📖 Read: Robert Mueller Wishes You’d Read His Report (The Atlantic) by Ken White

“Special Counsel Robert Mueller wishes that you’d read his report. He’s not angry; he’s just disappointed.”

Ken White (The Atlantic)

Mueller is a man out of time. This is the age of alternatively factual tweets and sound bites; he’s a by-the-book throwback who expects Americans to read and absorb carefully worded 400-page reports. Has he met us? His high standards sometimes manifest as touching naïveté. “I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner,” Mueller said today, explaining that his report was his testimony and that Congress should not expect him to answer questions with any new information.

📖 Read: Open source beyond the market (Signal v. Noise)

“Keynote on the topic of open source, markets, debts, purpose, and no less than the meaning of life. Delivered at RailsConf 2019. Also available as a long read below.”

Signal v. Noise

When I was getting into the industry in the mid-to-late 90s, it seemed like we were witnessing the peak of an epic battle between proprietary and free software.

This war was embodied at the proprietary end of the spectrum by Bill Gates and Microsoft. The ultimate proprietary extractors, dominators, and conquerers. And at the free-software end of the spectrum, by Richard Stallman and Free Software Foundation. The ultimate software freedom fighters.

And there’s no doubt that these two men were diametrically opposed on many of the key questions about how software should be made and distributed. But that stark contrast also had a tendency to overshadow the way in which they were strikingly similar.

📖 Read: The kid from "David After Dentist" is headed to college (Vox)

“Here’s how going viral changed his life.”

Vox

The type of internet fame that David experienced — mostly supportive, humorous, and even sweet — is emblematic of the 2000s. This was the cusp of the social media era, when people regularly posted their earnest feelings on Facebook and being in someone’s Top Eight on MySpace still connoted close friendship. But the online conversation has soured since then, and blowback can be crueler. Now, in the age of doxing, trolls, and brutal Twitter takedowns, is it possible to escape viral fame so unscathed?

📖 Read: We should opt into data tracking, not out of it, says DuckDuckGo CEO Gabe Weinberg (Vox)

“On the latest Recode Decode with Kara Swisher, Weinberg explains why it’s time for Congress to step in and make “do not track” the norm.”

Vox

This is a long, thorough, and very in-depth interview with Gabe Weinberg, covering several inter-linked topics. First is privacy, which is DuckDuckGo’s raison d’être. Near the end of this topic, there’s some talk about why some people don’t care about the privacy impact of the data collection underpinnings of the mainstream web.

One of the things a lot of people do bring up with me still, though, is, “Well, I don’t really care. I don’t have much to hide. It doesn’t matter.” I get that all the time. Like, who cares if they know if I went to Best Buy and bought a, whatever I bought. Talk to why that might be not the best way to think about it.

There’s two answers to that. One is philosophical, in that privacy is a fundamental human right, and so you don’t need to care or hide anything to exercise your rights. You wouldn’t say that for speech. Just because you have nothing to say doesn’t mean you should never have free speech. That’s kind of on the philosophical side.

On the harm side, there are some that people don’t realize. A lot of people really don’t like the creepy ads following them around. Some people seem to be fine with that. At a deeper level, there’s this thing called the filter bubble, which is that recommendation algorithms, and in particular, search results, are tailored to you, and that means that you’re not seeing what everyone else is seeing, and that actually distorts the democracy. That’s a real harm to individual people and society.

I don’t think I’ve seen the “I’ve got nothing to hide” vs right to privacy argument reframed against a “nothing to say” vs right to free speech argument. I’ve not though about it enough yet to get a feel for if it holds up under scrutiny, but at first blush it seems good.

The next topic covered after privacy is the “filter bubble” and how the idea of it has gone mainstream in the last few years:

I’ll give you an example. We’ve been talking about the filter bubble for years. In 2012, we ran a study on Google that we think influenced the 2012 election, that’s how long ago it was, but nobody … we had to speak for 10 minutes to explain what the filter bubble was back then. But after 2016, in the last two years, now we can talk about the filter bubble, just name it and people know what it is, generally. How many people know what the filter bubble is, I’m just curious?

Explain the filter bubble.

Well, it’s the idea — first of all, that percentage is very high, so I like that — but it’s the idea that for search in particular, as an example, when you search, you expect to get the results right? If you searched for gun control or abortion, you expect, we search at the same time right here, you would expect to get the same thing. But that’s actually not what we found when we did a study on Google.

Yes, there could be different search results.

Yeah, and people don’t realize that. So in addition, we found that it varies a lot by location, and so if you take that to the extreme, let’s say that voting districts are getting different results for candidates or issues, it can skew the polarization of that district very easily over time. Because people who are undecided are actually searching for these topics, and people generally click on the first link, and if you’re controlling that first link in that district, that’s what people are going to learn about.

