My Personal Social Media Habits

The evolution of my social media life 2002-present

Today I have spent the large part of the day going back through my LiveJournal history to pull out articles with the potential to edit them all into a book of essays.  But as I was going back through time I started to notice how adding new social media systems completely transformed my online habits.

In 2002 I joined LiveJournal as a means of keeping in touch with friends.  I did some casual blogging and wrote a few articles here and there, but for the most part it was filled with ridiculous bullshit, memes, and off the cuff comments about pretty much everything.  In the peak of my LiveJournaling I might have hit something like 6-8 posts per day.  Most of them short, and ephemeral.  I think my favorite series was “chair dance of the day” where I would post the song that was rocking my socks off in my cubicle while I droned on in the daily grind as a government documents cataloger.

In March of 2008 I joined Facebook.  My LiveJournal stats started plummeting.  But that was because all of the daily minutiae and casual conversations with friends migrated over there.  From 2008-2012 my posts on LiveJournal not only got less frequent, but they became substantially longer in each instance.  I basically began writing lengthier, more thoughtful work on LJ once I removed the more frequent friendly conversations.

There was an experimental phase that I went through in 2008/2009 when I was crossposting twitter feeds into LiveJournal.  Going back through my archive today I can’t imagine why I would have done that.  It’s like spamming someone with a block of text messages.  I imagine that I quit doing that because I felt the same way when I looked at it then.  It doesn’t fit right.

I remember once lamenting how little I used my LJ to my Facebook friends.  But the fact of the matter is that I was totally using LJ.  Just using it better.

Last February I made the move of separating out the content about library science and technology into a specific blog for itself.  The primary reason for this was so that I could get better tracking and stats on my posts and given that a major number of library people were using WordPress it totally made sense to do that.

When Google+ opened up I jumped right onto that as well.  But again, I’ve discovered that the content that I post there is sometimes wildly different than the content that I post on Facebook or Twitter.  There I tend to look at more professional folks and some cool content curators.  But for the most part the things that I’m sharing are more directly focused on my public career.

I think this is something that most social media users are not necessarily looking at comprehensively, but more subconsciously.  Different social media systems encourage different kinds of content sharing, and as such the readership of each of your social media groups is also going to vary wildly.  I have more crossover in terms of Twitter followers and Google+ users, than I do with the crossover between Facebook and LiveJournal.

For me separating out this content has been a really great step.  It allows me to share the right stuff with the right people, and to actually remain connected to everyone that I care about personally and professionally.  But until today it hadn’t really sunk in how different my presence is online in each of these different services, and especially how my use has changed over the last 10 years.

Literary Tattoos

Over at Publisher’s Weekly they have a great little post about the top five books that inspire the most tattoos.  I was a little surprised to see Slaughterhouse Five on the list, but not so much The Little Prince or Where the Wild Things Are. I am a big tattoo fan, and my first tattoo was also a literary one.

When I was in grad school studying for my Masters in Library and Information Science, one of my projects was to create book reviews for a pile of books from different genres.  One of the novels I was given was “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  MoA is a retelling of the Arthurian legends through the eyes of the women in the stories, primarily Morgaine (Morgan le Fae).  Rather than focusing on the political issues of Camelot, Bradley looks at the religious issues, and explores the popular notion of an early British Goddess cult that existed prior to the introduction of Christianity.  So the fall of Camelot is also a story about the fall of early Pagan Britain and the rise of Christianity.

Early in the book you see the rites of passage for boys.  Arthur is led out to the forest and he has to take down the king stag.  Then he receives a woad tattoo on his wrists from the Druids.  There is a great description of the serpent tattoos when Lady Igraine, wife of Uther, mother of Arthur sees Uther’s hands:

“It is truly his ring, Lady Igraine,” said a voice she knew, and Igraine, bending her eyes to see the ring in the torchlight, saw familiar hands, big, broad, and callused; and above them, what she had seen only in vision. Around Uther’s hairy arms, tattooed there in blue woad, writhed two serpents, one on either wrist.

In one of the culminating chapters, Morgaine, a priestess of the old religion, has discovered that a trusted male Druid has stolen some of the sacred ritual tools from the island of Avalon (the cult center) and has given them to a Christian priest “Patricius.”  Patrick, of Ireland, is then going to lead a Christian mass with these sacred objects, including among them a chalice that will be used for a communion ceremony.  Morgaine, learning of this treachery has decided to go to this public mass and stop it at all costs.  While standing in the crowd she overhears the conversations of two peasant women, talking about the priest:

“Look at the priest in his gold robes! That’s the bishop Patricius, they say he drove all the snakes out of his own country…think of that!  Do you think he fought them with sticks?”

