Tag Archives: twitter

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Discrimination in design can come in two forms


Discrimination in design comes in two forms. One is through direct action. When you see benches designed to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, that’s one example. Many more examples can be found in this ProPublica piece: Discrimination by Design — ProPublica.

Ignorance is the second way discrimination can occur in design. Just this week Twitter rolled out an audio feature that is inaccessible for deaf people. No one at twitter set out to discriminate against deaf people. The designers at Twitter just didn’t take them into account. (Apparently Twitter doesn’t have an accessibility review team for their software updates, which is bad for a technology company as large as they are.)

Keep in mind both forms when you see something that seems designed to discriminate against certain people. It may be intentional, or it may be an omission. Either way, steps should be taken to eliminate that discrimination.

(More on twitter’s audio tweets, here.)

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Why I post mostly random nonsense on Twitter (as opposed to trying to influence the world with my tweets)

Many years ago I gave up on the notion of having any form of influence using Twitter, either as an individual or as part of a bigger force united by some such thing as a tag. Indeed, I gave up on the idea of using Twitter for anything other than sharing things with the few people who engage with me at all on this site.

I don’t think I can accomplish much of anything positive on this site. Anything I do share has a life span of 18 minutes on average (see below). For the few people who follow me and engage with me, that life span is likely longer. I know there are people who read tweets posted hours or even a day earlier. But those people are exceptions. Exceptions I appreciate!

Occasionally I share something and it gets shared by someone with more followers, but that rarely gets me more followers or other forms of engagement. It’s something odd to note and move on.

I treat this site as a coffee shop I wander into from time to time. I overhear some distorted form of the news, I get some weird opinions. From time to time I hear something brilliant. Often I’ll laugh at something odd or funny. Then I log out. This site is no longer the Cafe Central in Vienna, with Trotsky in the corner plotting revolution. If it ever was.

Besides, I am aware that there are people here who do try to use the site to foment small bursts of unrest and unhappiness. Why encourage that in any way?

If you still believe or witness positive change happening because of your engagement here, then that’s great. I suspect for the vast number of people updating statuses and reading them, that does not occur.

As far as mediums go, I still like it. I have given up on most other social media, save this and Instagram and my blog. I still get some social engagement from this and Instagram, which keeps me coming back. And Instagram and my blog are good ways to leave a record (something twitter is pretty poor at doing).

So if you wonder why I post mostly random nonsense on Twitter (as opposed to trying to influence the world), now you know.

P.S. Regarding the lifespan of a tweet:

Tweets have the shortest lifespan of any social media post, about 18 minutes. And there’s not much you can do about it. Twitter is fast-paced, and messages get buried more quickly. The newest algorithm  means that posts are no longer displayed chronologically, so yours might live a little longer, but your tweet will still get pushed down the page quickly.

via What Is The Lifespan Of Social Media Posts? – Epipheo

Some thoughts on the problems Facebook and Google (and even retailers) have with people being awful on their platforms

Google, Facebook, and Twitter are platforms. So are some retail sites. What does that mean? It means that they provide the means for people to use their technology to create things for themselves. Most of the time, this is a good thing. People can communicate in ways they never could before such platforms. Likewise, people can sell things to people they never could.

Now these platforms are in a bind, as you can see in this piece and in other places: Google, Facebook, and Twitter Sell Hate Speech Targeted Ads. They are in a bind partly due to their own approach, by boasting of their ability to use AI to stop such things. They should have been much more humble. AI as it currently stands will only take you so far. Instead of relying on things like AI, they need to have better governance mechanisms in place. Governance is a cost of organizations, and often times organizations don’t insert proper governance until flaws like this start to occur.

That said, this particular piece has several weaknesses. First up, this comment: “that the companies are incapable of building their systems to reflect moral values”. It would be remarkable for global companies to build systems to reflect moral values when even within individual nations there is conflicts regarding such values. Likewise the statement: “It seems highly unlikely that these platforms knowingly allow offensive language to slip through the cracks”. Again, define offensive language at a global level. To make it harder still, trying doing it with different languages and different cultures. The same thing occurs on retail sites when people put offensive images on T shirts. For some retail systems no one from the company that own the platform takes time to review every product that comes in.

And that gets to the problem. All these platforms could be mainly content agnostic, the way the telephone system is platform agnostic. However people are expecting them to insert themselves and not be content agnostic. Once that happens, they are going to be in an exceptional bind. We don’t live in a homogenous world where everyone shares the same values. Even if they converted to non-profits and spent a lot more revenue on reviewing content, there would still be limits to what they could do.

