Find Anything But That

The Plug's Been Pulled

Today was the day that App.Net, an application platform that turned out to be best known for its social network, came to an end. Dozens of people who had moved on over the years returned to say goodbye, and just about everyone thanked the two main creators of the platform, Dalton Caldwell and Bryan Berg. Looking at the numbers from NiceRank, the last 48 hours of the service were the busiest for human-powered posts in months, which was certainly a nice thing to see in the waning hours of the service … but then came the silence.

Requests go nowhere. There is no server on the other end of the line.

The CDN has come down as well.

The last of the email notifications have been sent.

The community has dispersed one last time.

To say that my time on the network fundamentally changed me would be an understatement. Through the network I interacted with hundreds — perhaps thousands — of people and learned so much more about humanity. I learned about the struggles of transgendered people. I learned about cultures from all over the globe. I learned genuine empathy. Close knit communities can be found all over the web, but few were as inclusive and welcoming as the one found on App.Net throughout much of its life.

Now that community has split one last time. Some people have chosen to go offline completely, being socially exhausted. Some long returned to Twitter and Facebook, where the audience sizes are exponentially larger than anything ADN could have offered. Some people have gone to Some people have come to 10Centuries. Most, however, are spread across multiple places and waiting to see what might come next.

I'm conflicted.

On the one hand, I am thankful for the many years of enjoyment ADN provided. The community rallied around a number of my ideas and helped out. The community also railed against ill-considered ideas and helped out. A lot of what I learned about effective RESTful API design came from studying the interfaces for App.Net and being incredibly frustrated by what I found, which encouraged me to go learn how to build a system that would work according to my expectations1. The most popular English podcast I have ever produced continues to be Discover ADN. Heck, 55% of the funding that keeps 10Centuries afloat every year comes from people who I met and interacted with on App.Net. I'm very thankful to the community.

But when I think about all the difficulties in communicating with the people at ADN. When I think about the years of radio silence since the project was sidelined and a complete unwillingness to discuss anything with the community — paying customers — I wonder just what it is that the organization hoped to accomplish by abandoning ship. Sure, people needed jobs to pay bills and lead lives full of meaning, but is it really so difficult to drop in once in a while and chat? Or respond to offers to write features or fix bugs that would add value to the paying customers, many who continued to renew subscriptions for years in the hopes of keeping the service alive. Sure, everybody is busy and has a tough job. That's life. I'm busy as heck with a tough job, an attention-seeking puppy, a new baby, and a wife, too. Yet I can dedicate a fraction of my day to blogging, podcasting, social interactions, and more. I don't ignore the people around me in the real world, and I don't ignore the people interacting with me in the digital world. Am I just an anomaly in this fast-paced century?

Perhaps I am.

Perhaps I expect too much.

Perhaps I'm unfairly criticizing due to assumptions that were made as a result of feeling unappreciated by a for-profit business that took my money in exchange not just for a service, but an idea. An idea that I and a lot of really good people invested a great deal into. An idea that was presented, then abandoned by the very people who sold it to us.

Regardless. What's done is done. ADN is gone. The community is dispersing. The ideals that ADN was founded on may not have been enough to make that service as profitable as its creators hoped, but the ideals are worth holding on to.

  1. We should own our own data.
  2. We are not products to be sold.
  3. APIs should be accessible.

10Centuries has long shared these ideals, which is why ADN was so attractive for such a long time after it was left idle. 10Centuries will continue to hold these concepts, too, for as long as is humanly possible.

  1. I would not say that my way of designing a RESTful API is superior or anything like that. It's just different in the ways that I prefer.

Twenty Eight Years

Time flies when you're having fun, but I find it hard to believe that 28 years have passed since the inception of what became known as the World Wide Web. To mark the occasion, the creator of the web wrote an open letter talking about three challenges that face us today.

