in the future. This story represents business as usual, and without external pressure, it's likely that nothing will change.


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A Link Blog in the Year 2024

"After 17 of using Twitter daily and 24 years of using Google daily neither really works anymore. And particular with the collapse of the social spaces many of us grew up with, I feel called back to earlier forms of the Internet, like blogs, and in particular, starting a link blog."

Yay for link blogs! I've been finding this particularly rewarding. You're reading a post from mine right now.

Kellan wrote his own software to do this, based on links stored in Pinboard. Mine is based on Notion: I write an entry in markdown, which then seeds integrations that convert the bookmark into an HTML post on my website and various text posts for social media.

Simon Willison has noted that adding markdown support has meant he writes longer entries; that's been true for me, too. It's really convenient.

Most of all: I love learning from people I connect, follow, and subscribe to. Particularly in a world where search engines are falling apart as a way to really discover new writers and sources, link blogs are incredibly useful. It's lovely to find another one.


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Is Microsoft trying to commit suicide?

Microsoft's Recall software seems like a horrible idea:

"Surprise! It turns out that the unencrypted database and the stored images may contain your user credentials and passwords. And other stuff. Got a porn habit? Congratulations, anyone with access to your user account can see what you've been seeing. Use a password manager like 1Password? Sorry, your 1Password passwords are probably visible via Recall, now."

Worse, it's going to be built into Windows 11 for all compatible hardware, in a way that will make it hard or impossible to disable. This doesn't make sense to me: which privacy-conscious CIO (just for example, one working in a well-regulated industry where privacy is a legal requirement) would allow this to roll out? This is yet another reason for Windows 10 to remain the most popular version.

It also seems like nobody at Microsoft (or nobody at Microsoft with power) has considered the potentially serious social implications of what they're building:

"Victims of domestic abuse are at risk of their abuser trawling their PC for any signs that they're looking for help. Anyone who's fallen for a scam that gave criminals access to their PC is also completely at risk."

I'm increasingly concerned about what Apple will be rolling out on Monday. We're hearing quite believable rumors that it'll be AI-based, but is it going to be Apple's take on the same thing? That, too, has the potential to be a disaster.

Once again, I can't believe that the only way to get away from this stuff will be to run Linux on the desktop.


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Online Privacy and Overfishing

"The pervasive nature of modern technology makes surveillance easier than ever before, while each successive generation of the public is accustomed to the privacy status quo of their youth."

The key, as Bruce Schneier argues here, is not to compare with our own baselines, but to take a step back and consider what a healthy ecosystem would look like in its own right.

The underlying story here is that Microsoft caught state-backed hackers using its generative AI tools to help with their attacks, and people were less worried about the attacks themselves than about how Microsoft found out about them. It's a reasonable worry, and I thought the same thing: if Microsoft found this, then they're likely more aware of the contextual uses of their platform than we might assume.

This is certainly less private than computing was twenty or thirty years ago. But it's not a major iteration on where we were five years ago, and without intervention we're likely to see more erosion of user privacy over the next five years.

So what should our standards for privacy be overall? How should we expect a company like Microsoft to treat our potentially sensitive data? Should we pay more for more security, or should it just be a blanket expectation? These are all valid questions - although I also have ready, opinionated answers.

Perhaps the more important question is: who has the right to come to a conclusion about these questions, and how will they be enforced? As of now, it's still open.


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How Tony Stubblebine turned Medium around in the AI era

This is a lovely piece about Tony Stubblebine, who, as it rightly says, is doing an excellent job as the new CEO of Medium.

"Under Stubblebine’s direction, Medium, a site known for its many pivots, is finally being strategic about what it wants and where it’s headed. Last year, it launched a Mastodon server for premium users, and in March it demonetized AI-generated content on its platform. It is solidly on the side of team human and is finally starting to see that pay off."

I worked at Medium in 2016-2017, and I've known Tony since 2007. I genuinely like Ev, too, but I think Tony was a fantastic choice of leader, and that's really bearing out in his choices over the last few years. I was particularly happy when Medium launched its own Mastodon instance to check out the network and help give it some cloud in certain circles.

"It’s hard not to want to root for Medium. The assumption for more than a decade has been that the way the internet has to work will be determined by what makes the most money for a handful of companies. They wanted us to post content, then they wanted us to share content, then they wanted us to watch it endlessly, and now they want us to use their AI, which will create a bubble we’ll live in forever."

I agree.