To make things better, these platforms need to be humble and realistic about what they can do and communicate that consistently and clearly with the people that use these systems. Otherwise, they are going to find that they are going to be governed in ways they are not going to like. Additionally, they need to decide what their own values are and communicate and defend them. They may lose users and customers, but the alternative of trying to be different things in different places will only make their own internal governance impossible.

 

Some big changes on twitter

Two new things: 1) a quality filter 2) notification settings. While people are talking a lot about the first one, I think the second one might just be the thing most people need. For more details, see this: New Ways to Control Your Experience on Twitter | Twitter Blogs

How the ‘Spicy Boi’ comments on Hillary’s Instagram shows the difficulty of dealing with trolls

To see what I mean, read this piece in NYMag, Everyone Is Commenting ‘Spicy Boi’ on Hillary’s Instagram. Note how the social networks cross over the various platforms. The social organization of this activity goes from platform (iFunny) to platform (Twitter) to platform (Instagram). No doubt at some point it will appear on Reddit, 4chan, and who knows where else. It’s very hard to deal with trolls when you have people on one platform (e.g. Twitter) trying to control things, yet you can have social groups planning raids, etc. on other platforms.

Three thoughts:

  • the comment section for big accounts on Instagram is next to useless. I wonder why it is even enabled for them? I think they should disable it, or give the user the option to disable it.
  • In many cases, the comment sections should be limited to such things as “Likes” or “Thumbs Up” or simple polls.
  • Social media needs to involve either really good AI or (better) really good people to moderate things. It can’t happen soon enough.

The Real Bias Built in at Facebook <- another bad I.T. story in the New York Times (and my criticism of it)

There is so much wrong in this article, The Real Bias Built In at Facebook – The New York Times, that I decided to take it apart in this blog post. (I’ve read  so many bad  IT stories in the Times that I stopped critiquing them after a while, but this one in particular bugged me enough to write something).

To illustrate what I mean by what is wrong with this piece, here’s some excerpts in italics followed by my thoughts in non-italics.