Today marks 28 years since I submitted my original proposal for the world wide web. I imagined the web as an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries. In many ways, the web has lived up to this vision, though it has been a recurring battle to keep it open. But over the past 12 months, I’ve become increasingly worried about three new trends, which I believe we must tackle in order for the web to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of humanity.

— Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Sir Tim Berners-Lee — Creator of the World Wide Web

His three points, we’ve lost control of our personal data, it's too easy for misinformation to spread on the web, and political advertising online needs transparency and understanding, are all valid challenges that we face today with the various commercial sites where people tend to congregate, and I plan on doing something very difficult to address the first one shortly. That said, I had the distinct feeling that there should have been a fourth challenge identified as well: we need to treat others as we wish to be treated.

It seems every time I take a look at a popular social network or forum there are people being compared to some of history's most notorious villains due to differing opinions. People are attacked for not fitting a certain stereotype or other asinine criteria. Good debates quickly devolve into strawman arguments or worse. It's as though we have lost the ability to listen to the other side and present our own arguments in a respectful fashion in order to convince or, at the very least, learn about the other side.

There are people who would condemn me for having a son with someone who does not share a recently similar genealogical history. There are people who would openly mock me for preferring hand-written notes to digitally recorded ones. In both cases I would try to engage these people and, if rational discussion was possible, hear what they have to say in the hopes that I could present my case and be seen as an equal with differing opinions. Chances are the vast majority of people online would enjoy the same.

Billions of people around the world face unjust bias and prejudice every single day of their lives for things that are often beyond their control. At the end of the day, the shouting and name calling gets us nowhere. Does society benefit by comparing someone on Twitter to Hitler? Has anybody in the last 20 years seriously reflected on their life choices after being called Hitler in order to determine if they may have an incomplete or incorrect understanding of a topic? Somehow I doubt it.

At the end of the day what we need as an ever-connected society is the understanding and appreciation that with a billion voices comes a billion personal histories and a billion perspectives. While some will more closely align with others, there is no reason why the greatest communications tool in the history of the human race should find itself a vehicle for excessive hate and rage. There's plenty to be angry about, of course. Humanity's problems cannot be solved in 140 characters, though. And this brings me to my next point …

Enough With the Arbitrary Character Limits

It's really time social tools dispense with arbitrarily tiny character limits. When Twitter first came out, 140 characters was chosen due to the limitations of SMS, not the Internet. Even the soon-to-be-decommissioned App.Net with it's 256-character limit is unnecessarily restrictive. If people are to have true discourse, heated or otherwise, the barriers to communication need to be reduced as much as possible. Forcing someone to present a cohesive and logical argument on complicated topics with a hard character limit makes nuanced communication all but impossible. More than this, with "threaded responses", individual quotes can more easily be taken out of context and used against a person as a straw man argument, distracting everyone from the ultimate goal of enunciating an idea.

Our lives seem to be moving ever faster as our tools allow us to communicate with more people across greater distances with ease. Being constantly "on" takes its toll on people, fraying nerves and reducing our ability to step back and think before responding. Perhaps with a slower, more natural approach to communication we can begin to understand the people we disagree with. We don't have to always agree, nor should we. But we should at least try to understand the other side. Unfortunately, this is all but impossible unless we can respect one another and supply better written, more considered responses.

It's Not a Software Problem

Is the difference between information and misinformation something we want to leave in the hands of yet another algorithm?

This is the question I asked after reading this Guardian article where Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, laments that fake news is "killing people's minds". He goes on to say that technology companies should be doing more to tackle this problem and stemming the spread of falsehoods without affecting people's rights to free speech. While I am just as frustrated as anybody else over the excessive quantity of misinformation online, a technological solution to the problem would be the ultimate precursor to a form of censorship the likes of which authoritarian governments salivate for.

