Tag: web (page 1 of 2)

Why I’m not using Twitter next month

TL;DR I’m spending time experimenting with and exploring Mastodon during the month of May. You can connect with me at mastodon.cloud/@dajbelshaw.

Update: I’m now at social.coop/@dajbelshaw, for reasons I expain here.


Back in 2011, when I’d just discovered Open Badges, I led a semester of learning on the concept. Sometimes it’s not enough to play around the edges; you have to jump in with two feet to understand what something’s about. That immersion confirmed my initial thoughts, and I’ve spent the last six years evangelising and advocating for digital credentials based on that particular open standard.

The same was true back in 2007 when I joined Twitter. I thought that this was something revolutionary, something that could not only change the way that professional development was done in schools (I was a classroom teacher at the time) but literally change the world. Unlike Open Badges, of course, Twitter is backed by a for-profit company that floated on the stock exchange a few years ago. It’s a ‘free’ service that requires on advertising to provide shareholder value.

It was easy to forget all that in the early days, as we were giddy with excitement, connecting with like-minded people around the world. Pre-IPO, Twitter seemed like the good guys, being seen as a key tool in people organising to overthrow repressive regimes. In those days, it was easy to use one of a number of Twitter clients, and to route your traffic around the world to avoid censorship. Now, not so much.

Last week, via Hacker News, I came across 8values, a 60-question quiz in the mould of Political Compass. My results are below:

Libertarian Socialism

While I’m aware that this isn’t the most rigorous of ‘tests’, it did set me off on an interesting path. As you can see at the top right of my results, I came out as favouring Libertarian Socialism. I was surprised, as libertarianism is something I usually explicitly argue against.

I decided to do some digging.

The Wikipedia article for Libertarian Socialism is pretty fascinating and, as you’d expect from that site, sends you off on all kinds of tangents via the numerous links in the text. Given that I had an upcoming transatlantic flight coming up, I decided to make use of Wikipedia’s Book Creator. Within five minutes, I had a 500-page PDF on everything from anarcho-syndicalism to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

To cut a long story short, my current thinking is that Mutualism seems to best describe my thinking. I’m re-reading Proudhon’s What is Property?. He’s a little naive in places, I think, but I like his style.

Anyway, this is all to say that we need to re-decentralise the Web. I wrote a few years ago about the dangers of newsfeeds that are algorithmically-curated by advertising-fuelled multinational tech companies. What we need to do is quickly replace our reliance on the likes of Facebook and Twitter before politicians think that direct digital democracy through these platforms would be a good idea.

Ethical Design

So I’m experimenting with Mastodon. It’s not radically different from Twitter in terms of look and feel, but it’s what’s under the hood that’s important. The above image from Aral Balkan outlines his approach to ‘ethical design’ — an approach ensures things look good, but also respects us as human beings.

Decentralised systems based on open standards are really our only hope against Venture Capital-backed ‘software with shareholders’. After all, any promising new startups that aren’t decentralised tend to get gobbled-up by the supermassive incumbents (see WhatsApp, Instagram). But to get to scale — which is important in this case, not for shareholder value, but for viability and network effects — people have to use these new platforms.

So that’s what I’m doing. During May, a month when my Twitter timeline will be full of UK General Election nonesense, I’m using Mastodon. The only things I’ll be posting to Twitter are links to things I’ve written. If you’d like to join me, head here, choose an ‘instance’ (I’m on mastodon.cloud) and sign up. You can then add me: mastodon.cloud/@dajbelshaw. As in the early days of Twitter, one of the easiest ways to find good people to follow is to find ‘nodes’. I’ve found Anil Dash (@anildash) to a good starting point.

I look forward to seeing you there. It’s a learning experience for me, but I’m happy to answer any questions below!

Header image CC BY Eric Fischer

My sites are now hosted in the European Union

I host my websites through Reclaim Hosting. I’ve been with them for a few years now, ever since they were known as ‘Hippie Hosting’ and an offshoot of the amazing work done by Jim Groom and team at the University of Mary Washington’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies.

Companies often talk about their commitment to customer service, but I’ve never known anything like that which receive from Reclaim Hosting. It’s insane. For example, in the last six months, amongst other things, they’ve:

  • Responded within a minute to a query about my wiki being down, and had fixed it for me within five minutes.
  • Worked with me to rectify a persistent spamming problem on my sites (that was my fault, not there’s)
  • Migrated my sites from US servers to ones based in the EU within 24 hours of me tweeting that I’d like them to do so.