“It’s a way of saying he drove out all the Druids…they are called serpents of wisdom,” Morgaine said.

This book really sang to me.  I fell absolutely in love with it.  I had long known that I wanted to get a tattoo, and it had taken me an incredibly long time to decide what I wanted to get.  So, when I read this, it just clicked.  I would get the twin serpents on my wrist.  I’m Pagan. My mother’s family is from England.  My dad’s family is from Ireland. I had my brother design it from an Irish funerary monument.  There are just so many deep connections that it made all the sense in the world.  I’ve had it about 12 years on now.  But the picture shown here was pretty much fresh from the shop.

The Serpents of Wisdom

The Saga of MegaUpload

This is what you see when a website is seized by the federal government.

Several of my friends have posted today that they think that the Anonymous DDOS attack against the websites for the FBI, the DOJ, MPAA, RIAA and others was wrong.  I disagree with them and there is a lengthy reason why.  Let me walk you through the Saga of MegaUpload.

For those who don’t know, MegaUpload is a file sharing site.  People use this site because they tend to sometimes have files that exceed the capacity limits of regular email providers, and they need to send those files to other people. There are whole broad range of websites who perform this service including YouSendIt and DropBox.  But MegaUpload was extremely popular because they had great connection speeds and a lot of individuals and businesses used it for its intended purposes.  Well, with any file sharing service comes a crop of people who use that service to share copies of copyright protected material.  Some users had taken advantage of the unlimited file sizes and uploaded entire sets of television shows and DVD rips, CDs and more.  When you upload a file you get a link to somewhere on the MegaUpload server, that you can share with whomever, and some people shared those links with the entire world.

Now, as I said before, every website that allows users to upload content runs into this problem one way or another.  So, Congress when they were exploring legal options for the future of protecting copyright crafted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  In the DMCA there is a provision for businesses who run upload sites to be exempted from copyright lawsuits and to continue doing business so long as they investigate and take down infringing content when prompted by a copyright holder.  This is called the “Safe Harbor” provision.  Every site that hosts user uploads has to comply with this, for fear of losing their entire business.  YouTube provides one of the main examples of how this works.  Say someone saves an mp4 of Saturday Night Live, they clip a skit out from the show and upload that as a YouTube video.  NBC Universal owns the right to reproduce SNL videos and they find that clip on YouTube.  They tell YouTube to take down the video because it’s infringing on their copyright.  YouTube checks the video and takes it down if they believe that the copyright holder is in the right.  Though more often than not the link will get taken down first, the link uploader will write back to YouTube and tell them that this was wrong and that they do own the copyright for real and then the link gets restored.

In early December MegaUpload released a promotional video on YouTube made by a number of high profile recording artists like Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Alicia Keys, and Will.i.am to promote the use of MegaUpload.  Universal Music Group promptly filed a DMCA takedown request with YouTube to have the video suppressed, because UMG, the parent company for many of these artists, believes that MegaUpload is a threat to their business model, and the Recording Industry Association of America has deemed MegaUpload a “rogue site.”  So, even though all of the artists have contracts on file with MegaUpload to perform and distribute the song, UMG filed this takedown notice claiming that there were some people on there who didn’t in fact actually agree to it.  It went back and forth for a while at YouTube and eventually it just got taken down entirely.  On December 13 MegaUpload announced that it was going to directly sue UMG for filing false DMCA takedown requests.  The thing that was even more interesting is that UMG filed a DMCA take down notice for a local news program who played the video in the background of a report about the UMG MegaUpload controversy, and YouTube took that down too.

Now all of this was happening while in the background there was a slowly simmering online opposition to the impending SOPA and PIPA legislation that I wrote about previously.  As many people pointed out SOPA would eradicate the safe harbor provisions inherent in the DMCA, making sites like YouTube, DropBox, and MegaUpload vulnerable to DNS seizure by the federal government.  As the internet began to rally against SOPA the entire conversation about MegaUpload began falling by the wayside.

