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Stopping the Internet of Noise – A useful internet back again (franzoni.eu)
398 points by alanfranz on July 4, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 232 comments

As much as I really liked using IRC back in the day, I still think I spent way too much time on it. I mean you got to know the people there, and after a couple of years most discussions were like office conversations. Plus the takeovers, the trolls, the noobs, the never ending screwing around with the bots, etc.

I've never done much newsgroups because I didn't like public speaking without anonymity.

ICQ and others were like today's WhatsApp and hangout. I didn't use a single interface for them at the time, and still don't today, I don't see a big difference.

Today, I'm off Facebook, I barely follow twitter at all. I'm fine with reading hacker news, and other tech news aggregators.

I think you can lament on the disappearance of RSS, but to me, that's just about the main issue.

I guess the big difference between then and now is that we used to control better what we opted in. Now we're more force fed.

I think a lot of the nostalgia is a result of being uncomfortable dealing with people now being the "insiders" rather than the users. It's much easier to call out the new generation of users or large companies and praise old things than actually creating something relevant for today.

I've played around with creating a relevant version of things like usenet, but at the end of the day it wasn't something I wanted to work on. A large part of the work is correcting for flaws of the Internet that most "hackers" won't recognize. And while you could certainly overcome those problems, I don't think the end result would be worth it. Much of the "hacker crowd" these days aren't, in my opinion, motivated by naive curiosity and shallow idealism (like it used to be), but forced nativity to further their own interests and a opinionated demeanor. That's why many of these alternative services don't work out. Because they aren't motivated by creating something that is nice to use, but to satisfy the convoluted criteria of the creators.

Reading your comment made me nostalgic for trust.

It took a lot of effort to make a long post back in the rec. And alt. days.

I remember trip planning 19 years ago looking at trip reports. Got superior tips for my once in a lifetime Yukon vacation

I dont believe todays internet noise partially because it is too easy to opinionate. There is no effort required anymore.

Good points, especially the last point. I approach "internet" differently these days.

I have twitter for high freq thin data, reddit for a bit more dense information~. For deeper information I could read serious journals, books. But I rarely need that, or am not capable of digesting it.

The force fed thing is inherent to the change of importance and structure of the web.. Remember when Google was an entry point to the mess and not the conductor ?

Exactly, there used to be a reason why we called these things "browsers"

> ICQ and others were like today's WhatsApp and hangout.

That's why they were awful. When they died or stopped being popular you lost all your contacts and had to start from scratch somewhere else. With open protocols you don't have that issue at all.

> As much as I really liked using IRC back in the day

You don't have to speak in channels to make use of IRC. I use it for private chats (I know it's not "private", but that's better for me than using any proprietary client and IRC has clients on every platform).

The other problem with IRC is that it's not very user friendly: there are many different networks, which implement different rules. Your IP may be banned for some reason. People can steal your nickname, etc.

While this is totally fine for internet-savvy people, I can see why regular people who just want to chat turn to alternatives.

I feel that most 'regular' people don't even know about IRC.

Indeed. I remember even back in the mid 90s I was talking about IRC and most people around me who were already connected had no idea what that was.

My cousins, who are not tech people at all, moved to Ecuador in the 90's and apparently everyone there used mIRC over AOL. It seemed to be the default messaging platform for most people in their country at the time.

> I've never done much newsgroups because I didn't like public speaking without anonymity.

Back in the day, I posted to newsgroups via Mixmaster remailers :) Now one can use VPNs and Tor.

Have a go with Lyra (hellolyra.com), it's designed to be an efficient use of your time rather than a sink for time, trolling and harrassment.


Looks like a quip/discourse clone from a 10 second look. Not sure why another product offering relatively the same service solves anything.

A 10 second look isn't really enough to evaluate a service, now is it? Quip and Discourse are subscription products targeted at teams. They aim to make money.

Lyra is a discussion platform targeted at a general audience. We're a nonprofit and aim to improve the quality and attentional demands of online conversation.

10 seconds was tongue in cheek, a longer look didn't show anything I missed the first look. Your platform isn't complicated or detailed.

It doesn't take long to determine that while you have laudable goals, there doesn't appear to be a significant differentiation either technically or realistically that makes your product worth spending more time on.

For one, the quality of conversation isn't a technical or platform issue, but an audience/participant problem. I didn't see anything particularly unique that would make Lyra better as a conversation platform, or at achieving your stated goals, than any other services, open or subscription. An open forum with conversations isn't a "new" idea. A tree based conversation threading system isn't "new" or "novel" or "unique". Having Private and Public chats, groups and profiles etc.. are far from new or unique features for a conversation platform either.