I appreciate what technology can and has done for us, but I must question why this particular human flaw needs to be addressed by software and social engineers. Humans have been lying to one another for as long as we've had language, and probably longer still. Children tell us they didn't eat the last cookie in the jar despite the crumbs around their mouth. Companies tell us they appreciate our business on receipts but never through actions. Politicians tell us they can be trusted. Would an algorithm catch these fibs? If so, how would any algorithm know what is accurate versus inaccurate? Somebody would need to be the gatekeeper of "The Truth", while the definition of that very concept varies so wildly from person to person that any form of censorship of an article that is aligned with a person's current beliefs would instantly render the entire system suspect and untrustworthy.

The issues surrounding "fake news", "alternate facts", and outright lies are not recent creations that have caught a populace by surprise. Growing up before the Internet, I remember my father and I laughing at tabloid headlines at the grocery store. Stories so over-the-top that it's a wonder anybody took them seriously. Some of the headlines that stand out the most in memory include:

  • Horse born with human head. Farmer ashamed.
  • Woman abducted by aliens from Saturn
  • City of Atlantis discovered under Brooklyn

If any of these were even remotely accurate, there would be a lot more press coverage and a whole lot of academic papers1. What my father tried to teach me by reading these at the grocer was that you cannot trust everything you read. Some of the best teachers I had while growing up would say the same: it's okay to read, but verify.

This is what people need to do if they are to separate spin from fact. It's not easy, but critical thinking is the only way we can overcome the mountain of misinformation that exists both online and off.

  1. any one of these would result in a lot of follow-up studies

The New Untouchables

Last week Matthew Dowd, an ABC political analyst, posted the following on Facebook:

In the last few hours I have been called by lovely 'christian' Trump fans: a jew, faggot, retard. To set record straight: divorced Catholic.

Kevin Sessums shared the post with his followers and added the following commentary:

But as those who do hold Trump to the standards of any other person have found out on Twitter and other social media outlets these Trump followers are a nasty fascistic lot. Dowd is lucky he didn’t get death threats like Kurt Eichenwald. Or maybe he did and refuses to acknowledge them. If you voted for Trump and continue to support him and you think you are better than these bigoted virulent trolls, you’re not. Your silence enables them just as it did in the racist campaign that Trump and Bannon ran. In fact, hiding behind a civilized veneer in your support of fascism I consider more dangerous. We’re past describing you as collaborators at this point. That lets you off the hook. You’re Russo-American oligarchical theocratic fascists.

He was then banned from Facebook for 24 hours.

Kevin Sessums Responds on Instagram

If this is what we can expect for the next few years, then we're going to see some drastic changes in how people communicate with each other. People in English-speaking countries will start to take lessons from the Chinese populace who has learned how to very effectively communicate with each other despite the constant surveillance and excessive presence of Big Brother.

505 Billion Pages and Counting

The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine is a wonderful resource, making some of the Internet's long-gone content available again when people want to access it at some point in the future. It's because of the Wayback Machine that I've been able to (slowly) piece together all of the show notes for the long-deleted Enough Podcast1, and it's been an important tool when looking back at content that people have deleted from their website to mask past statements. There's just one little problem with the service, though: it doesn't archive everything.

The Internet Archive

As of this writing, The Wayback Machine has roughly 505-billion pages archived. This is absolutely amazing. People will thank the team responsible for keeping this service alive for generations to come as there is still no good way for websites to be accessed after they've vanished from the public Internet. Given all the good that this service does, I'd like to encourage anybody who uses the service to make a donation every now and again to keep it going. Like 10Centuries, is a non-profit organization that doesn't try to turn other people's content into gold. However, unlike 10Centuries, the service does not specifically ask permission to maintain a copy of a site nor does it make it easy to post an update of an article or site we do want preserved.

Which brings me to the crux of this blog post2, should 10Centuries have an opt-in feature that auto-submits content to on the creator's behalf?

People are free to add pages to the Wayback Machine by manually submitting a URL, but this is another step that people need to do on their own, which can be a bit cumbersome for authors who future-date posts for later releases. There is a way for a web service such as 10Centuries to auto-submit new, public posts to the service by sending a simple GET request like So why not do it for everybody that wants it?

