Twitter’s Important Updates

I opened Twitter today and was welcomed with a message about their updated Terms of Service and Privacy policy in time for GDPR.

Twitter is updating its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy to provide you with even more transparency into the data Twitter collects about you, how it’s used, and the controls you have over your personal data. These updates will take effect on May 25, 2018

Anyway, here’s the update and additional policy information for Twitter and Facebook.

Melinda Gates on The Ezra Klein Show

https://art19.com/shows/the-ezra-klein-show/episodes/bfc27e6d-5858-4fe3-a2b7-1ac8f946930d/embed

On team culture (at Microsoft and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

But the competitive culture I didn’t really like, it felt like the arguments weren’t just about that intellectual thing, but they were personal … I felt like we could do it differently

At the foundation, the culture that we have created there has just as much innovation, amazing scientists, best in class, [and] we have tough intellectual debates but they’re not personal, and they’re supportive of people and their careers. You get the best out of people and all the best ideas on the table. If you don’t do that you leave innovative ideas on the table. People get afraid and they don’t put their idea out there because they might be criticized.

On diversity in tech

The way you treat a young child versus an 18-year-old, 22-year-old, 30-year-old, versus an elderly person, is pretty different. You use a lot of empathy when you’re trying to bring a child up and teach them, and it’s tricky because you have to use a lot of positivity even when what you’re trying to do is correct behavior. But [it’s] the same thing with an elderly person. It’s a horrible thing when you start to lose a little bit of your sight, or you can’t drive anymore, and that was your rite of passage when you were younger. I think if you have these products that are created by white guys in their 20s, you’re just gonna miss the mark on both empathy and the actual needs of the elderly and what they’re facing.

If you don’t have diversity at the table, there’s no chance you’re gonna see it. You’re just not. If you’re a VC and you’re about deal flow, you’re missing all kind of deals, because the deals you’re investing in are what you’ve known before.

It’s interesting to think how all generations of people are experiencing digital technology for the first time in human history. There are opportunities for everyone, young and old, and we are only a few years into understanding how global connectivity will affect structures that took tens and hundreds of years to develop. Whether a high school student or an elderly person who can’t drive anymore, these new tools are available and ready to be applied to their current way of life. As an individual, you can only see so far outside your current frame of reference. Different perspectives can generate value for so many people.

On future breakthroughs

Bill and I often have this kind of fun debate of, “If you were entering any field now and you had your choice of going into any field, what field would you go in?” He and I both would go into the cross between biology and computer science. What is gonna happen in those fields, we’re only beginning.

via Ezra Klein Show on Pocket Casts (transcript)

 

An esoteric piece of Windows history

This is getting a lot of coverage today. When creating something new, it’s funny when you realize your intentions do not match the perception of others.

Here’s the entire thread.

(And what do you know, Jensen is co-founder and CTO of Textio!)

Welcome to the News Feed

My News Feed

This section of the blog will have daily updates with articles, podcasts, videos, and anything I find interesting. The content will be brief, just a quote and my reaction most of the time, but in higher quantity than my other posts.

I wanted an outlet for all the things I learn about in a day. Instapaper, Feedly, and Pocket Casts are great for follow interesting creators, but it’s difficult to go back and see what I was reading, listening to, watching, thinking about on any given day.

The format is based on Daring Fireball (and I’m sure many others), but links and quotes will be here in their own feed to separate my own work from my reactions to the work of others.

Cal Newport said “I support the social internet. I’m incredibly wary of social media.” I tend to agree, so this is my take. A news feed that I control. No algorithms or trending topics.

Want to follow along?

If you want to see the inner working of the blog or follow what I follow, this is the place. If not, regularly scheduled thoughts will continue once a weekish.