So yes, "10 seconds" was enough to determine that you've got a great idea with crappy execution, no audience, are trying to solve social problems with "technical" solutions (and those technical solutions are not new or unique to the problem space). You don't actually provide anything of value, and my initial assessment that you've just gone and re-invented the wheel looks pretty accurate.

Also, your branding/naming is horrible. A search for Lyra shows multiple other products and services, I gave up looking for you after 5 pages of search results for everything but your product. That's a black hole.

Your persistence in trying to advertise this service in a post basically pointing out how people like you re-inventing the wheel in your own platform to solve the same problem over and over again is the problem is actually highly entertaining for me.

The fact your a non-profit only further makes me laugh. You've got no product differentiation, only philosophical ones (that aren't even unique), and no mature funding model, and you want people to use your product?

I expect another downvote for this, because you don't seem to like someone pointing out sense. I can't think of a better example of the xkdc comic/protocol joke than this in recent memory and I work with software engineers daily.

We repeat:

Lyra is a discussion platform targeted at a general audience. We're a nonprofit and aim to improve the quality and attentional demands of online conversation.

There's nothing like this in the space.

We did not claim to be "new," "novel" or "unique."

If you would like to elaborate on what is "crappy" about the execution, we will be able to address your concerns more directly.

We're not aiming to be findable on Google via a search for "Lyra." Our execution of this requirement may be "horrible," but as it's not one of our requirements, we're fine with that.

We're already sustainable, which is in our opinion a mature funding model.

We would finally like to add that "sense" has a different meaning for each of the billions of people on this planet.

Great point about Twitter and FB not having the "I've seen this" flag (although they probably have this info for their "engagement metrics"), it keeps people addicted and returning. I remember being glued to Twitter during the Mumbai terror attack, but the way it was designed, it was an endless stream of the same info, repeated. And spam, since bots add trending hashtags to their junk messages. I guess it's like cable news' rolling coverage, but instead of the same info repeated every hour, we can now read the same thing every second...

I just don't get Facebook anymore, and I've never enjoyed Twitter. I understand they can still be useful tools for finding out some news quick, or sharing pictures of your kids with grandma. But is there anything online that is even close to what Myspace and early facebook were like? People seem to have forgotten what it was like when these were tools to augment your actual social life.

Right. I have zero interest in FB being a source of news, which seems to be what they've become.

How about implementing an RSS interface on top of the likes of Twitter and Facebook by screen scraping? Would have to take authentication of course. Then we could consume it via RSS readers just like the good ol' days. Does that already exist? I would pay for that.

Facebook used to support RSS feeds. So did Twitter. Now they're both gone, to force people to use their ad-laden interfaces. There are services to generate RSS feeds from both, but there's probably some catch to that.

[1] https://zapier.com/blog/facebook-twitter-rss-feed/

The social media are pushing the social thing, which is fair enough from a business standpoint.

What isn't fine is that users are (intentionnaly, could be argued) led to believe that the media part is equivalent to traditional "RSS-like" media like AFP/Reuters/Bloomberg who carried the responsibility of being trustable.

There's a place and implementation for everything and social media is not an appropriate platform for diffusion of factchecked information. How we make use of the different information dispersion platforms is on us!

Most probably it would be illegal, against each website's TOS. If such tool catches up, it will be removed - and you still need to account for upstream changes that periodically kill the functionality.

Thinking of such a tool as a service is a symptom of the same disease that got us where we are in the first place. If such tool would, instead, be open-source and self-hosted (or a component of trivially self-hosted) application, websites could do exactly shit about it. Traffic will be coming from everywhere, and the tool will get updated by people to overcome upstream interface changes.

Ultimately, it's SaaS webapps that's the problem. The model has legitimate benefits (lack of installation, cross-platform), but it also is the reason the Web centralizes so much.

Most probably the github repo will be suspended, even though it's self hosted, I think. And you still need to account for upstream changes.

Forget Github. It might be just a regular git repo on someone's server. IANAL, but could companies really go against a person hosting the source code of a software that scraps a website?

Even if, that's probably solvable (by turning it into cat-and-mouse game, TPB/SciHub-style). Have a non-turing-complete set of conversion rules that do scrapping -> standardized-data-format via a general-purpose scrapper. Distribute those through P2P. There might be problems with malicious actors, but generally this should be possible to implement in a way that's mostly transparent for end users.

> And you still need to account for upstream changes.

Upstream changes will never be too extreme to handle manually, if we're talking scrapping solutions - because any such extreme changes would also piss off the regular browser users.

Against the TOS does not make something illegal.

