Open Thinkering


Weeknote 31/2022

Colorado scenery, including The Rockies, and a speed limit sign saying that it's enforced by aircraft!

I spent most of this week in the beautiful environs of Boulder, Colorado. Travelling there last Saturday, I was in town for The Badge Summit, an event that this time around was held at CSU Boulder and had around 200 attendees. WAO‘s client Participate enabled this to happen, and we (Laura, Anne, and I) stayed in an amazing Airbnb with them (Mark, Julie, and Don).

On Sunday, I went for a hike into the Rockies with Julie and one of her friend’s daughters, who happened to be pet sitting in a $4m dollar house in Boulder. The views were incredible, and I got back to watch England women beat Germany in the Euro final football match. It was a shame I couldn’t be at home to celebrate with my family, but the massive screen I watched it on almost made up for that.

I had a great time in Boulder, going for a couple of 10k runs in amazing scenery, helping run two sessions, one of which you can find out much more about in this post on the WAO blog. I was reacquainted with some awesome people who have been part of the badge community for a while (the OG’s!) as well as meeting new people. I’d forgotten how much I miss going to events.

On Wednesday, everyone headed off before me, so I went to a zero-waste shop that my sister recommended, travelling there on an electric scooter. I then got an Uber to the incredible Meow Wolf immersive art experience that Julie had recommended. I really have no words other than to say that if you’re ever near Denver (or Las Vegas, or Santa Fe) you really need to go. What an experience!

My trip back home went more smoothly than the trip going out, as my wife Hannah tested positive for Covid last Friday. My parents were amazing and looked after the kids at their house while I was away, meaning she could recover without having to worry about parenting while feeling rough. I think the current strain is more virulent than the one I had back in January of this year.

British Airways rearranged my connecting flights between Newcastle and London so I had a long layover in both directions. Thankfully, on the way back I got the entire back row of seats to myself on the flight from Denver, so could stretch out and slept for seven hours straight. I then got on a train instead of waiting 9.5 hours for my next flight, meaning I was back home in time to take my son to training!

Thankfully, I don’t seem to have suffered from any of the jet lag I usually get going forwards through timezones. I think that might have had something to do with the quality of sleep I got on the way back, and the fact that I exercised every day while I was out there. In addition to running, there was a decent gym in the Airbnb where I could do free weights, pull-ups, etc.

On Friday, I spent most of the day with the family, running errands for Hannah, and sorting out my expenses. There were some things I needed to order from Amazon to either arrive before we go, or to be sent to the in-laws’ while we’re in Devon next week. One of these things includes a new battery for my son’s phone which he (despite my many warnings) plugged into a charger much too powerful for it to handle. So part of our holiday will include performing some open heart surgery on his device. Every day is a learning experience, etc.

I’m composing this on Saturday morning, and am about to go for a run before going to the gym with my son. We’ve pretty much just got today to get things sorted for our trip to Devon for a family wedding and our holiday in France. That’s because my daughter has a football tournament tomorrow night for her new team — so we’ll be hitting the road straight from there.

Photo taken during one of my runs in Boulder, CO

Bonfire’s latest trick shows Google+ circles came a decade early

One of the best things about Google+ was the idea of sharing things using circles that you could define. Unfortunately, like Google Wave, it was a decade early.

For those who can’t remember, or who never experienced Google+, here’s a screenshot from Tojosan dated July 2011:

Screenshot of Google+ showing circles such as 'Friends', 'Family', and 'Acquaintances'

While the idea was a great one, the implementation wasn’t the best. Also, because it was launched at about the same time as mass adoption of social networks such as Twitter and Instagram, people didn’t really have the mental model of what was going on.

The important thing with Google+ circles (which I’ll now refer to just as ‘Circles’) was not that you put people in exclusive groups or categories. As the diagram below by Carrotkit demonstrates, there are things you want to share with one group (e.g. family), and things you want to share with another group (e.g. friends). However, members of these groups are not always mutually-exclusive:

Venn diagram showing 'Friends' and 'Family' with 'brother' in the overlap

Thankfully, this approach is being resurrected by the Bonfire team under the less-snappily-named ‘granular boundaries’. However, the aim is much more ambitious.

As the announcement states:

Within bonfire, you now have the possibility to define circles and boundaries: a way to privately group some of your contacts and then grant them permissions to interact with you and each piece of content you share at the most granular level.

Boundaries go beyond the typical permissions on social media (i.e. who can see your content) and include a long list of verbs in order to represent all kinds of meaningful interactions and collaboration that should be possible on a real social network.