  • First off, there is the use of the word “algorithm” everywhere. That alone is a problem. For an example of why that is bad, see section 2.4 of Paul Ford’s great piece on software,What is Code? As Ford explains: ““Algorithm” is a word writers invoke to sound smart about technology. Journalists tend to talk about “Facebook’s algorithm” or a “Google algorithm,” which is usually inaccurate. They mean “software.” Now part of the problem is that Google and Facebook talk about their algorithms, but really they are talking about their software, which will incorporate many algorithms. For example, Google does it here: https://webmasters.googleblog.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html At least Google talks about algorithms, not algorithm. Either way, talking about algorithms is bad. It’s software, not algorithms, and if you can’t see the difference, that is a good indication you should not be writing think pieces about I.T.
  • Then there is this quote: “Algorithms in human affairs are generally complex computer programs that crunch data and perform computations to optimize outcomes chosen by programmers. Such an algorithm isn’t some pure sifting mechanism, spitting out objective answers in response to scientific calculations. Nor is it a mere reflection of the desires of the programmers. We use these algorithms to explore questions that have no right answer to begin with, so we don’t even have a straightforward way to calibrate or correct them.” What does that even mean? To me, I think it implies any software that is socially oriented (as opposed to say banking software or airline travel software) is imprecise or unpredictable. But at best, that is only slightly true and mainly false. Facebook and Google both want to give you relevant answers. If you start typing in “restaurants” or some other facilities in Google search box, Google will start suggesting answers to you. These answers will very likely to be relevant to you. It is important for Google that this happens, because this is how they make money from advertisers. They have a way of calibrating and correcting this. In fact I am certain they spend a lot of resources making sure you have the correct answer or close to the correct answer. Facebook is the same way. The results you get back are not random. They are designed, built and tested to be relevant to you. The more relevant they are, the more successful these companies are. The responses are generally right ones.
  • If Google shows you these 11 results instead of those 11, or if a hiring algorithm puts this person’s résumé at the top of a file and not that one, who is to definitively say what is correct, and what is wrong?” Actually, Google can say, they just don’t. It’s not in their business interest to explain in detail how their software works. They do explain generally, in order to help people insure their sites stay relevant. (See the link I provided above). But if they provide too much detail, bad sites game their sites and make Google search results worse for everyone. As well, if they provide too much detail, they can make it easier for other search engine sites – yes, they still exist – to compete with them.
  • Without laws of nature to anchor them, algorithms used in such subjective decision making can never be truly neutral, objective or scientific.” This is simply nonsense.
  • Programmers do not, and often cannot, predict what their complex programs will do. “ Also untrue. If this was true, then IBM could not improve Watson to be more accurate. Google could not have their sales reps convince ad buyers that it is worth their money to pay Google to show their ads. Same for Facebook, Twitter, and any web site that is dependent on advertising as a revenue stream.
  • Google’s Internet services are billions of lines of code.” So what? And how is this a measure of complexity?  I’ve seen small amounts of code that was poorly maintained be very hard to understand, and large amounts of code that was well maintained be very simple to understand.
  • Once these algorithms with an enormous number of moving parts are set loose, they then interact with the world, and learn and react. The consequences aren’t easily predictable. Our computational methods are also getting more enigmatic. Machine learning is a rapidly spreading technique that allows computers to independently learn to learn — almost as we do as humans — by churning through the copious disorganized data, including data we generate in digital environments. However, while we now know how to make machines learn, we don’t really know what exact knowledge they have gained. If we did, we wouldn’t need them to learn things themselves: We’d just program the method directly.” This is just a cluster of ideas slammed together, a word sandwich with layers of phrases without saying anything. It makes it sound like AI has been unleashed upon the world and we are helpless to do anything about it. That’s ridiculous. As well, it’s vague enough that it is hard to dispute without talking in detail about how A.I. and machine learning works, but it seems knowledgeable enough that many people think it has greater meaning.
  • With algorithms, we don’t have an engineering breakthrough that’s making life more precise, but billions of semi-savant mini-Frankensteins, often with narrow but deep expertise that we no longer understand, spitting out answers here and there to questions we can’t judge just by numbers, all under the cloak of objectivity and science.” This is just scaremongering.
  • If these algorithms are not scientifically computing answers to questions with objective right answers, what are they doing? Mostly, they “optimize” output to parameters the company chooses, crucially, under conditions also shaped by the company. On Facebook the goal is to maximize the amount of engagement you have with the site and keep the site ad-friendly.You can easily click on “like,” for example, but there is not yet a “this was a challenging but important story” button. This setup, rather than the hidden personal beliefs of programmers, is where the thorny biases creep into algorithms, and that’s why it’s perfectly plausible for Facebook’s work force to be liberal, and yet for the site to be a powerful conduit for conservative ideas as well as conspiracy theories and hoaxes — along with upbeat stories and weighty debates. Indeed, on Facebook, Donald J. Trump fares better than any other candidate, and anti-vaccination theories like those peddled by Mr. Beck easily go viral. The newsfeed algorithm also values comments and sharing. All this suits content designed to generate either a sense of oversize delight or righteous outrage and go viral, hoaxes and conspiracies as well as baby pictures, happy announcements (that can be liked) and important news and discussions.” This is the one thing in the piece that I agreed with, and it points to the real challenge with Facebook’s software. I think the software IS neutral, in that it is not interested in the content per se as it is how the user is responding or not responding to it. What is NOT neutral is the data it is working off of. Facebook’s software is as susceptible to GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) as any other software. So if you have a lot of people on Facebook sending around cat pictures and stupid things some politicians are saying, people are going to respond to it and Facebook’s software is going to respond to that response.
  • Facebook’s own research shows that the choices its algorithm makes can influence people’s mood and even affect elections by shaping turnout. For example, in August 2014, my analysis found that Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm largely buried news of protests over the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., probably because the story was certainly not “like”-able and even hard to comment on. Without likes or comments, the algorithm showed Ferguson posts to fewer people, generating even fewer likes in a spiral of algorithmic silence. The story seemed to break through only after many people expressed outrage on the algorithmically unfiltered Twitter platform, finally forcing the news to national prominence.” Also true. Additionally, Facebook got into trouble for the research they did showing their software can manipulate people by….manipulating people in experiments on them! It was dumb, unethical, and possibly illegal.
  • Software giants would like us to believe their algorithms are objective and neutral, so they can avoid responsibility for their enormous power as gatekeepers while maintaining as large an audience as possible.” Well, not exactly. It’s true that Facebook and Twitter are flirting with the notion of becoming more news organizations, but I don’t think they have decided whether or not they should make the leap or not. Mostly what they are focused on are channels that allow them to gain greater audiences for their ads with few if any restrictions.

In short, like many of the IT think pieces I have seen the Times, it is filled with wrong headed generalities and overstatements, in addition to some concrete examples buried somewhere in the piece that likely was thing that generated the idea to write the piece in the first place. Terrible.

29 IT links to things I am working on or interested in: AI, Python, Netscaler, automation and more

Things I am interested in or working on these days: AI, WebSphere setup, Python, Twitter programming, development in general, configuring Netscalers, cool things IBM is doing, automation, among other things.

