On the Internet

The World Wide Web is a proper noun, as is the Internet.

Lowercasing Internet implies that more than 1 decentralized global network based on TCP/IP exists.

While it’s fair to say that there are networks of networks within other countries or within government agencies, the Internet is a distinct way of connecting servers and other devices together.

As long as we cannot point to multiple internets, there can be only one.

“The internets?” Nope. The AP is as wrong today as they were in April. :)

I know that it would be hard for the AP to walk this back, but I think it suggests a profound misunderstanding of what makes the Internet different, how it works or why.

Given the profound respect I have for the AP and its staff, I remained disappointed about the decision, along with what it will mean for thousands of journalists who take their lead (or lede) from their style guide.


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On Comments

August 23rd was the last day for comments at NPR‘s website. Given limited resources for moderation, a relatively small cohort of readers that comments and the growing scale of interactions across social media platforms, it’s understandable that NPR made this decision.
As I told NPR’s former ombudsman, as a life-long consumer of NPR news and programs, I’m saddened that one of the world’s great public media organizations is backing away from investing in creating and maintaining a healthy forum for the public to discuss the news on a platform owned by the public, not private technology companies.
On the one hand, this decision frees NPR staff from moderation duties, lifting the weight of battling trolls to adjudicating disputes or enduring abuse and allowing community managers to focus on moderating social media discourse. On the other, if NPR and other public media houses back away from hosting the conversations and shift them to social media platforms, the data and relationships represented in those people move with them.
Getting online comments wrong is easy. Building a healthy online community is hard, but outlets like TechDirt and forums like MetaFilter show that it’s not only possible but sustainable. Good comments are valuable in their own right. At their best, they’re improvements upon the journalism they’re focused upon, but they require convening a community and investing in editorial moderation and tools. At their worst, online comment sections are some of the most toxic spaces online, not only turning off readers but causing damage to public understanding of science or technology.
Ideally, comment sections provide valuable forums for people to share their thoughts on the issues and decisions that affect them, but the technologies and strategy that create architectures of participation need to continue to improve. Given political polarization, the need for public spaces that reward meaning participation and foster civic dialogue instead of shouting matches is critical to our politics.
Communities across the country rely upon public media to report on local government and inform us about what’s being done in our name. Social media and smartphones offer new opportunities for journalists and editors to report with communities, not just on them.
Like Margaret Sullivan, I think news organizations should fix comments, not abandon them. That’s why the Coral Project matters. I hope that as that effort matures, it will demonstrate the value of comments done well. If so, it should be adopted by NPR to host conversations with the people formerly known as its audience on public media webpages again.


Filed under blogging, journalism, open source, social media, technology

To Be An American

I love visiting the U.S. National Archives. I’m humbled every time and honored to talk with David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States, when there’s an opportunity.

In July, I reflected upon how the national creed preserved there belongs to all Americans.

To be an American is to know our history, from slavery to civil war, and honor the patriots who defeated fascism to extend equal justice to all.

To be an American is to know that our rights can never be taken for granted, nor can injustice to one be tolerated lest it be extended to all.

To be an American is to know we have always been a country of immigrants, of second chances, of parents sacrificing to give children their shot.

To be an American is to embrace self-government of, by and for the people, which requires requires more of us as citizens than a biennial vote.

To be an American means putting aside party for patriotism, whether we serve with those who put out fires, heal the sick, or mete out justice.

Our shared history also includes racism, rage & ignorance. Social fabric can be ripped and undone by demagogy. Civil rights suspended by fear.

I am proud to be an American because we have overcome fear and injustice in the past. I’m humbled to stand with all who protect and serve today.

Our times ask more of us than apathy. Be informed. Be engaged in a community. Be kind. Volunteer. Serve. And vote.

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On Moderation

The First Amendment prohibits Congress from making laws abridging the freedom of speech and generally has been interpreted to apply to state and local governments. In my experience, it does not provide untrammeled rights for an individual to say anything, at any time, in any context. The First Amendment also does not apply to a community on Facebook which was created and maintained by a private individual.

