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Stick or twist? (dougbelshaw.com)

As I mentioned in a recent weeknote, after successfully submitting my side projects to 512kb.club, I stumbled across 1024b.club. In plain English: there’s a couple of websites that list other websites that are less than a certain size. They’re trying to bring attention to the ‘bloat’ of the modern web.

The requirements of 1024b.club are quite… stringent, shall we say. 1024 bytes is a single kilobyte. For those reading this who may be ‘less technical’, do you remember 3.5″ floppy disks? They stored 1.44 megabytes of information, which means (if my maths is correct) you could fit 1474 of these tiny websites on one of those disks. Wowzers.


Never one to shrink from a challenge, and given that it’s been a while since I created my profile page at dougbelshaw.com, I decided to have a go. This is the result:

Page saying:
Dr. Doug Belshaw
Open Strategist
👋 About
✍️ Blog | Newsletter
💬 Mastodon | Twitter
🤝 LinkedIn

The great thing about emoji is that they’re Unicode, so don’t take up any more space than text. As a result, the page in the screenshot above, is a mere 624 bytes, so well underneath the 1KB limit. It’s the smallest website I’ve ever created. According to GTmetrix, it loads in 177 milliseconds!

By way of comparison, and I’ve had to create a gif here to show you what I mean, here’s the current version:

Page saying 'Dr. Doug Belshaw' and then text that changes between things like 'Tech sherpa' and 'Keynote speaker'. There are links to pages and social media icons.

A GTmetrix scan of this version shows that it takes 2.1 seconds to load, which is almost 12 times slower than the minimalist version. This difference is important not only for user experience, but being a responsible technologist and minimising the resources used by the sites that I put online.


I had a mixed response when showing the new version of my site (which is still on GitHub!) to various people. Some really liked it, especially those who block JavaScript (JS) and like minimalism. Others really didn’t, and much preferred my current version — especially the JS that rotates the various titles/roles under my name.

So I created a poll, and replicated it across Mastodon, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The results were fairly conclusive, as you can see for yourself:

LinkedIn

Poll showing 76% of respondents voting for 'STICK: keep what I've got'

19% - 'TWIST: change to minimal'
5% - 'Don't care / show results'

As you’d expect from a professional network, people like things to look shiny and polished, and aren’t too bothered about the page size implications.

Mastodon

Poll showing 48% of respondents voting for 'TWIST: change to the  minimal version'

32% - ''STICK: keep the one I've got'"
19% - 'Don't care / show results'

Conversely on Mastodon (or more precisely, the Fediverse) people were more split. I was actually expecting more people to vote TWIST, especially as 512kb.club is run by one of the moderators of the instance I’m on (fosstodon.org).

As one of the 48% of people who voted against Brexit, I don’t see that number as a reason to make sweeping changes…

Twitter

Poll showing 72.4% of respondents voting for 'STICK: keep what I've got'

10.3% - 'TWIST: change to minimal'
17.2% - 'Don't care / show results'

Again, not surprised by the result here: a ringing endorsement of my current profile page. Which is always good to know.

Next steps…

I’m thinking of incorporating the best parts of both approaches in a new version at some point in the future. So that would mean:

  • Drastically reducing the filesize of the web pages
  • Serving it from GitHub (to make it easier to edit)
  • Using emoji instead of icons wherever possible
  • Keeping the animated JS strapline
  • Ensuring it loads and renders properly for those who block JS

While I’m there, I should probably have a go at reducing the size of Thought Shrapnel (GTmetrix). Although it’s running WordPress, most visitors will hit the static front page which encourages them to sign up for my monthly newsletter.

No more performative professionalism

Eight years ago when I went to work at Mozilla, I quit LinkedIn. I then rejoined it when I left. It’s a platform I love to hate, one that it feels weird even describing as a ‘social network’.

Things happen on LinkedIn that would never happen anywhere else. It is, as Fadeke Adegbuyi calls it, an ‘alternative universe’, one where those with the power to give people jobs make up or embellish stories which then go viral.

These stories are relayed dramatically in what’s now recognizable as LinkedIn-style storytelling, one spaced sentence at a time, told by job-givers with a savior complex.

On LinkedIn, jobs are not a trade between an individual and a corporation, or a way to fill the space between 9 to 5. On LinkedIn, jobs are life-affirming or life-saving opportunities, rescuing people from a life of meaningless toil or imminent ruin.

Fadeke Adegbuyi, LinkedIn’s Alternate Universe (Divinations)

I’m sure we’ve all seen these stories, probably reshared by someone you met at a conference five years ago. As a result, the number of people I’ve chosen to ‘unfollow but remain connected’ increases every week. Others might be, but I’m not on LinkedIn for professional storytime.

Reduced to its simplest form, LinkedIn is a digital resume. A profile consists of your past work experience, education, skills, and references. The posts, comments, and messages are like a cover letter. But we’ve long decided that there are better ways to showcase your ability than a list of the places you’ve worked, the school you went to, and a hastily drafted plea for work. Resumes are old scrolls of a bygone era. If LinkedIn is a site meant to demonstrate you’re an expert, it’s competing against all the places you can do this better. 

Fadeke Adegbuyi, LinkedIn’s Alternate Universe (Divinations)

I’m not sure that’s entirely true. LinkedIn remains a useful place to which people do actually pay attention, albeit often grudgingly.

Now I’m not really using Twitter, it feels like one of the only places I can connect with my existing professional networks is LinkedIn. Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse isn’t really for that kind of stuff. Not yet, anyway.

