in blogging, Internet, networking, social networks, tech, wordpress

The Open Web can learn comment moderation from Instagram

Instagram

Starting today, you can protect your account from unwanted interactions with a new feature called Restrict. Bullying is a complex issue, and we know that young people face a disproportionate amount…

Source: Empowering Our Community to Stand up to Bullying – Instagram

 

Bullying is about power and perception. When someone cyberbullies you, the idea that other people can see the comments and choose to ignore them, which makes bullying banal, or even someone else’s comedy, that idea is sometimes more hurtful than the comments themselves.

What’s interesting to me is that Restrict is a rehashing of a system that has existed since forever on the Open Web – comment moderation. The ability for a blog to not show a person’s comments has existed forever, and due to the lack of transparency and user-feedback in companies like Facebook and Google, has largely been ignored until they get to it.

However, Restrict is an improvement, depending on how they’ve implemented it. In blog comment moderation, the bully/poster sees and knows that their comment is under moderation. This gives them cause to go and continue their bullying on some other platform.

Restrict seems to make it so that the bully will not find out they are under review. This is a powerful tool, because the perception for the bully will be that other people saw their comment and ignored it, thereby removing the feedback loop that pushes them to bully more. Simultaneously, for the bullied, it will tell their subconscious that their community has not abandoned them in favor of the bully, because the community can’t even see the bully’s comments.

If this is how it’s implemented, and if it is successful, I’d say this is a good thing for the Open Web and for comment systems like Disqus and WordPress to also implement. Taking power from the bully means letting them think that their ‘hot takes’ have been ignored by bystanders. In this case, perception is power, and the bullied should be able to wield it.

Magzter Gold vs Apple News+

Today, I got an email from Magzter, a digital magazine subscription service, telling me of their Magzter Gold service, which, for $100/year, gives me access to more than five thousand magazines. The offer is that instead of a cool hundred, you can get the subscription for half off for the first year.

When I looked at the email, I balked.

Last year, I ran an experiment. I signed up for quite a few paper magazine subscriptions, through DiscountMags, a service that gives us huge discounts on physical magazines, in exchange for yearly subscriptions. I set myself an upper limit of $100 arbitrarily, and wanted to see how many magazines I could subscribe to, and how many I actually read out of them. I stopped at $60, because most of the magazines I saw at the QFC checkout stand and felt like I wanted to read were no more than a couple bucks for the yearly subscription, while their retail prices were well over ten bucks per issue.

I got all the big ones – NatGeo, Forbes, Vogue, Wired, Vanity Fair, and some trashy mags too, for good measure.

I read almost none of them. A few articles here or there, which I was aware of, or some covers that pulled me in. But other than that, each magazine was a mess of ads, pop-out ads, subscription offers for other magazines, and sponsored posts. Finding the content was a pain. Comparatively, with RSS feeds, I can find relevant articles in a few seconds, and just dive into reading it instead of flipping pages.

So when Apple News+ came along at some point, and my brother raved about it, I said I’ll pass. It’d be the same crap all over again.

But then I see this Magzter offer, and I’m thinking about this world again. Digital magazines are easier to navigate than paper, but only if they’ve been built to be so. If you’re an Apple News+ user, you might have noticed that each magazine is a different style, some letting you bounce around, and giving you dedicated views for articles, while others looking like a literal PDF imported into the app. That’s because they are.

Apple News+ is not a new service. Apple acquired a company called Texture (or rather, it’s parent company Next Issue Media) to build their portfolio, and these companies – Next Issue, Magzter, Readly – they all give huge amounts of creative control to the magazine owners to show their content how they want to, within certain bounds. So while some companies have put in the money to create digital versions of their content, a lot of them just can’t be bothered.

Which is why, when you look at offers such as Magzter’s half off for the first year, or Readly’s first month for a buck, you might want to go for it. Recently, I finally let myself be convinced to get Apple News+ through family sharing. I’m not a fan of Apple’s family sharing implementation, but they’ve been getting better at it. So I finally got a look at Apple News+ and realized that at $10/mo, it’s not really anything different than what the other services are offering.

Apple News is pretty well integrated with iOS, with Apple letting you share links to articles that open directly in the News app. But when you share a News+ link, it mostly ends up opening just the magazine instead of the exact article you want to share. So that integration really doesn’t go anywhere.