  1. If you have the AI bug and think you want to do some Prolog programming, you need this: What Prolog implementation to choose? What’s fastest? Compatibility?
  2. Deep Learning is hot in AI. If you want more info, this is good: Deep Learning Tutorials — DeepLearning 0.1 documentation
  3. Sigh. This debate never goes away in AI: Why AlphaGo Is Not AI – IEEE Spectrum
  4. More on the hysteria that AI brings: The founder of Evernote made a great point about why AI (probably) won’t kill us all – Vox
  5. Ignore most AI hysteria, but do read this: What does it mean for an algorithm to be fair? | Math ∩ Programming
  6. Want to whip up a quick mobile app? Consider: Mobile App Builder – new service now available – Bluemix Blog
  7. For power users, there’s: How to create an insane multiple monitor setup with three, four, or more displays | PCWorld
  8. Need virtual images? Take a look at this: Images | VirtualBoxes – Free VirtualBox® Images
  9. For hardcore WAS users, this is helpful: Installing optional Java 7.x on WebSphere Application Server 8.5 (Application Integration Middleware Support Blog)
  10. A classic. Anyone tuning WAS needs this: Case study: Tuning WebSphere Application Server V7 and V8 for performance
  11. Want to learn Python? Write your own Twitter client? Or do both? Then there’s this: How To Build a Twitter “Hello World” Web App in Python | ProgrammableWeb
  12. More on programming Twitter: How To Use The Twitter API To Find Events | ProgrammableWeb
  13. Nice little project to try, here: Create a mobile-friendly to-do list app with PHP, jQuery Mobile, and Google Tasks
  14. Creating Simple Responsive HTML5 and PHP Contact Form | Future Tutorials
  15. Setting up a Linux system? Then you want to read this: Most secure way to partition linux? – Information Security Stack Exchange
  16. Want to learn Linux? This is essential! IBM developerWorks : Technical library concerning Learning Linux
  17. If you are doing performance work on Unix, you will likely use vmstat. Even if you know vmstat, this is good to review: What to look for in vmstat – UNIX vmstat command
  18. Wow! OS/2 is still alive! OS/2: Blue Lion to be the next distro of the 28-year-old – Yahoo Finance
  19. Talk about old tech! This makes OS/2 seem fresh! It’s Insane that New York’s Subway Still Runs on This 80-Year-Old Switchboard | Motherboard
  20. I was doing some work on Netscaler and found this useful in comparing the set up of one Netscaler config with another: Export Netscaler Config – NetScaler Application Delivery – Discussions. This is also useful:  Netscaler 9 Cheat Sheet.doc – netscaler9cheatsheet.pdf
  21. I thought this was a good development for everyone interested in Node: IBM Buys StrongLoop To Add Node.js API Development To Its Cloud Platform | TechCrunch
  22. Alot has changed with IBM’s OpenPOWER. Forbes gets you up to date, here: IBM’s OpenPOWER: A Lot Has Changed In Two Years – Forbes
  23. Cool stuff here: Access your Docker-based Raspberry Pi at home from the internet · Docker Pirates ARMed with explosive stuff
  24. I was using Perl scripts on Linux to send me messages to my mobile device via Pushover. This was good for that: pushover Archives – Perl Hacks
  25. I was also using WinSCP for that and this helped: Scripting and Task Automation :: WinSCP
  26. For all those trying to succeed in IT but feeling you are running into ceiling, you should read this: Tech’s Enduring Great-Man Myth or this When It Comes to Age Bias, Tech Companies Don’t Even Bother to Lie | Dan Lyons | LinkedIn
  27. Linus Torvalds is always interesting, and this is especially good: Linux at 25: Q&A With Linus Torvalds – IEEE Spectrum
  28. Very cool! Particle | Build your Internet of Things
  29. And finally some links to good stuff on UML online: Multi-layered web architecture UML package diagram example, web layer depends on business layer, which depends on data access layer and data transfer objects.

Twitter: a former bar you used to love and now visit nostalgically

I’ve likely said enough about twitter. So much so, that there doesn’t seem much else to say. I wanted to highlight this comic, though (the long, slow death of Twitter | Technology | The Guardian) because it wonderfully sums up the arc of Twitter over the years. It matches my thoughts and feelings about the platform very well.

I still come to Twitter, the way you go to a bar you used to love. There’s not as many friends there as there was before, but there are still some. It becomes as much a visit to experience nostalgia as anything else. But then the shouters and the fighters show up and you remember why you lost your interest in it.

