Kicks Condor

LEECHING AND LINKING IN THE HYPERTEXT KINGDOM

I FIRST DISCOVERED
THE 【TECHS-MECHS】WHO
ARE A CLAN OF SOUTH
OF THE BORDER GUNDAM
BREAKING DOWN
IMMIGRATION FENCES
WITH THEIR
IMPRESSIVE MANOS
MECANICAS

PLUNDER THE ARCHIVES

This page is also on dat.

Infostrats

One does not simply read the Internet…

(Draft.)

This term I lifted from Ton Zijlstra—what is my strategy to comb through the gigs and gigs of input I can plug myself into on the Web? My aim here is to keep my finger on the pulse of individual personal activity on the unwalled Web, so my infostrat is mainly about attempting to track and discover thousands of people. But Ton also includes: deciding what and how to bookmark or archive stuff, sorting through conflicting news stories and accusations, and alternating “periods of discovery with periods of digesting and consolidating”.[1]

In a way, the effort is to establish a personal internal algorithm to help the Web survive—the infostrat. This seems essential.

But, first, is tracking thousands of people a worthwile effort? Doesn’t that just lead to a large, thin layer of links for people that you really don’t know much about? (And, thus, leading to the same kind of linkblogs that we’ve seen over the years, which chase one novelty after another—a giant conveyor belt that just rolls by?)

From Ton:

A useful method all through human evolution is expanding your range of interactions by off-loading things to your environment[2], and so diminishing the amount of information you have to remember or handle at the same time.

Much like a traveller who wants to see the world, experience cuisine and stand in front of important paintings—I want to find all kinds of people and see if we can talk and get along and work together even.[3] I know it’s probably not possible to have 1,000 deep relationships. It’s sick to even discuss numbers in this way. The only reason I say ‘thousands’ is to open myself up from my old way—which I felt was to have only a handful of close friends. But now I am wondering what is possible.

So now, with my aim quite clear, I think of the tools. Inately, I feel that simple and obvious tools are best. This is a reaction to the inscrutable algorithms we see on the social networks. If I don’t understand the workings of the algorithm, then it is arbitrary to me. However, I know that I will need some complexity—I already find usefulness in crafting detailed tag queries on Pinboard.

Tools are tools because they provide agency, they let us do things that would otherwise be harder or impossible. Tools are tools because they provide reach, as extensions of our physical presence, not just across space but also across time. For a very long time I have been convinced that tools need to be smaller than us, otherwise they’re not tools of real value.[4]

So what does it mean for tech to be ‘small’? From the essay “Small Tech Provides Agency, Big Tech Takes It Away”:

Technology to provide us with agency needs to be not just small, but smaller than us, i.e. within the scope of control of the group of people deploying a technology or method.

An example is given: ‘Facebook groups are failed tools, because someone outside those groups controls the off-switch.’ This is a useful distinction—the tool needn’t necessarily be small in purpose. But it must be entirely within your control—or the group’s control. Another example: ‘Like the thermometer in my garden that tells me the temperature, but has additional value in a network of thermometers mapping my city’s microclimates.’

Ton has a very good summary of agency (a way of thinking through the purpose of the tool) and Aral Balkan has a list of criteria for ‘small tech’ that I think I agree with.

Now, given the goal of “find the others”—here is my cheat sheet summary:

  • My tools must aid both discovery and digestion. (I sound like a velociraptor here.)
  • Specialized ‘digestion’ tools: RSS reader, familiar ‘planets’ like Indienews and Indieweb.xyz.
  • Specialized ‘discovery’ tools: search engines, crawlers, directories.
    • Do I use my feeds as a starting point? Search engines and crawlers could begin there. “Here is a big list of newly discovered items among the places you frequent.”
    • It’s also very important to get outside that. My instincts say that this is the place for ingenuity, following random epiphanies and trying unknown tools and networks, to see what shakes out.
    • Encouraging the development of directories. Once a new directory emerges, there is suddenly an expansion in reach for ‘discovery’.
  • ‘Blogs’/‘wikis’ are a good tool for both, because they network the discovery and digestion process. This is already collaborative.
    • How does this improve in 2019? Well, for now, by using a hybrid blog and wiki—to combine the reverse chronological order of a blog with the information storehouse of a wiki. (Hypertexting)
    • Right now there are stark lines between text, audio and video. Do the lines blur somewhere? I’m far from knowing how this media comes into play.

