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.

The/our social dilemma documentary

The social dilemma

I just watched the social dilemma.

I have to say its actually very well produced and gets the points across in a way which I feel might actually cause some thought. We have heard this before in many different places but I liked the family story which gave it some well needed context. Although it does go maybe a bit too far in the story. Heck I was wondering if the son was about to get himself a gun…

My only really issue is its very American focused except Myanmar which received a short segment. The insiders don’t reflect the diversity of wider society but of course that speaks volume. But Cathy O’Neil said it best,

Do we really want to hand this problem over to technologists who helped create this problem?

Unfortunately that kind includes the well meaning Tristan Harris and many others on the documentary. Its interesting who isn’t in the documentary, such as people like Douglas Rushkoff, Doc Searls, Clay Shirky, etc.

Is it the business model, is it the economic model, shareholder value, lack of governmental pressure, legal regulation, monopolistic practices, undemocratic markets? Or is it actually a bit of all of them?

So its a 7/10 its good but I feel After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News (2020) has the edge.

I guess the biggest question is what happens next? Will people actually act after seeing the documentary? Thats the big question.

Little note: I enjoyed the older sister reading The Age of Surveillance Capitalism on the sofa. I didn’t spot Cathy’s Weapons of math destruction and there was attribution to Natasha Schüll’s Addicted by design

Special editions of Tech for good live podcasts coming your way

Black Lives Matter - Cancelling cultur

About a month ago a few friends cc’ed me into a conversation with tech for good live on Twitter by friends

After a while we finally got talking agreed a schedule and I went about getting people to join me on the agreed 3 podcasts. I won’t lie, getting time with busy people in the middle of lockdown was difficult but I managed.

Now I’m very happy to see the first one with David EastmanErinma Ochu, Ethar Alali and Naomi Mwasambili

Enjoy it, email and rate techforgoodlive on google podcasts and itunes. Look out for the next two and thanks to pod.co for sponsoring techforgoodlive

I did talk about doing more around previously and now you can see some of the action I took to date.

Signal what are you up to?

I love Signal and never used Whatsapp because of many reasons included in this great opinion piece. Its gotten better and better but the recent pin number is a worry. I’m not the only one.

“Notably, things we don’t have stored include anything about a user’s contacts (such as the contacts themselves, a hash of the contacts, any other derivative contact information), anything about a user’s groups (such as how many groups a user is in, which groups a user is in, the membership lists of a user’s groups), or any records of who a user has been communicating with,” Signal wrote in 2016.

That, according to critics, has now changed.

“They should have a dumb network that knows nothing because it can’t be compromised then,” The Grugq told Motherboard. “[Having contacts] is a lot. It isn’t messages, sure. But I don’t like it. I don’t want them to have anything. Make the networks dumb and the clients smart.”

I do understand why they have done it, but I don’t know where its going next. Marlnspike (head dev of Signal) replies.

Marlinspike defended the decision to enable PINs and give users a way to migrate to a new device and keep certain data, and will increase the security of users’ metadata, “new features Signal users have been asking for.”

“The purpose of PINs is to enable upcoming features like communicating without sharing your phone number. When that is released, your Signal contacts won’t be able to live in the address book on your phone anymore, since they may not have phone numbers associated with them,” Marlinspike told Motherboard. “For most users, this also increases the security of their metadata. Most people’s address book is syncing with Google or Apple, so this change will prevent Google and Apple from having access to your Signal contacts.”

Smartphone use
Photo by Gilles Lambert on Unsplash

The changes Signal has made show how there can be a tension between messenger usability and feature set and security. It’s too early to say whether you should stop using the messenger. For most users’ threat models, it’s still one of the best options. But one of the key things that set Signal apart—that it collects almost no information about its users, appears to be changing.

Convenience is the enemy of security and I would say privacy. I wouldn’t be surprised if signal gets forked.

It was always clear to me Twitter direct messages was never secure in anyway, hence why I tried to move private conversations over to another medium. If thats not email or signal what else? Recently I have been looking at a couple others…

Session which is decentralised messaging and Criptext, which is actually secure email. Both need work but have decent security.

Flokk contacts app

I recently gave flokk a run on my laptop as a snap. I was surprised how different a concept it is and also the decisions they made.

Its simply a google contact manager but its focused around social. Its not perfect but I wasn’t sure about it at first, I didn’t want to enter in additional information if it wasn’t actually syncing with my google contacts. I checked and all the details I entered into my contacts were correctly synced and not dumped into additional data. They were!

Quite a few friends have complained that I don’t follow them on twitter. This is a really neat way to see what they up.

Its got some work to do on the contact management but as a social tool its good. Currently it only supports Twitter and Github but I can imagine Mastodon could be easily added in the future. I know Facebook would be interesting for other people too I guess.

Looking at flutter more and more now

Is it about time twitter was put under a public remit?

