Anti-Social Media

Continuing on our theme of internet corporations making me sad,  it has come to my attention that the very thing which I lauded twitter and facebook for is about to stop working: at some point in the near future, Twitter will break the Twitter-to-Facebook integration that I rely on to keep entertaining my public.  This is because Twitter has decided that they are no longer just a pilot fish in the great internet sea -- they are a destination that is important in and of itself, and therefore there's nothing to be gained by letting Twitter content leak out to other social platforms where someone else can monetize it.  If you want The Twitter, you can come to The Twitter, and The Twitter will happily serve you ads along with the content you desire.

For those of us further up the product foodchain, though, the question becomes: now what?

There is a temptation to just simply shift the burden to the reader and force them to charge around to the various social media sites to pick up the pieces of my communications that they care to receive.  This is by far the easiest for me, as it means I can just write what I want, when I want, and where it occurs to me, and my faithful readers will of course spring to action and visit all of these lovely sites.


A scenario made even more unlikely due to the fact that A) none of these services let information out in RSS format and B) since Google Reader is being retired, there isn't a decent RSS reader left to read these non-existent feeds anyways.

I'm still seeking social media nirvana, where I can post something and it is automatically disseminated across all the services I use.  This will never happen, since Facebook and Google are sworn enemeis, and now Twitter flatters themselves that they can sit at the same table.

Let's briefly look at the competition:

Twitter: microblogging.  Not suitable for complex thought, but it is pretty interactive.  The advertising is pretty unobtrusive (and currently totally absent if you use a client like Tweetdeck, although rumor has it that Tweetdeck is also going to be binned).

Google Plus: Google just loves you for your data, your sweet sweet demographics data that lets them serve advertising somewhere to.. someone.  No one is really sure.

Facebook: all the privacy-violating goodness of Google, except the someone they are serving ads to is you and your readers, and the ads themselves are hilariously bad.  Oh, and the chance that there's an actual audience on Facebook is only about 500% higher.

Audience-wise: I think it is a toss up between Twitter and Facebook for numbers.

I've toyed with a number of ideas: there's a service which allegedly will post from one social media platform to another, all you have to do is give it your credentials for everything (ick).  Or maybe just doing everything in Blogger (hey!  a fourth platform!) and trying to find some like-on-Facebook, tweet-with-Twitter, and +1 buttons and just pushing all three myself when I post something here.  That'll get the word out, and drive traffic back to me here.  Of course that just turns this Blogger thing into a Tumblr (hey!  a fifth service!), doesn't it, so maybe I should just go there and put the buttons on posts there?

I think I still have a tumblr... I wonder if I wrote down the access credentials anywhere.

Anyways this is all forcing me to make decisions, and everyone knows how much I love decisions.  So nobody is holding their breath on this.

I'm sure there will be a general announcement if and when I decide what I'm doing.


A Defense Of Jargon

Rhett Allain calls for science to stop using three words: hypothesis, theory, and law.  The crux of his argument for removing these words is because the common people think they know what those words mean, and the common conceptions of those meanings is inconsistent with science's use of them.

He's wrong -- and in fact, I think his arguments are potent when arguing for more jargon in science rather than less.

Mr. Allain's issues problems with modern language are as follows:
  • The real world is very complex
  • There are only so many words
  • Therefore, context is important; and implied context king.
Let me give you an example.  Consider the word "bridge".  Now to a mechanical engineer, dentist, and computer scientist, that word means three completely different things.  Yet if you asked the common person what a "bridge" was, they'd go with the device to permit transport of something over some other obstacle.

There's no context embedded in the word, so you have to waste more imprecise words to build a context around the word which conveys the meaning that you wish to convey.  And in today's world of the five second soundbite, there's no time to build that context.

The legal profession is brutal in this respect, because the vast majority of the words and grammatical constructions that they use in their communications are identical to those found in common English   The problem is that in the legal world those words and grammatical constructs have precise meanings without the ambiguity that common English has.  But a legal commoner like me can read a legal document, understand all of the words, and come out at the end with a completely different meaning that a lawyer would.