On January 18th, a host of prominent and powerful websites participated in an internet blackout in response to SOPA.  The effect was tremendous, and number of legislators who had originally been backing SOPA and PIPA in Congress pulled their support, many who were undecided declared their opposition, and ultimately Patrick Leahy and Lamar Smith tabled both bills.  No one is under any delusion that there won’t be new versions of these bills coming out sometime in the near future, but the legislation as it was originally drafted is not coming back.

The very next day Federal agents shut down MegaUpload, raided the homes of their founder and staff and seized data centers in three different countries. It’s kind of hard to say that it wasn’t an attack of vengeance, or a strike back against the derailment of SOPA.  In fact former Senator Chris Dodd, who is now the public face of the Motion Picture Association of America, basically said that Obama could just forget about Hollywood financing if he doesn’t get tough on piracy.  Sure, correlation is not causation, but it sometimes is just a lot of correlation.  To threaten the campaign funding of an incumbent President to get your way, well, that sure looks a lot like blackmail for favors.

Anonymous flag via WikiMedia Commons

The hacker community swiftly responded with a coordinated DDOS attack against the public websites for the Department of Justice, the FBI, Universal Music Group, the RIAA, and MPAA.  Where people have been losing their minds is when irresponsible journalists like those at the Washington Post use headlines that say that the Department of Justice was “hacked.”  No, the DOJ was not “hacked.”  Nothing was broken into.  No files were stolen or compromised.  These sites were hit with a distributed denial of service attack against their public websites.  DDOS is basically when a website is hit all at once with a huge number of requests to send the content to a browser.  The volume of requests can’t be handled by the web servers and it slows to a crawl.  This renders the website inaccessible during the timeframe of the attack.  In this case the DDOS lasted 70 minutes.

As a former federal employee, I can tell you that I used my agency’s publicly facing website 0% of the time.  All of my activities for my work happened entirely on intranet systems or external vendor services that would not be effected by something of this nature.  I imagine the same is true of any company, government agency, or non-profit institution.  DDOSing a public website just means that someone from the public can’t go to that website until the DDOS is over.  Given the length of time that Anonymous ran this attack, the sites that were targeted, and the irrelevance to business operational functions, my opinion of this DDOS attack is that it served simply as a statement.  Hackers were pissed that a popular site was taken down, so they sought to “take down” those responsible.  Is it juvenile?  Sure.  Does it make a point?  Absolutely.

Putting the activities of Anonymous aside, there are a ton of reasons why the MegaUpload raid was uncalled for, and that the DOJ may have an extremely difficult time pushing this to conviction.  TechDirt did some really great analysis of how the indictment is not only problematic, but attempts to prosecute the case in a method that is inconsistent with previous cases of its type.  It’s definitely worth taking a look.

The main problem that I have with the MegaUpload take down is that thousands millions of innocent, non-infringing people are being screwed out of content that they legitimately own.  MegaUpload had over 150 million users, and nearly 50 million hits per day.  All of that can’t be infringing material.  A personal friend of mine had all of his music backed up on MegaUpload.  He didn’t make his links available to anyone but himself, and as a storage solution this was great.  The same is true of a number of companies and non-profits, like Public Knowledge.  Software developers would use MegaUpload to host code they were working on to build new apps.  And this is exactly why the DMCA has a safe harbor protection.  The fallout for taking down a website like this is so much greater than just the people who are committing acts that violate copyright.  It means that people who use this service for legitimate purposes have no recourse to regain their data.  Even if Kim Dotcom and his staff are acquitted, the servers and their data will remain as evidence in a warehouse somewhere throughout the course of the trial.

Opposition to SOPA and PIPA was based around provisions in those bills that would make practices like what is currently happening to MegaUpload the norm.  Any website that was accused of being non-compliant would be raided, shutdown and prosecuted.  There didn’t even have to be a finding of fact, or a trial, just an accusation.  As Matthew Inman from The Oatmeal said in his hilarious and brilliant animation it’s like dealing with a lion who escaped from the zoo by using a flame thrower on a basket of kittens.  Yes.  Copyright violation is bad.  But so is deleting the files of thousands of innocent people who use a service for legitimate means.  While the DMCA may not be perfect, they did get one thing absolutely right and that was that prosecution for copyright violations should target the offenders, not the service they use.

Why So Silent? Been Building a Library.

Over the last few weeks, well, since before New Year’s Eve, I began getting deeply involved with the Open Hearth Foundation.  OHF is a local community center for Pagans here in the DC area (and yes, we have so many that opening a center is a brilliant idea).  OHF has been operating as a fundraising initiative for over 10 years, and in that time they’ve been able to amass enough capital to finally open a physical structure.  So the hopes and dreams of many people have finally come to fruition. And on New Year’s Eve they opened their doors.