Apple has done some work on the News app interface, making it snappier, but when the crux of the interface sits with the content, and your content providers are magazine dinosaurs, there’s no hope there. No matter what Apple does, they’re beholden to the likes of American Media and Future PLC for the content, and while sometimes they move to make things better, don’t expect them to embrace digital journalism with gusto.

At that point, each of these services has done a good enough job, supporting multiple platforms (Apple News+ is the only one in the space that doesn’t have an Android app), giving you a solid interface, and constantly updating their features to make magazine reading just a little bit saner.

If you’re thinking about Apple News+, or have a subscription to it, just know that you’re paying $120 a year for something you could be getting at $50 through Magzter Gold.

A few days with the Echo Auto

I got the chance to buy the new Echo Auto from Amazon recently. I could only order one, so I’m playing with it now and will pass it on to my brother soon.

Some thoughts on this new product from Amazon –

1. Terrible packaging – Amazon has this idea of basic packaging for their products. I was recently in the Amazon 4-Star Store in Seattle and noticed that they’re selling their Kindle Paperwhite in an blue (cardboard? paper?) box with bare-minimum packaging. This is both great, because we’re reducing waste, and terrible, because the overall experience is cheap for a >$100 product. The same is true for the Echo Auto. It came in a black box that barely fit the product, charging setup, and a booklet as cozily as possible. The unboxing experience was not impressive.

2. Not-so-good setup, partly because of the app and partly because of Bluetooth – The Amazon Alexa app is your be-all for the Echo line of products. I updated the app before trying to connect the Echo Auto with it and the setup experience was meh. The app is janky and does an OK job of connecting with the device. The problem for me was two-fold – first, the idea that the Echo Auto doesn’t directly connect with the bluetooth of the car, but goes through the app. This has the effect that if you’re in an underground parking, or if your phone has killed the backgrounded app, the Echo Auto gives you an impolite beep as soon as the Accessories come on in your car, to tell you that the Echo Auto has lost the connection with the app and whenever you can, you should start the app so that the process can be completed. I park in an underground parking. This happens every, single, time. This dependence is a boon, because you’re not buying a data plan for yet another product, and you’re not constantly worried about an expensive product being stolen from your car, and because somehow, apps like Spotify work perfectly through this setup, but the impatience shown by the device to connect to its conduit is irritating. The second issue is that BMW doesn’t seem to have a good bluetooth vendor. Their bluetooth is one of the worst I’ve ever used in a car. But hey, this is a post about the Echo Auto, so let’s focus on that.

3. The wait for the beep is funny – when I setup the Echo Auto, the setup explained that I must wait for the beep of the device before I give it a command. So I followed the instructions – Say “Alexa”, wait for a few seconds for the beep, and then give it a command. Nope, not worth it. I have first gen Echo Dots and Google Home Minis and they launch a lot faster than this! I guess this has to do with the device first confirming that the connection with the app is present, and then letting me give it a command. But here’s the thing – after only the first few commands, I stopped waiting for the beep, and lo and behold, it still works! So even if you don’t wait for the beep, the Echo Auto passes everything you say to the app and understands the command. This is both great, and weird. If it starts recording as soon as you say the magic word, then the beep is nothing more than an unnecessary audio feedback, specially since the device also lights up LED to confirm that it’s listening. If this is about a11y, give me the option to turn off the beep.

4. It listens to any Alexa word on sentence – It seems like the Echo Auto doesn’t have a filter for conversations. I can be talking about Alexa in a sentence and the Echo Dots don’t pick it up, but the Echo Auto does, and then complains loudly when it doesn’t understand the command that I didn’t give to it. It’s a first gen Echo Auto, so these are issues that can be ironed out, but it’s not a first gen Echo, so these issues shouldn’t exist to begin with.

5. The air vent is dumb. Just dumb. – When I got the package, it came in a typical Amazon yellow jacket, with not one but two things in it. The Echo Auto in a black box, and the Echo Auto air vent mount, in a blue box. This $15 accessory came free, and I set it up, and took it down within a day. First of all, all air vent mounts are dumb. If I’ve got a thousand dollar phone on an air vent, and it’s freezing cold outside, my expensive phone is being blasted with super hot air on its back. That is NOT how you treat your electronics. So I have it out against air vent mounts in general. On top of this, the wiring is just ugly and inconvenient. I understand that the Echo Auto needs to be in a place where it’s easy to use, and centrally located to hear all voices, and should not cause the driver to move their eyes off the road, but instead of the air vent, I just placed it next to the BMW media controls and it felt just right over there. A weak 3M adhesive strip would work wonders, but even that is not needed, as the USB power cord can just be reeled in and used as a leash for the Echo Auto. So Amazon, thanks for the $15 freebie, but it’s useless.