On top of that, they charge me a very low price. I’m a huge fan, as you can tell.

The last of the bullet points is an important one as President Trump continues to rip up the good work carried out by his predecessors. For example, earlier this month, The Register reported on a joint letter sent by Human Rights watch and the ACLU which outlines in detail how Trump’s executive orders are underming the US-EU Privacy Shield. Bloomberg reckons that the EU are ready to pull out of it.

It’s 2017, so it seems strange to be talking about things that seemed more important in the early days of the web, such as where your server is located. But, of course, given the nationalist turn we’ve taken in the west, these things matter.

They matter because he location of your server is still of vital importance, despite recent protestations, that data in transit through the US makes it subject to US law. What you put on your own web space isn’t just the front end stuff that everyone sees, it’s the backend stuff as well — family photos, private emails, and the like.

Some people have asked why I’ve chosen to host my data in Germany, rather than in the UK. Well, for a start, I still consider myself as more European than British, despite ‘Brexit’. Second, Germany has stronger privacy laws than the UK (and certainly the US). Finally, and more pragmatically, it’s the EU option offered by Reclaim Hosting (mainly, I believe, because Digital Ocean offer block storage in that zone)

I perhaps spend more time thinking about these things than most, but that’s because it’s something I deem important. Ironically, most of my readers are in the US, so this move actually adds a few milliseconds to their page load times. Sorry about that…

Image CC BY Jeff Ddevjet

3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web [DML Central]

3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web

My latest post for DML Central has now been published. Entitled 3 Ways Open Badges Work Like the Web, it’s an attempt to unpack a phrase I use often. It features a couple of great images from Bryan Mathers — one inspired by a Tim Berners-Lee quotation at the start of the post, and the other a visualisation of the ‘four freedoms’ of Free Software.

Read the post here

Note: I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to add your thoughts on the original post.

Taking back control of the web: an easy way to host and run secure open source apps

Sandstorm.io

One of the most frustrating things about Open Source software is the lack of traction some genuinely great projects manage to achieve. There are countless examples of individuals deciding to ‘scratch their own itch’, and writing code that would also improve the lives of hundreds/thousands/millions of people. However, the the technical skills required to get it up-and-running, not to mention the security concerns of getting to scale, are often prohibitive.

That’s where Sandstorm.io comes in. I first heard about the project when I was still at Mozilla as the lead developer led a successful crowdfunding campaign that was supported by many readers of Hacker News. Essentially, it’s a incredibly simple, one-click way to install Open Source web apps. They’re deployed in containers called ‘grains’ which makes apps extremely secure and super-fast.

Sandstorm grains

As you can see, I’ve been playing about with all sorts of apps: note-capturing apps similar to Evernote, kanban tools that mimic the functionality of Trello, alternatives to Slack, ways to seamlessly pipe music to co-workers/conspirators, you name it!

There’s already an impressive selection of apps available in Sandstorm.io, with more being converted on a regular basis. Here’s the ones available at the time of writing:

Sandstorm apps

At the moment, I’m just playing around. I can see a time when I decide to use this across devices and collaboratively with other people. Relying on venture capitalist-backed companies to look after my data, privacy, and security on a long-term basis is probably a bad idea.

While there’ll always be a free tier, during the beta all of the plans are free:

Sandstorm - plans

As you can see, given that the ‘Power User’ plan is currently free, I’ve decided to make full use of it. The apps are blisteringly fast and, when the beta ends, I’ve got the option of either paying for hosting through Sandstorm.io, or hosting it on my own server (free!)

I’d have a play and see what you find. I think you’ll find something interesting, something to convince you that Open Source done right can be just as good, if not better, than proprietary, closed-source, VC-backed products!

Click here to go to Sandstorm.io

Web Literacy: what happens beyond peak centralisation and software with shareholders?

There’s no TIDE podcast this week, so I thought I’d record a blog post today. Here’s the abstract:

We’re at peak centralisation of our data in online services, with data as the new oil. It’s a time of ‘frictionless sharing’, but also a time when we’re increasingly having decisions made on our behalf by algorithms. Education is now subject to a land grab by ‘software with shareholders’ looking to profit from collecting, mining, packaging, and selling learner data. This article explores some of the issues at stake, as well as pointing towards the seeds of a potential solution.