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How Black Lives Became The Hidden Cost of Clean Energy

"The nation, fractured by war, disease, and famine, has seen more than 6 million people die since the mid-1990s, making the conflict the deadliest since World War II. But, in recent years, the death and destruction have been aided by the growing number of electric vehicles humming down American streets."

A good reminder that our desire for batteries and power has a human impact, no matter which path we take. Renewable energy is still a far better choice, but we run the risk of thinking that "clean" tech is truly clean without doing the work necessary to ensure that everyone in the supply chain is well taken care of.

Solidarity campaigns and activism to protect peoples' lives are good, but it's notable that we never really get to hear about them, and this issue is rarely, if ever, mentioned in the tech press.

As the piece points out:

"“We’re always on the menu, but we’re never at the table,” he said. “The space of transportation planning and climate change is mostly white people, or people of color that aren’t Black, so these discussions about exploitation aren’t happening in those spaces — it is almost like a second form of colonialism.”"


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User Research Is Storytelling

I shared this with my team and one of them said they had to check that I didn't write it. This is exactly how I think about (and ask my team to think about) rooting software development in human needs.

"All the elements of a good story are there in the three-act structure of user research." And if I'd written a post about it, it might look a little bit like this one.

There's a reason for the closeness: both our processes were informed by Nancy Duarte, who is very clear about the role of the three act structure. The details of my approach are a little bit different to what’s laid out in this post - something I may write about in a future post.


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Unexpected Anti-Patterns for Engineering Leaders

"The key to effective engineering leadership lies in figuring out which scenarios are worth deliberately defying conventional logic, and when to simply follow the rules."

Lots of good food for thought here. I've definitely been guilty of some of the anti-patterns here - particularly trying to be an umbrella for my team, which can leave people out of the loop and let them feel like they're lacking needed transparency.

The key is being able to jump in and get into the weeds when it's helpful, get out when it's not, and give everybody the context, culture, information, and resources they need in order to do their best work in service of the mission, vision, and strategy.

Speaking of, I love this:

"There’s this pervasive belief that there’s no strategy anywhere, but that’s not true. There is strategy everywhere, it’s just rarely written."

That's been true of every organization I've joined, and - if I'm honest with myself - every organization I've started.

"Complicating things even further, Larson also has found that many companies do have a habit of writing things down, they just aren’t the right things. “It’s the small decisions that end up getting documented,” Larson says. “You’d think it would be the opposite, but in my experience, the answers to important questions like, ‘Why did we go into this business? Why are we shutting down this business line? Why are we doing this services migration that's going to take five years?’ literally aren't written down anywhere.”"

Encouraging people to write reflections, to capture the "why" of decisions that were made, and, essentially, to journal the journey of the team and the company is rarely done, but I think forms part of a solution to many problems.


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Who actually uses Instagram’s Threads app? Taiwanese protestors

"While young Taiwanese users discuss everything from relationships to celebrity gossip on Threads, the app has gradually become a gathering space for progressives, who favor independence from China to defend the island’s democracy."

Threads has an official stance of not promoting political use. This is an example, though, of how any social platform will be political whether you want it to be or not - and therefore how the challenges and responsibilities surrounding that speech will present themselves regardless of whether you want them to.

I think there's no alternative: every mass social platform must assume that it will host political content from vulnerable groups (as well as powerful ones) and staff up appropriately.


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Nostr Journalism Accelerator

Nos is running a "journalism accelerator", which onboards independent journalists and publications onto Nostr with guaranteed promotion and 1:1 help.

Nostr is a different kind of open network, in the sense that it's decentralized rather than federated. Famously, Jack Dorsey defected there from Bluesky, in part because Bluesky started offering service-level features like community moderation rather than just focusing on the protocol. It's also much more closely tied to crypto communities than either the fediverse or Bluesky.

I'm curious about the kinds of journalists who might sign up for this. I spotted The Conversation there while I was nosing around, but I haven't found any other publishers I recognized; the network really is very open to build on, so I wonder if more might follow - and if they skew in any particular direction.


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Decentralized Systems Will Be Necessary To Stop Google From Putting The Web Into Managed Decline

"The various decentralized social media systems that have been growing over the past few years offer a very different potential approach: one in which you get to build the experience you want, rather than the one a giant company wants."

There's a chicken and egg problem here: while decentralized systems are absolutely going to be part of the solution, or at least hold most of the properties that make for a good solution, they also need to have a critical mass of people who use them.