Overall, the Echo Auto is an interesting product. It conquers the one place Amazon hasn’t fully reached yet – your privacy in your car. It works great with apps and services that the Echo line has tied up well with – ask it for the news, or tell it to change music on Spotify, and, thanks basically to Spotify’s absurdly good API, it all works smoothly. But the device itself is jerky. It’s dependence on your phone, its imperfect listening skills, all need an update. So if you want to play with it, sure, go for it, but maybe wait for v2 or v3 to come along.

I give it two out of five stars.

Quote

Because of the outsize weighting of new and exciting technologies, a typical developer could feel that their skills are out of date and the technologies they’re using are passé …even if those technologies are actually in wide use.

I don’t know about you, but I constantly feel like I’m behind the curve because I’m not currently using TypeScript or GraphQL or React.

Dev perception

Four years with the Apple Watch

Recently, I completed four years of owning the Apple Watch, and today, my watch told me that I’m 75% of the way to completing a thousand move goals.

I think it’s a good time to talk about the Apple Watch. I own the original, first-gen, Series Zero, the one that doesn’t support the latest WatchOS, and doesn’t calculate resting heart rate, because, according to Apple, it doesn’t have the battery to support that function. But that’s OK. I can’t miss something I’ve never had.

Very soon into owning the Apple Watch, I knew I had to make some compromises. Only a few days in, I had to turn off notifications for WhatsApp, because watchOS had no notion of grouping notifications. Progressive improvements may have made things better, but this year is anyways the year when I’ve sworn to remove as many notifications as possible from every device I own.

I also realized, as the watchOS version number increased as frequently as it did, that there is probably a hard stop to when my watch will no longer be supported. I think iOS 13 is that time. The watch might still work, but OS support will drop, apps will stop working, and eventually, Apple will kick this device to the curb. My next phone might not even support this elegant piece of hardware that I’ve strapped to myself for most of the last four years.

But till that happens, I can enjoy what I’ve got – the watch is pretty great at recording my calorie burn – I’ve compared it with OrangeTheory’s Mio Link devices and I can’t say whether that’s a testament to Mio Link or the Apple Watch. The watch is also great at notifications for things that are timely. Sometimes, I’ve noticed that when I’m intensely focused on something, I’ll ignore notifications, even though I’ve set them on the highest vibration. But other times, noticing a notification right as I need it is great!

Over time, I’ve removed apps and features from the watch. I used to let the Watch app install pretty much every iOS app’s corollary to the watch, but that’s just taking space, unnecessary processing, and battery. After removing all but the most essential apps, the battery life almost doubled for me. At this moment, I have a total of three third-party apps on the Watch, out of which one is for near-daily use, while the other two are purely for navel gazing.

Apple introduced some new features to the WatchOS at some point, including a feature called theater mode. The reasoning was that the watch would turn on at inconvenient times, say in the dark, when watching a movie, and this would prevent that. I have a few thoughts on that. First of all, within a few days of owning the watch, while on a walk, I tried to raise my wrist to wake the screen. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to work! Somehow, my walking was completely negating the action of raising my wrist. I had to hard stop to get the watch to work, and I wasn’t even walking fast, it was a leisurely stroll. Since that day, I’ve had this gripe – the Apple Watch needs to grow up and join other watches in letting me see the time any time of the day. Until that happens, until Apple launches an OLED version that includes always-on (something that is glaringly missing in the latest, most expensive iPhones ever), the Apple Watch is NOT a watch.

Secondly, what kind of execs and movie-goers work at Apple? What amount of gesticulating do you do in your average movie? Just wondering.

Lastly, Apple advertised the watch as being able to wake up 90 times in an 18 hour day. This is nice, specially since that’s far more than the number of times you probably actually look at the time on your watch. But all those times that the watch misfires because it didn’t read your intent correctly are lost chances, are they not? So instead of releasing theater mode, I’d much rather Apple work on improving battery life. Now that Mr. Thinner-than-before is out the door, maybe this will come to pass? (Incidentally, turning off raise-to-wake is one of the things recommended by blogs to improve your watch’s battery life, and frankly, that is a stupid and terrible idea. If you have to tap the device every, single, time, to look at the time, just use your iPhone.)