There are many public spaces and contexts in America where moderation by judges, speakers, teachers and other community leaders leading discussions can and must make decisions about speech.

To put it another way, moderation is not the antithesis of open government.

Many parliamentary procedures are based upon Robert’s Rules of Order, which require whomever is leading the meeting to effectively serve as a moderator, wielding a mighty big gavel.

Courtrooms are moderated by a judge, who maintains order in the court. Town halls are conducted by mayors, councils and/or media, all of whom serve as moderators. Classrooms and libraries are moderated by teachers and librarians, who lay out rules for participation and use that enable all students and members of a community to have the opportunity to learn and participate.

In each context, there are rules and consequences. People in a courthouse may be held in contempt after sufficient outbursts. If someone keeps making off-topic comments at microphone at a town hall, for instance, a town councilor running a meeting might ask him or her to answer the question that was posed or to cede the space. Students who insult other students or the teacher, interrupt a class, answer questions with off-topic subjects or threaten others with violence are asked to leave a class — or even suspended or expelled.

In online forums, I think a team of moderators who rotate and adjudicate decisions based on a transparent set of rules would be appropriate. I generally think of the blogs and communities I maintain as classrooms and moderate accordingly.

As the creator and moderator of the Google Plus Open Government & Civic Technology community, I’ve been faced with decisions every week since I clicked it into life, including removing posts or, unfortunately, sometimes banning users. Spam has been an ongoing challenge. I’ve shared my own standards for communication moderation online, which inform how I handle comments on social media and blogs in general

It’s critical for online forum creators and moderators to be clear about the expectations for members of a community, from topical focus to frequency of postings to commercial content to behavior towards others, and to act transparently to address the concerns of those communities. It’s not easy, as we’ve seen on Wikipedia or Reddit or blog comments, but if we’re going to have any hope of fostering civic dialogue online, it’s critical that we all figure it out together, building better tools and models that neither amplify the loudest voices in the chat room nor chill voices speaking truth to power than need to be heard.

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Filed under government 2.0, journalism, social bookmarking, social media, technology

The White House Has Working WiFi!

In the nearly 7 years I’ve lived and worked in Washington, finding working wifi has been a constant battle around the District. Yesterday, I was astonished and elated to find a working, robust wireless network operating in the basement of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House.

This shouldn’t be that exciting in 2016, but it was, and remains so, particularly in the basement theater that’s a deadzone for cell phones. I’ve gotten online there in past years but rarely without difficulty or disruption.


Functional White House wifi enabled the people at the forum I attended to get online to share what they were experiencing, including participating in the online backchannel on Twitter and uploading selfies. This was the first time I’ve been asked to take a selfie with strangers at the White House. As precedents go, it’s not earthshaking, but it’s an interesting reflection of our wired moment.


It’s taken the Obama administration most of two terms to upgrade this aspect of White House’s IT infrastructure — when staff showed up in 2009, they found computers still running Windows 98 — but they’re leaving the place better than they found it.

My favorite public place to log onto a public wireless network, however, still remains the House Public network in “the People’s House” in the Rayburn Office Building.

Creative anti-#sopa activism in the wifi options in the hearing overflow room.

A photo posted by Alex Howard (@digiphile) on Nov 16, 2011 at 7:21am PST


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Filed under government 2.0, photography, social media, technology, Twitter

Twitter CEO Responds To Furor Over Character Limit With Screenshort

After hours of fierce debate over a report that Twitter was building a way to expand its famous character limit to 10,000 characters, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey responded by tweeting a picture of a statement, embedded below.

I ran the image through free online optical character recognition software to get the following text:

At its core Twitter is public messaging. A simple way to say something, to anyone, that everyone in the world can see instantly.

We didn’t start Twitter with a 140 character restriction. We added that early on to fit into a single SMS message (160 characters).

It’s become a beautiful constraint, and I love it! It inspires creativity and brevity. And a sense of speed. We will never lose that feeling.

We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it.

Instead, what if that text…was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.

What makes Twitter, Twitter is its fast, public, live conversational nature. We will always work to strengthen that. For every person around the world, in every language!

