Categories
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.

Categories
Culture

Visiting A Superpower that is also a Failed State

Last week I took an extended weekend off to drive down to the Twin Cities with my family, for the first time in almost exactly 3 years. Ever since we started going down there for punk shows (long before Odessa and I were married) we have made it a habit to trek down at least once per year.

The title of this post is a reference to Chuck Klosterman’s latest book “The Nineties” which we listened on the way there and back. Klosterman audiobooks have become as much of a tradition as the trip itself. Something about the combination of his comic-book-guy-from-the-simpsons delivery plus the fact that we are literally driving through the setting of some of his anecdotes is just so perfect.

In all seriousness though, between the events of January 6th, the presidency preceding it, and the George Floyd protests in the Twin Cities I was bracing for the worst. I expected to arrive in a country where my affiliations would be questioned every time I wanted to use a restroom, a political zealot yelling on every street corner and just general chaos.

But for the most part, everything was normal, like it had been previous years.

So Many Flavours of Mountain Dew

For many Canadians, trips across the border are a bit like visiting a giant Theme Park of Capitalism or maybe walking into r/latestagecapitalism. We simultaneous gawk at the sheer audacity of all the different things we can buy while buying as many of the things as we can possibly buy.

The varieties of Mountain Dew are a prime example a running joke even. [Up in these parts we typically have 3 flavours of Mountain Dew: regular, diet and a rotating cast of alternates (code red, blue shock, that new black one, etc)]

Well I’m happy(?) to report that the state of the world has not affected the junk food shelf. Not only that but the US consumerist machine has managed to find dozens of flavours of everything! Doritos, caned coffee, beef jerky, beyond meat jerky, skittles… you get the picture.

On Apple Pay and Tap

A quick note on Apple Pay.

I was pleasantly surprised that tap payment was available literally everywhere. This was not at all the case 3 years ago — chip&PIN was not even readily available.

That said most cashiers acted like I was one of the first people they’d ever seen actually using my phone to pay.

Economic Indicators

A Walmart sandwichboard style sign advertising service jobs starting at $16/hr and stocking jobs starting at $18/hr. It's located inside a Walmart store.

In the face of a mostly normal visit, the effects of inflation seemed a lot more real down there. Even though the inflation rate is only about 1% higher.

For one, nothing is cheap anymore, especially food. Even though the relatively exchange rates have remain roughly the same (30%, ±5%) for the 20 odd years I’ve been visiting The States you could always count on cheap fast food. Even after currency exchange.

And I’m not really sure any of the clothes and other stuff we bought is significantly cheaper like it used to be. Ohdessa did some on-the-fly comparison shopping vs the Canadian websites and often found similar to cheaper pricing on the .ca.

I bought new shoes out of compulsion.

Actually, gas is still cheap. About CA$0.30/L less (US$0.92/gal).

The most striking economic indicator was the WE’RE HIRING signs literally everywhere! The sign to the left is from a Walmart in Fergus Falls, North Dakota — a state with a $7.25 minimum wage. A Taco Bell in Fargo, ND was advertising a $500 signing bonus! $1500 bonus to start on as a mall cop at the Mall of America (salary not listed).

Not coincidentally, the McDonalds we visited that was not boasting of above minimum wage was so short staffed that the shift manager apologized about the wait to every single customer.

[N.B. Some of these posting might be total compensation (including things like healthcare) but are likely to still be multiples of the minimum wage.]

Art

Two teenagers and their mother surrounding a table, listening to audio recording on headphones. They are in an art gallery with art pieces on the walls behind them.

To counter-balance the kind of icky consumer tourism aspect of these trips, we always try to hit up some art galleries. The Twin Cities have a great art scene!

We were able to check out Piotr Szyhalski’s COVID-19: Labor Camp Report. I am not good at describing art so I will just say that this is the most incredible art exhibit I have ever seen. The dystopian posters, the performance, the orchestra. Such amaze!