10Centuries has the goal to keep people's content online and in a safe, central location for a thousand years. Crazy as it may seem, it should be perfectly plausible to do so given the direction of the Internet and how certain systems are evolving. That said, it doesn't hurt to have a backup, and's mission is very much aligned with that of 10Centuries. Will people want the feature, though?

  1. I still have about 90 episodes to find show notes for. I have the entire audio archive, but it's these pesky show notes that seem to have completely vanished from the Internet. Maybe Dan Benjamin has a copy from his 70Decibels acquisition. I should ask …

  2. This post should probably have been written on 10Forward (, the "official" blog for 10Centuries, but here is good enough.

A Warning Shot Across the Bow of Independent Journalism

When I first heard word that Hulk Hogan (not his real name) was suing Gawker for posting a private video on their site I had one of those stereotypical "Yes" moments where a person closes their fist and shakes it in support of someone. Gawker Media has, for over a decade, been a constant nuisance. The endless tripe they peddle with click-baity headlines. The asinine lists of crap that took more brainpower to create than to digest. The invasions of privacy in the name of "public interest"…. It was all just too much. The Gawker and Gizmodo domains have long been banned from my computers, and I've even gone so far as to overriding my local DNS routings so that I don't accidentally visit their site via a short-link. So much do I despise Gawker and everything Nick Denton — its creator — stands for, that I hoped Hogan's case would bankrupt the company, resulting in tens of thousands of links that pointed to "nowhere" as the articles all went dark.

That was before Peter Thiel entered the picture.

Gone Gawker Gone

The Guardian recently reported that Gawker Media has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, which allows them to continue operating to a certain extent and buys them a bit of time before paying out $115-million in damages. Had this case been 100% between the retired wrestler and Gawker Media, I would be celebrating and looking forward to Gawker's servers going dark before the end of the year. The problem is that an incredibly far-sighted billionaire bankrolled the lawsuit, providing not only financial support but legal counsel as well. This was a concerted effort by a very wealthy person to silence an independent publication; and it worked. This gives other very powerful people a blueprint of how to effectively shut down certain kinds of journalism.

Imagine an investigative journalist does some digging and uncovers some illegal activities being done by a well-known billionaire. They perform the due diligence, dot every 'i' and cross every 't'. Then they take the story to their editor and are told the story can't be published because the company is just too small to defend itself against the wrath of a vengeful billionaire. Taking the story to one of the larger papers might work, but there's no guarantee that a larger institution might not also pass on the story. Publishing the article on Medium or some other self-hosted solution would not accomplish the goal of the journalist, so what options remain? Billionaires could become completely untouchable with the right formula of cash and legal precedent.

It's scary.

Time will tell whether we see this pattern unfold again in the future, but the first brick has been laid. I'll be happy to see Gawker disappear, but it shouldn't have happened like this. One of the pillars of a democracy is an open and free press. We should do what we can to make sure it stays this way.

Kids Today Are Spoiling It For the Rest of Us

Imagine you're having a cup of coffee while reading a book on the patio of a nice cafe. You're fully immersed in the book and don't even notice that someone is pointing their cell phone in your direction. A moment later, they're gone and you're none the wiser. Soon afterwards you start receiving requests online from a stranger who wants to connect with you. They seem to know an awful lot about you already, talking about books you've read and excellent cafés in the city, but you can't place them. Not wanting to appear rude, you friend them on Facebook and start seeing them in your Twitter stream. Then they're just everywhere. They know when you're at the cafe, when you're home, when you're working. They know way too much about you, but you have no idea who they are or why they've taken such an interest in you …

Snapping Pics

As someone who has recently had to deal with the unpleasant business of telling a way-too-interested party that I wanted them to stop following me around both online and off, the scenario above is one that I hope never happens to me. Yet it's happening to thousands and soon millions of people around the world. Clever software that is teamed up with social network crawlers is making it possible for some stranger to take a picture of us in public and learn who we are based on our social network presence.