Here’s the RSS feed: https://ryancropp.blog/category/news-feed/feed/

Plug that url into Feedly to get all the updates! (you can add /feed to the end of any WordPress category to get an RSS link)

 

What we learned from Facebook this week

A puppy. This is why people use Facebook, right?
For all the talk with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the US Senate and House this week, there was very little surprising content. We give consent to use the Facebook service, we upload images, write posts, and like articles. We have control at every step of our interaction to decide how much to share with Facebook and what we give the company is exactly what is given back to us in the data archive download tool. It’s shocking to see every interaction you’ve ever made on Facebook in one place, but there is nothing here we don’t expect. There is no post we didn’t make or image we didn’t take. Facebook remembers what we do on the service as long as we have an account.

But that doesn’t mean everything from the last week was old information.

What was clarified?

An important point Zuckerberg reiterated is that Facebook does not sell user data. This would be a silly business move because Facebook’s value to advertisers is in the uniqueness of its data. It is in Facebook’s best interests to keep it’s trove of data secure, as it requires advertisers to keep coming back. There’s no other place advertisers can go to get the same level of targeting.

Instead of selling data, Facebook actually collects all the details from every person “in the community” and compiles the best advertising opportunity for a given ad. Facebook assures advertisers their ad placement will reach the intended audience with the greatest possibility of interaction. It is this assurance that gives Facebook it’s gazillion dollar market cap.

The Cambridge Analytica case was different, but still Facebook never sold data. Instead, Cambridge Analytica got raw Facebook user data from an app developer who used a survey app to harvest data. In 2014, it was within Facebook terms for a 3rd party app developer to use the Facebook developer platform to collect just about all the information about you and all your friends ever entered onto the site.

Listen to Exponent episode 146 “Facebooks Real Mistake” (link at the end) for background on how Facebook’s past push to be a platform landed the company in this situation. The takeaway? Had Facebook realized it’s value as an ad network, the company would never have given the same level of data access in the first place.

This is why the current Facebook fiasco is not a data security breach, but a data privacy leak. Hackers did not break into Facebook systems to obtain user data, but a developer (which could have been anyone) used Facebook sanctioned tools to collect your information. Facebook has since locked down it’s platform to prevent such unrestricted access to user data, but it does not change the fact that massive amounts of user data left the platform seemingly without consent of its users. And yes, it’s true that by signing up you agreed to the terms that allowed developers to leverage the wide open API to gather profile information, but did you really know that was part of the agreement?

What was surprising and novel?

Did you check if your info was collected by Cambridge Analytica? Go ahead, I’ll wait ⌚😊

After you’ve read through your activity log and exported your data, take a minute and think about what stands out from the content (I think this tinfoil hat scandal is all a ploy to get us to go on Facebook even more. Feel free to finish reading in the meantime, the export takes a while). Once you get to the details, you can see the majority of the information came from you, but there is a small subset which reveals the inner working of the Facebook machine.

To put things in perspective, focus on your ad preferences and take a look at your ad demographics information. This is a window to the 9698 categories from the Senate hearing. Advertiser demographic is the result of running all our interactions on Facebook through a proprietary algorithm. Of all the information in the data archive, this piece is novel. We didn’t explicitly tell Facebook this information, but they determined it based on what we’ve done on the site.

This is why the Facebook hearing this week is only the tip of the iceberg. If we are concerned that Cambridge Analytica could sway an election with a slice of our data, what kind of power does Facebook have? Sure we didn’t entrust Cambridge Analytica with our data, but why does opting into a puppy video sharing service change our perception of possible psychological manipulation?

What does Facebook do with all our data? And what can they do?

We need greater transparency on how our data is used. I can control and know what I upload, but what happens with the data “I own” once it’s handed over?

When I upload a photo to Facebook, what algorithms are tuned as a result? How does the content of the photo affect ads I see?

WhatsApp communication is encrypted, so it’s private between those in the conversation, but in what way does Facebook link my WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook accounts? I’ve logged into all three on the same device so they must know it’s the same person (even though I signed up for all three as separate users).

And what about activity coming from the same IP address or GPS location? Does Facebook correlate data of those physically closest to me, outside of our connections on it’s services? What about when I’m on Facebook but signed out?