Of course, there are people everywhere and I could spend all day on Instagram. But I find that unsatisfying—I hate scrolling news feeds. These are not ‘small tech’—perhaps the interface might be, but the algorithm and the network is not. I wonder to what extent the corpypastas (or CorpASAs) limit the infostrat.

Social Distance

My father:
Conversation is a sacrament.

Ton:
My filtering is not a stand alone thing in isolation, it is part of a network of filters, yours, mine, and other people’s. My output is based on filtered input, and that output ends up in other people’s filtered input. I treat blogging as thinking out loud and extending/building on other’s blogposts as conversation. Conversations that are distributed over multiple websites and over time, distributed conversations.

h0p3:
Hyperconversation. It’s more than the usual penpalling.

The core of Ton’s infostrat is ‘social distance’—in a way, how deeply nested into conversation are you with this person?

I know many people, some very well, others less so, or I only know what you’ve shared on your site recently and we haven’t met at all. The social distance I perceive between me and you is part of the context of filtering. This is an otherwise unspecified mix of personal, professional, and other aspects that I am aware of with others.

In my RSS reader, I use a weight called ‘importance’: do I read this person daily? Weekly? Do I need be notified the minute they have something new? And my reader simply shows an overview—I actually have to go to the blog to digest. This ‘importance’ is a misnomer, though—I think ‘social distance’ is a better term.

Conversations prove out and strengthen the signal. They are also generators of source material and topics that line the conversation. (I may not necessarily converse with someone—I may just admire their art or writings, which all might become important.)[5]

This means that where I source information can’t be of the ‘news’ type, stuff that pretends it is neutral. Neutral isn’t useful in a filter. Commented, interpreted, augmented material is useful in a filter, as it adds context that help determine its information value. I source information from individuals as a result.

I’m not sure what to think about this. “Neutral isn’t useful.” What about Wikipedia? What about neighborhood events? These all feel like they can help—act as discovery points even.

Is the problem that ‘news’ doesn’t have an apparent aim? Like an algorithm’s workings can be inscrutable, perhaps the motives of a ‘neutral’ source are in question? There is the thought that nothing is neutral. I don’t know what to think or believe on this topic. I tend to think that there is an axis where neutral is good and another axis where neutral is immoral…

Who you are as a person is an essential piece of context in how to judge information. If you’re walking on the street and a random stranger asks to have a coffee, you interpret it very differently from when your partner walking next to you asks you the same thing. We are all walking information filters, our brains are very well used to doing that. So what I know socially about you helps me interpret what you share, as it will be coloured by who you are. Let’s call this social filtering.

Knowing people is tricky. You can know someone really well at work for a decade, then you visit their home and realize how little you really know them. This is worse on the Web because we are so much more concealed. On the other hand, you can meet someone and instantly grasp a huge part of their ‘self’.

I wonder if ‘knowing someone’ drives ‘social distance’—or if ‘desire to know someone’ defines ‘social distance’. How can we know Banksy? Is there a conversation there? What defines my social distance from @alienmelon or The World (a favorite band)? Maybe it’s worse than I thought—just a momentary, fragile vein of interest…

(I think about They Might Be Giants, which was such an important band to me as a teenager—and to all my friends as teenagers. But no one in that group would listen to them today. Today is for other things. Some say they haven’t aged well or that they are just for children. And I struggle to find any part of me that would want to listen to them again. But those arguments never stop us from listening to other things—perhaps there is a sensible, evolutionary argument for why these types of people go away for us—like we periodically need to clear space for new people. This ‘interest’ in some ways a social fabric type thing: zeitgeist, (‘spirit of the times’), this mood that effects all of us and acts as a superfilter on the culture—such that we can all agree that Holmes & Watson was a bad film.)