Since 2003, the OHF has been also collecting a substantial amount of literature, in the hopes that this new Pagan Community Center would also hold a functional library and research space for alternative religious education.  This little library shuffled back and forth between the homes of different trustees over the last 9 years until finally it got to the space where the fully realized OHF exists.

I had been aware of the OHF library from the earliest phases, and had been involved in a project (which eventually collapsed under volunteer inertia) to try to properly catalog that collection (as well as two others, but that’s a different story).  Somewhere along the way someone had done an inventory of the collection on LibraryThing and that had just been sitting there for all this time.

The Library SWAT Team on unpacking day.

I received a facebook message from a friend, who had gotten me involved ages ago with this project, telling me that this library was happening for real and that they were installing the collection in the space.  They were also looking at getting everything into LibraryThing and making everything circulating.  At that point I spoke up and said “WHOA! Hold up. Wait a minute.  Let’s talk about this.”  LibraryThing is a wonderful product in some respects, and yet for others it’s just inadequate.  One of the areas where it falls down is circulation functionality.  This was going to be a big draw for this collection.  Not to mention that the Board of Governors would need to get regular reporting on things, and a whole suite of other issues.

So, I floated a proposal that we explore installing Koha instead.  Koha is an open source fully functional integrated library system.  I learned about Koha when I was traveling in Thailand and talking with the folks at the library at the KIS International School.  I had a rough idea of what it was capable of doing and I had pretty strong feeling that this would be a much more comprehensive solution.  I had a sit down  meeting with several of the committee members and a Board representative to demo what Koha could do and talked about all the features.  Everyone agreed that this was a great solution, and we decided that we were going to roll with it.  The webmaster looked at the documentation and he agreed that this would be an easy enough installation.  But by this point the volunteers were already assembled, and they needed to do something.  That first day they added every item in the collection into a blank LibraryThing account, and when Koha got installed I ported all 1700 bibliographic records from LibraryThing into the Koha system.

Volunteer training to search for bibs via Z39.50.

For the last few weeks we’ve been exploring the ins-and-outs of Koha, and I’ve been training a horde of volunteers in basic copy cataloging practices, item record creation, searching WorldCat for LC Call Numbers, and getting items barcoded and labeled.  No small feat, and it’s really been taking us a good chunk of time.  But it’s beginning to pay off tremendously.

We’ve gotten well over a hundred items fully processed, and we’re getting the remainder of the collection in a state that’s ready to roll.  Twice a week we’re going in and doing a kickass load of item record creation.  It’s a spectacular achievement and one that I’m incredibly proud to be a part of.  It’s like we’ve transformed something that was a vague idea into something very physical, real and professional.  Talk about manifesting your vision!

So that’s what’s been eating my life and my spare time.  I couldn’t be happier.

The first labeled book was Janet and Stewart Farrar's 'The Witches' Bible"

First fully cataloged, barcoded, and classed shelf in order.

We Are Wired for Taxonomies

Neural Clique (Elaborate Connection of Various Experiences) from cvhsbiomed

This is a totally free form brain dump, but bear with me, because it goes to interesting places.

In prepping for my speaking engagement in March, I’ve been reacquainting myself with a lot of the singularity literature out there, and diving into a bunch of brain science literature.  While reading Michael Chorost’s book World Wide Mind I ran across something that just triggered a cascade of connections.  In one of the later chapters he talks about experiments that mapped neuron firing in mice under different conditions and how different clusters fired during different events.  This in itself was not surprising, but what was surprising was that under three different emergency conditions (high wind simulation, dropping elevator simulation and earthquake simulation) that the mouse’s neurons would actually categorize the different events in clusters.

Tsien had deconstructed the memories of three different events into distinct but overlapping sets of neurons. Furthermore, those sets were hierarchically organized. The startle clique fired in response to every disturbing event, so it was at the “bottom” of the hierarchy.  It was always invoked. Other cliques responded only to some events, so they were “higher up.” Not higher in any literal spatial sense, but in a logical sense; they fired more selectively. By looking at which cliques fired, Tsien could infer which of the three experiences the mouse was having.  He had decoded the neural structure of three different but physically interrelated memories.