The consumer facing fun part seems like a front for the stingy advertising business on the back end. What is the difference between the two? It’s telling that Zuckerberg doesn’t fully understand the difference (from questioning by Brian Schatz). From Facebook’s perspective, the “fun part” is the user feature set that drives advertising revenue. It’s the top of the funnel for all of Facebook’s algorithms and drives the companies valuation.

For a platform that relies on its users to generate value, the company doesn’t provide much information to said users on how the internal cogs work. Perhaps it’s best to be blissfully unaware, or maybe it’s not a requirement, but when 2 billion people feel like the product and not the customer, it’s reasonable for them to want a little more information on how they’re being used.

And if this is Facebook, what about Google? (You can also export Google data)

What can you do to stay in control?

  1. Adjust log-in behavior to prevent future data leaks
  2. Check permissions when using Facebook (or Google or any over service) to sign up for a new site. To keep the same convenience, sign up for a password manager like Dashlane or LastPass which can generate and remember a new login for each site you visit. This adds a layer of security to your accounts and removes the possibility of another Cambridge Analytica style data leak.
  3. Prevent cross site tracking
  4. Use a separate browser just for Facebook. Only log in to Facebook on that browser and do all your other web stuff in another. Or use extensions like Ghostery (which also tracks your trackers, so maybe just turn off the internet for the day…) or the Facebook Container for Firefox.
  5. Limit sharing data
  6. Just use Facebook less? Deactivate for a week and see how you feel. You can always reactivate.
    Go old school and use an rss reader.
    Stick with iMessage/FaceTime.
    This is always an option.

All sorts of links

Video of Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing (transcript) and appearance before House committee (transcript)
Day 2 from MIT Technology Review
What was Facebook Thinking by James Allworth
The Facebook Current and The Facebook Brand from Stratechery
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Explained from NYTimes
Facebook’s Real Mistake and Facebook Fatigue from Exponent Podcast
Mark Zuckerberg is Either Ignorant or Deliberately Misleading Congress from The Intercept
Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s hardest year, and what comes next from Vox
What is GDPR?
General Data Protection Regulation
Coachella streams 1, 2, and 3

Slow Social Media

In his recent posts, Cal Newport outlines why our attention will benefit from individuals owing their own domains. We may need tools to help us do it, but companies will assist us from behind the scenes allowing us to build our own brands. People should be able to move their brand (and data) from one platform to another when improvements come along. This is the social internet, and it will power the economy of the future. Value online comes from those who create it. All we can do as technologists is empower others to make their art with greater efficiency.

Context: On Social Media and its Discontents and Beyond Delete Facebook by Cal Newport

Collapsing Context

Assorted music amps, records, tapes, books, and televisions on a wall

Does Jaron Lanier follow blogs? Where does he get his news? How does he learn about Meltdown/Spectre?

 

Word of mouth was the original form of communication. Before there were books, people could only tell stories to share information. The collective hive mind of civilization would do their best to spread knowledge equally from one person to the next. Verification of stories could only be carried out collectively as groups of people could ensure what they believe was true. One could add Individual color a story to show creativity but ultimately lead to deviations from the original idea.

Fast forward to books. Once we mastered the skill of preserving information in physical objects the amount of our collective knowledge exploded. We could remember things across generations, and even without coming into contact with the person or people who first transcribed their ideas. We could pull from philosophers, physicists, mathematicians, composers, playwrights, and doctors to develop deeper ideas and advance our understanding.

What is the hive mind in the world of books? It was still among the people reading these works who pulled from their own experiences and created their own interpretations. Remixing their learnings into new forms of intelligence.

Today is another progression. We go beyond having all the knowledge in the world documented and at our fingertips, to peering into the minds of everyone on the internet. Social media, like Twitter, amplify ideas only for an instant, as the next thing comes along and yanks at our attention.

(This is no different than before when we spread stories across the world, or documented our understanding of nature.)

We go where the thought leaders go. And when rapid reactions and quick wit are incentivized, we miss out on the deep thinking required to keep progressing forward. As Lanier mentions, where are all the Woodward and Bernstein’s these days? Deep investigative journalism is becoming a thing of the past. Instead our big stories take the form of the aggregate. Pulling the voices of all perspectives involved. And taking down multiple people.

