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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Four things about threads.net

"We're selling ourselves out by letting Facebook own a new social network and not putting that energy into building something that preserves our choice."

I am worried that this might turn out to be correct.

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FCC scraps old speed benchmark, says broadband should be at least 100Mbps

"The Federal Communications Commission today voted to raise its Internet speed benchmark for the first time since January 2015, concluding that modern broadband service should provide at least 100Mbps download speeds and 20Mbps upload speeds."

Finally. The previous 25Mbps down 3Mbps up benchmark was pathetic - and even that is above many peoples' actual connections in practice.

The new standard should pull other FCC regulations up with it, which is a welcome change:

"With a higher speed standard, the FCC is more likely to conclude that broadband providers aren't moving toward universal deployment fast enough and to take regulatory actions in response. During the Trump era, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's Republican majority ruled that 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload speeds should still count as "advanced telecommunications capability," and concluded that the telecom industry was doing enough to extend advanced telecom service to all Americans."

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CEO of Data Privacy Company Onerep.com Founded Dozens of People-Search Firms

Something I've long suspected is often the case: the founder of a data privacy firm also ran dozens of the people search services the firm was set up to remove people from for a fee.

"Onerep’s “Protect” service starts at $8.33 per month for individuals and $15/mo for families, and promises to remove your personal information from nearly 200 people-search sites. Onerep also markets its service to companies seeking to offer their employees the ability to have their data continuously removed from people-search sites."

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