Reddit and Free Speech

I personally am not a user of Reddit. When the recent controversy hit my social media circles, I had to think if I have ever been to the site in my life. If I have been, it wasn’t on purpose. When it was announced that President Obama was going to do a “Reddit AMA” I didn’t even know what that was. I’m slightly shocked to find out it is considered to be “the internet’s front page” because if the site disappeared tomorrow it would have zero effect on me. However, I am old and out of touch.

With all that said, obviously I had never heard of Violentacrez prior to his outing, and if not for the articles all over my social media I still wouldn’t have heard of him. I read the original article about the identity of Violentacrez on Gawker and didn’t think much more about it. Later, I saw two completely disparate takes on it by science fiction writers – John Scalzi’s take (a writer with whom I’ve had exactly one interaction and found him a dick) and Will Shetterly’s take (a writer with whom I’ve had more interactions over a longer period and found him a pleasant guy). Even though I personally don’t care for Scalzi, his take is much closer to what I felt on reading this story.

In the vast smear of commentary on this subject spread across 1.7 zillion posts on various social media sites and blog posts, I have seen many of the form “great that this scumbag lost his job, he deserves punished.” I don’t agree with that on the face of it. People seems to be drunk on schadenfreude to see a troll get comeuppance in the real world. Maybe I’d feel differently if I were more connected to the trolling, but I don’t see any joy to take in Brutsch’s subsequent real world problems.

Will Shetterly seems predominantly concerned with the principle of anonymity on the internet, and with who has the right to draw the line between legitimate and illegitimate reasons to conceal ones identity. I don’t disagree with him out of hand, but I’m less inclined for the benefit of the doubt of the anonymous.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons for anonymity on the internet. Political dissidents under oppressive regimes and survivors of abuse are the two I see most often brought up. I look at this this way: if you are posting anonymously on the internet and have something to lose should your identity be revealed, your risk and reward should be in line. A political dissident may be risking imprisonment or execution should they be discovered, so whatever it is they are posting anonymously should be important to them. Michael Brutsch was risking his livelihood for the ability to abuse and anger other people. Asking for sympathy on the backend of that after the consequences are realized rings pretty hollow to me. I think him getting fired for what he did on Reddit away from work is not right, but it was a risk he bore willingly and as a grownup should own that.

The other part of the whole thing this brings out to me is the argument Scalzi uses that none of these websites are a public common. They are all owned by someone who has the right to allow or disallow anyone they choose. I know that I myself have been hamstrung by my own desire for free speech at times in the history of the blog, which allowed me to be played by commentors of bad faith. Somewhere along the line I got over that, which is why I posted my comment policy. Just because I want to be fair doesn’t mean you get to use my own desire for fairness as a weapon against me. This blog is my party, and if you shit in the punch bowl I will toss you out. Reddit chose to allow turds in the punch bowl because the defactor was useful to them. Everyone makes their own choices. You just need to pay attention before you pour yourself another glass of that delicious delicious punch.

Where’s George?

I’ve been a member of Where’s George for a long time. A really long time. I’ve been basically inactive for a few years now, entering bills on the rare occasion I find them in my wallet but not stamping or entering previously unentered bills. There was a time when I was doing hundreds of them a month. This was back when I was not a parent.

However, I got a landmark hit the other day. Not only was it hit on the same day of the year as the original entry, it was twelve years after I first entered it. Not only have I been a member that long, but the site has been up and running that long and is still around. In the churn of internet sites, that’s downright impressive. Well done, Hank Eskins!

Flattr and Free Money For You

This blog has been been Flattr enabled for close to two years. I still think Flattr is a great idea and I’d love to see it get wider adoption, both from the content creator side as well as the consumer let-me-give-you-money side. Thanks to the fine folks at Flattr, there is a scheme to help prime the pump and get the idea out there. You can follow the above link to find out more about it, or just go to Flattr directly. It’s basically a micropayment scheme that hides the micropayments from you as if it were a Digg/Reddit liking scheme and is pretty darn clever.