Findface, an application created by two Russian 20-something's, was recently covered on The Guardian and I found myself strongly disagreeing with a lot of what the creators had to say, right from the very first paragraph:

If the founders of a new face recognition app get their way, anonymity in public could soon be a thing of the past. FindFace, launched two months ago and currently taking Russia by storm, allows users to photograph people in a crowd and work out their identities, with 70% reliability.

Anonymity in public may be an impossibility for people who use public transit, banks, convenience stores, and other places where security cameras are in place and easily accessible by police and government surveillance programs, but with this sort of tool at people's disposal, everybody is Big Brother.

The software works by comparing the person in the photo to hundreds of thousands of pictures on mostly Russian social networking sites, and it's just a matter of time before this expands out to include the rest of the world's networks of choice. There is no opt-in with the process, either. This means that if anybody has posted your picture online, there is a good possibility just about anyone with a cell phone will soon be able to learn our name and general information just by snapping a picture of us.

At the end of the article we're left with this awful sentiment:

[…] it sounds a little disturbing. But [Alexander] Kabakov said, as a philosophy graduate, he believes we cannot stop technological progress so must work with it and make sure it stays open and transparent.

"In today’s world we are surrounded by gadgets. Our phones, televisions, fridges, everything around us is sending real-time information about us. Already we have full data on people’s movements, their interests and so on. A person should understand that in the modern world he is under the spotlight of technology. You just have to live with that."

So, according to this philosophy graduate, there's no such thing as self anymore, so let's just exploit each other's information regardless of the costs because we can.

People in witness protection programs must never venture outdoors anymore. People who are already approached way too many times every day by others who ask for dates or other activities get to have strangers call them by name. Children who's entire lives were put online by their parents get to have strangers come up and say "Hey, Jason. Your dad asked me to pick you up from school. I work with him at {Company name}. Remember when we met at a barbecue in Gage Park a few years ago? That was when your dad fell in the fountain. Remember? Oh, you were much younger back then. Come on, get in my van and I'll take you home."

The greatest invasions to our privacy over the last 15 years have come at the hands of 20-something developers who are far more interested in asking themselves "What can I build?" rather than the more important question of "What are the consequences of what I build?" For every action there is a reaction. In the world of physics it's usually 1:1. In the world of social interactions, the ratio is very, very different. This sort of technology could be used to better identify individuals wanted by the police. Recent history has shown us, though, that what the average citizen does with the tools is often just as sinister as we would expect from an oppressive government regime.

Our privacy is being eroded little by little every day, but it's not too late to reclaim a little bit of it. There needs to be a clear line that demarcates what is considered acceptable and what is not when it comes to collecting information about the people around us. At the end of the day, we should reserve the right to choose who may know us and who may not.

Blatantly Illegal Is Right

It's not often that I read an article from Business Insider, given the scummy advertising practices the site has and it's track record for yawn-inspiring, me-too-me-too articles on subjects that Vox writers are better at hacking together, but this one about the unethical practices of the Brave browser was recommended by someone who is far brighter than I could ever hope to be.

Business Insider — Blatantly Illegal

Long story short, a former Mozilla execute decided to once again try to make a browser that people would be excited to use. It's called Brave, and it promises to block advertisements and trackers from taking our data. However, instead of stopping at blocking ads, Brave will instead replace the ads with ones from their own "partners". Publishers are apparently supposed to receive 55% of the revenues generated from these ads, with the remaining being evenly split between Brave, the ad supplier, and the person using the browser.

A bunch of newspapers are up in arms saying this is downright illegal, and I'm on side with the newspapers.

