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Culture

On Social Networks and Twitter

I have been extremely online since the late 1990s. I’ve been using The Internet socially since I was a teenager, so the concept of a “social network” has always seemed a little reductive to me.

For me and my peers, a social network is maybe a more connected and organized internet experience. A simplification and centralization of a bunch of tools we were already using.

In light of the recent acquisition (and subsequent workplace hell) of Twitter by Elon Musk I’ve been giving some thought to why I like(d) Twitter and how I’ve been using The Internet socially over the years.

I’ve come up with a short list of things I look for in a “social network.”

Curated News

News is the foundation of many social interactions. It gives us something to talk about.

I’ve never been one to religiously check a particular edited “newspaper” daily. I find that they always have too much and too little of what I care about.

Similarly, RSS has never really worked well for me as a source of news. As soon as you follow one or two more active sources, you end up with a giant inbox of unread articles every morning. I don’t enjoy wading through every single news story in the universe to find the ones I might be interested in.

Purely algorithmic news (recently via Apple News) is just as bad, or worse. The news algorithm never quite finds the right articles for me either.

Reddit is decent. However, I seem to have curated a feed where the news:lulz ratio skews highly “lulz.” I kind of like it that way, I don’t go to Reddit purely for news.

On Twitter thought I’ve been able to tune my feed to act as a curated news source (with low lulz volume). I rarely blindly follow someone on Twitter without first taking a cursory look at their timeline to see if they’ve posted links or retweets that I’d be interested in.

This approach has given me a timeline that’s full of good quality content that I’m genuinely interested in reading.

I try to be cognizant of the echo chamber this might create but to some degree this feels like a problem outside the scope of a social network. Keeping in open mind is more important than anything else.

World-Wide Friendships

Ever since the early days of IRC one of the most compelling features of The Internet to me has been the ability to have genuine social interactions with people from around the world.

These interactions typically take the form of semi-asynchronous, low stakes, casual comment threads.

But every once in a while these casual interactions become true friendships and slide into more synchronous messaging.

As an introvert, I’ll often start up a DM conversation with a friend to fill the time nervously waiting for something in an unfamiliar situation. Be that waiting for a business meeting with a new client at a restaurant in Winnipeg or anxiously waiting for a flight in Munich.

The Internet has truly made the world a smaller place. Social networks and their adjacent messaging systems enable this. And it’s awesome!

An Audience for Thought Bubbles

The Internet has been ingrained in my life for so long that posting an interesting thought or unusual question to “the internet” is a natural outcome of my thought process.

Twitter is the perfect medium for these types of thought bubbles because the character limit strongly encourages short content.

I could technically post all of these little thoughts and questions here on this blog but even if my blog had an audience the size of twitter I doubt I would get the same level of quality engagement. Blogging is fundamentally different from tweeting. It’s the reason I have written over 22,000 tweets and only published 433 blog posts.

Twitters’ focus on the character limit has sets it apart in the history of social networks. It’s one of the biggest pieces of its success.

A Central Meeting Space

Social networks serve an important role as a central repository of “you.” A place where people can find you, find links to the broader you and even meet you.

Theoretically a personal websites could serve the same purpose but the killer feature of any social network (by definition) is its tendency to put your face in front of people you don’t know and who you might like to meet.

Punk Rock

You can @ or DM almost anyone on Twitter and — with the exception of the biggest names and most “important” people — you can expect to receive a genuine reply from them.

This is one of the coolest things about Twitter. I’ve never had this experience anywhere else on the internet. It’s the punkest of rock.


These various components of a good online social experience have been available online for decades. IRC, Geocities, ICQ/AIM/MSN, forums, LiveJournal, Blogger, MySpace, tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram just to name a few of the places and ways in which I’ve experienced them over the years. Not to mention the probably a half dozen websites and apps we’ve all totally forgotten about.

Twitter is special.

Twitter has collapsed social interaction into one platform in a unique way that will be very difficult to supersede. In fact, I don’t think we’ll ever have anything quite like it again and I think we’ll miss it when it’s gone.

Mastodon and other apps attempting feature parity are missing the magic. There’s something intangible about the way that users have come to interact on Twitter that can’t be replicated by features alone.