I am pleased to be able to offer free money to the first 100 people who respond to this offer. Email me at and let me know you want the free money, and they will send you a voucher code that will add 4 (that’s Euros, Americans) to your account. This is not a random amount, it’s two even months of their minimum contribution. It would be great if you could throw me a click or two, but it is entirely not compulsory. Do what you want, friends. It’s your money, free and clear. Just be aware it might be a few days because I’m batching together emails. If you don’t get the voucher immediately don’t worry, it’s my fault not theirs.

The one podcast in my listening list that I know is Flattr enabled is Thomas Gideon’s The Command Line. It would be great if you could throw him a click or two as well, but again, your money. Just for fun, I believe I’ll start collecting together a wiki type podcast directory for those who do have Flattr on them. Because of the current state of critical mass it can be a challenge to find stuff to click on, so I’ll see if I can’t help a little with that. I do encourage bloggers and podcasters to sign up and put the badge on your site. Let’s see if we can’t spread some money around to each other.

Digital Vs. Physical Goods

Not long ago, I posted about how paper books are now the deprecated choice in my household. Recently, as my daughter began crawling and pulling up, she wreaked havoc on our CD rack, throwing disks all over the place. Cleaning them up and moving them to somewhere safe, I was struck with how many of them I couldn’t remember playing in the last decade. I was even more struck with the desire to get a number of these out of my house.

I am forming a new three-tiered approach on how to deal with goods that I could just as easily have in physical or digital form. This is still a work in progress but looks to be something like the following:

  1. Goods that I for sure want to own physically

    These are items that have been autographed, items that are collectible, items that have sentimental value such as heirlooms or gifts.

  2. Goods that I for sure want to own digitally

    These are the things I now buy (or download for free) to my Kindle or for my MP3 player. This is the category of things that I actively don’t want a physical copy in my living space, even if I get it for free.

  3. Goods that I am ambivalent about their physical vs digital ownership

    This is the new category that I realized shlepping CDs around. Many of these CDs are ones that I should do what many of my friends did 10 years ago, which is to rip them digitally, put them on a safe backup drive somewhere (or the cloud) and get the hell rid of the physical disk. If and when Ion Audio ever releases their book scanner, many of the books that are in my house would also fit in this category. These are goods that I currently own in physical form that if and when I could convert that do a digital form, I’d gladly get rid of the artifact. I’m going to take a wild stab and say for either books or music, between 30 and 50% of what I own would fall inside this category.

I love the idea of the DIY Book Scanner project and godspeed to them, but I’m not handy enough to build on myself. That’s why I’d rather trade $150 to Ion Audio to get a prebuilt production model of something that appears to be based off the open design. If I get one, I will go on a spree of digitizing books, putting them on a backup drive and my Kindle and either listing on eBay or donating to my local library’s book sale.

Interestingly, when I get a Kindle Fire and install the Comixology app, [Update: I’m told Comixology comes pre-installed on the Fire] I’ll have a new category of entertainment that is governed by these three tiers. I can totally see the books I currently buy one copy of issue #1 at my local comic shop to try out migrating over to Comixology. If it turns out I don’t like the book, I’ve figured that out more cheaply. For the books I do like, I’ll add them to my pull list and possibly go back and get the earlier issues in paper if I care.

One of the aspects of myself I like the least and most would like to change is my pack rat behavior. Whatever in my life I can move from a pile in my messy office to a file on a hard drive or a device, that is a positive trade to me. Dear digital world, help save me from myself.

Testing ThinkUp

Just today I ran across a reference to ThinkUp and on whim I installed it on my hosting account. This is a way for you to keep your own local cache of Twitter, Facebook and Google+ (so far.) It is open source and with luck will continue to have features added for some time. I have been using Twitter for nothing but the auto-posts from this blog for some time now. It’s possible that having ThinkUp available will make me willing to use Twitter again. Also possible that it doesn’t. It does solve one of the very annoying parts of Twitter, that you post things and eventually they plop out the memory hole and into the crapper.

My first thought was that ThinkUp really needs a generic RSS plugin as well as plugins for some of the big services. My second thought was that all it really needs is a plugin to read FriendFeed and then all of the rest of it is taken care of. if I contribute any code, that might be the code I’m willing to do.