It's no secret that I have no love for the invasive ads, endless tracking, and constant bombardment of incredibly-bloated JavaScript that our browsers are forced to deal with when surfing the open web without protection. There is good reason to block the execution of JavaScript on sites that we don't visit very often, which would surely upset a lot of publishers around the world. What we shouldn't do, however, is replace one ad with another. This is just plain wrong, and I'm surprised Brendan Eich — the founder of Brave — doesn't see it this way.

Brave is effectively taking a soda made by Coca Cola, peeling off the red label, and plastering a Pepsi logo on the side while offering Coke a fraction of their selling price after skimming some of the cash for themselves. No matter how many articles I read in support of Brave, this whole activity just seems wrong.

Some argue that Brave is helping publishers by providing revenue from people who would otherwise just use an ad-blocker, effectively giving sites that rely on advertising impressions no money at all. Maybe. Who sets the price of the ad impression? Brave? The ad agencies? Supply and demand? Either way, it's not Eich's call to make.

There's no denying that we need a better revenue model for the words, pictures, and videos that we download. There's no denying that the excessive frustrations from attention-stealing ads and battery-draining tracking mechanisms needs to be addressed as well. There is also no denying that the people and organizations to make these words, pictures, and videos available should be paid, if they have the expectation to be paid. Something does need to be done to address these issues. Brave is simply going about it the wrong way.

Terms and Conditions

Yesterday I was having a discussion with someone over coffee with regards to web design and some of the considerations people need to think about when designing responsive layouts. Dry stuff for many, but incredibly interesting to this man who had never really considered having an adaptive site to account for people coming on phones and tablets. In the midst of our conversation I pulled out my notebook and fired up the browser to show some examples of responsive design in action. I asked him for the URL to his site and pulled it up.

"Wait a minute," he started. "This isn't even half the website. Where's the rest of it?"

Seeing just as much white space as my counterpart, I refreshed the page and was greeted with just as much white space as before.

"Are you blocking ads?" he said in an accusational tone. "You can't block ads when you visit my site. You must show them. Look!" he pointed to a message bar that ran along top the page. "If you visit the page, you must allow ads."

"Okay," I replied. A second later the page was gone. I closed the tab.

"Why did you do that?"

"Because you cannot run code on my computer without my implicit permission. If you want to supply data to my computer, your website must abide by my terms and conditions."

"No it doesn't. That's not how the web works."


Clearly frustrated, he started to explain his position. "When you visit my page, you're expected to abide by the rules of the site. One of the rules is that you must allow ads. You wouldn't walk into a restaurant and eat their food without paying, so why would you visit a website and not let the creators get paid?"

"I would be more than happy to pay the creators or maintainers of a website directly if I could. Fact of the matter is that most websites are run by people who don't have a bloody clue what's actually happening when they load up their pages with ads," I responded. "When I go to a restaurant I can pay with cash, and I know this ahead of time. There is no ambiguity. There is no guesswork involved. I know before I step foot in the door that I need to pay. I also know ahead of time whether I actually want the product or not. We can't window shop like this on the Internet." I wasn't done, yet. "Just to be clear, my problem isn't with ads. It's with code from companies I don't know about nor trust."

I loaded up the man's page again and clicked on the uBlock icon which showed a good 80% of the scripts on the site blocked. "Just look at all these domains! Facebook, DoubleClick, Twitter, plus another dozen ad domains and you've even got something from bloody Mixi in here! No … I don't give you permission to have their shit code run on my computer, collecting even more data about me and my habits online. I don't trust you to vet these companies before putting their bloated JavaScript on your site in the hopes of earning an extra $5 a month from people who are subject to invasive and ultimately hostile activities from these companies. You want to show ads on your site, knock yourself out. Use PNG files or JPGs for sites and services you think your readers will appreciate. Don't turn around and call the people who visit your site thieves or whatever else when it is in fact you who are exacerbating the problem."

I paused a moment, letting my words hang in the air. "You want to make money from me visiting your site? That's fine. I will actively encourage you to do so. But just remember that your sites must abide by my terms and conditions just as I must abide by yours."