The Code Acts in Education blog I mention in the introduction to this piece can be found here and Ben Williamson is @BenPatrickWill on Twitter.

Comments (once you’ve listened!) much appreciated. I’ve still got time to re-work this… 🙂

(no audio? click here!)

References

Belshaw, D.A.J. (2014a). Software with shareholders (or, the menace of private public spaces). Doug Belshaw’s blog. 23 April 2014. http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2014/04/23/software-with-shareholders.

Belshaw, D.A.J. (2014b). Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society. DMLcentral. 23 October 2014. http://dmlcentral.net/blog/doug-belshaw/curate-or-be-curated-why-our-information-environment-crucial-flourishing-democracy.

Dixon-Thayer, D. (2015). Mozilla View on Zero-Rating. Open Policy & Advocacy Blog. Mozilla. 5 May 2015. https://blog.mozilla.org/netpolicy/2015/05/05/mozilla-view-on-zero-rating.

Flew, T. (2008). New Media: An Introduction (3rd ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Gillula, J. & Malcolm, J. (2015). Internet.org Is Not Neutral, Not Secure, and Not the Internet. Deeplinks Blog. Electronic Frontier Foundation. 18 May 2015. https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/05/internetorg-not-neutral-not-secure-and-not-internet.

Kramer, A.D.I., Guillory, J.E., Hancock, J.T. (2014) Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United Sates of America. 111(24).

McNeal, G.S. (2014). Facebook Manipulated User News Feeds To Create Emotional Responses. Forbes. 28 June 2014. http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregorymcneal/2014/06/28/facebook-manipulated-user-news-feeds-to-create-emotional-contagion

Mozilla. (2015). Web Literacy Map v1.1. https://teach.mozilla.org/teach-like-mozilla/web-literacy

Thorp, J. (2012). Big Data Is Not the New Oil. Harvard Business Review. 30 November 2012. https://hbr.org/2012/11/data-humans-and-the-new-oil.

Image CC BY-NC Graham Chastney

How do you explain the web to your kids?

There’s no way I could respond to the following tweet in 140 characters, so I’m writing a blog post instead!

My kids are four and eight years old, respectively, so you’d think I’d have a programme all drawn up about how to teach them the web – right? After all, I’m on the #TeachTheWeb team and my job is Web Literacy Lead, for goodness’ sake! Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Intro

As I said in a post a couple of years ago, the best way of teaching is through example. You’re doing this to an extent when your children observe you read a book or use the web. However the best learning from example comes when you talk through what you’re doing. This is what I try to do with my children. I’m not perfect (or even very good at it!) but I try my best.

Ages 3-5

For my four year-old, I’m trying to help her understand that all the devices she might use – or see other people use – are connected together. I’m also interested in her fine motor control. By this, I don’t mean big swipes or button presses that babies (or monkeys) can do, but things like going ‘back’ to the menu in an app, or using a touchpad to access various parts of the CBeebies website.

Another thing I want her to understand is that sometimes things don’t work.  That happened last night when our router stopped working briefly, meaning we couldn’t use BBC iPlayer. Nor could we stream films from our media server. Last week she couldn’t play a video because I didn’t have flash installed on the laptop she was using. I tried to explain software to her using the app metaphor.

To my mind, the key thing at this age is being able to know where the boundaries are between online and offline stuff. I don’t want her growing up thinking ‘the Cloud’ is literally in the sky! A lot of it comes from you as an adult talking about what you do and encouraging the child to ask questions – either immediately or later. I find asking them whether they’ve got any questions for you can be fruitful. This is often best when they’re not distracted – for example, when you’re walking them to school or driving them to an activity.

Another thing that’s useful at a pre-school age is being silly or ridiculous. they tend to be sticklers for wanting the world to be the ‘right’ way and are amused when you present it in a way that’s not. I use “imagine if…” a lot. This morning, for example, my daughter needed some Calpol so we went through “imagine if you got better by sticking carrots in your ears!” (etc.) They learn a lot by counter-examples. In a web capacity, you could try things like “imagine if websites were open only sometimes, like shops!”

Ages 6-8

My son, who’s just turned eight, started his blog when he was five but didn’t really start using it much until he turned six. Although I encourage him to write a blog post on a weekly basis, I don’t force him to. It’s the same way I tend to strongly encourage him to do things like tidy up his toys, “find something to do rather than annoying your sister”, or play Khan Academy / Duolingo every morning. As a parent you have to dole out your ‘musts’ sparingly – otherwise they lose their effect!