Continuing the thought, how can one create new ideas and seek blue oceans? Part of the success of the web (an any technology for that matter) is the externalities spawning new industries out of the original innovation. Like cryptography, it takes a lot of work to come up with a solution, but once public, the idea is easily verified. It’s the “why didn’t I think of that moment” you get when watching Shark Tank.

So how can we do it? Why is music from 90s and 00s so similar in sound? Are we bound to digitally rehash all of history? To find out, lets think about some of the new ideas stemming from web 2.0.

Well one more digression. To do so, lets start with some digital rehashes: Airbnb -> hotels. Lyft -> taxis. Wikipedia -> Encyclopedia. Ebay -> Thrift store. Amazon -> Bookstore, grocerystore, restauraunt brick and mortar. These are all hugely successful companies that replaced what existed before. I think what’s missing from Lanier’s manifesto is the added value web 2.0 tech brings to previous implementations. However, he does highlight what’s lost in the transformation. (there is more to talk about here, but I’m getting off track)

What is new thought. Is a review of a book just adding to the noise? How can we ever learn if we do not discuss our thoughts and opinions with others? There is value to rehashing work if the idea can stand for something greater. A new version of Unix? Ok sure. But openly available for all to improve and understand? This is novel and moves society forward. Lanier is concerned with the side effects of open culture and I agree with him on the aspect of sustainability (via employment, how do you make a living working on open source?), but how do we build cathedrals if we don’t have the tools?

Part of Lanier’s concern stems from the abstraction of humankind. Kevin Kelly’s one book theory, for example. And it is important to maintain human individuality and creativity. So how do we keep from abstracting the person behind the creation as we move to an aggregated world? People no longer know which studio produces a movie or TV show, unless it’s from Netflix. Netflix advertises their creations, and everyone else’s are abstracted to a title, image, and caption.

Context Collapse

There is a recent episode of the Ezra Klein Show with Lanier. Instigated by the release of Lanier’s new book, the two discuss all sorts of things including VR, music, Facebook, blogs, and podcasts. The most intriguing thread was on the topic of social media’s influence in collapsing context of the things people create. They didn’t know who coined the term, but it seems to have been either danah boyd or Michael Wesch (see below), although it might as well have been Lanier.

The basic idea is this (as nicely described by Joel on Software):

Here’s what happened with the 140 characters. You would start out having some kind of complicated thought. “Ya know, dogs are great and all? I love dogs! But sometimes they can be a little bit too friendly. They can get excited and jump on little kids and scare the bejesus out of them. They wag their tails so hard they knock things over. (PS not Huskies! Huskies are the cats of the dog world!)”

Ok, so now you try to post that on Twitter. And you edit and edit and you finally get it down to something that fits: “Dogs can be too friendly!”

All the nuance is lost. And this is where things go wrong. “@spolsky what about huskies? #dontforgethuskies”

Ten minutes later, “Boycott @stackoverflow. @spolsky proves again that tech bros hate huskies. #shame”

By the time you get off the plane in Africa you’re on the international pariah list and your @replies are full of people accusing you of throwing puppies out of moving cars for profit.

The context for Joel’s thought is his decision to give up Facebook and Twitter for 2018. (Isn’t it odd how things come in threes? Reading Lanier, Context Collapse, Joel on Facebook & Twitter). His reasons for doing so are exactly what Klein and Lanier discuss in the podcast. You just lose the human connection when everything we say and do is mashed up, chomped into a sound bite, and thrown around far outside the initial context for the idea.

And I realize I’m constantly doing that know. I haven’t quite figured out how to include quotes and references to others when developing new thoughts and creating new things. I have to keep exploring. Which leads to…

A basis for further understanding

A quick search lead me to this post from danah boyd on coining context collapse. danah boyd talked about the term back in 2013, referencing her thesis from 2002. So the idea, while not new, was new to me. This topic is a rabbit hole, and I have just scratched the surface. I need to go off to read, watch, and listen. I will return soon.

from danah:

From Michael Wesch:

P.S.