People don’t fit in binary boxes labeled “follower” or “friend”. Circles and boundaries are a way to empower us to come up with our own groupings and sets of permissions.

As Bonfire is a federated app toolkit, extensions will be able to make use of this functionality, for example going beyond simple roles such as ‘admin’ or ‘moderator’ of an instance. I’ve had a tinker with the Playground instance of Bonfire while it was enabled, and although initially a bit confusing, it works well.

Screenshot showing different 'boundaries' over and above the usual (e.g. 'Memes & lols', 'Summer '22 trip' and 'It takes a village')

What I’m hoping is that this bridges the gap between social networking as we know it (e.g. Mastodon, Twitter) and group chats (e.g. Signal, Telegram). If so, it could be useful for everything from professional purposes through to organising kids sport activities. Because, let’s face it, group conversations on the internet are a mess.

Screenshot of circle with defined permissions

In the above example I’ve taken a screenshot of a circle I’ve created called ‘Bloggers’. This includes five people and I’ve explicitly given some permissions and blocked one person (sorry Mayel!) from liking or mentioning posts I share with that circle. This could be an absolute gamechanger in terms of how democratically-organised groups with a flat structure can be organised.

The list, for those interested, of what you can allow others to do is currently:

  • See
  • Read
  • Mention
  • Like
  • Request
  • Follow
  • Boost
  • Message
  • Delete
  • Tag
  • Edit
  • Create
  • Flag
  • Reply

Ivan and Mayel, the core team behind Bonfire are putting in an application for more NLnet funding to work on this functionality. I’ve just applied to NLnet too for a simple badge-issuer that I think could eventually be turned into a useful Bonfire extension. If and when that happens, this level of granularity will be extremely useful to build upon!

Weeknote 30/2022

Teams lining up before England vs Sweden women's Euros

This week caught me by surprise. It wasn’t supposed to be that way.

On Monday night we travelled down to stay over in Doncaster in preparation for the England vs Sweden match as part of the Women’s Euros. Ideally, we would have stayed Tuesday night after the game, but everywhere was booked up. We found out why the next day, as we saw people in university graduation attire as well as lots of swimmers competing in an international event at Ponds Forge.

Consequently, we spent most of Tuesday wandering around Tickhill, the market town in which Hannah and I lived for five years. Our son was born in Doncaster, but we moved to the North East when he was two, so despite our best efforts, he couldn’t remember walking around the pond next to the castle, feeing the ducks! We also spent time in Sheffield, eating and shopping before the match. It was an absolutely incredible occasion which we all enjoyed, my daughter (face-painted, and be-scarved) in particular.

I spent Wednesday co-working with Laura and Anne, finishing things off as they were due to fly to the US the next day. While we’re all meeting in Colorado for The Badge Summit, they’re including the event as part of a longer trip to visit Laura’s family in different states. It’ll be the first time since January 2020 I’ll have seen Laura in person, and the first time ever meeting Anne in 3D!

On Thursday I spent time doing logistics: upgrading my travel insurance, preparing invoices, getting small-denomination US currency for tips, and booking a train to cover the last leg of my journey back from London to Newcastle next Thursday. British Airways cancelled my Newcastle/Heathrow flights on the way and the way back, replacing them with ones that mean that I have longer layovers. I wasn’t willing to experience a 9.5 hour layover on my way back home, so instead I’m getting the Tube to Kings Cross and then the train home. Fingers crossed everything goes well, as we’re in the midst of industrial action and strikes.

Friday was interesting. It began with me running my fastest 10K for a decade, and ended by sleeping in an airport hotel. Between those times, I collaborated on and sent a grant application, finished painting my office (despite an unscheduled torrential downpour), and… Hannah tested positive for Covid. As a result, I had to organise getting the kids looked after by my parents while I’m away.

It’s ironic that Friday was a bit mad — my smartwatch told me I didn’t sleep as well because of the stress involved — as I’d consciously spent most of the week winding down. After The Badge Summit, I’m taking most of the rest of August away from work and although I haven’t got the most stressful ‘job’ in the world, I do like to relax. My time off will also involve travel: down to Devon for a family wedding, and then to France for a much-anticipated Team Belshaw holiday. We’re looking forward to doing some kayaking and sightseeing.

Next week, then, I’ll be in Boulder, Colorado at the event and hanging out with people I think are awesome. It should be worth the slightly painful travel. After that, my kids have got various football-related things and then we’ll be heading to Devon.