Bookmarked No Room for Design

Of the many things that social platforms have taken away from us, perhaps the most disappointing is the freedom to customize our spaces. We need it back.

Ernie Smith discusses the lose of design and customisation on the web. He reflects on spaces like Substack, Facebook and Medium.

Walled gardens are kept up very carefully from a design perspective. They don’t have weeds. Instead, you get a plot—a spot where your entire presence online lives. This is great if you want some modest lines to paint within, but as soon as you have any sort of ambition, you find yourself stifled by the platform pulling the strings.

This is in contrast to spaces like MySpace and Tumblr. Although customisations have provided an avenue for other activities, which have compromised platforms like MySpace, something is lost in a focus on security.

I guess the flip side of all this is that some people would rather not think about such aspects and are instead comfortable with the slick experience offered inside the walled garden. This is something I have found in my discussions with others of the IndieWeb.

Liked Google vs. Technorati: The Great Blog Search War (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

It became way too easy to clutter things up in an effort to find just the right tool that could help you squeeze a little more traffic or revenue out of the lemon that was your blog. (Less considered, of course, was that all of these widgets were siphoning data about your readers in exchange for this little feature or that neat doodad.)

Technorati was in many ways the first shot in that general direction, though it was not the only one and certainly not the worst offender. But the purity of its original model, which was lost to time and ever-quickening innovation, was valuable for what it was. Rather than forcing us to live in someone else’s world, it tried to make sense of the quickly growing blogosphere, while allowing that sphere to live in place elsewhere.

By making the world of blogs trackable in real time, it made them more communal—a feeling some of us are trying to get back to today. But the globe kept spinning too fast for any one site to keep up—even one designed for that purpose.

Replied to Why Modular Design Works Better for Consumers Than Businesses (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

What makes modular designs great for consumers often makes them troublesome for businesses, or why you can’t upgrade an iPhone in 2020.

Ernie, it is interesting reading this discussion of modular design. Does software fit into this as well? It is interesting to think of this alongside Cory Doctorow’s call for more adversarial interoperability. Although the technical may seem obvious, I wonder if there is a model that actually works for businesses or if it is something that happens bit by bit by chance?
Replied to Hypergraphia: The Neurological Condition Behind Excessive Writing (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

What makes someone obsessively journal every moment of their life? In some cases, it might actually be hypergraphia, a condition tied to a neurological trait.

Ernie, this was fascinating and has me thinking about my own practices to organise the web or world. I always thought that it was a ‘blogging’ thing, but as I reflect upon my time in university, I worked as a cleaner. Working alone, I would often come home with scraps of paper on which I had written down quick thoughts.

I really like how J. Hillis Miller captured this. he argued that we have an obligation to write. He suggested that reading and teaching are completed by writing, that it is a core element to our transaction with language. As he stated:

As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.

Replied to How Technical Errors Open Up Creative Paths (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

Pondering the way that the creative process is often directed by rules which, in many cases, stifle creativity. Sometimes, you just have to throw the rules out.

Ernie, this edition of Tedium left me wondering if the IndieWeb is about breaking rules creatively?

Another example of this might come in the form of “desire paths,” or as they tend to be called after major snowstorms, “sneckdowns.” This is an urban planning term of sorts—basically, the creation of a path where there wasn’t one initially, guided only by human preference, rather than existing rules. Technically, you’re breaking the rules by walking in a path that isn’t actually a sidewalk, but in a way, there was a natural tendency to break those rules anyway.

This is something that I have reflected upon in the past.

Liked Penn Jillette’s Surprising Success as a Computer Columnist (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

One of his first columns for the magazine, written in 1990 under the name “The Micro Mephisto,” is surprisingly relevant today. Jillette made a case for taking your computer and making it your own by heavily customizing, or “trashing,” it. A passage from that column:

No matter how you got your computer, you will never sell it. Why the hell would you sell it? Six months after you bought it, it wasn’t worth spit. How the hell could you sell it, it would be easier to unload used 8-track and beta tapes. Whatever you got on your desk or lap right now—there’s a faster and sexier one with more memory and a better display featured right here in this magazine.

So, tell me this, why the hell is that thang still beige? And if it’s not beige, why the hell is it still tan? And if it’s sleek, high-tech black … well, we know they saw you coming. I’ll tell you why it’s that same boring factory color—because you’re a coward. You’re afraid if you mess with it—someone is going to yell at you. That’s just wrong thinking. No one’s going to yell at you because no one gives a good goddamn. Other people have their own problems. Have you seen these other people on the street? They’re all miserable, look at them. They don’t care about you or your computer. You could erase your entire hard disk including the unera utility, by mistake, while showing off for a cute babe and the people on the street wouldn’t even blink. They’re busy making their own stupid mistakes. And that gives you a great deal of freedom.