So we all live on this giant graph paper and we all have coordinates in different places—and when I look at h0p3 and I on the graph, we are way across from each other. Except the labels are all Socialist, Mormon, Aesthete, Atheist, Pluralist, Hikikomori, Cynic, Taco Bell Enthusiasm Levels, etc. When we turn the paper over to the Pleonasmic Rating, we’re right there, side-by-side, and the zeitgeist is well away.

So I think it’s instinctual. If you feel a closeness, it’s there. It’s more about cultivating that closeness. I just need to listen to some They Might Be Giants, as a thankyou for an old, forgotten closeness.


  1. No, I haven't read Ton's entire blog, but I've read everything under the tags that seemed relevant. It's very enlightening stuff! It is very focused on just being a human who is attempting to communicate with other humans---that's it really. ↩︎

  2. I would also like to suggest that it is much more difficult to control myself---in the Nike sense---than it is to control my environment to control me. (A simple example would be: setting an alarm clock.) So 'tools' can be an external actor on my own behalf, towards myself! ↩︎

  3. I can't help but feel that this is all motivated by an urgency that death has brought on. I have had seven people close to me die before middle age---three of them under the age of 10. My time and yours is small. I avidly read the wiki of luxb0x (a child) both because I fear losing him and because it is a gift for him to ACTUALLY BE ALIVE! At the same time that I am! ↩︎

  4. "Tools Valuable On Their Own, More Valuable When Connected" by, again, Ton. ↩︎

  5. Also interesting to think that the limitations of social networks hinder all of this---I personally can't have a conversation like this on Instagram or Facebook, because the network is inflexible or because it's unknown where my notes will end up in the feed. Imagine this steno trying to exist anywhere like that---though it would probably be fine on Reddit, I'm not sure. ↩︎

  1. Kicks Condor dives deeply into my info-strategy postings and impressively read them all as the whole they form. It’s a rather generous gift of engagement and attention. Lots of different things to respond to, neurons firing, and tangents to explore. Some elements with a first reaction.

    Knowing people is tricky. You can know someone really well at work for a decade, then you visit their home and realize how little you really know them.

    Indeed, when I think of ‘knowing someone’ in the context of information strategies, I always do so as ‘knowing someone within a specific context’. Sort of what Jimmy Wales said about Wikipedia editors a long time ago: “I don’t need to know who you are“, (i.e. full name and identity, full background), but I do need to know who you are on Wikipedia (ihe pattern of edits, consistency in behaviour, style of interaction). As Wikipedia, which is much less a crowdsourced thing than an editorial community, is the context that counts for him. Time is another factor that I feel is important, it is hard to maintain a false or limited persona consistently over a long time. So blogs that go back years are likely to show a pretty good picture of someone, even if the author aims to stick to a narrow band of interests. My own blog is a case in point of that. (I once landed a project where at first the client was hesitant, doubting whether what I said was really me or just what they wanted to hear. After a few meetings everything was suddenly in order. “I’ve read your blog archives over the weekend and now know you’ll bring the right attitude to our issue”) When couch surfing was a novel thing, I made having been blogging for at least a year or two a precondition to use our couch.

    I wonder if ‘knowing someone’ drives ‘social distance’—or if ‘desire to know someone’ defines ‘social distance’. […] So I think it’s instinctual. If you feel a closeness, it’s there. It’s more about cultivating that closeness.

    This sounds right to me. It’s my perceived social distance or closeness, so it’s my singular perspective, a one way estimate. It’s not an estimation nor measure of relationship, more one of felt kinship from one side, indeed intuitive as you say. Instinct and intuition, hopefully fed with a diet of ok info, is our internal black box algorithm. Cultivating closeness seems a worthwhile aim, especially when the internet allows you to do so with others than those that just happened to be in the same geographic spot you were born into. Escaping the village you grew up in to the big city is the age old way for both discovery and actively choosing who you want to get closer to. Blogs are my online city, or rather my self-selected personal global village.