The Apple Watch is a great piece of technology, but there’s one more thing that irks me to this day – that the time is relegated to the side. I don’t know if this is a patent issue, or just a design philosophy, where the time is the time, but the other features are what are supposed to matter. But the fact that Apple embraces this idea that the digital watchface must put everything other than the time in the center is a far cry from what I expected the Apple Watch ethos to be.

This is not an ode to the Apple Watch, nor, hopefully, just a list of gripes. I love this watch. It’s got a simple set of features that matter to me, and the price is just right for something I’ve worn for four years and can continue wearing for another four at least. A few years ago, I wanted the milanese loop band pretty badly, so I bought one off Amazon for a couple bucks. You know, those ones that ship from China and take a couple weeks to get here. It was such a bad experience that I swore off third party bands completely, wearing only the original that came with the watch. Recently, I changed bands, and this new band, though it is a complete mismatch for the watch color, feels pretty great and sits well! I feel like I’ve given the watch a new lease of life, even though the original band still works perfectly and sits on my side-table, vacantly staring into the abyss.

There’s not much else to say about the Apple Watch at this time – the latest hardware features that Apple introduced – the larger screen, and the ECG, are novelties which I wouldn’t ‘upgrade’ for. If they introduce something like a glucose monitor, or, like, a thermometer – anything that enables an elevated level of idle introspection – then I’ll consider buying the next watch that comes out, and only when this one is all but dead.

Till that day, I charge it every day, even though nowadays the battery lasts me a day and a half (I’ve reduced animations on the watch, which greatly helped my sanity, and the battery), wear it every day, and still grumble when it dies on me mid-hikes. I wanted to write exclusively about the Apple Watch, without once mentioning traditional watches, but I want to say just one thing – I’ve seen this watch on almost every wrist lately – from service industry workers, to gig economy laborers, to bloggers, to world travelers. The Apple Watch is versatile, but maybe it’s still attractive only to those people who have always worn watches. After all, keeping track of time is not something everyone bothers with, is it?

It’s true that the camera can’t capture what the eye sees. I saw a beautiful cloud on our way home yesterday and captured it, but was dissatisfied with the Before pic. I remembered attending a very informative tutorial at the Apple Store Bellevue talking about photo editing. This was the perfect edit – the After is actually close to what I could see.

Blog Experiments

I did two things this week regarding my blog –

  1. I read a lot on Instapaper, mostly non-fiction articles. I make a lot of notes and highlights and all of those come over to this blog. Why? Well, at some point I thought it would be a good idea to write articles based on my readings. It’s also a way of preserving all of those thoughts in case Instapaper some day goes kaput. But the fact that I have all of this text sitting in my blog, counting against my word count, and not contributing to my readership has been irritating me ever since I started the practice.

    A few days ago, I setup a new blog on WordPress – https://nitinsnotes.home.blog/ with the objective of posting everything there instead of here. If I can build a readership for the ideas and quotes I publish there, I figured, I can bring over the readers back to this blog eventually and grow the kind of things I write about.

    There’s only one problem – I read a lot of varied topics, but the one I write notes most about is politics. I’ve never been comfortable airing my views on politics. It was never taught to me to be overtly political, and the environment I’m in now doesn’t allow for many public mistakes. Whether this is a perceived threat or a real one, I do not care to find out.

    So, within a day of creating the blog, I’ve abandoned it. All my comments are still coming to this blog and hiding in plain site – they are only visible to logged in users. So if you’re curious as to what I write about, ask me and I’ll create an account for you on my blog and let you in. Otherwise, I’m happy writing those thoughts for myself for now.
  2. The other thing that happened was that I noticed that my blogs were running into some technical difficulties. I was not able to update plugins or open MySQL in the browser to take a look at it. Turns out, my VPS thinks it’s run out of space, despite the fact that I recently updates from a 20 GB node to a 50 GB one. I noticed that the /var/mail folder was choked up with thousands of files, and the ibdata1 file has overgrown. I cleared up the former with a nice ‘find -delete’ command, and for the former, I’ve got a script that takes the backup of all my blogs, deletes the ibdata1 file, and reups the backups to bring everything back online. In the end, it tells me how much space it saved me.

    The last time I ran this, maybe last year or so, I regained about 5 GB. So I ran it again. Turns out, I’ve updated my MySQL version somewhere in between and the thing completely broke, without giving me back my two blogs! Gulp!