I haven’t had time to read the entire transcript yet (it’s pretty long), but I’m going to try to digest it over a couple of sessions.

📖 Read: A shocking share of the public thinks randomized trials are immoral (Vox)

“Randomization is a key tool to learn about the world, but it makes people uneasy”

Vox

In all of those cases except the last one, people felt the same way. Option 1? Fine. Option 2? Fine. Random assignment between Option 1 and Option 2, for the sake of learning which works better? Not fine.

I’d be fascinated to find out the why around this. Is it because people think it’s “unfair” somehow? I’m kind of at a loss trying to understand.

📖 Read: Blog a Little (Bitsplitting.org)

“Over on Twitter today, I was inspired to ask people to write “just one blog post” today. Later, it occurred to me that after 10+ years on Twitter, I am privileged to have a substantial following. I thought I would take the opportunity to help promote some folks who don’t have as much immediate reach.”

Bitsplitting.org

I think people neglect to write blog posts because the feedback loop is not as tangible as the onslaught of (sometimes mechanical) likes or faves that you can receive on a social network. With blogging, you need a little faith that you will gain an audience. And on the open web, you never know who might come along and expand your audience.

If you want to read the thread this generated, you can find it via the tag on Twitter.

📖 Read: Twitter co-founder Ev Williams says social media will get better ... eventually (Vox)

“”There is a better version of social media to be invented,” Williams said on the latest episode of Recode Decode with Kara Swisher.”

Vox

“I think there is a better version of social media to be invented and I don’t know if that will happen incrementally, because there’s lots of smart people trying to evolve these systems at these massive companies,” he added. “Or if it will happen with just completely new paradigms and new ideas that come along.”

I can think of at least one good way to get to the “better version of social media,” but I’m biased. Let’s not leave it to the massive companies.

📖 Read: A Complete Guide to Flexbox | CSS-Tricks (CSS-Tricks)

“Our comprehensive guide to CSS flexbox layout. This complete guide explains everything about flexbox, focusing on all the different possible properties for the parent element (the flex container) and the child elements (the flex items). It also includes history, demos, patterns, and a browser support chart.”

CSS-Tricks

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to refer to this article over the last several months. Flexbox is amazing, but sometimes it’s not the most intuitive.

📖 Read: How to avoid the corporate takeover of podcasting by Andy

“To me, these are the two ways of avoiding the takeover:

  1. Innovate on features and discoverability
  2. Find ways to help podcast producers know more about their listeners

Marco Arment took a nice step on point 1 with his clip feature that he added to the Overcast podcast app. Other innovations might be to support more distributed directories to assist in podcast discovery (OPML inclusion, anyone?).

Progress on point 2 might be difficult (requiring collaboration, between podcast app makers and other groups of people), but it might be better to band together to create new standards/processes/protocols than to be “picked off” one by one.”

Andy

I’m not sure I agree with item 2… I don’t really want podcast producers to know anything about me, and wonder why they need to know anything about me. I’m going to guess it’s mainly to sell ads? If there’s another reason you’re thinking of, please do let me know!

It would – to me –  feel like the slippery slope to the same sort of “data collection/analytics” that led to the tracking and profiling nightmare we are seeing push back against on the web. Effectively swapping one concern (walled gardens) for another (privacy).

I have no problem with podcasters earning revenue, but I do wonder if audience targetting is the way to go. Podcasts have survived and grown thus far with the current model – otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing these predatory encroachments.

But perhaps I’m not thinking about the problem openly enough, and with the lessons of the last few years, something could be built? ?

📖 Read: Mean world syndrome - Wikipedia

“Mean world syndrome is a term coined by George Gerbner to describe a phenomenon whereby violence-related content of mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. Mean world syndrome is one of the main conclusions of cultivation theory. Gerbner, a pioneer researcher on the effects of television on society, argued that people who watch television tended to think of the world as an intimidating and unforgiving place. A direct correlation between the amount of television one watches and the amount of fear one harbors about the world has been proven, although the direction of causality remains debatable in that persons fearful of the world may be more likely to retreat from it and in turn spend more time with indoor, solitary activities such as television watching.”

📖 Read: Fascist political group plans to infiltrate community councils (The Ferret) by Billy Briggs

“An extreme far right group modelled on Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists plans to put candidates up for community council seats in Scotland.”

Billy Briggs (The Ferret)

I think this quote from the article sums it up well enough:

“‘Never again’ was the popular slogan after the second world war against fascism. We should never forget that and never give these dangerous idiots an inch.”