What is Bluesky doing which others can’t do?

A leaf, blueskies and clouds

Following Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey’s discussion about de-platforming Trump, there was mention about Decentralisating twitter and BlueSky.

He first made mention of this in 2019 in a number of tweets.

Researchers involved with bluesky reveal to TechCrunch an initiative still in its earliest stages that could fundamentally shift the power dynamics of the social web.

Bluesky is aiming to build a “durable” web standard that will ultimately ensure that platforms like Twitter have less centralized responsibility in deciding which users and communities have a voice on the internet. While this could protect speech from marginalized groups, it may also upend modern moderation techniques and efforts to prevent online radicalization.

When I first heard about Bluesky there was little information then at some point during the pandemic I heard about the iOS only app Planetary. My instant thought was oh no there going to try and bypass all the excellent work which has been done by others already. Especially with ActivityPub now a W3C recommendation.

I looked beyond the Techcrunch post (which is full of little odd bits) to see what I could dig up about Bluesky. Looking at the Github repo from Planetary it seems to be based on the Scuttlebot.io protocol? Its good to also see Scuttlebug to ActivityPub and RSS too. As its Scuttlebot, theres other clients for many other platforms.

So my question is what difference does it make over what already exists?
I get if twitter was to be a client of the protocol that would be generally a good thing and I imagine the publicity for decentralised systems would be welcomed but beyond that? Will their business model change? Will anything change? I guess does anything need to change from Twitter’s point of view?
On top of this all, will all the efforts before hand be forgotten now Twitter throws their hat into the ring? That would be awful for all the hard work others have put in for years and years.

Replacing Mixcloud with Funkwhale

Funkwhale mixes

For a long while I have been threatening to leave Mixcloud in favour of hosting my own mixes. I looked around and thought funkwhale looks great as its a federated network for music. With some help from JonT, I started to scrape the metadata I stupidly forgot to keep for myself.

I installed Funkwhale on the Yunoserver but spent too much time trying to work out how to mount my NAS on the Yunoserver. I gave Navidrome but  decided it wasn’t right as there was no way to listen without logging in, so went back to Funkwhale and got things up and running.

Seems Funkwhale might not be the best solution for the mixes, plus the developer is looking for new maintainers recently. Its really setup for single tracks not mixes. I could upload mixes but my plan to use cue files, won’t work. The only place to put playlists is in the comments. I also need to do more digging as I can’t change the year of the mixes. More importantly, the public sharing is a bit broken for me. You should be able to listen to the radio but its not working for me

Funkwhale profile

As I get my head around it all but you can subscribe via RSS and if you’re using Mastodon or other fediverse applications, you can subscribe to this account: @digitalitalicmixes@mixes.cubicgarden.info.

Enjoy, I’m one step closer to self hosting my mixes.

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (Nov 2020)

How the fediverse deals with trolls

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed seeing the next big social network using the exact same centralised model as the existing ones; while us privileged dive into our exit pods.

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

You are seeing aspects of this happening with do not track being rethought and getting some legal muscle.


The curious past and future of Signal CEO

Ian thinks: Good to hear more about the mysteries figure which is Signal’s CEO Moxie Marlinspike. His views of taking back our privacy, moving systems into the public infrastructure category and making encryption the default; is quite telling looking at his past. Unlike most, he has the knowledge and system to actually implement with others the reality he thinks about.

Is scale the enemy of human kind?

Ian thinks: This interview with Marina Gorbis from the institute of the future with Douglas Rushkoff is full of status-quo busting thoughts. The centre idea is how the allure of scale is actually the main problem the human race faces.

How to fight black box algorithms together

Ian thinks: Openschufa a project which aggregates your GDPR requested financial data with others to reveal bias, is the type of services I was hoping would come out of GDPR’s data portability rules. Look forward to seeing more like this.

Decentralized Social Networks vs. The Trolls

Ian thinks: This video is excellent and one of the reasons I have always been keen to use fediverse services like Mastodon and Pixelfed. This is another good talk from the Activity pub conference

How Ghent removed cars from the city

Ian thinks: When I visited Ghent last year I did notice the city centre was very quiet from the lack of cars. I had no idea but it felt like a place to live and walk. Lessons for other European cities?

Techdirt experiments with web monetization

Ian thinks: I personally have been following the web monetization protocol and grant for the web project for a while. Even adding it to my own personal blog, but its great to see Techdirt taking up the same protocol. Web monetization is growing and growing.

The role of design during Covid19

Ian thinks: This is a impressive list of 7 design based innovations which have helped and aided during the pandemic. All very different and all inspiration.

Understand digital identity beyond self-sovereign

Ian thinks: Centralised digital identity is easy to understand, but self-sovereign identity is being pushed as the way forward. However this essay by Philip Sheldrake, really shakes up the notions of identity in a way I’m still struggling to think about now.