So, like lots of people, I’m in what Adegbuyi calls a ‘hostage situation’ where we follow the work of others (and provide updates on what we’re doing) to keep ourselves in the minds of people who might be able to give us work. We’re not desperate, we’re just hedging our bets.

LinkedIn is bizarre because it tries to make this hostage situation fun. Even though it’s not. Not when you add stories, audio messages, DMs, a social feed, or anything else. The platform might be less alternate universe and more down to earth if the truth was acknowledged: performative professionalism, job hunting, and networking are extensions of work not play. As long as LinkedIn pretends otherwise, we can also pretend that we’ll never be desperate enough to use it in earnest.

Fadeke Adegbuyi, LinkedIn’s Alternate Universe (Divinations)

It would be disingenuous for me to say that I don’t find LinkedIn handy for some things. I’ve discovered opportunities through the platform, made connections with people, and found out genuinely useful information.

But what makes me a little sad inside is that the whole thing is built on the assumption that capitalist competition is a good thing. It’s predicated on celebrating spurious awards that people and organisations have (often) paid to be in the running for. And, to be honest, the performative professionalism highlighted by Adegbuyi makes the whole thing a bit cringey.

With Twitter, it got to the stage for me where the value of not using the platform outweighed the value of using it. For example, by avoiding Twitter I’m calmer, more focused, and see fewer adverts every day. With LinkedIn, I can see the day is coming when the balance tips to the negative. For now, though, I think I’ll just bring my whole self to the platform: no more performative professionalism.


This post is Day 73 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com. Oh, and please do connect with me on the Fediverse!

On the difference between people-centric and resource-centric social networks

Something Tom Murdock said recently resonated enough with me that I felt the need to write it down in a place that I can reference. Here is as good a place as any!

I’m leading Project MoodleNet, which is currently described as “a new open social media platform for educators, focused on professional development and open content”. Tom mentioned that he saw an important difference between ‘people-centric’ and ‘resource-centric’ social networks.

(Note: it’s been a couple of weeks since that conversation, so anything witty or clever I say in the next few paragraphs should be attributed to him, and anything confusing or stupid should be attributed to me)

I should also point out that I blog about things I’m thinking about here, whereas the official project blog can be found at blog.moodle.net.

What is a resource-centric social network?

A people-centric social network is something like Facebook or LinkedIn. Users have a single identity and want to follow or connect with you as a person. A resource-centric social network is something like Pinterest or Thingiverse where people interact and engage with you through the resources you’re sharing.

I think most people reading this will understand how Facebook and LinkedIn work. Imagine them towards one end of the spectrum, and Pinterest and Thingiverse towards the other. Twitter is an interesting case here, as users can have multiple accounts and follow non-human accounts. I suppose it would probably be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

A quick tour of Thingiverse

I think Project MoodleNet is more of a resource-centric social network. To illustrate that, I want to explore Thingiverse, a wonderful site I came across recently after acquiring a 3D printer. Here’s what the About page says:

MakerBot’s Thingiverse is a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things. As the world’s largest 3D printing community, we believe that everyone should be encouraged to create and remix 3D things, no matter their technical expertise or previous experience. In the spirit of maintaining an open platform, all designs are encouraged to be licensed under a Creative Commons license, meaning that anyone can use or alter any design.

So it’s:

  1. A registered trademark
  2. Owned by a company
  3. Focused on makers
  4. Allows the sharing of open content
  5. Encourages remixing

In that sense, it’s a very interesting model for Project MoodleNet.

Let’s look a little more closely. Below you can see the home page. The site is obviously curated by real human beings, as they’ve featured particular designs, and created collections which include designs from different users. There’s a feed of latest activity, the calls to action in the top menu bar make it obvious that this is a living community full of creative people.

Thingiverse home page

The next thing you notice when you click through onto a particular design is that there’s a lot of information here to help orient you. There’s a clear call-to-action below ‘DOWNLOAD ALL FILES’ but also we can see how many times it’s been liked, watched, commented upon, and remixed.

Thingiverse design

Click on the remix button and you get to see those who have remixed the original design in some way. If the design you’re looking at is itself a remix, it also allows you to look at the original, too.

Naturally, you want to know a little bit about the person who created it. Perhaps they’ve created some other things you’d like? Clicking on the user name reveals their Thingiverse profile.

Thingiverse profile

There’s lots of information about the person here: their username, location, Twitter profile, website, short biography. However, the focus is still on their resources. What have they designed? What have they shared?

The last thing to highlight is how Thingiverse deals with openly-licensed resources. When you click to download the files, the first thing that pops up is a windows that tells you in no uncertain terms about the license under which this resource has been made available.

Thingiverse CC licensing

In addition, it encourages you to ‘show some love’ to the designer. You can tip them using money via PayPal, and you can take a photo to ‘document’ your 3D print of their design, and you.

Final thoughts

I’m very impressed with the thought that’s been put into Thingiverse. I don’t know the history of the community, but it feels like something that has responded to users. In turn, I should imagine that when those who are regular users of Thingiverse come to purchase their next 3D printer, Makerbot will be top of their list. It’s a virtuous circle.

So there’s a lot to learn from here that we can apply to Project MoodleNet. I like the way that they make it easy for people new to the community. I love the ease by which you can use the fork-remix-share approach that developers are used to on GitHub, but many educators are still yet to discover. And I adore the way that they encourage users to ‘show some love’ to original resource creators, educating them on how to use openly-licensed content appropriately.

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