Libraries and democracy. Both good ideas.

The culture war inside America’s libraries is playing out yet again. This time, it has hit Alabama where conservative activists are demanding the removal of LGBTQ+ inclusive books and other ‘controversial’ materials, and falsely accusing librarians of pushing porn.

There’s the twin errosion of freedom of speech and access to information.

It also pushes for libraries to withdraw as members of the American Library Association (ALA), which it believes uses its “influence to push leftist progressive values” on “traditional communities”.

The ability to freely associate with others is a core civil liberty. This kind of pressure to pull out of associating with other libraries is as dangerous as eroding free speech. > To accomplish these goals, Clean Up Alabama wants to ensure that libraries are no longer exempt from the state's Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act, according to an email sent to the group's newsletter subscribers, the Alabama Political Reporter reported.

This eliminates safe places in which we can learn. > Clean Up Alabama is keen to add LGBTQ+ content to the state's legal definition of “sexual content”, according to the Alabama Political Reporter. The outlet reported this would have a trickle-down effect as it would bring queer books under the definition of content “harmful to minors” in Alabama.

So the idea that this alone makes for sexual content is wrong. But then what else could packaged under this? Reproductive health, certainly. How about intimate partner violence? Sexual assault.

And that this is happening in a state where the senator is holding military promotions hostage in an effort to change the militaries policy on abortion is completely unsurprising and may be signs of a lot of coordination.

Quoted text from PinkNews



A Ford Falcon, parked on the street.

A comment that was made from the stage at Good Tech Fest is sticking with me. A speaker talked about the need for makers to value their work and to find ways to monetize it so that they can continue to deliver, support, and (with perseverance, planning, and a helping of luck) create the intended impact. He pointed out that this is a hard conversation, that the word “monetize” can feel difficult and crass. But, he said, it’s a necessary conversation if we think the work is worth it.

I often make a throwaway comment about monetization; in fact, I had made one from the same stage the day before. I made it about Range, a little app that is close to my heart. Range shows a school-aged youth in the U.S. the nearest place to get a free meal. It works just like you’d expect: It opens to a map. You are the blue dot, and the red dots are all the open summer meal sites. You don’t need to log in and you don’t need to know your zip code. You just need a phone and a data plan. A youth can use it, their caregiver, a librarian, a street outreach worker.

When asked how I am going to monetize Range, I say that I have no intention of monetizing childhood hunger and family poverty. It’s meant to get attention, and it does. The comment at Good Tech Fest made me think more: Am I not valuing the work of this app enough to ask for the money we need to keep it going?

First, a few things:

  1. I understand monetization as building an earned revenue strategy. Which is not the same thing as ongoing financial support. When I say “monetization” this is what I mean: I am not planning to build a strategy in which the primary beneficiaries of Range are expected to pay (more than their phone and data costs) for its use.
  2. I am not above — and often do — ask for grant and donor support for Range. In those asks, in fact, I sometimes smile and say to whomever asked, “My monetization strategy is to ask you for money over and over.” I’m not kidding. That’s exactly how the grant system is set up. It doesn't work well for any of us.
  3. We made Range as skinny as we could. It uses data published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Also, Range doesn't require a login so we don’t have to worry about storing and protecting PII, especially PII of minors.
  4. Because the impact is common sense and additive — and the project itself is so lightweight and inexpensive — we have not done anything approaching a full-scale evaluation. We do know that the use is increasing. We know the school districts throughout Pennsylvania point to it as a resource for summer meals. As do PTAs around the country. We know that Summer Meal Administrators in some states use it to make sure the data they have and are submitting to the USDA are accurate. We are also able to confirm that meal sites really are in the given location and really are open on the published days and hours.
  5. Honestly, that’s enough for us to keep the app going.

We've asked for money. Money to expand the features in Range so trusted individuals are able to add, remove, and edit sites. Money to update the technology used to power the app. Money to do more interviews and understand how it’s being used by site administrators to see if there is functionality we could build out for them.

And we have been told “no” every time.

No, because we don’t have a monetization strategy. No, because there are other places youth and their caregivers can learn the location of meals. No, because we haven’t done an evaluation. No, because we can’t prove the long-term impact.