Facebook won’t take the social dilemma lying down

Ian thinks: I thought Facebook would ignore the social dilemma as its not that great compared the great hack or after truth, plus there are many issues. But Facebook have hit back claiming the documentary as sensationalism. Seems to have touched a nerve I think?


Find the archive here

What centralised systems could learn from the fediverse when it comes to trolls

This video from the activitypub conference 2020, is a perfect example of what I have tried to explain to friends and colleagues. The moderation isn’t just people but a system which is baked into the infrastructure of the fediverse. As the video explains its not perfect but its likely more effective than the centralised systems of Twitter, Facebook, etc.

I do remember when I heard about gab joining the fediverse and the outcry by many who didn’t fully understand how the fediverse works.

The ActivityPub Ecosystem talk, some quick thoughts

I was watching Evan Prodromou giving a talk at the ActivityPub conference and jotted down a few rough thoughts along the way.

Slide 3 – We don’t need to do things the way commercial social networks do.
He’s right theres an opportunity for different types of business models but everybody keeps comparing it to the commercial business models. Heck even myself, I have been writing a presentation and have a slide with number of users.

Slide 5 – What kind of experience would you have with the provider of the software if it was trusted?
This is a good question, my experience with different software and systems is quite different because its under my control or is more trusted. It does change the way you use and what kind of data I’m willing to share?

Slide 8 – What kind of client apps? Evan talks a lot about the fun type of client events which would benefit from a good client API. Reminds me what ever happened to the poking or the old twitter nudge

Slide 9 – More free accounts.
Evan talks about many different local and small groups which could do with something more smaller and local. For example churches, neighbourhoods, cities, families, schools and universities. I would add teams, leagues, local committees, residents committees.. This is something which drives me bananas that we have to use facebook groups for a local residents group. Then have to protect it from external others. Most of the residents are sitting on high speed fiber. It should be super easy to run a local system. Slide 10 – Talking of running a local system, Evan is right, there is something good and powerful about simple self contained devices. I would happily buy a raspberry pi like system where I plug it into my network and I get a activitypub/fediverse server. Add the ability for zeroconf and zero-maintenance and you got something which could have a great user experience and that would be very welcomed. Its why I use Xbian for Kodi on my raspberry pi. Right now I’d happily install Funkwhale on a Raspberry Pi because trying to use docker has been a endless battle.

Slide 11 – Federation of things not internet of things.
Its something I’ve been thinking about a lot, in a recent project with Lancaster and Edinburgh University, I described a system which sucks up your personal data and just makes a copy of it but under your control.. That device (we ended up calling the pebble) is pretty much what Evan is talking about but at a larger scale and static within the home.
The pebble device was meant to copy your personal area network (PAN) communication like your phone, headphones, smartwatch, smart ring, steps, etc.

Slide 12 – Quantified Self
Perfectly timed Evan describes the project for the pebble system I just mentioned. Capturing, runs, food, heartbeats, etc.. But what for? Slide 13 – Lifestreaming! One of the reasons for is because of lifestreaming. If you haven’t heard this term for a long while, its something I and others use to talk about a lot. Iys lost its meaning a bit but also fell out of favour.I do collect a lot of data and maybe for the same reasons as Evan, some kind of digital legacy? The last 3 slides make this much more possible than currently requesting data or scraping it.

Slide 14 – We don’t have to get people hooked!
This goes without saying right?

Slide 15 – Optimize for happy
I like where this is going, always thought there is something in the long time de-funked happiest network. The network seemed to fail because of the weight of investors and the need for a business model. but if we take some examples from slide 16, like helping people, making things, getting enough sleep and wrap them up in a network which doesn’t need business model as such. Now that could be something.

Seeing feel gratitude, also got me thinking about a simple gratitude client which posts in activitypub. Feels like something I could write but surprised no one hasn’t already done it? Been also thinking about a mashup of happiest, gratitude status, google’s defunked schemer and the BBC R&D human values.

Slide 17 – Optimize for connection.
Yes indeed, right on the  human values train. The deepening of friendships and relationships can be massively powerful. And likewise…

Slide 18 – Optimize for meaning
Love the idea of Awesomescrolling oppose to doomscrolling! Not like Tiktok but something with substance which isn’t about entertaining you or being popular (what ever else the tiktok algorithm is optimised for).
Something which aids you in finding purpose and finding out whats really important to you, not just what advertisers want to put in front of you. Also love the idea of walking away with a sense of accomplishment not just happiness (not that this alone wouldn’t be enough of course).

Lastly Evan makes a good point about scaring people into the network. Important point made well…

Some interesting Indieweb developments

Person with chromebook
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Update with more conference details

I’ve been keeping an eye on whats happening in the next/web3/fediverse/indieweb space, here are a few things I found interesting

Theres a virtual conference about everything Activitypub.