A lot of people are looking towards Threads to provide this critical mass, but just as I'd invite newsrooms to consider how to gain more traffic without Apple News, I'd invite the federated social web community to consider what a growth looks like without Meta. It's not that Threads won't help - it's that you don't want to be dependent on a megacorp to provide the assistance you need. You never know when they'll change their policies and look elsewhere.

Still, the point stands: decentralization is a key part of the answer. There's a lot to be gained from investing in projects that provide strong user experiences, solve concrete real human problems alongside the ideological ones and the existential threats, and onboard a new generation of internet users to a better way to share and browse.

That's a tall order, but, as always, I'm hopeful.


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The IndieWeb’s next stage?

"I want the IndieWeb to be a viable alternative to social media, gradually widening the audience beyond tech-savvy folks by making the tools easier to use and more reliable."

This is what we were trying for with Known: something that felt social but was fully under the user's control. We had installers at third-party hosts; we had our own managed service; we had the open source code for people who wanted to use that directly.

The fediverse adds a missing piece here: Known suffered immensely from a blank page and no reader view when you logged in for the first time. Now we can build platforms that immediately connect people to a much wider social network that is outside of monolithic corporate control but also makes it (relatively) easy to find the people you care about.

A combination between the fediverse and indieweb is almost inevitable. This is what Ghost appears to be building today, for example, with its new integrated fediverse reader tool. WordPress may also be headed in that direction. And there will be many others.

A huge +1, also, to the idea that we can "manifest momentum by speaking aloud your dreams and letting others share them with you". This is how community-building works.

And, for the record, I'm all-in.


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Share Openly: A simple icon for a new social sharing service

A lovely blog post by Jon Hicks on his process for creating the ShareOpenly icon. Characteristically, lots of care and attention went into this.

I'm really glad you get to see the open hand icons, which we eventually decided against, but feel really warm and human.

Jon's amazing, lovely to work with, and has a really impressive body of work. I'm grateful he was able to contribute such an important part of this personal project.


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Google’s broken link to the web

"A quarter-century into its existence, a company that once proudly served as an entry point to a web that it nourished with traffic and advertising revenue has begun to abstract that all away into an input for its large language models."

This has the potential to be a disaster for the web and everyone who depends on it: for journalism, for bloggers, for communities, for every voice that couldn't be heard without an open, egalitarian platform.

The answer for all of those stakeholders has to be depending on forging real, direct relationships with real people. It doesn't scale; it doesn't fit well with a unidirectional broadcast model for publishing; it's now how most people who make content think about what they do. But it's how all of them are going to survive and continue to find each other.

I've been urging publishers to stop using the word "audience" and to replace it with "community", and to think about what verb might replace "publish" in a multi-directional web that is more about relationships than it is reaching mass eyeballs.

Of course, it might go in a direction we haven't predicted. We'll find out very soon; the only real certainty is that things are changing, and the bedrock that many people have depended on for two decades is shifting.


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Mozilla Foundation Welcomes Nabiha Syed as Executive Director

This is great news for Mozilla, for everyone who uses the internet, and for everyone who cares about ethics, privacy, and human rights.

We need a well-functioning Mozilla more than ever - and that much-needed presence has been absent for years.

The spirit in the following quote gives me a lot of hope - I think this is how all technology should be built, and how all technologists should approach their work, but it's rarely true:

“After all, the technology we have now was once just someone’s imagination. We can dream, build, and demand technology that serves all of us, not just the powerful few.”

I hope - and believe - that she can make it happen.


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The SF Bay Area Has Become The Undisputed Leader In AI Tech And Funding Dollars

"Last year, more than 50% of all global venture funding for AI-related startups went to companies headquartered in the Bay Area, Crunchbase data shows, as a cluster of talent congregates in the region."

In other news, water is wet.

There was a moment during the pandemic when it looked like everyone was going to work remotely and there was an opportunity for startups to be founded anywhere. I think that time has gone: the San Francisco Bay Area is once again the place to found any kind of technology startup.

Yes, there are always exceptions, but the confluence of community density, living conditions, universities, and mindset make for a perfect storm. NYC and London - and maybe Boston / Cambridge - are pretty good too, for what it's worth, but the sheer volume of startup activity in the area gives San Francisco the edge.

This is something I fought earlier in my career: my first startup was proudly founded in Scotland and largely run from England. I wish we'd just moved to San Francisco.