PS

The Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Mendota Heights, Minnesota kinda sucks.

Categories
Apple Culture Google

Is iOS a Social Network?

When I left the iPhone ecosystem by switching to a Google Pixel 3.5 years ago people who knew me well were surprised. I had become an Apple guy. But iOS was boring. It felt stagnant. The Pixel felt like an innovative layer on top of an otherwise maybe-not-so-great Android ecosystem. I was quite happy with it and I was confident I wouldn’t switch back.

For reasons mainly related to availability, I decided to give iPhone another chance earlier this year. My opinion has flipped almost immediately.

This may sound silly but a lot has changed since 2018; iOS feels fresh again. For example, it’s implementation of widgets is really clever and useful; the cross-device focus mode is a great solution to the notification overload problem. Among other things. Apple is back on its game. I thought I would miss the pixel but I almost don’t at all.

A month in, I’m noticing some things that lead me to wonder if Apple might be building a social network, in reverse, without a newsfeed.

Messages as a Social Sharing Hub

One of the core features of any social network has always been the ability to message with other users privately or in groups. In the early days it wasn’t real time. It was more like limited email. All of my earliest social experience had private messaging features: forums and even prior to the internet BBSes.

In a world where we’ve all been avoiding physical contact and hiding in our homes as much as possible lest we get the plague, text-based messaging has become the definition of social for much of the world.

iOS’ Messages fills this need. Obviously.

But iMessage is doing something that goes above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen a social network implement.

“Shared With You”

Apple’s News app has a (somewhat buried) feature that lists news articles that have been shared with you in iMessage. Automatically.

Apple News > Following
News > Following > Shared with You

It’s almost like a newsfeed specifically limited to the app you’re looking at.

Similarly, Safari’s “start page” shows you everything shared with you from every conversation in iMessage (that isn’t a News link). Particularly handy when you’re trying to remember which shoes your wife wants.

Safari Start Page

Both of these are more useful and easier to manage than the crazy algorithmic newsfeed of a Facebook or LinkedIn. Both of these features are synced across devices (including MacOS).

Other Apps

“Shared with you” isn’t particularly well implemented in other apps.

Music has a concept of “friend” but they’re hard to find and I’m not convinced there’s much utility in seeing things like your friends’ playlists.

Photos has shared albums but they’re not integrated with iMessage or anything else – perhaps because this feature pre-dates Siri and perhaps also because it’s available outside of the Apple ecosystem.

Gamecenter has fallen by the wayside as a user-centric feature. It’s just a storage and leaderboard utility for game developers now.

Etc.

Contacts as Profiles

Another social-network-esque feature surfaces with the “Contacts” widget.

First, the widget presents you with a Siri-generted top 6 (or 3 in the smaller version) contacts reminiscent of MySpace’s “top 8”. Hilarious.

Secondly, it’s able to take advantage of iOS integration to securely display a couple of features that might make you nervous in any other context. That is, the contact’s focus status (note: the icon becomes a car when driving focus is enabled) and their current location (if location sharing is enabled).

When you tap on one of the icons, you get a version of the Contacts app that’s more condensed and useful than anywhere else in iOS. It removes all the settings options and editing features that you see in other contacts views, leaving only the contact’s details and shared items.

It’s a user profile.

To reiterate, the extra brilliant thing here is that all of this data has been collected, organized and analyzed on device. No need to grant a third party intermediary with ulterior motives access to your data.

Is this a social network?

The features I’ve described could be summed up as “link sharing” and “messaging.” In my opinion, these have always been core features of every social network. Perhaps the most important features of those social networks. What is Facebook’s core feature? A newsfeed of shared links (albeit perverted by a terrible algorithm).

Not to mention that a large amount of social networks are built around just one of those two features. Reddit was just a link feed for most of its history. Snapchat is just (picture/video focused) messaging. Etc.

At the very least iOS has some of the features of a social network.