Twitter: Handle with care
Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

You can’t have missed the twitter (social engineering) hacks.

It was pretty bad but no where near as bad as it could have been. Others have thought exactly the same as I have, bitcoin and direct messages was just the start, they could have started world war 3.

Ok this is still a live hack with new information coming out every hour but its clear as sight. International and even national politics shouldn’t be announced on twitter or any social media really.

However lets be clear, that level of power in one place is just too great one  company. Another example is Facebook and what happened with Cambridge Analytica.

I know Jack was talking about decentralising twitter a while ago but something as big and powerful likely needs two things.

  1. Be decentralised or federated
  2. Be something more like a public utility than a profit making company

I know many will disagree but honestly I would feel much more safer with twitter under a different remit, a public remit? (I do not mean government control)

Not to say the social engineering wouldn’t have happened but there would be a stricter understanding of the importance and more accountability for the attention & power it has currently.

Mastodon shows, social data-portability the way it should be

https://mas.to/@cubicgarden/104231400255269868

I recently moved from Mastodon.cloud to Mas.to. My main reason was for some (political?) reason mastodon.cloud was no longer accepted as part of the crossposter accepted domains.

I looked into hosting my own crossposter but decided there might be a reason why mastodon.cloud isn’t supported anymore? I had a look around the fediverse and read quite a few of the terms for each instance/domain. Mas.to looked good.

The actual moving was easily done as per the instructions here.

So easy and quick, if only it was always like this…?

Bezos’s possible trillionaire status is the worst of capitalism and inequality

There is a lot wrong with the world especially our western capitalistic society. The very thought/notion of one person being personally worth one trillion (in less than 10 years) is just unthinkable with all the problems in the world.

Bill Maher sums it up nicely in new rules. Although not a fan of relying on these rich white men to share the wealth, Jack Dorsey recent pledge did take me by surprise. Especially how transparent he is with it all.

The whole Bezos issue reminds me of the talks and books by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, especially the spirit level. (I still haven’t read the inner level yet)

In their influential 2009 book The Spirit Level, the epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrated conclusively the pernicious effects of economic inequality. In more unequal countries, outcomes are worse for almost everyone in areas such as public health, education, obesity and social mobility.

Demostration of inquality in action
From Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s the spirit level book, this cartoon is just perfect.

 

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (Jan 2020)

Greta Thunberg

Good day, happy new year and looking forward to a new decade with you all!

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed by looking at the next US election or at the endless denial about explainable algorithms.

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 Finland’s new prime minister, Sanna Marin at the age of 34, focusing on climate change.

 

The threat of quantum computing explained

Ian thinks: This is a serious challenger for so much of the encrypted systems we rely on daily.

Why do people listen to Greta?

Ian thinks: Makes a really strong point about creativity. It something I also worry we forget as it doesn’t conveniently fit our tired metrics.

A critical look at economical value

Ian thinks: Mariana makes some great points about different types of value.

Anarchy, Federation, IndieWeb the Fedverse

Ian thinks: Defining yourself in opposition to something else, doesn’t give you enough conceptual space is why I always quoting Buckminster Fuller

EFF’s deep dive into public key encryption

Ian thinks: Its one of those things which is banded about but few people when asked can explain it as well as the EFF

Webxray gives an insight behind the webpage

Ian thinks: The Webxray tool which runs on Linux & Mac is quite impressive to use. Gives a real insight into whats going on in the web when it comes tracking and the advertisement ecosystem

Decentralisation isn’t just about the internet

Ian thinks: The importance of decentralised networks applies to more than just the internet

Jason Silva interviews Kevin Kelly

Ian thinks: Technology, drugs, spiritualism its all in there and its quite a interview too.

Real People, Doing Real Things segment on teamhuman

Ian thinks: The new segment is welcomed on teamhuman and botsentinel is a good project to start with.

Jack Dorsey funding a decentralised twitter

Ian thinks: When I first heard this I almost fell off my chair, then thought this is classic innovators dilemma or twitter seeing the writing on the wall?

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.

 

Twitter is now somewhat back for me… for how long?

cawbird on linux

I pretty much stopped using twitter after the change to their streaming API which broke my Linux client Corebird, meaning the only way to refresh the timeline is to close the app and start it again. Yeah crazy stuff!

On top of this my client on Android, Plume only gets direct messages a few times a day and there’s other messed up things happen which just cause all types of problems.

I refuse to install the twitter app because I’m pretty peed off about Twitter and to be frank I was using Mastodon to connect to twitter in the Indieweb POSSE way.

Then today I saw there is a fork of Corebird called Cawbird. I installed it and its working (currently). However I don’t trust Twitter to not mess with things making it impossible for such a linux app to work without constant changes.

Gender diversity on twitter?