    I’m not sure what to think about this. “Neutral isn’t useful.” What about Wikipedia? What about neighborhood events? These all feel like they can help—act as discovery points even.

    Is the problem that ‘news’ doesn’t have an apparent aim? Like an algorithm’s workings can be inscrutable, perhaps the motives of a ‘neutral’ source are in question? There is the thought that nothing is neutral. I don’t know what to think or believe on this topic. I tend to think that there is an axis where neutral is good and another axis where neutral is immoral.

    Responding to this is a multi-headed beast, as there’s a range of layers and angles involved. Again a lot of this is context. Let me try and unpick a few things.

    First, it goes back to the point before it, that filters in a network (yours, mine) that overlap create feedback loops that lift patterns above the noise. News, as pretending to be neutral reporting of things happening, breaks that. Because there won’t be any potential overlap between me and the news channel as filters, no feedback loops. And because it purports to lift something from the background noise as signal without an inkling as to why or because of what it does so. Filtering needs signifying of stories. Why are you sharing this with me? Your perception of something’s significance is my potential signal.

    There is a distinction between news (breaking: something happened!) and (investigative) journalism (let’s explore why this is, or how this came to be). Journalism is much closer to storytelling. Your blogging is close to storytelling. Stories are vehicles of human meaning and signification. I do follow journalists. (Journalism to survive likely needs to let go of ‘news’. News is a format, one that no longer serves journalism.)

    Second, neutral can be useful, but I wrote neutral isn’t useful in a filter, because it either carries no signifcation, or worse that has been purposefully hidden or left out. Wikipedia isn’t neutral, not by a long-shot, and it is extensively curated, the traces of which are all on deliberate display around the eventually neutrally worded content. Factual and neutral are often taken as the same, but they’re different, and I think I prefer factual. Yet we must recognise that a lot of things we call facts are temporary placeholders (the scientific method is more about holding questions than definitive answers), socially constructed agreements, settled upon meaning, and often laden with assumptions and bias. (E.g. I learned in Dutch primary school that Belgium seceded from the Netherlands in 1839, Flemish friends learned Belgium did so in 1830. It took the Netherlands 9 years to reconcile themselves with what happened in 1830, yet that 1839 date was still taught in school as a singular fact 150 years later.)
    There is a lot to say for aiming to word things neutrally. And then word the felt emotions and carried meanings with it. Loading wording of things themselves with emotions and dog whistles is the main trait of populistic debate methods. Allowing every response to such emotion to be parried with ‘I did not say that‘ and finger pointing at the emotions triggered within the responder (‘you’re unhinged!‘)

    Finally, I think a very on-point remark is hidden in footnote one:

    It is very focused on just being a human who is attempting to communicate with other humans—that’s it really.

    Thank you for this wording. That’s it. I’ve never worded it this way for myself, but it is very to the point. Our tools are but extensions of ourselves, unless we let them get out of control, let them outgrow us. My views on technology as well as methods is that we must keep it close to humanity, keep driving humanity into it, not abstract it so we become its object, instead of being its purpose. As the complexity in our world is rooted in our humanity as well, I see keeping our tech human as the way to deal with complexity.

  2. Reply: And The Infostrat Goes On

    Ton Zijlstra

    Indeed, when I think of ‘knowing someone’ in the context of information strategies, I always do so as ‘knowing someone within a specific context’. Sort of what Jimmy Wales said about Wikipedia editors a long time ago: “I don’t need to know who you are“, (i.e. full name and identity, full background), but I do need to know who you are on Wikipedia (the pattern of edits, consistency in behaviour, style of interaction). As Wikipedia, which is much less a crowdsourced thing than an editorial community, is the context that counts for him.