Activitypub.rocks

A conference about the present and future of ActivityPub, the world’s leading federated social web standard.

Looks like a good virtual conference, and don’t forget to register for it.

One to mark the calendar and another one…

I  noticed there is a Fediverse , sessions and sign up here.

I was mentioning webmentions to someone the other day and wondering if there was other places webmentions could work beyond the typical scenarios. So when I saw Whim (a command-line utility for sending, receiving, and working with webmentions) with these features

Daemon to receive and store incoming webmentions
Webmention verifier, suitable for scheduled operation
A tool for sending webmentions, individually or en masse (given a source URL)
Commands to query a local database of received webmentions
Simple webserver to display webmention-powered comment sections as HTML, suitable for JavaScript-driven insertion into an otherwise static webpage

Talking about indieweb and fediverse software, I’m impressed the long list of other software projects. Theres some neat projects there including

  • dokieli looks good as its hits so many of the standards I’m interested in, especially the web annotations.
  • reel2bits looks like funkwhale but maybe more webby
  • gath.io is a quick and easy way to make and share events. Events are public with the special link, its like what doodle.com does.
  • bookwyrm is a federated book reviewing system, aka a fedi-goodreads

Lastly a couple of things, although loosely indieweb/fediverse related.

I was interested to hear Kaliya Young on Floss weekly recently. Kaliya I have met a few times at the Mydata conference. Self-sovereign identity and the use of verifiable credentials and decentralized identifiers is a interesting area. I get the concept but haven’t had the chance to set one up yet. Last year after going to the Indiewebcamp, I setup indieauth which works in a similar way? In actual fact, it finally worked for me on retrying it.

I felt Kaliya did a reasonable job of explaining it but you can tell by the questions she was getting, people were not following. I recommend the Mydata 2018 talk although its moved on quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong its a very difficult thing to get, especially with audio only.

However I did catch Kaliya saying how important standards are and some kind of implementation. I very much agree, this is why I love what the indieweb community do. It also reminded me of something I heard on the twit podcast network too. Protocols not platformsProtocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech.

Lets also not forget the experiment I’m part of with Web Monitization. So far its pretty good without having to block access to my postings. I’m sure there will be an update in a future blog post.

A better way to listen to mixes online?

Funkwhale audio logo

For a while I have been thinking about leaving Mixcloud. Its nothing personal, I think its a great service for djs but its clear their business model is starting to interfere with the listening experience.

I had a thought about what Mixcloud do for me and decided these are the key things.

  1. Hosting the full mix with limited rights problems (unless you do something like play a track from the same author twice)
  2. The community of people and djs in one place
  3. Ability to see the actual tracks within the mix

With this in mind, I thought I’d see what else was out there as I’m lucky enough to be sitting on a large enough internet connection to host my own mixes and become a node on a larger decentralised network. If it was build like the fediverse, that could solve the community side too? After looking around for alternatives I found a new upstart called funkwhale. You may have seen I mention it recently in a previous blog.

Maybe 1 and 2 could be solved but what about 3?

The last part of the puzzle seemed to be the track problem, as you want seamless playback but get an idea of what you are listening to. Mixcloud does this via metadata, which you can create via a slider over the audio waveform. Some DJ systems create this for you like the Pacemaker for example but that metadata is lost in translation I found. If only there was a standard way to define areas of a mix without slicing the audio mix up?

For example, here is a ambient mix I liked recently.

Its by Tonepoet and even they have gone through the effort of adding this metadata to their personal site complete with timings. I do a similar thing but without the timings (which I really should have added since I had them all and entered them into Mixcloud manually.

I looked a number of things including a bunch of playlist formats including pls, m3u and xspf. Even looked at smil and asx to see if they would help, but their problem was player support. The issue seemed to be they all treated their smallest objects as physical files rather than subsets of files. I did buy into xspf thought it was close with this extension.

The extension element allows non-XSPF XML to be included in XSPF documents. The purpose is to allow nested XML, which the meta and link elements do not. xspf:playlist elements MAY contain zero or more extension elements.

<playlist version="1" xmlns="http://xspf.org/ns/0/" xmlns:cl="http://example.com">
  <extension application="http://example.com">
    <cl:clip start="25000" end="34500"/>
  </extension>
  <trackList />
</playlist>

Close but not quite right and player support for extensions was going to be low. This is when I rethought the problem with something like .nfo files and found .cue files. Here is an example…

REM GENRE Electronica
REM DATE 1998
PERFORMER "Faithless"
TITLE "Live in Berlin"
FILE "Faithless - Live in Berlin.mp3" MP3
  TRACK 01 AUDIO
    TITLE "Reverence"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 00:00:00
  TRACK 02 AUDIO
    TITLE "She's My Baby"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 06:42:00
  TRACK 03 AUDIO
    TITLE "Take the Long Way Home"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 10:54:00
  TRACK 04 AUDIO
    TITLE "Insomnia"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 17:04:00
  TRACK 05 AUDIO
    TITLE "Bring the Family Back"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 25:44:00
  TRACK 06 AUDIO
    TITLE "Salva Mea"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 30:50:00
  TRACK 07 AUDIO
    TITLE "Dirty Old Man"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 38:24:00
  TRACK 08 AUDIO
    TITLE "God Is a DJ"
    PERFORMER "Faithless"
    INDEX 01 42:35:00

Perfect, so I took one of mixes, Quiver in the underground and turned the .nfo file into a .cue file.