My ThinkUp instance is here. I’ve made the Twitter and G+ streams public, and for G+ and Facebook only posts that are made fully public get imported. I have to remember while using G+ that anything I want to prevent bubbling into the open internet needs to be more restricted than Public. It remains to be seen how useful this wil be, but it looks promising for now. I had thought of doing something similar with the Drupal Activity Stream module except that it looks abandoned now and has no Drupal 7 version available. I’ll see how this works for me and report back later.

Update: As a bonus, I’ll put the embed code for my most recent post here. I honestly have no idea what it is going to do. We can learn together.

Paper Books Deprecated in My House

This was originally a post on Google+.

Ebook detractors say “I want the [feel | smell | ability to read in the bath] of a paper book.” Example from my life earlier today:

I was walking past Books-A-Million and they had the sales racks rolled out in front of the store. These books are priced at $3.97 and they are buy 2 get 1 free. I browsed them for a bit and realized that even if all these books were free, I would not bring any of them home. That’s because the stop energy on paper book purchases doesn’t come from the sale price, it comes from my willingness to bring One More Book into my life. For the kind of bullshit on the clearance rack, that willingness was zero.

Conversely, my stop energy in buying an ebook is completely based on price to value ratio. If the book is priced above my impulse buy trigger for that work, I’ll think about it. If the decision is no, that book is done. If it is below the impulse buy trigger, it’s bought without a second thought. In between, it’s a maybe (but usually no.)

It’s just the way my buy finger goes nowadays. If the book is in paper, it better be special. If it’s electronic, it better be reasonably priced. I have thousands of books in my to-be-read queue and every one of those is a reason not to buy your book. You can overcome that but you need to do the right thing.

Google Plus

I have a new thing that is killing the mojo that once went into blogging. For a while it has been Twitter and Facebook, but now Google Plus is my main blog-eating time sink. I got in invite fairly early after its creation, so I’ve been using it since early July. It’s not perfect but it’s so much closer to what I want from a social network that after only a week or two of it, I basically stopped using Twitter. That wasn’t hard, any reasonable service that had any decent uptake from my circle of friends would have been sufficient. Google+ (as Huff and Stapes call it, “testing positive for Google”) was plenty good enough.

One thing that I’m going to do to try to bring my blogging mojo back is to periodically take posts I’ve made on Google+ and bring them back over here. That was tough with Twitter because any reasonable thought spanned multiple tweets and then it was just all a mess.

If you want to follow me or in G+ terminology “circle me” and my wagons, this is my profile. It’s similar nonsense as here, packaged in a different way. Welcome aboard.

Phantom Limbs

It’s been a hard winter and spring with the new baby. I wouldn’t change anything for the world but just having a newborn in the house takes a lot out of everyone. Over the course of the last week I’ve felt a well of energy refilling and now I’m bursting to do a number of things. Although I’m a lifelong pac krat, I’ve started cleaning junk out of my office and have found myself throwing away things I have kept for 20 or more years. The people at the Best Buy electronics recycling area are getting used to seeing me daily.

I have a number of projects that have been treading water and now I have a new wave of enthusiasm to tackle them. I’m more or less done with the transition of AmigoFish to its new owner (and it’s on a new server box that is way better than I had it on, go check it out!) Clearing that out of my backlog feels really good and now I just want to get cracking on all the myriad of things that have been in suspended animation. My creative side feels like your foot does when the blood rushes back in after it has been asleep. That tingling pain means that life is returning to it.

If things go well, I’ll be blogging more, writing more, organizing the things that need it, even getting back into drawing a little more. A lot of this stuff won’t be visible for a long time but I’m very excited to get into this new phase in my creative life. Wish me luck, or better yet wish me “ass in chair.”

Why Twitter is Becoming a Drag

Why Twitter Sucks Part 1

Here’s an example of why Twitter is becoming such a complete drag every time I use it. At 7:48 PM, I made an ordinary, standard type of tweet. It’s the kind anyone would make at anytime. I didn’t think twice about doing it.