However, iOS is missing two features fundamental to social networks. Posting and friend/group discovery.

iOS doesn’t have a mechanism to post a link or message to all of your contacts at once (aside from creating a giant group message comprising all of your contacts and I feel like that would be ridiculously chaotic). Nor does iOS give you a way to find new people, nor discover interest groups.

Without these features there is no “networking.”

No. It’s Messaging+.

What Apple has enabled with its cross-app-data-linking is more like “messaging+”. It adds functionality to iMessage.

It makes an already social experience more useful, in ways that none of the current social networks are actually able to accomplish.

Apple could go further and position itself to – maybe not replace but – obviate social networks as we know them today.

If Apple finally released iMessage for Android (like it’s been promising) so that everybody on any device had access. And if they opened up iMessage’s “shared with you” API to other apps (in a responsible manner) then I think things could get really interesting.


Props to @levisan for pointing my train of thought down this track.

Categories
Culture Tips & How To's

How To: Work From Home, Be Productive and Stay Sane

I just spent a few minutes looking through my draft posts for inspiration to restart blogging.

I came across the oldest draft in my queue, dated November 11, 2009.

I missed 11/11 1:11 by 6 minutes!

The post read as follows:


I’ve worked from home for 6 of the past 8 years in a variety of workspaces. Initially I worked in my parents basement, I briefly worked in my mother-in-law’s dinning room and for the past 2 years I’ve worked in the common space of a 2 bedroom apartment, with a toddler. Over this period I’ve maintained a 35 – 50 hour work week and managed to stay sane (and reasonably productive). Now that I’ve had my own dedicated works space for a couple of weeks I’ve had some time to reflect on a few of the ways I’ve been able to make it work.

  1. Good Employer
  2. Keep A ToDo List
  3. Don’t Answer The Phone
  4. Set “Business Hours”
  5. Don’t Follow Them
  6. Be Distracted

Reflecting on this now that we’ve all been covidworkingfromhome for the past 18 months (or is it 32?) and have just started a permanent remote positions, I’d say that list of advice still rings true.

1. Good Employer

Simply put: you need an employer who trusts you to work from home. One who understand that things might come up throughout the day and doesn’t have a problem with that.

If you’re having trouble finding an employer like this in 2021, imagine how rare it was 12 years ago.

During COVID, even bad employers didn’t have a choice but to begrudgingly let their employees work from home. Good employers will differentiate themselves from by ones by allowing their employees to continue working from home into 2022 and beyond.

2. Keep a To Do List

What I really meant by this was “be organized and focused.”

I still prefer physical to do lists. I like crossing things off with a pen and crumpling up the list at the end of the day.

Organizational tools and apps have really matured and keeping a physical to do list is not really necessary.

Don’t forget to include personal/home things on your to do list. Writing everything down is a great way to keep yourself from getting distracted.

3. Don’t Answer the Phone

“The phone” is much less of a thing in 2021.

Better advice would be “don’t read text messages, or non-work DMs”.

4. Set “Business Hours”

Over my years working from home this has come to be the main key to success.

Setting business hours adds the structure that I need to stay focused. It also sets expectations with my family. They’ll know not to interrupt or distract me between 8 – 5 unless it’s urgent.

Having an office door that you can closes helps, but it’s really not as crucial in my experience.

5. Don’t Follow Them & 6. Be Distracted

These two rules are really the same thing “allow yourself to be distracted.”

I’ve found that giving myself permission to break the rules has been the key to staying “sane.”

Take a long lunch, grab a coffee, go to the store.

Just don’t stray too far, too often.


In 2021, I would only add two additional pieces of advice to this list.

7. Wear Pants

Get dressed for work.

I’ve found that it really puts me in the mindset to get to work.

This has been a rule I’ve always followed, I don’t know why I didn’t add it to my original list.

8. Have an Amazing Partner (or I guess, live alone?)

I couldn’t have made it this far without an understanding wife.