More on the decline of Twitter from a variety of sources

From the New Yorker and Business Insider. A rebuttal here, on Medium, and also Slate.

My take is a simple one: most people are interacting less on Twitter. This likely leads to people contributing less on Twitter, which leads to a downwards spiral. I see this on other social media as well.

The one exception to those interacting less are active self promoters. Self promoters, whether doing it personally or professionally, are still interacting regularly with social media such as Twitter. After all, it’s free and it’s better than doing nothing.

Overall, though, I expect there to be a decline in use of all kinds of social media, until someone can invent a social media that is more effective than what we have today. That may be a few years off.

My favourite mathematics proof.

Is this:

A nice use of computing to refute an old conjecture from no less than Euler.

Found thanks to a tweet from Aatish Bhatia 

On Facebook, the company

Facebook is a company. It’s not Mark Zuckerberg. It’s not an app you use on your phone. It’s a collection of services that is growing rapidly and it may be poised to grow at even crazier rates than it has now, if you believe what is in this piece, Inside Mark Zuckerberg’s Bold Plan For The Future Of Facebook. Key point it raises:

The Facebook of today—and tomorrow—is far more expansive than it was just a few years ago. It’s easy to forget that when the company filed to go public on February 1, 2012, it was just a single website and an app that the experts weren’t sure could ever be profitable. Now, “a billion and a half people use the main, core Facebook service, and that’s growing. But 900 million people use WhatsApp, and that’s an important part of the whole ecosystem now,” Zuckerberg says. “Four hundred million people use Instagram, 700 million people use Messen­ger, and 700 million people use Groups. Increasingly, we’re just going to go more and more in this direction.”

Reading this, you get the sense of a company that is going to bigger in a few years than it is now, which seems incredible to me. Note this article: it will be worth revisiting in a few years.

That said,  there are a few points I’d like to add:

  1. I actually think that Facebook the app/website is declining in active usage. It is very clever showing you things people like, even if people you know aren’t posting things. You get a sense of activity on Facebook the app/website whenever you log in. You never get the sense that it is not being used by people, even if many of the people you follow aren’t actively contributing at all. I suspect if you dropped your Facebook friends down to next to none it would still show you the same amount of information. If Facebook the company is going to remain successful, it needs to diversify from it’s main service.
  2. It is interesting that people continue to compare Twitter to Facebook. To me, there is little to compare. Facebook seems to have a better growth plan and even have a better app. If Facebook the service declines, the diversification into places like WhatsApp and Instagram is strong in a way that is unlikely to be matched by services like Vine or Periscope. While there is some commonality between the two companies, I think the story of their divergence will become a bigger one over time. Contributing to that big difference is Facebook remains a stable company with a stable leadership while Twitter’s leadership remains chaotic and unstable.
  3. The narrative in that story is very optimistic. If the numbers for any of those organizations start to slip, I could see the narrative changing, just like it has for so many IT companies. Right now the narrative is: Facebook is a very successful company and it is going to become more successful with all these promising ideas. The narrative can easily become: Facebook is a very troubled company and it is going to become more troubled with all these ideas doomed to fail. (See Yahoo! for an example of such a narrative.)

Where Twitter the company may be going

This piece: Startups and Shit, Twitter’s Product is F—– Fine by @startupljackson on Twitter, is the best analysis I have seen of what twitter can and should be doing over the next time.

Read the piece, but in a nutshell, Twitter should not look to grow Twitter the Service so much as Twitter the company, that company being a collection of services, from Twitter to Vine to Periscope to…well, we will see. The Twitter service itself provides a foundation for the company to grow on. Over time, if Twitter the service shrinks, Twitter the company could still grow based on the other services.

Smart take on the company.

Twitter is in trouble! Again!

Since I have been using Twitter, it’s been in trouble. And according to this really good piece, Twitter is in trouble. Here’s why. – Vox, it still is! What is new is the the type of trouble it is in. Previous troubles were technical and then social. Now it’s business trouble.

My take:

  1. they need to be less controlling and make it a platform.
  2. they need new leadership.

Otherwise they are going to become MySpace.

 

Three takes on twitter (2015): one mine, two others by WiReD and The Atlantic

Here’s two takes on Twitter worth reading for anyone still fascinated by Twitter as a company:

My take on Twitter?