The next Twitter will look quiet different.

Categories
Culture Winnipeg

The False Dichotomy of Bikes v. Cars

I’ve been engaging with a lot of anti-bike folks on twitter over the past few months.

Observations and Thoughts.

[Note: these people are sometimes pejoratively called “carbrains” but that’s unfair, I think at lot of people share these views, even if they are not against bikes]

1. The built environment is immutable.

When someone says “Winnipeg is a car city,” they’re stating a fact, like “the sky is blue.”

It’s not right or wrong. It’s the way it is.

Whether it can or should change is beyond consideration.

2. Driving is frustrating.

Their arguments undoubtedly include an anecdote about a frustrating driving experience. Often with an accusation that I must never have experienced a similar frustration.

Drivers demand funding for road improvements as a remedy to this frustration.

3. Induced demand adds frustration.

While it’s important to inform drivers that adding more roads won’t solve their driving frustration, pointing this out only makes them more frustrated.

You’ve just told them that they live in a frustrating environment with no way out.

4. Cycling infrastructure demands that everyone bike.

This belief stems from a feeling that bike lanes are disruptive and expensive. So funding them can only be justified if most people bikes most places.

And it’s a nonstarter b/c of the how far most people would have to bike.

5. Safety isn’t a consideration.

Car violence is seen as state of nature.

Cars are so ingrained in our world that we’ve come to regard them as similar to a force of nature like weather.

Much like the built environment, it’s just the way it is. Shit happens.


Ok. So given these observations, I think we could make great strides by emphasizing the positive knock-on effects of funding bike lanes.

Namely that bike lanes actually make driving EASIER, save money and are a better use of land.

https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/8/14/why-drivers-should-support-bike-lanes

I would even go so far as to say that the tension between the two groups is false.

Bikes and cars are only at odds with each other because of 70 years of poor planning based on bad math.

Once you understand that the way forward becomes clear.

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Uncategorized

iOS Focus Modes Changed My Life

Well, almost. They certainly changed my relationship with my devices.

What’s a focus mode?

You might have noticed that “focus” button in iOS your phone’s Control Center and never known what it does. Or maybe you have noticed “driving focus” when you connect to your car’s bluetooth.

Focus Modes one of many great iOS feature that Apple really doesn’t do a great job of explaining well. It’s almost a hidden feature.

It’s basically Apple’s reaction to the notification hellscape we’ve been in for the last decade. They enable customizations to allow you to “focus” and be more productive with your Apple devices.

As of iOS 16 there are 3 main ways I use focus modes on my iPhone.

1. Rein in Notifications

Focus modes allow you selectively disable notifications. You may have experienced this if you’ve used the default “do not disturb” focus mode.

But it might not be obvious that you can customize this so that you only get notification (or calls) from certain contacts and apps.

You can also hide notification badges entirely so that you won’t be distracted by all those red dots.

2. Custom Home Screen

As of iOS 15 you hide a home screen. Again, it’s not obvious how you do this or why you’d want to do it. Here’s Apple’s documentation on how to do it.

The “why” becomes clear when you learn that a focus mode and be associated to a specific home screen. This allows you fill a home screen with widgets and apps that are relevant to the focus mode you are in. For example, only work apps in work focus. Much much more on this below.

3. Custom Lock Screen

iOS 16 added lock screen customization. You might have noticed a little “focus” button a the bottom of the lock screen customizer that enables you to link a lock screen to a focus modes.

Right now, the most useful thing you can do with this feature is to surface widgets that are relevant to the focus mode. Again, much must more on this below.

Etc.

A few other noteworthy features:

  • Focus modes are automatically synced across all your Apple devices. If you’re focusing on one device, you’re focusing on everything.
  • Your contacts will be informed that your notifications are silenced when they send you a message.
    • Handy to let others know that you are busy and won’t be able to get back to them right away. Since most people expect chat to be nearly real-time, this is the killer feature IMHO.
  • Contacts who you share your location with will see your focus mode icon in Find My (and the contacts widget).
    • Handy so your partner can know that you’re working, sleeping, exercising, driving, etc.
  • You can automate them:
    • Based on physical location. Handy if you work in a physical office.
    • Based on time. Handy if you work from home during set hours.
    • Based on app. Handy if you want to set up distraction free reading or viewing when you load up the kindle app or Netflix.
  • You can link an Apple Watch face (I haven’t found a good use for this though).
  • You can set up custom focus modes. Matthew Bischoff has a great post about how they’ve created a “travel” focus mode where they exposes only the things that are needed when rushing through an airport.

