Open Thinkering


Month: July 2022

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.

Weeknote 29/2022

Image created by the Midjourney AI model from the prompt 'Boris Johnson wandering through a dystopian wasteland'.

I’ve just come back from spending eight hours at a football tournament in the changeable weather of North East England. We had rain, and sunshine, and overcast periods, and wind. My son’s team got through to the semi-final and I spent a small fortune on drinks and ice creams.

I’m composing this post on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga which arrived just after publishing my last weeknote. I spent five days trying to figure out a very annoying problem where the trackpad stops working after suspend. I tried different Linux distributions, hints and tips in various forum threads, and even re-enabled hibernate (suspend to disk) in Pop!_OS.

Having bought it to replace my much-loved Google Pixelbook, which was getting a bit slow, I decided to see what ChromeOS Flex runs like on it. The answer is ‘like a charm’ and it’s so quick and slick, that I’m actually running almost everything via a Linux container, including the Brave browser. I’m really happy with it.

It was really hot on Monday and Tuesday, as predicted. I managed to work through it, but I can’t imagine what it must have been like further down south. Train tracks started to warp, roads were melting, and compost heaps spontaneously combusted, burning down several houses. And yet still some people deny climate change.

I had a really good response to a post I published last week outlining my frustrations and need for a simple claim code-based badge issuer. David Tomasoni-Major has almost built out an MVP and I’ve had a couple of chats with Stephen Hawkes from Dev Society. Watch this space, as they say, as I’m considering putting in a funding bid next week. The doc I’m working on to flesh out ideas can be found here.

I published a couple of posts here:

The second of these was based on some fun I’ve had with Midjourney, and in fact the image accompanying this weeknote was generated from the phrase ‘Boris Johnson wandering through a dystopian wasteland’.

I’ve also published a few posts on Thought Shrapnel:

It was great to see Anne finally get her email course Feminism is For Everybody, Especially Educators! published this week. This was the capstone project for her internship which finished a few months ago, but as anyone who has ever created a course knows, these things can be complicated. This was her first one, and she’s done a great job. The imagery by Laura is perfect.

Most of my work and thinking time this week has been related to the Keep Badges Weird project, and by extension what we’ll be doing at The Badge Summit in Colorado at the start of August. I think we’ve got everything pretty much ready, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Yes, I feel a bit bad about flying across the world for five days, but it turns out the logistics are painful if that makes up for it.

I’ll not bore you with the details, but suffice to say that British Airways cancelled the first leg of my flight to Denver on the way out, and the last leg on the way back. Without telling me. I’ve sorted it out, but it means a loooooong layover on the way there, and especially they way back. Coupled with Covid rules, US immigration policy, and just the usual pain of travel, I’ll be glad to meet up with everyone, but I’ll also be pleased to get back home safely.

As I’m taking most of August off, I’m trying not to start anything new at the moment. We’re at a stage with the LocalGov Drupal project where we’re moving into a phase of supporting Aaron in his interim role as Community Manager. We’ve got a couple of days left when we get back with the current contract to run an Architecture of Participation session, and helping with other bits and bobs. I’ve already made a start on the AoP stuff here.

With our work for CAST and Sport England, we heard that most of the 21 organisations involved in the project are extremely busy in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games starting next week. As a result, we’ve been asked to pause work on the Open Working strand we’ve been helping with. We’ll circle back after the summer.

Other than that, we had our July WAO co-op half day, and as I outlined above, I did a lot of messing around with configuring and setting up my laptop! The kids are off school now, so I got roped into playing football, badminton, etc. I also spent some time painting the outside of my home office as well as the front door and porch area.

My running routine has been a bit weird this week, but I still managed to run about 35km:

  • Monday: 11.5k
  • Tuesday: 3k
  • Wednesday: (off)
  • Thursday: 11k
  • Friday: 6.5k
  • Saturday: 2.5k

I got up super-early on Monday and Tuesday to do those two runs, and needed Wednesday to recover. I had planned to do a 10k today, but family logistics with the football tournament mitigated against that.

What I was particularly pleased with was yesterday’s 2.5k run. This is something I do on a weekly basis with my son, and it’s something his new football coach (a former professional footballer) has brought in for the squad to do during the week between training sessions. I do it with him to push him a bit. Last time, my lungs were bursting after we both did 2.5K in 10:21. This time, we did the route in reverse and I managed to do it in 09:51!

Afterwards, my Garmin watch buzzed to inform me that my fitness age is now 33.5 — eight years younger than my chronological age. It’s an achievement, for sure, and one that’s taken me six months. It was my lungs being so battered by Covid that was the stimulus; I have to say that I feel fantastic at the moment, and greatly enjoy running every day. I’m also getting to the gym, but not as often as I was before. I feel that cardio is more important than muscle mass at the moment, especially in the summer.

Next week is the start of a month of travel. Team Belshaw will be in Sheffield for the Women’s Euros semi-final between England and Sweden. Thankfully, our gamble that the Lionesses would win their group and the quarter-final paid off! Hannah and I went to university in Sheffield (which is where we met) so we’ll be revisiting old haunts with the kids.

I’m then flying to Denver and travelling onto Boulder next Saturday. So next week’s missive will come from Colorado. I’m expecting it to be pretty warm, and will be packing accordingly. I don’t usually check a bag for business trips, and definitely won’t at the moment as under-staffed airports are meaning that a lot are going missing. I’m just trying to figure out whether I can get away with just a backpack…

After that, I’ll be in Devon for a family wedding, and then straight from there to France on holiday. We’re keeping our fingers cross that the current problems around massive tailbacks to get through the Channel Tunnel will have abated. I’m sure everything will be fine.

Image created by Midjourney