World Wide Mind, by Michael Chorost, p. 146

This description describes how the brain develops understanding of all sorts really, not just the experiences of disaster situations, but absolutely everything that we ever see.  Every transaction we ever have in life is mapped in these overlapping neural cliques that all build upon previous experiences to contextualize new experiences.  Everything in our minds is built upon a superstructure of previous experiences, a taxonomy of our life.

This made me start thinking about words and how words are the tiniest branches of these mental taxonomies.  Each word is mapped in these interlocking hierarchies within the brain.  So when we hear words, we recall the sensory experiences associated with those things.  When we think of apples we think of all of the qualities of apples, but also in the substrate apples are built on the fruit concept, which is built on the food concept and the plant concept.  Then there are colors and shapes, and smells and tastes.  Varieties of complex tastes are summoned based on previous experience. All of these elements are part of memory.

Think about the first time you saw a strange animal, something that challenged your images of animals.  A platypus for instance.  You look at the platypus and you instantly try to categorize this thing.  You know it’s an animal, but is it a bird, an otter, a beaver… What in the world is this?  As an adult you can look it up on Wikipedia and discover that it’s a monotreme, an egg laying mammal, venomous to boot, all sorts of bizarre little facts about it.  But your first instinct when looking at the thing is to try and figure out where it belongs.  That’s because your brain needs to know where it belongs in order to retain the memory.  I would wager that if we were able to do a brain scan that looks at something like the platypus we would discover that our brains cobble it together from the pieces of other more commonly known animals.  Then again, perhaps the same is true of all animals.

This also got me thinking about the importance of these mental taxonomies to philosophy.  Plato’s entire thesis of “forms” is derived from this very notion.  Ur-things are the basis for our understanding of everything around us.

As I was walking down the street, reeling from this information I started making connections to all sorts of other things. The Rolling Stones “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was rolling through my brain (as that was what I was listening to before I got to work).  And then I got to thinking about all of the problems of misremembered lyrics (The Stones being one of the worst culprits of lyrics confusion).  The first time we hear a song when things are unclear, we try to make sense of it.  Our brains try to wrap themselves around what’s being said and what’s we know of our language.  If we don’t understand the words we try to find words that make sense, or don’t make sense but sound right.  And those start to map through our neurons such that every time we hear the song, no matter what we later find out the lyrics to be, it’s going to be hard to remember the correct words.  Our brains have built up a superstructure based on this incredible hierarchy of experiences, they conjure up all kinds of images and sensory data that become nearly impossible to push out of our minds.

The organizational systems that we’ve developed for education and the classification and arrangement of books are also built around this.  Francis Bacon divided the sum of human knowledge into History, Poesy and Philosophy, working us back into broader underlying concepts.  The Library of Congress Classification and the Dewey Decimal System are clustered in much the same fashion, though their methods for classification and expansion differ dramatically.  Even bookstores use BISAC categories to cluster things into recognizable patterns, rough as they are.

And yet in the digital world we have decontextualized everything.  Google search results are a title, blurb and a site in a ranked and weighted algorithm that just sorts things out into what may be most relevant based on the crumbs you’ve thrown to it.  We have the body of all the worlds knowledge, but it’s like one of those monastic libraries where everything was organized numerically in the order it was received and hardly anything was retrievable.  And now Google has attempted to enhance relevance based on your human relationships.  Theoretically these human connections reveal something about our information preferences, and perhaps they do.  But they don’t necessarily lead us to places that humans have contextually arranged themselves.  It’s telling though that services like Yahoo! and About.com, which built themselves on human oriented organizational structures have kind of crumbled under Google’s weight.  Why, if our brains are structured for contextualized learning to do turn to the search engine that has the least context?   Perhaps because we’re turning to Google for quick, correct answers and not for learning.  The process of drilling down through larger superstructures of context is tedious and exhausting.  The closest we get to contextualized search is through topical databases, which, if our library numbers are any indication, is increasing.

In thinking about the future of libraries and where things are moving, digital book collections are definitely expanding, and we’re using our library catalog systems to help provide access to those items.  Some catalog systems provide a virtual shelf visualization tool to help you get the look and feel for what is in the collection.  I’m imagining some lovely virtual reality program, ala the Star Trek holodeck or the shuffling shelves of The Matrix, that allows you to look through the vastness of human literature, organized and searchable via human organizational standards through the centuries of metadata built up around them, rearrangeable into different classification systems at a single command.  Recontextualizing works for a new environment by integrating look, feel and the power of the human mind.