Bit freshener

Updates updates updates all the time. You have one! Get to work! Did anything change? No! Yes! Who knows? Quick, fix it! Did you break it? Who would know?

Updates are the opposite of bitrot.

The Jargon File, a compendium of hacker lore, defines “bit rot” as a jocular explanation for the degradation of a software program over time even if “nothing has changed”; the idea being this is almost as if the bits that make up the program were subject to radioactive decay.


Wait, why quote Wikipedia quoting the Jargon File when I can just quote the Jargon File?

Hypothetical disease the existence of which has been deduced from the observation that unused programs or features will often stop working after sufficient time has passed, even if ‘nothing has changed’.

The important thing is that *bitrot does not exist.* I know that seems insanely obvious. Bits do not rot. They are purely abstract. They live forever. A bit is a bit for all time.

And yet if it is true then what are all these updates doing?

Now get to work.

Feed readers for social bloggers

A blogger’s RSS reader should be directly integrated with their tools for writing posts. Anything you read should have a “Reply” button on it that can instantly generate a properly formatted blog post. That formatting should link to the original and either show a quote or put something meaninful in the link text. The cursor should be left in an edit field ready for blog writing.

WordPress should come with a feed reader.

The feed reader should be linked to an auto-generated blogroll. Anything the blogger subscribes to should be in the blogroll by default, with the option to hide links.

Feedback mechanisms for social bloggers

When I come back to my blog it is undisturbed. Like at home when I come back from work, everything is just as I left it.

Quiet is good in a Moleskine. But what if blogs for personal-level publishers like myself want to be social? A personal-scale social blogger should have a home screen of status updates.

Every time they open their blog they should have access to reverse chronological events. These could include analytics on views, added or lost subscribers, comments, pingbacks, links from third party blogs, or stats on posting frequency.

Gamification. Feedback. The variable reward to complement investment and action.

From Hooked: How to Make Habit-Forming Products

My train of thought is about how dedicated social networking platforms like Mastodon and Facebook can be replaced by blogs. I’m mulling over small practical things to make blogs a better tool for decentralized socializing.

I wonder if the developer community gave up too easily in the face of Facebook. Could relatively light tweaks to the blog technology stack add up to a much bigger community of personal networkers?

Blog post titles should be optional

Tom 7 Radar asks Why do posts have to have a ‘title’? (31 Aug at 23:46)

My answer: because blog infrastructure assumes one exists, and without a title a post is wonky. No better reason than that.

And titles really really should be optional. Does every tweet need a title? Do Facebook comments need a title?

Needing a title is friction. Not needing one is an advantage for mersh social media.

Link: Paul Morriss on blogrolls

Back in the days when only scientists and software engineers knew about algorithms, and the words “filter” and “bubble” were only next to each other on a Scrabble board, we had blogrolls. This would be a selective list of the blogs that you subscribed to placed on your own blog. Selective because only the bravest people put all their feed subscriptions on public show, unless you didn’t mind everyone knowning you had a thing for Selzer drinks or dogs dressed as Star Wars characters.

Today I came across a blogroll, which shows that they aren’t dead. What happened was I followed a link to an article on where Jason listed readers’ recommendations for new blogs.

Paul Morriss “In praise of blogrolls

Cross-blog Interactions Are Decentralized Social Networking

If I write a blog post in reply to somebody else’s blog post, there should be a link back to my post from the one I commented on.

Trackbacks are used primarily to facilitate communication between blogs; if a blogger writes a new entry commenting on, or referring to, an entry found at another blog, and both blogging tools support the TrackBack protocol, then the commenting blogger can notify the other blog with a “TrackBack ping“; the receiving blog will typically display summaries of, and links to, all the commenting entries below the original entry. This allows for conversations spanning several blogs that readers can easily follow.

Via Wikipedia

You recoil at the spamminess of this, I know. Yes, this leads to more spam than ham. That is why the world does not work this way. Trackback is dead.

Some individuals or companies have abused the TrackBack feature to insert spam links on some blogs. This is similar to comment spam but avoids some of the safeguards designed to stop the latter practice. As a result, TrackBack spam filters similar to those implemented against comment spam now exist in many weblog publishing systems. Many blogs have stopped using trackbacks because dealing with spam became too much of a burden.[citation needed]

Wikipedia again

It is also true but irrelevant that spam is an AI for truthtelling.

Trackback has nasty technical problems, and for that reason there are a number of alternative protocols, such as (notably) Webmention. (Here’s a good article on all the options: Linkback).

But spam is the blocker, and it’s so bad that none of the options gets used much. That’s really really really too bad, because linkbacks are critical for a lively and vital ecosystem of decentralized social networking.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a trivial solution to all linkback spam: a whitelist of friends, such as you find in a blogroll.

I envision a WordPress plugin with these features:

  1. On the inbound side, it receives and displays linkbacks. On the outbound side it sends them.
  2. When a linkback is received, it checks the whitelist. If the sender is whitelisted, it is auto-approved. Otherwise the linkback goes into the spam queue for manual approval.
  3. When a linkback is manually approved, the source site goes into the whitelist.
  4. Maintain a blogroll. Allow the blog owner to add sites. Display the blogroll. Use the blogroll to populate the white list.

P.S. On this blog I have a plug-in which implements Webmention linkbacks, but to my knowledge this has never caused any outbound or inbound linking. The only utility of this plugin is that it helps me signal that I approve of the protocol design.

Hand-holding Telepresence Romance Bots

At Dorkbot SF last night there was a super creative talk on telepresence by Alex Glow. She had a lot of ideas on modalities for social connection at a distance.

Inspired by that I dreamed up a hand-holding telepresence romance bot.

There would be two linked hand sculptures, one from each member of a couple. Each one would be a model based on a casting. The two source hands would remain in the picture, so there’s living hand A, copy of A, living hand B, copy of B.

The hands would be robotic in that the fingers and wrist could move just like a normal hand. The hands could wave, do a peace sign, a vulcan hello, a firm grasp, a soft grasp, etc. Like Thing in the Adddams Family.

Future telepresence bot

The handbot could be held. The expectation is that a living human hand’s would grasp the handbot. The specific living hand doing the holding would belong to one member of the couple. The bot would have sensors to detect pressure and convert that into a model of the actions of the living hand holding the bot hand.

That model would be transmitted to the linked handbot based on the living hand. The linked handbot would execute the model. Performance of the model would complete transmission.

Since this is all about touch the texture matters. Instead of metal or fake skin the robotic hands could be covered with a textured fabric like velvet.

This apparatus would be a remote hand holding device.

Romance is the main reason people would use it, but romance isn’t the only reason people hold hands. We shake hands. We thumb wrestle. I held my father’s hand when he was in bed, very ill. My seven year old holds my hand just because he wants to.

I envision couples separated by distance holding hands during a phone call. For example one member is on a spaceship, one is at home.

It’s telepresence for touch.