  • Twitter is gunning for revenue growth.  They are sinking any profit they make into research in order to continue to grow revenue wise. It works for Amazon, so maybe it will work for twitter.
  • As they try and ramp up their revenue growth, they are cleaning up their act and acting quicker against trolls. I’d like to think it is because they are more concerned about users, but it is just as likely that they have decided trolls are bad for business
  • New user growth is flat. I am not surprised. I barely get new users following me, and if you think about it, the same is likely true for you.
  • Interaction is dying off. I still get a fair amount of interaction, thankfully. But it is much less than it used to be. Based on some recent analysis, that seems to be the case across the board, even if you are famous. Person A tweets: Person B responds, and at most, Person A favours Person B’s tweet. I believe Twitter is becoming less of a social community and settling into being just a microblogging platform.
  • I think Tweetstorms are terrible, still.

Periscope, Meerkat, and the future of virtual tourism

If you haven’t heard, Meerkat and Periscope are two apps that allow one person to stream an event and have others watch it. For example, here is an artist streaming her work on a painting while others watch and  interact: Wendy MacNaughton paints live on Periscope My… – Austin Kleon.

It’s an interesting idea. Once people get creative, there will be all types of events that people stream, from the obvious (porn, music concerts) to things no one thought of before.

I think one of these not so obvious ones will be virtual tourism. Essentially someone will visit a place like Japan and stream the cherry blossom festival or go to Pamplona for the running of the bulls and others will watch in real time. Maybe people will sponsor the person ahead of time, or the person will wear a shirt with ads on it, or find some way to make revenue. In return, lots of people can see something they might not be able to see otherwise.

People will use Periscope and Meerkat in all kinds of ways. Expect this to be one of them.

(Image via techcrunch)

How to prevent sites from tracking you – five good links

Do you find it weird when you search for something, then go to other sites, and it seems like the product is following you around? Do you worry that sites are tracking information about you and you want to stop it?

I’d like to say there is an easy way to put an end to such tracking, but it doesn’t seem to be so. If anything, companies like Facebook, Google and others have a big financial interest in tracking you, regardless of what you think, and they are going to make it hard for you to put an end to it all.

That said,  if you still want to take action, I recommend these links. They highlight tools you can use and steps you can take to limit tracking. You don’t have to be technical to read them, but you have to be comfortable making changes to your system.

  1. How to prevent Google from tracking you – CNET – this may be the best article that I read. Mostly focused on Google. There are useful links to tools in here and plugins you can use, like Disconnect and Ghostery. Somewhat technical.
  2. Facebook Is Tracking Your Every Move on the Web; Here’s How to Stop It – This Lifehacker article has more on how to deal with Facebook tracking you than Google, but it is also good.
  3. How to Stop Google, Facebook and Twitter From Tracking You – this piece from ReadWrite talks mostly about the Disconnect tool, but it does it in conjunction with discussion of some other tools. Seems less technical than the first two, if you found the first two links too hard to follow.
  4. How to Stop Google From Tracking You on the Web on NDTV Gadgets has tips that are more manual in nature, if you don’t want to download tools. Also some good information on how to deal with mobile phone tracking.
  5. Delete searches & browsing activity – Accounts Help via Google comes straight from the source of the tracking.

Some thoughts of my own:

  • Consider using two browsers: one for your Google use (e.g. Chrome) and one for other uses (e.g. Firefox or Safari). The non-Google browser you can lock down with blockers and other tools, while the Google oriented browser could be limited to just what you need to integrate with Google.
  • Avoid sites that track you, like Facebook.I know, it isn’t easy. If you have to go on Facebook — you get a call from a sibling asking why you haven’t commented on the new baby pictures there — limit yourself to a few thumbs up and leave it at that. (Knowing Facebook, they will still find a way to do something with even that data.)
  • If you are really concerned, avoid Google altogether and use other search engines, like DuckDuckGo, and other email services, such as Outlook.com. There can still be tracking, but in theory this should make it harder.
  • If you use any of tools, get into a habit of using them and keeping them up to date.
  • Don’t forget to do the same thing on your mobile devices. Facebook can track your activity on your mobile phone, regardless of what you may be doing on the web. You can be tracked via apps just as easily as you can be tracked from your browser.
  • If you do anything else, install the Disconnect plug in and then activate it and go to a newspaper site. You will be amazed just how much tracking is going on. (Also, you do NOT have to sign up for the premium version to get it working.)

Some thoughts on Charlie Hebdo, outrage, and social media in general

Well before the end of 2014, I had decided that I was no longer going to participate or contribute to anything outrageous or political on social media generally, and twitter in particular.