    Cool quote—your next sentence is interesting:

    Time is another factor that I feel is important, it is hard to maintain a false or limited persona consistently over a long time. So blogs that go back years are likely to show a pretty good picture of someone, even if the author aims to stick to a narrow band of interests.

    This is true. I have some experience with this—personas are kind of a ticking time bomb. I also think they are going to be pretty important going forward.

    Jennifer Hill:
    And you’re probably all sitting there and you’re like, “This girl wants me to delete Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… I got a following! I got a brand!”

    No, that’s not what I’m saying. You have two selves. You have a career self, who—I’m pretty sure all of us have to use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for work or Medium or whatever other platform in the world you want to use—and then you have your personal self that knows the things that they’re doing. And what I’m speaking to right know is your personal self. You know, I understand you gotta make money, gotta make that dime…

    Then during a bit of Q&A at the end, she makes the comment:

    Jennifer Hill:
    With the idea of websites comes the idea of allowing people to have multiple identities that they can throw on and off like hats.

    I’m not making a definitive good/bad comment or recommendation, just tying together these thoughts with those you’ve made about ‘knowing people’. I think social media sets up the idea that you’re seeing a real portrait of the person—when it’s just a representation. (This makes we wonder if a social media ‘infostrat’ is more difficult than an RSS one, for instance.) Blogs and wikis are an obvious representation—they demand an infostrat.[1]

    Instinct and intuition, hopefully fed with a diet of ok info, is our internal black box algorithm.

    Cool, this is sick. Don’t want to code that internal algorithm too tightly.

    News, as pretending to be neutral reporting of things happening, breaks that. Because there wont be any potential overlap between me and the news channel as filters, no feedback loops. And because it purports to lift something from the background noise as signal without an inkling as to why or because of what it does so. Filtering needs signifying of stories. Why are you sharing this with me? Your perception of somethings significance is my potential signal.

    Ok, ok—I think I see what you’re saying. The specific kind of neutrality you’re talking about is a neutrality of relationship. To me, this might not be expressing ‘neutrality’—events no longer exist because they happened in the past. I think I am just trying to understand your low valuation of ‘news’.

    There is a distinction between news (breaking: something happened!) and (investigative) journalism (lets explore why this is, or how this came to be). Journalism is much closer to storytelling. Your blogging is close to storytelling. Stories are vehicles of human meaning and signification. I do follow journalists.

    After a certain event in my life (itself newsworthy,) I began searching online for others who had suffered catastrophes. I often found quotes from survivors in headline news articles which resonated with me. I messaged many people; heard back from one. My discovery of her has been monumental for me—and I still often revisit the original news articles.

    You could simply say that these ‘news’ articles contain journalism—but the original articles describing her sudden event feel neutral—factual? Because of their urgency, they are raw details and quotes. And they could lead to further journalism—they shed the initial light on this woman.

    But addressing your statement: neutral isn’t useful in a filter. I’m not sure I agree. If my filter is able to weed out certain search terms—like say I want to be notified if my own name ever occurs in the news, or if “Bernie Sanders” and “flossing” ever show up together—it seems the filter could potentially make the neutral useful. ‘Neutral’ seems to be synonymous with ‘clickbait’ or something—which I don’t think of as being ‘neutral’ but as being ‘devoid’.

    I feel like I’m still missing your point—especially when you say: “Factual and neutral are often taken as the same, but they’re different, and I think I prefer factual.” Can you give me a more concrete example of ‘neutral’ that illustrates what you mean? (Also, if I’m harping on about something meaningless, feel free to just drop the thread.) I guess I feel like you’re onto something—but I want to actually understand it.

    My views on technology as well as methods is that we must keep it close to humanity, keep driving humanity into it, not abstract it so we become its object, instead of being its purpose.

    Dig this. Thankyou for all the bonus words, Ton!


    1. I might be hasty here—need to think about how to articulate this better. ↩︎

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