    Luckily, I read through the script and recovered my blogs, without losing much uptime or any data. But this sort of thing is exactly what scares me. I’ve got scripts that take backups regularly, but it never feels enough.

    Regardless, has anyone else dealt with large ibdata1 files? What can I do about that? Also, I still don’t know why my system thought it’s run out of space. Maybe the sheer number of files in /var/mail? Due to the assumed lack of space, MySQL crashed and wouldn’t launch back up, until I deleted the mail folder’s contents. So I’m not sure I want to be in this situation again!

Lunch is all about food. Sometimes it’s for the body, other times, it’s for the soul.
Finished reading this beautiful collection of short stories by #VandanaSingh and I can not recommend it more. It’s brilliant, lush, full of characters and locales that feel real, in situations that feel surreal.
Go get yourself #AmbiguityMachines if you’re looking to read some class writing.

Quote

The latest Openbeta email includes this quote from Czech author Milan Kundera –

Everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: we are all writers! One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and lack of understanding will have arrived.

Source: I think we need to talk

Imagine a forest full of birds. It’s summer time and the cacophony is drowning out your thoughts. The birds are seeking out mates and the loudest and sweetest ones will win out, first. There will be some that will not find a mate, but most will. But every bird tries it’s best, without regard for the others. After all, it’s life and death and the continuation of the species at stake.

The same is true for twitter and Instagram and YouTube. A million content-creators and influencers and writers and thinkers all want to sell you their ideas. Not their wares, ideas. Not passion as is the case in birds, but ideas. These birds of the Internet are part of the cacophony that Milan Kundera warns us about, but even in the drowning noise, there is a message and we can hear it and respond to it. Thus, there is no universal deafness. We can seek out the message through word of mouth and search engines, through hashtags and link dumps. It gets noisy, but we build on top of the noise to make things clear for ourselves and others.

But we do not as yet lament, because we, the people who sit just outside the noisy streams of the walled gardens, know that the Internet is vast and needs more voices. Voices of those not heard till now, voices of those who can bring a fresh perspective. So no, Milan, there is hope as yet, and noise as yet to be made.

Reply to Khürt on micro.blog

Khürt, I absolutely get a lot of value from my micro.blog account. First of, this is a great community of bloggers, coders, amateur photographers and even one harpist. I’ve found this to be a great continuation of the community I found in app.net, which subsequently splintered into a few groups. I am, in fact, thinking of trying to woo some esoteric friends off twitter and onto here, though I’ll be guiding them to use micro.blog for free, because the economics doesn’t work out for everybody around the world.

Second, micro.blog is an interesting experiment in blog comments. The other day, I saw your post about house parties and responded. I knew I could respond right here, but I had a little more to say, so I put it on my blog and let that reflect here. That exchange can happen independently too, but this centralization of feeds is difficult to attain. We’re all avid users of RSS readers, but with that comes its own challenges. In some senses, micro.blog is my people feed reader, while my other feeds readers are relegated to follow webcomics and networking news.

Third, any tool is what you put into it. micro.blog is one of the most visited tabs in Firefox on Windows. Which means I every time I want to unwind from a task at work, I come here and check things out. But it’s not the most visited app on my phone. Mindless browsing time goes to Instagram or Fiery Feeds. So if micro.blog doesn’t fit your time-flow, it’s not going to give you what others get from it.

Lastly, deleting your account – I know it’s the cleaner thing to do. It severs your ties, Manton is obligated to delete your data, it removes the mindshare micro.blog takes from you, etc. And frankly, you’d be better off deleting your account than mindlessly posting to it like a bot, or like dave. But not deleting it gives you the opportunity to come back whenever you want. If you want to keep the connection open, however tenuous, keep this account in your back pocket for a rainy day.

Also, if it irks you to pay for micro.blog, know that I’ve not paid for it in months! I post to it using my own blogs (multiple of them), and I primarily use it for replying to other people’s posts. One issue with not paying is supposed to be that I can’t start conversations. But I get around this by posting through my liveblog, which has an RSS feed without titles. There’s no shame in using micro.blog like this, because Manton can tighten the noose whenever he wants, but micro.blog seems to explicitly allow free use. It’s part of the growth model – to allow free users like me.

I hope this all helps you make the best decision for you. I would love to continue conversing with you, and I will do so through our blogs, if you decide that micro.blog is not for you.