And by focusing on conversation and messaging, the majority of tweets will always be short and sweet and conversational!

We’re not going to be shy about building more utility and power into Twitter for people. As long as it’s consistent with what people want to do, we’re going to explore it.

And as I said at #flight, if we decide to ship what we explore, we’re telling developers well in advance, so they can prepare accordingly.
(Also: I love tweetstorms! Those won’t go away.)

Quick thoughts after reading this:

1) What are users with disabilities to make of this tweet by Twitter’s CEO? No <alt text> for a screen reader. No blog post. No text at all. Social media platforms should be accessible to everyone.

I don’t think this is a great look for Twitter, on this count, but maybe its developers might fix this issue for the website & apps.

2) Twitter’s cofounder used a screenshot of text, or “screenshort,” to get around the very 140 character limit that’s being discussed. There’s enough demand for this feature that ex-Twitter staff built an app just for that called One Shot.

3) Twitter deserves credit for watching what its users are doing on the platform to get around the character constraints.

“We’ve spent a lot of time observing what people are doing on Twitter, and we see them taking screenshots of text and tweeting it,” he said. “Instead, what if that text…was actually text? Text that could be searched. Text that could be highlighted. That’s more utility and power.”

You don’t need to imagine what that would look like: Google+ had no such character limit and amazing text search from the start. (Google’s effort had other issues, leading to a complete redesign and relaunch of Google Plus in November.)

Or consider Facebook, which announced universal search last October after years of development.

4) Can you recall Twitter ever effectively asking its users what we want?

Is Twitter adapting to perceived need or an implicit feature request? Enabling people to tweet more text in that could be searched would indeed be more powerful and useful.

Is that what users want, versus, say, an edit button?

Or is it better search of the billions and billions tweets sent over the last decade, now that Topsy is gone and the Library of Congress archive hangs in limbo?

Or the quality filter that only Verified users (like me) have?


Dorsey said that “as long as it’s consistent with what people want to do, we’re going to explore it.”

I read that as good news. Let’s see what happens next.

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Character Limits Aren’t What Ails Twitter

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Recode reports that Twitter is working on expanding its famous 140 character limit to a 10,000 characters. Users might click “read more” to expand a tweet to the full length.
If it carries through on this change, I think that Twitter needs to retain both high information density and easy browsing of tweets. The existential risk it runs if not is that it would lose product differentiation versus other social media platforms. Facebook has steadily positioned itself as the go-to alternative for media to share news and live stream events. I find that its Mentions app for media is a much better product than anything Twitter provides.
In 2016, Twitter just aping Facebook is risking everything to compete with the biggest social platform on the planet. The question that its executives must be able to answer to media, politicians and the public is why they should tweet (or read tweets) instead of using another platform.
Over the years, I have found that I find the way I use Twitter – to find and share information or news, track live events, learn from others, and discuss ideas – looks like work to many other people. Finding and following (and unfollowing) smart people is crucial to making Twitter useful. Twitter tried to improve this in its onboarding process, using lists of interests, but it’s still not effectively explaining how people who love it and value make the most of the platform.
Twitter tried to address this using Twitter Moments, but I’m not sure it’s working. Character counts won’t either.
I think Twitter will need to invest in Tweetdeck and Tweetbot for its power users, to retain its position as an information utility and preserve the inputs that drive its value to people who prefer to browse, but that’s enough.
Flat user growth suggests that Twitter must make itself much easier to use for mainstream. Elevating user Lists would help, instead of just curating “Moments” internally and publishing them, especially shorn of links. And guess what? Media already make and use Lists. Instead of largely ignoring power users or their frustration, perhaps partner with them? Maybe even offer those users a share of ad revenue if their Lists prove to be the best lens on an event or news or a law or disaster?
I’m obviously spitballing here, but I’m concerned about what’s going to happen to my favorite social media platform in 2016 and beyond.
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Whether you are also are a long-time user or someone who tried it and left, I’d certainly welcome your ideas on what Twitter should do — or be.


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