I’ve fallen victim just now. I scoured the web for an hour following links to uncover new and interesting things to read. Then I took it all out of the context I was in and distilled my findings into a nice tidy list. I’m grappling with how the onslaught of Ben Thompson’s Aggregation Theory can mesh with avoiding context collapse via boyd/Lanier (the three should do a podcast together). Does pulling together sources and finding key themes inherently strip the human side of what people create? Or are we bound to keep mashing up ideas. Certainly all new things come from the history that preceded, but how do we balance this growing from this influence with remembering where we came from?

To do research, you take all the mind space of the internet open 100 tabs, make some progress, then save it across all services to pick up again tomorrow. Just with this topic alone, I scattered material to YouTube, Kindle, Instapaper, iBooks, and OneNote. What in the world!? How do people keep any semblance of a train of thought when the best technologies are designed to keep us stretched in multiple directions. Where does the context remain after distilling your work into buckets and silos? This frustrates me, With all the learning one can do on the internet, why is it so unnatural and inhuman? What if the internet was set up more like college, where thoughts and ideas are shared amongst new learners and experts, instead of like a kindergarten classroom where things may be haphazardly thrown everywhere with no sense of where they came from?

There is more to this thread, but I need to dig deeper. I have my materials and my thoughts. Now I just need to stay focused. Keep my mental state and remember the context of where it all began.

Fixing the Blog

Hammer and bent nails on a wood block

Thank you Jetpack Support

First of all, Jetpack support is amazing. Automattic is known for its customer service oriented culture, and it shows. I was running into an issue where Jetpack would not connect to my site, so I reached out to their support team. They were responsive in helping me figure out the tech at all hours of the day, and they even researched how to solve a problem with a non-Automattic product. Great stuff, I appreciate it!

Here’s the link if you need help with Jetpack.

WordPress and Site Address URL

The first issue has been with the site since day one. For custom WordPress installs, the WordPress Address and Site Address URLs should be the same (both set to https://ryancropp.com in this case) no matter what they say:

Site Address (URL):

Enter the address here if you want your site home page to be different from your WordPress installation directory.

Just don’t try to manually update WordPress and Site address to your custom domain from wp-admin dashboard. You will get locked out.

To fix the issue you need to FTP into your site and update the siteurl in the functions.php file for your installed theme:

update_option('siteurl','https://ryancropp.com');
update_option('home','https://ryancropp.com');

Refresh WordPress admin and then remove the update_option code.

Clear site cache

Just for good measure, clear the Project Nami blob cache so no old site configurations are left hanging around. The instructions are in the readme of the Blob-cache download (why!?).

An aside on Cron expressions

They’re kind of fun, but how are these still a thing? I guess we have Unix to thank. I need to use them 0 0 0 0 0 ? 2018/2 or 0 0 0 0 0 ? 2018/3 at best. Here are some docs from Oracle and Quartz to figure out what that means.

Jetpack and Project Nami

Turns out everything up to this point had nothing to do with getting Jetpack to work. It certainly didn’t hurt, but attempting to link Jetpack still showed the error “Verification secrets not found”.

Jetpack verification secrets error message

On a whim I decided to look into the compatibility issues with Jetpack and Project Nami, the caching mechanism for WordPress on Azure. And what do you know, Issue #237 on the Project Nami GitHub had the answer.

One should now be able to solve the issue by adding the following to the site’s wp-config.php:

define( ‘JETPACK_DISABLE_RAW_OPTIONS’, true );

See Automattic/jetpack#7875 for more info.

So finally, if you’re following along at home, disable Jetpack raw options for Project Nami…

And it works!

You can sign up for email subscriptions in the sidebar.

A red-herring extension

Turning off browser extensions may or may not have helped. I turned off Ghostery in the middle of the process, forgot about it, then realized it was still off some time later.

Happy blogging