Through blogging, even through the WordPress iPad app, he’s learned about basic HTML tags. We also went through some basic CSS at one point but he’s probably forgotten that. The reason the HTML has stuck is repetition. He was super-interested in X-Ray Goggles activity about 18 months ago, so I created a basic cheatsheet and put it up next to his bed. I’ve found this a great technique at all ages. When I was a classroom teacher I used to provide my GCSE History students with revision tips and facts. They’d stick to the fridge or next to their bedroom lightswitch so they couldn’t help but see them! Repetition breeds familiarity.

He’s also migrated to using more devices. Whereas his sister is still 90% iPad with the occasional use of a laptop, he’s using the laptop more often. He used it last summer to search for howto’s on loom band making, for example, and seems to prefer the web-based WordPress interface for blogging now. It’s all about asking them if they’re ‘ready’ to move onto something else. It’s fine if they’re not, but you have to keep prodding. It’s the same way I get them to eat new things – not by forcing, but asking whether, now they’re a bit older, they’d like to try XYZ.

Metaphors

I think we get too hung up sometimes about people having a ‘perfect’ mental model of things. This week our team at Mozilla has been working on adapting an activity that can help with that for the upcoming Webmaker Clubs (name TBC). This is just one way to think about the web. Sometimes it’s worth having kids come up with their own metaphors. After all, they have to relate it to their experience up to this point.

This is why it’s always a good idea to get someone to whom you’ve just taught something to then teach someone else. This could be an elder child teaching a younger one, but equally could be a younger child teaching an adult feigning ignorance. It’s about reviewing and solidifying learning. Remind them that all this wasn’t around when you were younger and you had to learn it all. Comparing and contrasting life before and after a technological innovation can be instructive.

Rationing

This post is experiencing some scope-creep, I recognise that. But this is useful for my own reflection and may be useful to others.

I just want to mention briefly the amount to which my wife and I ration access to network-enabled devices. This is slightly different, although related to the (controversial) idea of ‘screen-time’. What I will just say on that is I’ve seen my children (and others) turned into somewhat-violent zombies when they come off an epic session on the iPad / laptop / whatever. We try to avoid that by doing the following:

  • No sessions longer than 15 minutes (youngest) and 25 minutes (eldest)
  • Nothing other than specific learning stuff (e.g. Khan Academy / Duolingo) before lunch
  • Our mobile phones are ours – we don’t hand them over to our children
  • Passcode locks on everything

I’m sad about the last of these points, but it’s a result of my son sneaking downstairs at 4.30am last summer to look at loom band videos! We try to remove the passcode on the iPad now and again, but we haven’t been able to trust our eldest in that regard 100% yet. We’ll keep trying.

What we don’t do (or want to do) is filter the web. There may come a time when we make that decision, but ideally the filter should be in the child’s head. If we ever do impose a technical filter, that filter would be on for the whole family – not just for the children. I think it’s unfair to say one thing and do another. And I’d rather respond to an actual problem rather than lock down their experience so they can never go wrong.

Conclusion

So there we are, for what it’s worth. I don’t use the Web Literacy Map explicitly with my kids, but then that’s not the point of it at this moment in time. I have used Webmaker tools to encourage and follow the interests of our eldest child. Equally, we’ve used DIY.org and a whole host of other websites I’ve come across. It’s all about weaving it in rather than seeing it as a discrete activity.

Finally, it’s worth saying that my son volunteered to be a mentor at Maker Party North East 2014. I planted the seed ages beforehand with “do you think you’d ever be able to…” and “imagine if…” so he felt like it was his idea. Inception! A lot of the time with new skills it’s about confidence. 😉

I’d love to hear what you do to teach the web with your children! Add a comment below, or write a blog post that links back here.

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation [DMLcentral]

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation

My 20th post for DMLcentral has now published. Entitled Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation, my aim was to point out a fundamental problem with the way we ‘pay’ for our technology (i.e. through user data) and how that applies to education.

I’d love your comments on it – I’ve closed them here so you can do so over there!

Click here to read the post

 

More on the web as the platform

Earlier this year I wrote about my attempts to move to a web-based workflow. I discussed how people tend to see devices that rely entirely on the web as for other people.