REM GENRE Tech Trance
REM DATE 2019
PERFORMER "Digital Italic"
TITLE "Quiver in the underground mix"
FILE "Quiver in the underground mix.mp3" MP3
TRACK 01 AUDIO
TITLE "Activator, I know you can (That kid chris mix)"
PERFORMER "Whatever girl"
INDEX 01 00:00:00
TRACK 02 AUDIO
TITLE "Air traffic (Erik De Koning remix)"
PERFORMER "Three drives"
INDEX 01 02:07:00
TRACK 03 AUDIO
TITLE "Chinook"
PERFORMER "Markus Schulz pres. Dakota"
INDEX 01 07:25:00
TRACK 04 AUDIO
TITLE "Opium (Quivver remix)"
PERFORMER "Jerome Isma-Ae & Alastor"
INDEX 01 10:32:00
TRACK 05 AUDIO
TITLE "Surveillance"
PERFORMER "Jordon Suckley & Kutski"
INDEX 01 15:24:00
TRACK 06 AUDIO
TITLE "Nitric (Division one remix)"
PERFORMER "Hybrid system"
INDEX 01 19:02:00
TRACK 07 AUDIO
TITLE "Circa-Forever (Galen Behr & Organ Nilsen remix)"
PERFORMER "Rapid eye"
INDEX 01 23:55:00
TRACK 08 AUDIO
TITLE "Opulence"
PERFORMER "Simon Patterson"
INDEX 01 30:05:00
TRACK 09 AUDIO
TITLE "J'ai envie de toi (Protoculture remix)"
PERFORMER "Armin Van Buuren presents Gaia"
INDEX 01 35:10:00
TRACK 10 AUDIO
TITLE "Z.I.T.A (M.I.K.E's progressiva mix)"
PERFORMER "Hiver & Hammer with Funabashi"
INDEX 01 39:30:00
TRACK 11 AUDIO
TITLE "Kubrick (Extended mix)"
PERFORMER "Jerome Isma-Ae & Alastor"
INDEX 01 42:01:00

Tried it out on a number of media player and they all worked except Plex.

There is a very good chance if I was to run my own funkwhale node/server I could set it to index .cue files and playback the mix in a seamless way like Mixcloud? Theres only one way to find out really… Get Funkwhale installed!

On a side note I am slightly kicking myself now because I entered all that metadata into mixcloud but never stored it myself. I’m going to need to go through 90 of my own mixes and convert my .nfo files into .cue files.

I have the SQLite Database for my pacemaker device with the actual real timings but I need to identify which mix is which one (another thing I should have done, as changed the names of the mix depending on many things). I also hoped mixcloud’s developers guide would come to the rescue but it looks like maybe a GDPR request is my only option if I want the metadata for my mixes?

Why one client is a bad idea

 

I recently saw this in my email and elsewhere…

We recently fixed a vulnerability within Twitter for Android that could allow a bad actor to see nonpublic account information or to control your account (i.e., send Tweets or Direct Messages). Prior to the fix, through a complicated process involving the insertion of malicious code into restricted storage areas of the Twitter app, it may have been possible for a bad actor to access information (e.g., Direct Messages, protected Tweets, location information) from the app.

We don’t have evidence that malicious code was inserted into the app or that this vulnerability was exploited, but we can’t be completely sure so we are taking extra caution.

We have taken steps to fix this issue and are directly notifying people who could have been exposed to this vulnerability either through the Twitter app or by email with specific instructions to keep them safe. These instructions vary based on what versions of Android and Twitter for Android people are using. We recommend that people follow these instructions as soon as possible. If you are unsure about what to do, update to the latest version of Twitter for Android. This issue did not impact Twitter for iOS.

We’re sorry this happened and will keep working to keep your information secure on Twitter. You can reach out to our Office of Data Protection through this form to request information regarding your account security.

Its clear to me, twitter’s plan to restrict API access to limit the clients and ultimately force people into using their own appis and always was a bad idea!

Jack talks a good game about a decentralised twitter but lets be honest, its not going to truly happen. Their company interests are too tightly wound up in this all. Of course theres already standards for this, just that twitter refuse to support micropub, activitypub, etc… Rosemary mentions this on a twit recently.