This isn't to completely sing the praises of the city: the cost of living is now astronomical, and there's a contingent of right-wing activists that seem to want to paint it as some doom spiraling hellhole, as if its progressive past isn't something to be proud of. But there is still beauty, there is still that can-do sense of adventure, and if I was founding something new, that's probably where I'd be.


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An Interview With Jack Dorsey

This interview is as interesting for what it doesn't mention - fediverse, for example - as for what it does.

This helps explain why he distanced himself from Bluesky after he'd previously established it and ensured it had funding:

"This tool was designed such that it had, you know, it was a base level protocol. It had a reference app on top. It was designed to be controlled by the people. I think the greatest idea — which we need — is an algorithm store, where you choose how you see all the conversations. But little by little, they started asking Jay and the team for moderation tools, and to kick people off. And unfortunately they followed through with it."

That's not actually how Bluesky works - the people who were banned were banned from the reference implementation, not the protocol. And, often, they were banned from the reference community for heinous content that would have prevented other people from being able to make use of that space. Any open social platform that doesn't support moderation will be dead in the water: moderation is a key part of running any community.

I think Jack knows this, so I don't buy it.

Meanwhile, the interviewer is a Partner at Founders Fund who once blocked me on Twitter for being too left-wing, which I think sort of puts the comments about moderation and freedom of speech in context.


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40 years later, a game for the ZX Spectrum will be once again broadcast over FM radio

"There were times when Sinclair ZX Spectrum games were copied over the radio waves across Slovenia. Radio Študent broadcast screeching, beeping and whining, which we recorded on tape and played a game a few hours later."

I love this! I never had a ZX Spectrum, but I did have a ZX81, one of its precursors, and have fond memories of loading games from tape. The idea that you could broadcast a game over FM radio is delicious - just start recording via tape and then you're good to go. A great way to spread free software and free culture before the advent of the commercial internet.

And I love that they're going to do it again! I wonder who still has a ZX Spectrum ready to go?


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Novel attack against virtually all VPN apps neuters their entire purpose

"Researchers have devised an attack against nearly all virtual private network applications that forces them to send and receive some or all traffic outside of the encrypted tunnel designed to protect it from snooping or tampering."

Except, oddly, on Android, which doesn't implement the DHCP setting that the attack depends on. The exploit has existed since 2002; we can probably assume that the bad actors that matter already know about it.

I assume we'll see operating system patches relatively quickly. This is not a reason to not use a VPN: in most cases they are still fit for purpose. The worst case scenario would be if users dropped VPNs out of lack of trust. They should not do that.


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North Yorkshire Council to phase out apostrophe use on street signs

"A local authority has announced it will ban apostrophes on street signs to avoid problems with computer systems."

It's rare to see bad database security design advertised so openly! I can't wait to see what havoc the local residents will cause.


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Mastodon forms new U.S. non-profit

Mastodon has established itself as a US 501(c)(3) with a really exciting new board. I'm a long-term fan of Esra’a Al Shafei in particular - but the whole group is quite something.

This coincides with Germany stripping Mastodon of non-profit status for unknown reasons. Hopefully that wont' be too disruptive; it looks like the organization continues to be in safe hands.


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Struggling with a Moral Panic Once Again

"I have to admit that it's breaking my heart to watch a new generation of anxious parents think that they can address the struggles their kids are facing by eliminating technology from kids' lives."

I've got so much more to say about this, but if there's one person to listen to on this, it's danah boyd.


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My Dinner With Andreessen

Marc Andreessen on poor people: “I’m glad there’s OxyContin and video games to keep those people quiet.”

This also resonated with me:

"One participant was a British former journalist become computer tycoon who had been awarded a lordship. He proclaimed that the Chinese middle class doesn’t care about democracy or civil liberties. I was treated as a sentimental naïf for questioning his blanket confidence."

I've been in so many of those conversations, where very reductive assumptions about the rest of the world are presented as nuanced, learned fact, and that questioning them is idiotic. It's not at all universal in Silicon Valley, but it is common: a sort of received gospel truth that cannot be questioned because the person repeating it is really very smart. It's an odd way for anyone supposedly even tangentially involved in building the future to behave.


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Newsletter platform Ghost adopts ActivityPub to ‘bring back the open web’

"This has long been the dream, and it seems like the platforms betting on it in various ways — Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, Flipboard, and others — are where all the energy is, while attempts to rebuild closed systems keep hitting the rocks."

Just an enormous deal: for the web, for independent media, for social media.


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