So here’s what I say and here’s what I do. Make that computer yours. Make it belong to you. Make it look right to you. Dominate it. Rule it. Violate it. Posses it. Trash the mother. I’m not going to tell you exactly what to do with it, I’ve already stuck my nose too far into your business. I don’t care if you put on backstage stickers to Lou Reed and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You could peel the warning sticker off your 2 Live Crew CD and decoupage it right above the screen and change your prompt to (C:\) Oh, me so horny>, put on scuba stickers and pretend you aren’t just a nerd like the rest of us. Or—be practical—no one can remember those WP commands so why not take a Sharpie and write “Just Kidding” right above the F1 key and “where the hell am I?” above F3. I haven’t tried a wood-burning tool or a soldering iron (they’re the same tool with different packaging, right?) But I bet it would look boss. Make it so if your computer was coming down the airline luggage carousel you wouldn’t have to look at the claim check number to tell it was yours. “Many computers do look alike”—and that’s a bad thing.

Bookmarked Planned Obsolescence: We’re Killing Old Technology With New Technology (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

How we keep screwing over yesterday’s technology due to an intent focus on what we’re doing today. The problem of planned obsolescence is getting worse.

Ernie Smith discusses the effort involved in allowing vintage computers to live on the modern internet. Whether it be HTTPS, Bit-rate or drivers, there a number of blockers which dis-allow older devices to continue to exist.
Bookmarked Time to Rejoin Tumblr? Thoughts on a Social Media “Reunion Tour” (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

Five social networks that offer ripe opportunities for a “reunion tour” of your own

  1. Flickr. Owned and acquired, and later sold in a fashion very similar to Tumblr itself, the photo-sharing service (now owned by SmugMug) has moved to a pay model, but it could still be a great tool for folks that are looking for a more low-key version of photo sharing.
  2. DeviantArt. Going back to a vintage site doesn’t necessarily mean that the site will look like it did 15 years ago—something that can definitely be said of DeviantArt, which just released an ambitious redesign that was so out of character for the old-school platform that it recently trended on Twitter. It’s an opportunity to go back just after a snazzy renovation.
  3. LiveJournal/Dreamwidth. Technically, the old-school LiveJournal is still around, and the one you definitely don’t feel like sharing might still be online. But its ownership has changed dramatically over the years, in keeping in tune with its Russian user base, and it has led to moves that you might not be cool with. Fortunately, there’s an alternative in the form of DreamWidth, a fork of the original LiveJournal that’s been around for a decade.
  4. Internet Relay Chat or Usenet. If you’re a bit older, you may have gotten your first taste of a social internet through either of these digital protocols. They’re still around, though their focuses have changed dramatically, and you may find yourself most at home if you’re a developer. (IRC will be easier to get back into, just an FYI.)
  5. Blogging. As I wrote at the beginning of the year, the blogosphere is a culture worth defending, and if you can add something to it, you should! If you’re looking for the most retro-seeming blogging experience possible, Blogger is a good choice because Google hasn’t updated it in years.
Ernie Smith reflects on Automattic’s purchase of Tumblr and uses this as an opportunity to review and revisit some social media spaces that have seen better days, but still might be worth our revisiting. Personally speaking, I am an advocate for blogging and possibly POSSEing to some of these other places. Therefore, hedging your bets both ways.
Liked Internet Content Filter History: Filtering Out the Bad Stuff (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

Today in Tedium: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years as a writer, it’s that when someone doesn’t like something enough to email about it, they start their message out with “I read with great interest …” before diving into their gripe. With that in mind, I read with great interest Tumblr’s announcement about censoring adult content on its platform, which saddened me as a longtime Tumblr user—not because I was looking for that content, but because a creative outlet I once greatly appreciated was losing much of its freedom. The filter is terrible, of course, and its terribleness reminded me of the bad old days of early web filtering, when the internet was new and its capabilities poorly understood. And as the conversation about the European Union’s Article 11 and Article 13—the latter of which would effectively require pervasive filters for copyright on many platforms—now’s a good time to look into that history. I love you, Tumblr, but today’s Tedium is talking filters. — Ernie @ Tedium

Liked Walt Disney’s Public Domain Works by Ernie Smith (Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.)

To put it in modern terms: Walt Disney was a startup guy, and he followed the Elon Musk zero-sleep model of productivity. He was a busy innovator, willing to experiment on a wide number of business endeavors before he found his true calling as the co-creator of Mickey Mouse.