Last week I moved house. We don’t get broadband until tomorrow so I’ve had to go about my web-based job by hopping between dongles and tethered devices. On top of this, I decided to run an experiment. Rather than using my MacBook Pro as usual, I opted to use a Chromebox connected to a 24-inch display, wireless keyboard and mouse.

So instead of picking up my MacBook Pro every time I ran into an issue, I decided to use the difficulty:

  • I bought a webcam that doesn’t need drivers and works with the Chromebox
  • When I needed to use Vidyo or Skype to talk to my colleagues I used the Android app
  • I used the opportunity to try appear.in (a WebRTC app)

What surprised me was just how easy it all was. No need to update apps. No perceptible slowdowns. No spinning beachball of death. Everything I needed to do as part of my current job was possible by using the web.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Evan Leeson

The web is the platform (or, the perils of esoteric setups)

At Mozilla we say that “the web is the platform”. It’s almost like a mantra. By that we mean that, as the world’s largest public resource, the web is big enough, fast enough, and open enough for everyone to use on a full-time basis.

To prove this, we made FirefoxOS, a mobile operating system comprised entirely of web-native technologies. But FirefoxOS devices aren’t the only ones that lean heavily on the web for their functionality. Google Chromebooks have a stripped-down version of Linux that boots directly into Google’s Chrome web browser.

The meme over the last few years seems to have been that Chromebooks (and by extension, I guess, FirefoxOS devices) are for other people – you know, the type that “just do a little bit of web browsing here and there.” They’re not for us power users.

Here, for example, is Andrew Cunningham from Ars Technica talking about covering CES 2014 on a Chromebook:

Even if you can do everything you need to be able to do on a Chromebook, switching from any operating system to any other operating system is going to cause some friction. I use OS X to get most of my work done because it’s got a bunch of built-in features and applications that I like. I use Full Screen Mode to keep my laptop’s display organized and uncluttered. I like Limechat because it’s got a bunch of preferences and settings that lets me change the way it looks and works. I like Messages because it lets me connect to our XMPP server and Google Talk and iMessage, all within one client.

That’s what bothers me the most about Chrome OS. It’s not that you can’t do a lot with a Chromebook. It’s not even about getting used to different tools. It’s just that the operating system works so differently from established desktop operating systems that you’ll have to alter many of your normal workflows. No one’s saying it’s impossible to do, but for people used to something else it can be a laborious process.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with native apps. I really like Scrivener, Notational Velocity, and others. But unless you’ve got unusual requirements I reckon that in 2014 you should have a workflow that can use the web as the platform. In other words, being away from your own machine and ‘perfect setup’ shouldn’t dent your productivity too much.

One blocker to all this, of course, is other people. For example, it’s very difficult to move away from using Skype (which doesn’t have a web client) because it’s the de facto standard for business VoIP communication. That is only likely to change when there’s a critical mass of people familiar enough with different technologies to be able to switch to them quickly and easily. Hopefully WebRTC will expedite this process!

So, in conclusion, if you’ve got a workflow that depends upon a particular native app, perhaps it’s time to look for an alternative?* Then, at the minimum you’ve got that alternative up your sleeve in a pinch, and at best you may find you want to switch to it full time.**

 Image CC BY Robert S. Donovan

*For example, I’ve recently moved from Evernote to Simplenote and from Adium to IRCcloud.

**If you want to simultaneously focus on privacy/security, look at the newly-revamped PRISM Break site.

What does a non-Web world look like? Investigating Bittorrent Sync.

Further to yesterday’s post, I’ve been messing about Bittorrent Sync. As someone who is avowedly Web-centric, I’m used to a world where files sync via the Web and one signs up to services via email. There’s none of that with Bittorrent Sync:

Bittorrent Sync

 

As a lover of Dropbox, I’m investigating Bittorrent Sync as a way to augment the way I currently sync files across machines.* I mentioned above that there’s no Web component involved. Instead, files are synced directly from machine to machine via a secure and encrypted process that isn’t available to other Bittorrent users – just the people with whom you’ve shared a ‘secret key’.

If you’d like to give it a try, download the software for your computer and enter this ‘secret’ key, giving read-only access to my BTSync folder: RCFZPEYBNV4MGZTQEO2ITOANGEZNF42WF

Of course, it’ll only work when I (or someone else who has synced the files) is online! There must be a way to install the software on a server so it can act as a node?


* This would be an awesome way of sharing learning and teaching resources en masse!

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