Why Twitter Sucks Part 2

Within one minute, I got these @replies. That’s solely from using the keywords “basketball” or possibly “college basketball.” I get very similar action if I tweet using the words “poker”, “iPad”, “iPod” or any other of a number of ones that some douche might be trying to spam on. It’s a real serious bummer to have to see these reflexive spams off the use of these types of keywords. That’s for me with not many followers, no longer tweeting that much and not often using any of the biggie terms. I can imagine for a lot of more serious users it is even a worse problem.

How to Kludge Together a Flattr based Podcast Payment System

I had a brainstorm tonight on how to hack together a way to automatically pay the podcasters that you listen to. I’m not exactly sure the best way to implement but here is the basic principle. It might have too many moving parts to be feasible but it is interesting to think about.

  1. Both you the listener and the podcaster need to have Flattr accounts and also Last.FM accounts.
  2. The podcaster must create good ID3 tags for artist and unique ones for each episode, so that every single MP3 has one and only URL associated with it at Last.FM.
  3. The listener needs some form of scrobbling software that automatically records their listens into their Last.FM.
  4. The podcaster publishes a new episode of their show. At the same time they do, they submit a Flattr for the URL of the Last.FM on top of whatever other thing they might. I submit the permalink of the blog post but this way I would do both of them for each episode. (Question: Is submitting a Last.FM URL within the terms of use for Flattr? )
  5. Now, with whatever mystical system in the middle, which could be any kind of script or a webservice or an application or even a plugin to the scrobbling application, you map the two things together. Periodically you go out and read your recent scrobbles from Last.FM (or do it at the same time you scrobble) and for each of those URLs you call the Flattr API to find that item and submit a Flattr to it from your account.
  6. Profit!

That’s really all it would take. The rest of it would happen automatically. If any of your podcasts exist, they get a Flattr from you for each episode you listen. You don’t have to remember to go out and Flattr anything, and you can control how much you pay podcasters the same way you do anything on Flattr – you pick your monthly budget and let it ride.

It all makes sense to me. The only question is does the Flattr directlive to “only submit your own items” prohibit you from submitting an Last.FM URL, since that isn’t your site or does it allow it because that URL does actually represent your work? If it does, then gluing up all the stuff in the middle is pretty trivial. The problem is that when you get this down to the set of people that have Flattr accounts for both podcasters and listeners, then also require Last.FM accounts and also engaging the glue in the middle (installing an app or plugin or setting up a webservice) it might get down to such a vanishingly small set of people to be silly. However if this is viable from Flattr policy, I’m willing to set this up. I’ll take automated Flattrs from my nerd listeners gladly. If the proof of concept, uhhm, proves the concept then maybe other podcasters and listeners would be willing to put this money plumbing together.

Peace on Earth Starts at Home

It’s true that my output on all internet fronts has slowed waaaay down. I’m blogging less, podcasting less, tweeting not at all. For a long stretch of time that bothered me greatly because it seemed like I was letting down the team in some way, or failing to correctly promote my “personal brand” or all sorts of other vague dreads of underplaying my hand. In truth, I feel better about life in general lately. I don’t know if this correlation is causation, but worrying less about doing things at the bogus pace of “internet time” means that I don’t have the constant heartbeat of the next refresh interval driving my attention. It’s peaceful. In a very real way, turning off a lot of those inputs and worrying less about my output feels like a long term vacation.

I never intend to close doors with any of these pronouncements because reality on the ground may change, but I sense this may become more like the long-term sustainable way I approach online life. I may blog every day for a week and then not for a day or week or month. I may do a few podcasts in a row and then drift off for a while. I may return to being a tweet machine, or I might never do it again. If the question is “Did you see that thing on Facebook”, regardless of the thing the answer has a greater than 99% chance of being “No.”

Of course, in less than a month you mix a newborn baby into this and life gets even shakier. I know plenty of people have kids and a digital life and the two mesh happily. I’m predicting that in our lives since we are older new parents that it will take a lot out of us. I might blip out for most of the late winter and early spring. If so, you can safely assume I’m happy as a clam and probably covered in some form of bodily fluid.