This week I let down my guard and did participate and comment on the recent events in France, mainly because I was stunned by the act of violence.
After considering it for over a week, I think that was a mistake and I am writing this partially to insure I don’t make that mistake again. If you are curious, the next few lines explain my thinking around that resolution. The last four paragraphs talk about what I am going to do instead: feel free to skip down to there.
I have been using social media for a long time, relatively speaking. At first it was merely a curious experience. Then it went to being a positive experience. But more and more it has become a negative experience.
Once social media, and twitter in particular, was for people sharing status. It was random: some good, some bad, nothing focused. However, one really good thing about it was that you got to know people. People you might never get to meet before: the famous and the fabulous and the funny and the friendly. It was a great experience. I know from my own experience that my life was greatly improved by this greater network that I got access to.
While my feed of updates  was once rather random, over time people started focusing their use of it. Celebrities used to to promote their work. Politicians did too. Activists started to try and rally people to their cause. Artists tried to make it into a new form of writing. That was still good.
Among people on twitter, a growing belief was that the benefit of twitter over a site like Facebook was that you could hang out with people you liked but didn’t know (as opposed to hanging out with people on Facebook that you knew but didn’t like). I never agreed with that knock against Facebook, but I did like the people I encountered on twitter. They were good people.
Then not so good people came along. People with no other interest in twitter and social media than to cause problems. It was like a pile of aggressive drunks showing up at a party and getting into fist fights with the rest. Twitter, the company, seem to have no plan in dealing with this. Perhaps it was a result of this, or perhaps it was something else, but the level of aggressiveness and negativity rose on twitter as well. It was a variation of Gresham’s Law, where instead of the bad money driving out the good, the antisocial behavior drives out the positive social behavior. Whatever it is, what I found was that the amount of positive sharing seemed to diminish. People tended to communicate with people they had a previous relationship with, and people seemed more likely to share negative things.
I believe as a result of that, we now see these ever increasing outrage storms on twitter. Where once the outrage over events of the day — if you had any at all — would be limited to yourself or your small social circle, now you can share it with hundreds or thousands of people. Those people can take that and share it with the people they know. And then to add to that, there will be people who disagree with you, and they will express their displeasure to you directly in a way they never could or would if you knew them personally.  This all adds up to an enormous cloud of negativity.
Last December, I noticed people saying 2014 was a terrible year. That surprised me. I am older than many people on twitter, but most people on twitter are educated and experienced enough to know that relatively speaking, 2014 was not a particularly terrible year for many people in the world. I could think of many years in recent memory that were much worse economically, that had much more violence, that had much more disease and suffering. There were terrible things that happened in 2014, but terrible things happen every year and 2014 was no exception.
I believe that people thought 2014 was a terrible year because all of the feedback that they constantly get that gives a strong impression that it was terrible. And feedback is the right word. More and more of the things shared on twitter are negative. Either they are personally negative or there is something in the world that we see which is terrible.
I used to think that sharing such information on twitter could make a positive difference, and that by sharing such information, even if it is upsetting, then it was worth it if something good could come from it. I no longer believe that. Topics change so frequently on twitter now that it is easy to miss them if you are not on twitter for a few days.
Instead, I find social media to be more and more upsetting and aggravating with little upside. There are times when people need to be upset and aggravated if it helps them achieve something they want but can’t achieve otherwise. But too much “stick” and not enough “carrot” is just a form of voluntary suffering.
There have been many times when I wanted to give up on twitter. Back in the fail whale days, the lack of availability was frustrating. Then I was angry when twitter started taking over my stream. In both cases there were technical workarounds to those problems. But this is a social and a culture problem, and those are hard if not impossible to fix with technology.
Ultimately I could give up on twitter. But I have come to like a lot of the people on twitter I follow, and I would hate to lose track of them and what they are doing. It would be nice if there were better ways to filter and manage the information that shows up in my feed, but Twitter the company seems to have decided it is not in their interest for me to do that.
Given all that, my own remedy is slight. The one thing I can do is try and change my own contribution to twitter and try to focus on contributing more constructive and positive updates. I’d encourage you to do the same. Enough positivity and constructive updates can make a big difference eventually.
Also, I am going to try and spend less time vegetating in front of twitter much the way other people crash and vegetate in front of TV. I actually read every tweet in my feed. (Hey, the people I follow in India and Australia and Germany tweet later so I have to read it all:)). Instead of vegetativing like that, I hope to spend my time reading more books, making things (from bread to furniture) and generally get out and do things. I would encourage you to do that as well.
Finally, I am going to look for a select group of causes I can contribute time and money to and focus on the little I can do with the limited resources I have at my disposal. I think I can have more of a positive effect on the world that way than I can contributing to the latest outrage storm on twitter. I would heartily encourage you to do that as well.
If you have made it to this point, I want to thank you for reading this. You may not agree with it, but I hope you were able to take away from it something positive and worthwhile.

ifttt 101. Yes, you need to take this course. It will change your life.


