Open Thinkering


Tag: Cory Doctorow

On the temptation to nuke everything and start over

I came across Kin Lane via his partner, Audrey Watters, whose work I’ve followed for over a decade. I think the three of us have only met together in person once, for dinner when I was over in California and they were both living in Los Angeles. Both Kin and Audrey are the kind of people you feel privileged to be connected with, even if only in the smallest way.

It would appear that Audrey has deleted all of her tweets and put Hack Education on indefinite hiatus. Kin has written about his decision to nuke his blog:

My writing has saved me. I cannot overstate this enough. This blog has allowed me to peel back the layers of who Kin Lane is and get to the root of so many issues that troubled me. I was able to successfully unwind my past, and to continue the healing process, I feel like it is important to hit reset on my narrative, letting go of what I have found and put all my energy into manifesting the future I want to see. I have achieved everything I had envisioned for myself, and I have wrestled (and won) every demon that dogged me for the first half of my life. I have a beautiful wife, daughter in University, loving and well-behaved dog, successful career, and have found balance (mostly) in operating Kin Lane each day. I have detached numerous “cords” from my past and have the remaining chaotic wire mess of these cords stored here in the domain. There is no reason to keep them on display anymore.

I hope both Audrey and Kin are OK. It’s difficult to speak truth to power and be the voice of reason in a messed-up world. I wish I had a hundredth of their strength, perseverance, and tenacity.

As I approached my 40th birthday last year, I hatched a secret plan: I was going to redirect all of my domains to and then present users with an image similar to the one below.

Mushroom cloud from nuclear explosion.

Ultimately, I didn’t go through with it, mainly for reasons that Cory Doctorow outlines in The Memex Method; too much of my ‘outboard brain’ is searchable by keeping everything online. I did, however, archive my as I decided I didn’t really want to do any more work directly on digital/new literacies. I also stepped back from posting on Thought Shrapnel as much.

There are seasons in all of our lives. The person I was yesterday is not necessarily the person I am today, or the person I want to be tomorrow. So this post is both a thank you to the work that Audrey and Kin have done (and shared) over the years, and also a reminder to myself that everything is temporary.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Horatio J. Kookaburra

We’re the real losers of realtime behavioural advertising auctions

Like many people in my immediate networks, I think behavioural advertising is rotting the web. It’s the reason that I have four different privacy-focused extensions in my web browser and use a privacy-focused web browser on my smartphone.

As a result, when I go start looking for some new running shoes, as I have this week, some that I considered buying yesterday don’t ‘follow me around the web’ today, popping up in other sites and tempting me to buy them.

The political implications of this behavioural advertising are increasingly well-known after the surprise results of the US Presidental election and Brexit a few years ago. Advertisers participate in real-time auctions for access to particular demographics.

But what’s less well-known, and just as important, is what happens to the losers of the realtime auctions when you visit a site.

Say you visit the Washington Post. Dozens of brokers bid on the chance to advertise to you. All but one of them loses the auction. But every one of those losers gets to add a tag to its dossier on you: “Washington Post reader.”

Advertising on the Washington Post is expensive. “Washington Post reader” is a valuable category unto itself: a lot of blue-chip firms will draw up marketing plans that say, “Make sure we tell Washington Post readers about this product!”

Here’s the thing: the companies want to advertise to Washington Post readers, but they don’t care about advertising in the Washington Post. And now there are dozens of auction “losers” who can sell the right to advertise to you, as a Post reader, when you visit cheaper sites.

When you click through one of those dreadful “Here’s 22 reasons to put a rubber band on your hotel room’s door handle” websites, every one of those 22 pages can be sold to advertisers who want to reach Post readers, at a fraction of what the Post charges.

Cory Doctorow, Pluralistic

I kind of knew this, but it’s useful to have it explained in such a succinct way by Doctorow.

So if you’re not currently performing self-defence against behavioural advertising, here’s what I use in Firefox on my desktop and laptop:

These overlap one another to a great extent, but good things happen when I use all three in tandem. On mobile, I rely on Firefox Focus and Blokada.

You might also be interested in a microcast I recorded back in January for Thought Shrapnel on the Firefox extensions I use on a daily basis.

This post is Day 25 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

My CC Superheroes

As part of the Creative Commons certification project that We Are Open have been involved with, a request is going around with the #CCquest hashtag to name your ‘CC superheroes’.

The idea is to tag five people who are ‘defenders of the commons’:

What are the virtues of someone who is an advocate for Creative Commons? How does what they do support the philosophy and spirit of The Commons? Think about what it takes to become this kind of person, and how we might wrap that into the Certification project.

It would feel like cheating to name three of the five as my co-operative co-founders (Bryan Mathers, Laura Hilliger, and John Bevan) so I’ve cast my net wider. Even so, it took me all of about three seconds to think of the people I’d mention! Do bear in mind, however, that these are five people out of perhaps ten times as many who I could have mentioned.

  • Alan Levine — it’s entirely fitting that Alan is a member of the #CCquest team, as in the 10 years I’ve known him, he’s been a living, breathing example of the power of working and sharing openly. An inspiration.
  • Audrey Watters — a tireless advocate of all things open, especially in education/technology, an important critic of the ‘Silicon Valley narrative’, and someone who tolerates bullshit less than anyone I’ve ever known.
  • Cory Doctorow — I’ve only met Cory a couple of times in person, but seen him speak many, many times. He’s one of the most eloquent speakers I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing, and his work actually goes even wider than ‘open’, encompassing the totality of our lives online.
  • Jess Klein — I had the great privilege of working with Jess at Mozilla, and still find it difficult to explain the range of her talents. She’s a designer, but also an educator, a facilitator, and a prototyper. And she does all of this in the open. Check out the Open Design Kit she recently helped put together!
  • Jim Groom — a legend in his own lunchtime, I rely on Jim’s company, Reclaim Hosting for this blog and my other presences on the web. He’s the force behind the monumental ds106, tells it like it is about making a living in the open, and great fun to be around, to boot.

Who are your CC Superheroes?

Image CC BY-NC-ND giuliaduepuntozero