One of the upsides of pulling back from digital life is that it allows me to double down on corporeal life. In the last few months I’ve done more fun stuff in person than many years, and it keeps on going. You can trust that if I’m in the room with you, I’m not checking a smart phone. When I’m present, I’m trying to be actually present rather than this vaguely distracted weird attention that everyone pays nowadays.

So, that’s where I’m at this time, right before XMas 2010. I remain a ghost in the machine on the internet but I’m around. Give me a call, write me a letter, invite me to lunch, set up a play date. I’m 17 years into this internet thing and still working out how to do it correctly, but I feel like I’m getting there.

Happy holidays to all. May you find exactly the level of peace that you need.

Flattr and the Drying Pond

I’ve been experimenting with Flattr since May. I started when it was a closed beta that required a waiting list to get approved, and it’s been about 4 months since it went to an open beta. Thus far, my results are … eh. It isn’t ridiculous, but nothing much has happened for me with it. I’ll occasionally get one or two flattrs on a post or podcast. Most get nothing, and the blog as a whole has two. I have done absolutely nothing to goose that, so this is the un-pimped base state.

Clearly, if I wanted more attention from the Flattr community I’d write more posts about Flattr itself (like, uhm, this one.) My biggest problem is that I don’t think the critical mass is anywhere close at this point. There is only one site in my general orbit that is Flattr enabled, which is Thomas Gideon’s Command Line. Generally I give him one flattr every month. I never ever run across any other site in my travels on which I can flattr someone else. Much like any similar project, Flattr suffers from the power law distribution. A very small number of items get a huge number of flattrs while almost all get few or none. It also seems like the German origins of this project shine through in that most of the really big hitter items that get large amounts of attention are in German. Items of English and American origin appear to have an uphill climb to crack that.

At this point, I have run all the way through my initial deposit. I flipped all the income I’ve ever received back into my allocation pool, and will continue doing that. Unless something radically changes in the system, I don’t plan on depositing another chunk of money. I’ll keep flipping my ever shrinking pool of income until the day it runs out and I have no more in there. If the accounts ever zero out, I’m done. I’d love to be surprised with some of my regular sites popping up with Flattr widgets on there so I can give them some money and use it more like a Digg replacement. Until that day, I’m hopeful it takes off but it’s not how I’m betting much money.

A Life Without Twitter (Mostly)

I’m still readjusting to the new baseline of being a non-constant user of Twitter. It feels a lot like when I gave up drinking sodas earlier this summer. At first I thought about it all the time and had constant cravings for what was missing. After a while the cravings went away and now with sodas, I almost never miss them. I’m getting that way with Twitter.

I’m not 100% averse to ever looking at it. I did just a minute ago to look at what people were posting about BarCampCHS. That kind of use is fine with me. What I’m not doing is spending all day every day twitching every few minutes when updates arrive and what I’m not doing is trying to figure out how to boil what I’m thinking or doing into 140 characters. It’s a relief to not have to constantly monitor something that is changing effectively all the time, and it’s a relief to stretch out my cognition into longer thoughts at less frequent intervals.

I still see anything with the @geniodiabolico string in at in my Google Reader eventually. It might be a day or more so the real time aspect has gone away but I’m OK with that. So little of what goes through that pipe is really of an urgency to need my attention Right This Second so I’m happy to harmonize my life back with acdtual priorities.

All told, my new evaluation function for everything is very much the way the Amish examine technologies. Nothing is rejected outright but is examined in the context of whether the benefits it brings outweigh the cost to their society. In my case, it’s all about big picture, long term happiness. The truth of the matter is that Twitter makes me less happy in ways large and small when I use it constantly. Thus, it’s out. Look out Facebook, you are next.

Twitter’s Last Straw

I’ve never liked Twitter as a company. At points I’ve had some regard for the communication stream enabled by the company, but them as an entity at best I’ve tolerated and at worst I’ve wished them into the cornfield. I’m not sure of where this is all going but today I began noticing in my stream of updates from the people I have selected to follow Tweets with a special signifier that said “Promoted by Coca-Cola” and “Promoted by McDonalds.” That’s really the last straw from me. At one point I burned my own Twitter network to the ground, I worked out a way to get most of that value without touching Twitter at all and earlier this year I took a delicious month off from using it.