Of all the things on the Internet, ifttt is one of my favorites. It could be yours too. Simply, it is a way to take two of your favorite things on the Internet and combine them into something even better.

First, to learn more about it, go here: How to Supercharge All Your Favorite Webapps with ifttt.

Second, once you read that, go to the site and browse the recipes. Or try and create your own: it isn’t hard.

I especially encourage it for anyone trying to update several forms of social media at the same time. You can link Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, Tumblr, Google, Blogger…you name it. With some practice, you will find recipes that help you keep all your social media in sync and working automatically.

I also encourage people who are interested in the Internet of Things. Or people who want to supercharge their phone. Or…well, just browse the recipes and you’ll likely see one that makes things easier for you.

Some thoughts on mining twitter for art

There was a lot of talk when Cory Archangel published the book above.  Essentially it is a collection of tweets from others tweeting about…well, working on their novel! It’s clever, but it made me think that it is just the beginning of works of arts that could be mined from the colossal amount of tweets each day.  There’s gold in there amongst all the twitter rage and minutiae about people’s day. It deserves better.

Meanwhile, more about that book, here: A Novel Compiled From Crowd Sourced Tweets About Writing A Novel | MAKE.

Does Twitter suck now? Here’s some opinions to compare with your own

I’ll let you decide. Here’s two points of view (not mine):

1) Yes, it does suck (The end of Big Twitter – Text Patterns – The New Atlantis)

2) No, it does not suck (Does Twitter Suck Now?)

My thoughts are mixed on this, as I’ve written earlier.  I’d like to say it is getting better, but I cannot.

 

A return to Twitter (not the service, but the community)

After the frustration with the Twitter service for changes like this, I thought I would give up Twitter. However, Twitter is the sum of a number of parts: there is the service that Twitter provides, from the backend servers to the APIs to the user interfaces and client software you use;  and then there are the people that contribute to Twitter. Among those contributors are people I really enjoy socializing with whom I cannot connect with any other way. To give up all of Twitter means tossing out the baby, the bathwater and even the tub itself. That’s dumb. (I do dumb things often, but typically correct most of them in time. :))

To get around that, I decided to use my limited software skills and the APIs that Twitter provides to write my own Twitter client, in a way. It is a hack, but it is a good hack (for me). I am able to control what I see this way. Not only do I not have promoted tweets, etc., in my feed, but I am able to get rid of things like RTs from everyone, rather than having to turn of RTs one at a time. I’m also able to save all the tweets in a spreadsheet or some other format, so I can look at them when I am less busy, or decide on other filters I want to apply, etc. Later on I can write more filters so if a trending topic gets to be too much, I can just delete it or save it to a different file for later.

Now my Twitter experience is gone from poor to great (for me).  I have thrown out the dirty bath water, but kept the tub and the baby. This makes more sense, obviously.

Last but not least, I appreciate all the people who expressed concern over my leaving Twitter. It was very kind of you, and why I want to stick around, if I can.

 

I am giving up on Twitter

I am going to take a sabbatical from twitter. It’s been a long time coming, but now it feels like it is due.

Twitter has always been a weak service filled with great people that made it great despite it’s weakness. That weakness has been there since the Fail Whale days, yet there was something unique about it that made me stick around.

In what appears to be its increasing effort to become less unique and more like Facebook, I am feeling less and less like sticking around. For whatever reason, last night Twitter decided I needed to read more tweets on Ferguson in the U.S.  (This is remarkable, since almost all of the tweets I was reading in my feed and on lists were regarding Ferguson). To accomplish this, it first gave me tweets that people I follow favorited. Then it started giving me tweets of a journalist that someone I know follows. It’s one thing to put sponsored tweets in my feed, but when twitter takes away control of my feed and just fills it with tweets it presumes I want to read, I am done with being a big user of this service.

I used to love Twitter as a service. I loved it and promoted it since the beginning. Recently, though, it has become a poor experience for me. As a service, I now consider it like I consider Facebook or LinkedIn: something I can use to stay in touch with people and share things, but not much more.

I expect I will still share good things with people and actively encourage people who take the time and effort to share good things with me. During this time, I will look at new tools and new platforms to be social and to make the world a better place. (Maybe I’ll write my own.) Perhaps right now someone is working on a new and better Twitter.

Thanks for the follows, favorites,  retweets and replies.