I’ve struggled with all of this. It’s so inexpensive. $20,000 would go far in improving Range. Let us spend that, and get more info about the use and share it. But please don’t ask us to do an evaluation that would cost more than the app costs to build, maintain, and deliver. Please don’t ask us to hold information on young people and those who care about them. There's no reason to add that overhead to this effort. Instead, let us do interviews that help us build the functionality and utility. Let us use implicit measures of impact. We can assume, for example, that Pennsylvania finds Range valuable because they share it. We can assume they share it because it is valuable for their community.

So, how do we talk about this in a way that isn’t just “give us money because we like our idea” or “we don’t value this enough to support it financially, not really”?

Should we use a different way of thinking about how to fund these projects? Projects that are more like a public good?

A lighthouse is often used as an example of a public good (and challenged as an example). I find it useful here:

  1. It provides a benefit to everyone — sailors, ship owners, merchants, people who depend on the goods in the ship, and casual boaters.
  2. It's hard (if not impossible) to exclude a set of people from its benefits.
  3. It does not get less bright for one ship if another is using it.

There are many schemes to pay for the operation of a lighthouse. They can rely on something like a tax taken at port — a shipowner pays based on their share of the value. A percent based on the value of their cargo, say.

So how can we extend this idea to create a fund for tools like Range? Tools that aren’t the direct provision of services but make those services, in some way, work better.

How do we get money into that fund?

The government? They are paying for the direct provision of services. And that is hard. Organizations like Feeding America talk about the importance of the Farm Bill. I’d like to hold the federal government accountable for the infrastructure and tools that support their programs. But they are not doing enough to support basic provisions. It makes me think we should keep the fight there. Which I know let’s them off the hook. At least for now.

People who are providing the equivalent for-profit commercial resources? So, in this example, it might be grocery stores, restaurants owners of a certain size, companies like those that make food delivery apps. A small percent of their money could go into this fund. We have something like it with the Community Reinvestment Act. With the way we settle lawsuits or distribute fines.

Foundations? They could pay into a fund proportionate to their funding in the issue area. Give USD 2 M a year to food security organizations? Put .5% of that into a fund that helps build out the tooling that makes them better, as a whole. There are examples: Blue Meridian is just one of them.

How is this different from what happens now? We provide a clear total for money that is dedicated to supporting the tools that make the provision of services work better. It demonstrates the value of these tools to everyone, including the Makers. It reduces competition — no longer forcing digital infrastructure to compete with the actual services themselves. If done well, it incentivizes collaboration.

I believe this kind of strategy supports the Makers of these products and encourages them to build products that can continue to be delivered and improved. It does that without putting a burden on the Maker to figure out an earned revenue strategy. It acknowledges that many of these tools are not intended to return a profit and are being made a public good.

There are many issues, of course, that would have to be worked out. How do you govern such a fund? How do you apply for funds? What requirements might we put on people who access these funds? How do we share results in a way that accelerates what we know about the field?

But all of this feels like it could be a part of a structural shift that responds to the prompt about valuing the time and effort of the people who make public good technology. and start to build out a financial infrastructure that can support a subset of these.

*The photo above has nothing to do with the post; I just like it.


Finished reading The Fediverse is Already Dead by noracodes j and still trying to work out what I think — which I love. Some initial thoughts:

  • ActivityPub is where it’s at. I keep wondering if there’s a way ActivityPub can help make social graphs so those are the networks we talk about rather than the tool, such as Mastodon
  • I like the distinction of talking about communities and prioritizing the values of the particular server or instance
  • I would also separate the idea of a network which can cross communities
  • Tools like are using ActivityPub to help people publish and share across tools — even different form factors
  • Others like let you publish to Mastodon. I worry about the value of that republishing when it doesn't come with engagement
  • PolicyKit is a decentralized tool that replaces permissions/roles with rules/policies. I wonder if it could be integrated with, say, a mastodon server so that the community itself could determine the rules
  • I just read about Spring '83 last night so this might really be recency bias but ... I wonder how the concept of a “board” articulated in that protocol could be used to help follow across a wide variety of published content and how it could play with/use ActivityPub

#Areas #Fediverse #ActivityPub


After defending false data, Comcast admits another FCC broadband map mistake | Ars Technica.

Last week, I spent two days with food bankers. Digital equity was a big part of what they talked about. The stories they told give more color and detail to the findings in the recent digital equity survey published by Connect Humanity. TechSoup partnered in the survey.

We do not have good maps of access (see the link above). We have worse data on all the various elements that makes up real genuine access – space, time, devices, skills.

We’ve got to change this.

#Areas #DigitalEquity


Civil Society Signal and Noise?