I don’t know exactly where this is going, whether this feature stands or what the backlash is. When Twitter began to get celebrity focused, when the primary ethic was that of having the most ginormous list of followers I cared less about it every day. When they have now turned the corner to take this stream and insert preferentially Tweets that big corporations want me to see, that’s the end of my ride.

You might say, “Dave, what’s the big deal? The ones you saw weren’t even overtly promotional.” That, dear readers, is exactly the problem. If it was “Buy McRibs, the most delicious meatlike product we could formulate for $0.17 a pound!” I would have less of a problem. Having ordinary looking tweets elevated to “must see” at the behest of McDonalds, Coca-Cola or whomever else pays for that privilege is deeply flawed. I would have basically no problem with banner ads on the site and maybe even banners showing between tweets. I’m no hippy-dippy type, I understand that somewhere down the line the power bill needs paid. When you can pay to make tweets a higher priority communication than that of the people I chose to interact with, I’m done.

I’m not sure the final endgame of all this, but starting today I do not check HootSuite all day every day. I’m not deleting my account, possibly there is some value to be extracted from this. However, I’m now in it for myself. When I use Twitter it is purely for myself and to pimp and whore whatever I want. It’s not personal – it’s all business to me. I didn’t make it that way, Twitter did. I’m just rolling with the new rules.

Flattr Out of Closed Beta, Open to All

Just yesterday I was trying to see if I could generate Flattr beta invites. I’m a little disappointed in how slow things have been since I joined, both in terms of getting and giving Flattrs to other people. I just don’t see that enough folks using it that I think about doing it on an average day.

Well, today I saw the news that Flattr is out of closed beta and anyone can sign up. I think that’s good news. I think it’s an interesting project but my evaluation of it so far has been skewed by lack of critical mass and the fact that most of the users of it to date seem to be German speakers so I’m not that into most of that. I personally love the “no mental transaction cost” of not deciding how much to pay. Just Flattr the way you’d Digg anything, and the money takes care of itself.

Some of the user pushback I see is from people whose response is “but but … I don’t get to decide how much to pay? Everyone gets the same thing from me that month? Where is my fine-grained control <sputter />.” In my own life, I am doing everything I can to eliminate those large number of decisions I make every day that I just don’t give a shit about. “Give this site $0.03 or $0.05? Is this one $0.17 worthy?” I don’t want to think about any of that.

I’m going to give Flattr more of a shot to determine how useful I find it. Whenever I run out of my first chunk of money, I’ll evaluate whether it seems reasonable to recharge that account. I’m guardedly optimistic. I’d like to see some webcomics people adopt it, I think they might find it more useful and lucrative than Project Wonderful. What can it hurt to try?

Summer Hiatus Coming to an End

I didn’t actually intend to take a summer hiatus from online stuff but de facto I did. Decision by decision for the last few months, I’ve opted away from creating and publishing things online and more towards relaxing. The exception is at Ebooks From TV where I’ve blogged more or less every day since early June. However, since that’s not personal and is done for a very specific single purpose, for some reason that has felt much easier.

Tomorrow I’m recording an episode of the EGC podcast and at some point I have to prepare episode 6 of the Peakecast. I still have work to do on the movie footage in the can, episodes of Reality Break that really need to be put together, an office that desperately needs cleaned, an air hockey table that needs to be sold on Craigslist. I’ll have to upshift my lazy ass from summer gear to productive gear, but I think it can be done. I’m just trying not to grind the gears too badly.

Social Media Vacation Wrapping Up

Theoretically, if I hold to my original setup today would be the last day of my social media vacation. This is the 28th day since I queued up a bunch of “send later” tweets and Facebook status and then shut all that crap down. I did violate the embargo last week to announce the news about CREATE South becoming sponsored by the Horry County Arts and Cultural Council, and then shut it all down again.