The medical profession gets this right in a lot of ways, because they draw from latin words to describe precise parts of the body.  There's no ambiguity about what "thyroid" means or what procedure a "phlebotomy" is.  The words have single meanings in common use, which means they have their own context more or less embedded in them.  And better: since this context is embedded in the words, it acts as a signal to the common user that there is specific knowledge required that they may or may not have.

There is a collision here, between the media-fueled short attention span, and the increasingly complex concepts in the wider world that can't be fit into shorter and short sound bites.  Inevitably people will get left behind in certain areas -- I may be well versed in systems networking, but I am incapable of reading a legal document, or understanding in depths the medical subtleties that arise from specific treatment options.  I am forced to accept my specializations and follow advice from lawyers and doctors, or put aside my expertise and begin studying these other areas on my own*.

I think that rather than trying to soft-pedal this complexity in the modern world, we need to be shoving it more up the noses of the uninformed, telling them that they should either educate themselves and participate as a proper member of the community, or get out of the way of those who are.

And bending language to being more precise by embedding context into soundbites is a good first step.


*: And I think this is the difference between accepting advice from a scientist, doctor, or lawyer, as compared to a spiritual leader.  With time and effort, I could educate myself and become a scientist, doctor, or lawyer. That knowledge can be freely gained, all you need is time and effort. (Complaining that you don't have either of those does nothing to change this fact.) The problem with spiritual leadership is that there is no impartial mechanism you can use to come to same conclusions.  You can't test the first principles for yourself.


Why Does Google Want To Make Me Sad?

It is all over the interweb, but I might as well pile on while the pilin' is good, so to speak.  Google has announced that Google Reader will be Spring Cleaned out in early summer 2013.

The thing of it is, this is how I do most of my reading of internet content.  In the old days of 2005, I used to do the bookmark-folder-full-of-links thing*, then open them all up in the morning and drive through them through the day.  This got tiresome, because some websites don't update more than once a year, and others update more than once an hour.  So you ended up looking at a lot of stale web sites.  And missing a lot of timely news.

RSS solves all of these problems:

  • If a site has an update, the update shows up at the top of the list.
  • If a site doesn't have an update, it doesn't show up on the list at all.  So if a site goes dormant for years, then suddenly starts producing content again, I get it right away, without having to check it for years on end with no joy.
Until Twitter crapped on them, you could even follow Twitter feeds through RSS.  So I could follow people without the following polluting the timeliness of my own timeline.

It got to the point where I don't follow sites that don't do RSS.  I might go back periodically, but not regularly.  Google drives my direct-website traffic; my list of non-work-related bookmarks is less than a dozen.

Bookmarking is boring.

Let's face it: bookmarking is the internet forcing you to do work that can, and should be, done for you.  And RSS and Google Reader together do that work, and give you an interface that is sync'd between your desktop and mobile devices.

This is how I do most of my internet reading on desktops:

...and here is what my iPad's Chrome looks like most of the time:

...heck, the start page for my iPad should speak volumes about what I use it for:

Google Reader has been the way I use the internet for years, changing now won't be easy.

Having to change to something because there's something better is one thing.  You are in favor of the change because you are getting something better to you that compensates for the pain of transition.

But getting turfed out into the rain because some product or service you use is getting "Spring Cleaned"...

I don't know what I'm going to do.  I'll probably wait a few months and see what the internet decides is a reasonable substitute.  There's no point lurching into something new now, since most of the RSS readers use Google Reader as a back-end for collection and cross-device synchronization.  It will be interesting to see how many of these survive.

One can hope that the hue and cry being raised around this will persuade Google to reconsider.  Frankly I doubt they will.  There's no revenue generation from Google Reader, so why would they?

So, in conclusion: Google is making me sad.


* This was documented at the time in my Wordpress blog, the one that I customized to the point that it was un-upgradable; and later it got hacked**. It might be amusing*** to dig up the relevant post out of that archive and put it up for posterity.

** Which also made me sad.  But at least it wasn't Google making me sad.

*** It might also be tedious work to dig through all that XML, so don't hold your breath.