Results of who I follow on twitter

I rarely read twitter due to the API changes which I’ve talked about in the past. But I saw Teknoteacher talking about changing his followers after reading about Male tech CEOs follower accounts. I thought I’d share some things I discovered too. Especially reading this a while back.

So my results are above, using the online tool – https://www.proporti.onl.

But a while ago I used Open Human’s twitter archive analyzer by Bastian Greshake Tzovaras. It was super sobering!

Here is my replies by gender from when I first started using Twitter back in 2017. As you can see there was a massive spike of conversation with males in 2012, I also generally talk to more men than women on twitter.

My replies & gender Likewise when retweeting based on gender its mainly males. Recently its a lot closer to 50% which is great but I wonder with my lack of twitter use, how that will effect things? (I have requested a new update of my twitter data)

My retweets & genderOf course my instant thought is there is noise in the figures as its not always clear if people are male or female for many reasons. But its disappointing to read Elon Musk’s tweet.

And read about others such as…

Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google, follows 267 accounts on Twitter. Of those, 238 appear to be men. He follows nearly as many Twitter Eggs (15) as women (21).

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, followed the most women (39) of any of the accounts examined by the Guardian, though that is still half the number of men he follows (78) out of a total of 165 accounts.

I’d really like to see this applied to race not just gender too. It reminds me how I was going to learn more Python so I can create this as a Juno personal notebook in Open Humans.

Updated…

I updated Open Humans with my latest Twitter data export and here are the results.
Once again very sobering to see. Got to make some changes.

Screenshot of replies for 2019

Worth adding from TwArχiv site.

The graph shows you the number of replies to Twitter users that are classified as either male or female. The classifications are predictions based on users’ first names as given in their Twitter accounts. The predictions itself are performed by the Python package gender_guesser . It uses name/gender-frequencies from a larger text corpus. mostly male, mostly female, andy and unknown classifications are ignored. To decrease the noise the daily values have been averaged by a daily average over a 180 day window (dataframe.rolling('180d').mean()).

Ideally these graphs would include non-binary folks. Doing this is a bit trickier. It is thus a work in progress.

Screenshot of retweets for 2019Also worth mentioned…

Even more interesting than whether replying to people might be gendered can be the question which voices are being amplified . On Twitter a good indicator of amplification are retweets. These can be gender balanced or show biases, similarly to the replies to other users.

The graph shows you the number of retweets to Twitter users that are classified as either male or female. The classifications are again predictions made by the Python package gender_guesser . To decrease the noise the daily values have again been averaged by a daily average over a 180 day window (dataframe.rolling('180d').mean()).

Ideally these graphs would include non-binary folks. Doing this is a bit trickier. It is thus a work in progress.

The horizon dating experiment on TV again…

Horizon dating

It was Valentines day a little while ago and while I was busy. I guess someone at the BBC thought it would be a good idea to put up the Horizon Dating Experiment again.

I got a whole bunch of people asking me if they saw me on TV recently… Well yes you did and there is a story worth reading behind it all. I’m not the only one who blogged about it too. To be fair it all started with Rachel Clarke who pointed it out the call to me after my bad experience with the Year of making love.

Horizon dating experiment

To be fair although its back on Telly again, the best example of where the Horizon dating experiment popped up has to be on a plane at 36000 feet. Found via my good friend Claire

Back of a airplane seat

 

Maybe it really time to drop twitter…

Dead twitter

I use to use Corebird on my laptop for twitter access. Today this was broken and with a quick search found a page explaining all.

As many of you may know, Twitter decided to remove the UserStream API, which many third-party clients use, including Corebird. It’s a vital part of the user experience and is used for real-time timeline updates, DM retrieval, mentions, etc.

The replacement is the Accounts Activity API. I have not looked much into its details since the technical difficulties are enough to make it virtually impossible for me to port Corebird to it, but what I know is that real-time tweet updates aren’t supported and the prices are well beyond what I could possibly pay (“$2,899 per month for 250 users”).

Now, there would be a few ways out, of course. Porting to the Accounts Activity API is off the table, but other protocols exist. Since Corebird has never been anything else than a Twitter client, there is no abstraction for the Twitter API however, so porting to another protocol will be a lot of work again. Since I’m not a student anymore, I can’t promise to do any of that work. The master branch is additionally in a very WIP state with the ongoing GTK4 port and a bunch of other features.

The API removal will take place mid-August, so Corebird will mostly stop working at that point. I do not know of any real alternative that is not twitter.com of course.

If this explanation was too convulted, http://apps-of-a-feather.com/ has one as well.

I’d like to thank everyone who helped me over they years and all the patrons on here especially for all the support.

Seriously… I’m so very very close to dropping twitter, as although I benefited greatly from it in the past. They seriously have over stepped the mark and my alternative Mastodon is growing massively. I already stopped cross posting to Facebook after their decision to drop automated posting.