Here’s the deal. While I acknowledge that Twitter has upsides, I believe they come at too high a price for it to be a tool to draw my attention all day every day. I don’t anticipate ever returning to my previous levels of usage. A lot of the Twitter critics from big media, the same people that criticized bloggers 5 years ago, focus on the unseemliness of the hoi polloi enjoying the same ability to communicate as them. Screw those people, they can bite my ass. My criticism is the opposite. I see value in ordinary people having the channel to communicate, however I find the act of following it closely all day every day to be detrimental to peace of mind. Operative word: peace.

To use Twitter anywhere like the intended pattern involves a twitchiness and jangliness, like the shakes you get after your 7th cup of coffee. Either you are scanning it over and over manually, or you have something that notifies and interrupts you when messages occur. Either way involves Twitter taking your attention at frequent intervals, and usually for ephemera.

I stand by my original statement that there are only really three use cases for when I need information from Twitter right now: 1) when traffic is backed up between where I am and where I am going; 2) when I’m looking for someone with whom to have lunch; and 3) when I’m at a science fiction convention and I’m trying to find the room party that my friends are at. Everything else can wait, and it is detrimental to my life to be notified frequently. The act of getting notified reduces my life enjoyment more than the information increases it.

So, even though I’m coming off of Twitter/Facebook prohibition, I’m retreating from ongoing usage. I’m not sure if that means I only look at them at certain relatively infrequent times, only on specific days, or if I just say screw it and shut it down most of the time until I just feel like participating in them. For years I’ve been arguing with Steve Gillmor (I’d link to him, but links are dead) about the value of real time data streams. He finds them amongst the most important and salient bits of digital life. I’m finding them amongst the worst aspects of my modern life. Most people, myself at the head of the list, flatter themselves by feeling the need to be this connected. Most things in the world don’t need you, you don’t need most things in the world. I now choose to sacrifice connection for peace of mind and the satisfaction of being present in my daily life.

I’m choosing to live at a slower pace. I haven’t looked at a 24 hour news channel in 6 years. I’m clamping down my social media usage. Somewhere between Cory Doctorow and Ted Kaczynski is a happy medium, and for better or worse I’m falling on the latter end of that compromise.

Flattr-y Will Get You … Where?

I’m trying an experiment on this blog. I’ve Flattr enabled it via plugins, so now you’ll see those on both the posts and the RSS entries if you read them via Google reader or the like. I’m mostly doing this as to see where the value lies in this project. I don’t expect this blog/podcast will ever pull in significant revenue. I’d consider it a wild success if I broke even on my incoming and outgoing Flattr balance.

Here’s how Flattr works (as I understand it, with my vast 18 hours of experience with it): you put a certain amount of money in your Flattr account, and specify how much you’ll pay out each month. Then as you “Flattr” things through the month, those each get an equal share of whatever your monthly payout is set at. Think of it as Digg but with financial consequences, like Digging a thing means you are paying money to it.

What I do like about this is that you aren’t thinking about an amount as you pull the trigger to micro-pay something. The amount you are paying that recipient can range from the full amount of your monthly (if it’s the one item you Flattr that month) to such a small slice that it is a fraction of a cent. This solves one of the big problems of micropayment systems – the mental cost of valuing the payment vs the item to be paid for. In the Bitpass days, you have to think “Is this webcomic view really worth $0.15 to me” over and over again. If there is one aspect of modern life that is wearing me out, it’s being asked to make decisions over and over, all day every day, that I really don’t give much of a shit about. Instead, youmake two big decisions: 1) how much money to put into Flatter and 2) how much to pay each month Once those are locked in, you don’t think about money again. That’s smart.

The downside at this point is that the project clearly lacks critical mass and density. There are a lot of things I’d be willing to Flattr but thus far I had to really go looking for something to click. If this were more widely distributed, that would be easier. The other downside from an adoption perspective (but probably an upside from a business side) is that nothing happens at all until you’ve put some money in the system. You can’t receive a Flattr until you’ve made one, and you can’t make one until you put money in. Fiendish!