I’ve noticed an uptick in my email of research reports from nonprofits and advocacy groups. I suppose this makes sense in a time of continued pressures on journalism and the swamp of bad information that is the internet. How should we know to trust these reports?

AI won’t make artists redundant – thanks to information theory – Piotr Migdał via Hacker News and read the comments.

Would be easy to create conceptually and aesthetically new works using prompts? Think about “addiction to social media” or even a broader idea “a current societal problem”. The question of “how?” turns quickly into “what do we want to do in the first place?”. Sure, you can create a stock image of someone looking at their phone. But if you want to create something genuinely new, you will need to expand your prompt a lot.

Fan Vote 2023

The top five artists, as selected by the public, will comprise a “Fans’ Ballot” that will be tallied along with the other ballots to choose the 2023 inductees.

Roots of Rock & Roll | Country, Folk, and Bluegrass

Playlist from they Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

#Links #CivilSociety #AI #Music


The Breadth of the Fediverse | Electronic Frontier Foundation

People coming from Twitter tend to think of the fediverse as a Twitter-replacement for the obvious reasons, and thus use Mastodon (or perhaps, but that’s only a fraction of its potential. The question isn’t if the fediverse can replace Twitter, but if protocols can usurp platforms in our life online. With enough momentum the fediverse can be the fabric of the social web, incorporating existing systems like Tumblr and Medium and outright replacing stragglers.

Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech via Of Course Mastodon Lost Users

Moving to a world where protocols and not proprietary platforms dominate would solve many issues currently facing the internet today. Rather than relying on a few giant platforms to police speech online, there could be widespread competition, in which anyone could design their own interfaces, filters, and additional services, allowing whichever ones work best to succeed, without having to resort to outright censorship for certain voices. It would allow end users to determine their own tolerances for different types of speech but make it much easier for most people to avoid the most problematic speech, without silencing anyone entirely or having the platforms themselves make the decisions about who is allowed to speak.

Doc Searls Weblog · Is Mastodon a commons?

I find myself wondering if each of Mastodon’s boats is a commons. Or if some of them could be, or already are. Or if Mastodon itself is one.

Design thinking was supposed to fix the world. Where did it go wrong? | MIT Technology Review

But when she looked at the ideas themselves, Cornforth had questions: “I was like, ‘You didn’t talk to anyone who works in a school, did you?’ They were not contextualized in the problem at all.” The deep expertise in the communities of educators and administrators she worked with, Cornforth saw, was in tension with the disruptive, startup-flavored creativity of the design thinking process at consultancies like “I felt like a stick in the mud to them,” she recalls. “And I felt they were out of touch with reality.”

How New Ideas Arise | The MIT Press Reader

Ideas arise from boredom. During a conference on film in Assisi in 1962, Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini got bored and started absentmindedly flipping through a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. He was struck with how the world of the farmer in the age of Christ was documented in a text that was important not only for its religious fervor but also for its realistic brutality. This inspired the amazing shots of his film “La ricotta” and, later, the revolutionary shots of “Il Vangelo secondo Matteo.”

#Links #Fediverse #Ideas #DesignThinking


I keep thinking about The ‘Enshittification’ of TikTok by Cory Doctorow.

He describes the process:

This is enshittification: Surpluses are first directed to users; then, once they're locked in, surpluses go to suppliers; then once they're locked in, the surplus is handed to shareholders and the platform becomes a useless pile of shit. From mobile app stores to Steam, from Facebook to Twitter, this is the enshittification lifecycle.

This process begins with finding the hard side of the market, described by Andrew Chen. This is the group — the Uber drivers, the Amazon shoppers, the Google searchers — that you need to bring in first.

The vicious cycle that Doctrow describes is one built on capitalism. The question that sticks in my mind: what other systems can we build that distribute the value in different ways?

I work in civil society. In other words, for and with nonprofit organizations. This whole sector exists to support people who have not been able to access the systems and resources made available by the model of capitalism that is practiced in much of the world. We can build shelter, transport food, provide education, collect memorabilia in museums. We can do so many things. However, so much of that is completely inaccessible to ever larger groups of people.

We are still — still — extracting value for the benefit of a minuscule part of our communities. And then many of us — I include myself — are just comfortable enough that our urgency for change does not lead to system change. We spend too much time doing system adjustment.

So, what does system change look like? Does it look like the fediverse?