My Setup or How My Life Was Changed

I only really use 2 focus modes, that might not seem like enough to make a huge difference in the way I use my phone. Trust me, it does.

Work Focus

General Setup:

  • Contacts notification disabled except from wife, kids and their schools — I don’t want to miss an emergency.
  • Phone calls disabled from everybody else.
  • App notifications disabled except for work apps.

Lock Screen:

  • Calendar (above clock): This has already saved me from missing a kid’s dentist appointment.
  • Fitness Rings: I didn’t know how else to fill out the list, seemed as good as anything.
  • GDDY Stock: Gotta know if all our hard work is amounting to anything, right?
  • PoP and Temperature Rings: Answers one of my main questions throughout the day, “what’s the weather like?” Is it looking good for a walk at lunch or after work outdoor activities? (I like the look of the rings more than the combined weather widget.)

Home Screen:

  • World Clocks: I set this up to match my teammates timezones. This way I can tell if someone is likely to be around before even opening their slack profile.
  • Weather Widget: I might be obsessed with the weather.
  • Work Notes: A shortcut to my Notes app “work” folder (nothing in the root folder right now).
  • Work Apps: Slack, Github and 1Password are the only work related apps on my phone at the moment.

Sleep Focus

Sleep focus is with the Health app’s Sleep Schedule by default. If you’re not already using that I’d highly recommend giving it a shot. You can read more about it in Apple’s support docs.

General Setup:

  • Same “emergency contacts” only notifications scheme. I’ve omitted the kid’s schools (they’re unlikely to call during the night).
  • Additionally, allow calls from anybody on my “family” contact list. If they’re calling in the middle of the night, it’s probably an emergency.
  • All app notifications and badges disabled. I don’t want any distractions at night.
  • Using the “Weather” screen which shows a weather condition animation in the background (currently seems to be bugged on the lock screen in iOS 16.1 beta).

Lock Screen:

  • Calendar: Again, it’s important to know what’s going on tomorrow.
  • Climate: This Homekit widget shows the internal house temperature. Sometimes you get hot at night and you don’t know if it’s just you or the house.
  • PoP and Temperature Rings: If it’s after midnight (and it often is) this will the upcoming day’s forecast, essentially.

Home Screen:

  • Weather: Yes, I am obsessed with the weather, here you can see the animated weather background in action as well (at night it’s a pleasant star field).
  • “For Later” Note: This links a note where I jot down ideas for later. Helps me to clear my mind of stray thoughts when I’m trying to fall asleep.
  • IoT Apps: For the things that go bump in the night.
    • Telus: to check the security cams.
    • Alexa: my lights and routines are set up with Alexa, I should probably move them over to homekit one day but that seems like a lot of work
    • Carrier: Adjust the thermostat (APIs been kinda janky recently though).
    • MyHyundai: Just double check that those car doors are locked.

That’s It

As I’m sure it’s obvious, I’m tried really hard to limit myself only to the apps that are pertinent to what I’m doing at a given moment.

I’ve been running with this setup for the entire year it really has changed my life. Prior to this, I was running with most notifications disabled and that was really sub-optimal, I missed to many things. With this scheme I’m filtering notifications to only thing things that matter.

And I’ve only scratched the surface. You could go nuts with all kinds of custom focus modes.

Try it out!

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Uncategorized

My Top 3 Winnipeg Mayoral Election Issues

I spent more of my long weekend than intended summarizing Winnipeg’s Mayoral candidates’ platforms for an epic tweet thread.

This got me thinking about what the most important issues to me personally.

Fund Winter

This city is very bad at winter!

Last year especially was an epic disaster of unplowed sidewalks and streets. Forget winter biking, winter walking is often impossible.