Here’s possible ways I see this playing out, not in any particular order:

  1. The whole thing is a Ponzi scheme and for most people it does nothing but the earliest people in do alright. This is also kind of the way the professional poker world works, as people shift the same money around to each other.
  2. It democratizes content payment, and people who create content for the love of it (like myself and the other podcasters/video bloggers/ et al) can pick up enough pin money to at least get costs covered pretty regularly. Sometimes you feel like you are winning the game when you just stop losing money.
  3. It is a total power law distribution, with the vast majority of items in the system getting 0 Flattrs (and thus no money), and a few getting a huge amount of them and little in between. This already might be happening, particularly with the “Top Flattrs” list in the site’s sidebar that means the rich get richer. This is how bestseller lists and iTunes directories work as well.
  4. It ends up like Digg but better because of the skin one has in the game. When you do capture lightning in the bottle with a post, viral video or something of the sort you end up scoring directly. Some sites already do this, some like You Tube notably do not in any reasonable way. I’m curious if there ever is a “Flattr millionaire” and if so, what the content is that generates it. I fear for the lowness of the common denominator, but I’m in the market to be pleasantly surprised.
  5. Much like all the best performing blogs in the Kindle marketplace are about (any guesses … ) the Kindle, at least now it appears many of the best performing Flattrs are about Flattr. Note that this blog post will be my first in that world too, and I’m curious to see what happens with that. The huge downside of this dynamic is that interesting new projects have incentives from day one to be circle jerks, creating little novel value but playing to the crowd. It’s the Web 2.0 equivalent of “Hello Cleveland! Are you ready to rock?” Pandering gets you everywhere.

I put in 12 Euros, which is 6 months at the lowest monthly payment setting. We’ll see how this goes and evaluate from there. If it seems too whorelike I might dial down the Flattr badge in every post setting, and only add it manually to a subset of them. Also, as of this writing (lunchtime EDT, Monday May 17) I think I have one extra beta invite code. I had signed up on the list for one weeks ago but when they sent me one, they sent two. I think the second code might work for someone else. Email me if you want it ,with the proviso that it’s possible it doesn’t work at all.

Social Media Vacation, Week 3

I’m well into my social media vacation. I’m so far in I’m starting to approach the far end of it. My original “30 days away” plan would put me at 9 more days. I’ll be honest with you, people. I’m not sure I’m ever coming back. At least, I am never returning to the level of use of Twitter I previously engaged in. There is a calmness and peace to my days that was sorely lacking in the previous few months.

I’m about to briefly break my vacation to post the news that the CREATE South conference is now under the umbrella of the Horry County Arts and Cultural Council. This means that future contributions are tax deductible! It should be good news for us and I’d like to get that in the Twitterverse today as opposed to two weeks from today. However, I’ve been dreading even opening up HootSuite again. I did look at it for about 45 seconds the other day just to see what was happening on the #createsouth hash tag. I was (pleasantly) surprised to see that Mr. Tee Morris is still whaling away on the official CREATE South Twitter account. It’s a pretty open secret that he’s our ghost writer (tweeter?) and has done 1000X better job than I did when I controlled that account. So there is value being created by all this, but my point remains: what is the personal cost of creating this value and am I willing to pay it?

I’m gearing up big time on the production of my documentary. Later this week I should have the first shoot of the film. This is an exciting point to be at, since I’ve been thinking about this for at least two years and probably longer. There might well be some value in creating and maintaining a Twitter account for the movie but I just don’t really feel like doing it. My hiatus has reinforced my feeling that Twitter interaction is junk interaction, and I’d do better making phone calls or visiting the subset of people I care about personally and letting the larger Twitterverse go. In reality, I’ll probably arrive at some sort of equilibrium where I hold my nose and use Twitter/Facebook/FriendFeed and whatever horrific future monstrosities become the next geek toy fad.

However, from here on forward I for sure will be adjusting the dial so that the time and energy I put into social media matches the value I get out of it. No more imbalance for me. The days of twitchily checking for new tweets all day long is over. Just like I try to never turn on the TV when there is nothing in particular I want to watch, I’m done with social media when there is nothing in particular I want to say or hear.