People stand on what appears to be a train platform iso_pace on; Pixelfed is an ActivityPub-powered photo sharing network

ActivityPub-powered tools depend on protocols, not platforms. This promise is called out in an essay by Mike Masnick published by the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web. Masonic writes:

So much of our thinking about today’s world is based on a mental model that effectively craves centralization. We’re working off of a model that focuses on efficiency and profit maximization that automatically pushes towards centralization and what is, in effect, a dictatorial (benevolent or not) view of how society should be structured.

What if, he asks, we can maximize for the benefits of a decentralized value:

Smaller, more decentralized projects can be more nimble, quicker to adapt and change. The fact that lots of smaller groups are trying out ideas allows for rapid experimentation with different approaches, often leading to faster iteration and innovation, driven by competition rather than sheer power and dominance. It also distributes power to the ends, decreasing the risk of abuse of power.

Decentralization is also more resilient. One part of the network can fall, without bringing down everything.

Protocols and decentralization bring benefits: – they make the rules explicit – this makes it possible for people to use the system – and to build at the edges – it provides a way for people to interrogate and improve those rules – this exposes this system and provides an opportunity for change

I muddled around recently in a thought experiment about using Mastodon (another ActivityPub-powered piece of the fediverse) to illuminate the network relationships of civil society organizations.

What if we develop the protocols and language that let us make our relationships explicit and make equally explicit the way resources are shared along the network? What if we support the policies that enable that? We can find chokepoints. We can find places where there are too many resources, places where there are not enough.

The call to action in Blueprint 2023 by Lucy Bernholz is also very relevant here. She argues:

… all civil society needs to engage deeply with the public policies that shape digital systems. It is the only sector that has the incentives and aspirations to do so on behalf of individuals and communities. Civil society organizations and advocates need to discard the sense that they are passively subject to the outcome of digital public policy negotiations or technology innovation. Civil society must recognize that it is, and must be, a leader in how digital systems are designed, regulated, deployed, and prohibited.

We can turn the energy of small civil society organizations into a benefit — they can illuminate a problem that would be otherwise invisible to the network. To do that, we need a decentralized network, multiple protocols for valorizing those organizations, and a way to visual the resources that travel over them.

We need more tools for this than tax records — which is by and large what we have today.

This thinking is still so messy — pulling together a variety of ideas and trying to hack them into working order. Since ideas come from the accretion of knowledge, I’m going to keep plugging away and trying to put these thoughts together.

#Areas #Decentralized #CivilSociety #Networks


I'm Going To Scale My Foot Up Your Ass via Hacker News

You don't need to worry about scalability on your Rails-over-Mysql application because nobody is going to use it. Really. Believe me. You're going to get, at most, 1,000 people on your app, and maybe 1% of them will be 7-day active. Scalability is not your problem, getting people to give a shit is.

GitHub – mattnigh/ChatGPT3-Free-Prompt-List: A free guide for learning to create ChatGPT3 Prompts

Prompt engineering is the process of designing and refining the initial text or input (the prompt) that is given to a language model like ChatGPT to generate a response. It involves designing prompts that guide the model to generate a specific tone, style, or type of content.

Daring Fireball: Joanna Stern on Microsoft’s New AI-Powered Bing’d be a fool to count Google out in this race. But shipping talks and bullshit walks. Microsoft is opening up the new Bing to real people now.

Yes, Republicans are discussing genocide against LGBTQ+ people

Things appear dire for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States, especially when it comes to transgender and non-binary folks— who have found themselves a current primary target of a well-oiled right-wing hate machine fueled by Republican politics. After recently meeting with anti-LGBTQ+ ideologue Chaya Raichik (AKA Libs of TikTok, a major proponent of the “grooming” anti-trans narrative), Donald Trump, the de-facto leader of the MAGA far-right movement and the Republican Party— has followed the trend of genocidal rhetoric against LGBTQ+ people, laying out an apocalyptic vision if he wins in 2024.

#Links #Areas #Scale #AI #LGBTQ #HumanRights


A certain percentage of the Twitter exodus were always bound to return. This is perfectly normal: new services always experience “scalloped” growth. That’s where an outside event — a positive narrative about the new service, or a catastrophe affecting the old one — drives a surge of new users.

Some of those users try the new service, decide it’s not worth it, and leave — but not all of them. Each event triggers a high tide of new signups, but the low tide that follows is still higher than the old level. Surge after surge, the number of users steadily builds, despite the normal ebb and flow.

From Of Course Mastodon Lost Users | by Cory Doctorow

#areas #fediverse #mastadon


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