We’ve been at this for nearly 150years we should be better at this.

Some ideas:

  • For starters dump as much money as physically possible into the snow clearing/winter maintenance budget!
  • Plow sidewalks and bike lanes at the same time as the streets that border them. If not sooner.
  • Investigate grooming bike paths instead of plowing them (like the do in Finland).
  • Mandate Edmonton’s Winter City Design guidelines.
  • Fine contractors who use active transport to dump snow. Set aggressive timelines in their contracts and fine them when they fail to meet them.

Defund Cars

Cars have their place in modern cities, I am probably more pro-car than the average subscriber to Not Just Bikes.

But it’s becoming exceedingly clear that North American car-centric urban design was a giant mistake! We need to reverse course before it’s too late.

Some ideas:

  • Make it more expensive and inconvenient to drive: eliminate free parking, slow streets to a reasonable level, implement traffic calming measure.
  • Eliminate parking minimums.
  • Disincentivize surface parking lots.
  • Make public transit free.
  • Invest heavily in bike infrastructure.

Defund The Police

It’s becoming incredibly obvious that the current incarnation of the police are not very good at stopping or solving crime. And they just seem to eat up massive amounts of city budgets (with helicopters and robot dogs) for no apparent reason.

I don’t have specific ideas on this one, it’s a difficult problem and the city governments have limited ability to make changes without provincial help.

BTW if you think defunding the police is wacky left-wing idea, just remember that we wouldn’t have paramedics if City of Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed their police to be defunded.

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Uncategorized

WordPress Websites Now Only $499

Early this week Automattic launched “Built by WordPress.com Express,” an awkwardly named “webdesign” service.

Here’s the sales video:

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The tagline “Real sites, built by real people.” is a good one. It acknowledges that most people who need a website are not web designers. It positions their service as an alternative the steep learning curve to doing-it-yourself (with WordPress or elsewhere).

It feels a little like WordPress VIP lite (very lite!). In fact, I’m fairly certain some of the screenshots in the video are from VIP clients.

Reading between the lines, the service seems to be a layout service. You pick a pre-existing theme, provide the content and US$500 and then they’ll “do it for you.”

This is bad on so many levels! (well at least 4 I can think of off the top of my head)

Easy To Replicate

Some are speculating that this service is a desperate attempt to increase profitability for an upcoming IPO. I find this plausible.

Unfortunately, if this service proves to be a hit, is incredibly easy for Elementor, Wix, Squaresquares, etc to replicate. Set up a network of “experts” poached from fivrr and some minimal organization to manage the workflow.

Whether A8C’s competitors could pull it off as well with good templates, solutions that work and great support is almost besides the point. This segment of the market is just looking for a solution to the basic problem of “I need a website.”

Hard to Support

A $500 WP Express customer is going to expect the same level of support as a $500,000 WP VIP customer. Period. If the goal is raising profit, the support costs are sure to challenge that goal.

Solves Half The Problem

The design — as in the visual appearance — is only half the problem you need to solve when building a website. Maybe even less than half in many cause.

A beautiful website is useless without a cohesive content strategy. Professionally written, thoughtful content will always give you a leg up on the competition… the competition who whipped together a website for $500 without a second thought.

The marketing copy on the sales page strongly implies that your content is unimportant. Providing content is simply the 3rd item on a 5-item list, equal weight to providing your business address and sitting back and relaxing.

oof.

Devaules WordPress

This is the biggest problem.

The popularity of WordPress is built on the hard work and goodwill of freelancers. Passionate people who’ve spent the past 2 decades spreading the Gospel of Matt.

Any of these freelancers will tell how hard it can be to convince a potential client that their website is worth more than approximately $500. Imagine how much harder this becomes when wordpress.com is setting the going rate at $500! Why would they ever hire you?

To quote @briancoords on twitter “a massive private company and also the sole entity allowed to commercially profit off the WordPress trademark devaluing WordPress could be harmful for anyone trying to earn a living anywhere at any price point.”

Not to mention that the templates themselves are kind of ugly.

This feels like a gut punch.

I’m always rooting for Automattic. But I hope this goes nowhere fast and we never hear about it every again.