Unfortunately, that's precisely what the CFAA does, in the United States. EFF's interpretation:

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), 18 U.S.C. § 1030, is an amendment made in 1986 to the Counterfeit Access Device and Abuse Act that was passed in 1984 and essentially states that, whoever intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains information from any protected computer if the conduct involved an interstate or foreign communication shall be punished under the Act. In 1996 the CFAA was, again, broadened by an amendment that replaced the term “federal interest computer” with the term “protected computer.”18 U.S.C. § 1030. While the CFAA is primarily a criminal law intended to reduce the instances of malicious interferences with computer systems and to address federal computer offenses, an amendment in 1994 allows civil actions to brought under the statute, as well.


Not yet - but people seem to confuse legislators and corporations more and more frequently...

Clink or Hoosegow?

There is a tool that converts Twitter to RSS. I used to use it to get updates from a fantasy author who had neither a website nor a mailing list. It was self hosted but can't remember the name.

Not the one I used (it started with Tw), but useful nonetheless :)

That looks excellent. Thanks for posting it!

Someone should greasemonkey this ftw

With Facebook I scroll down until I see something I've seen before, then I stop. Doesn't seem very hard, and I imagine its what most people do. If I want to revisit older things then I keep scrolling, but that's almost never the case.

That's what I do, but I also have to change the ordering from "Top Stories" to "Most Recent" fairly frequently. That usually puts out different stuff (Facebook seems incapable of remembering the setting. I assume it's deliberate design at this point, since such a blatant bug would have been fixed by now).

I suspect it's only a workable strategy if you either have few friends, or stop following all the ones with a low signal to noise ratio, or if you use Facebook somewhat frequently. Otherwise, there'd just be too many updates to finish scrolling through them in a reasonable amount of time.

"Most Recent" is most recently updated by comments, which is mostly useless for me. I just stopped using FB as much, checking in just to see how people are doing every few days.

I was under the impression that each scroll through Facebook could show different content in arbitrary orderings.

For vosper's technique to work, you have to select the Most Recent ordering for your news feed.

I used to do this with Twitter, but that's impossible these days.

Still possible with Twitter if you use a 3rd party app, like Tweetbot on Mac / iOS and Fenix on Android. I don't think it's possible on the website or official app (and if I was forced to use Twitter as currently designed, I think I'd give up on it).

Still works for me - you occasionally have to decline "things you may have missed", but they come as a lump and the chronological order is preserved.

My own theory about why our ability to focus on what we want to on the internet is Attention Capitalism. Our attention is the latest resource to be exploited by capitalism, and each company is attempting to control what we focus on for their profit. I've noticed this trend; very little software let's me control what information I see anymore. It's almost all controlled by some algorithm making me see what they claim I want to see.

> It's almost all controlled by some algorithm making me see what they claim I want to see.

The algorithm is known as "doing what users want". Very popular with companies and even open source projects nowadays. It works like this: you do some "analytics" of your product, or look what sells for others, assume it reflects what users want (and the things that are missing are obviously not wanted by users), and do those.

This algorithm ignores the fact that a lot of the time, users don't get any way to express preferences. Users buy/use what's available and what's popular. Through this algorithm, producers make choices for the consumers, and then use statistics to justify them.

Or, worse: the discerning users or customers blot out the company (or its website) and go elsewhere.

A/B testing can't test for the users who aren't present.

Don't forget the other part that's critical for the big players: lock-in. The first thing gets them to join willingly. The second coerces them to stay. A one-two punch for a acquiring and keeping market share with high margins.

With all due respect, what changed since the 56k days (which I remember fondly as well) is that people showed up. Before that, the only users on the internet were early adopters. It's unreasonable to expect 'those people' to go away.

I don't think that's all of it. The Internet used to be these networks that we could, through tools, arrange to be around us. We'd have our e-mail network and our Usenet network and our IRC network, and we have ways to view all those things that aggregated among different e-mail servers and different USENET groups and different IRC channels, and gave us a view around How We We Engaging With The Content (e-mail for one-to-one or one-to-many longform discussion, USENET for many-to-many longform discussion, IRC for short-form discussion, both one-to-one and many-to-many). Now, instead of forming the center of our own Internet experience, there's these silos -- Twitter, Facebook, Slack -- and we form a network around the silo instead of our networks having us at the center.

Now, having large number of people makes many of the features of these silos more desirable, they're not unrelated. But if you could find a way to scale up the "me-centric" view of the web to modern needs, then everyone -- early adopters and the mass audience -- would both benefit, I think.

It seems to me the way connections are built on the Internet is different now. It used to be for example that 90% of the people I knew online I didn't know in person. These days that percentage might be inversed.

Not saying it's the only factor, but when connections are built via real-life relationships instead of communities of interest and then sprinkled with automated personalized content aggregation perhaps you end up with an environment where everyone seems to live in their own bubble of information overload.

> But if you could find a way to scale up the "me-centric" view of the web to modern needs, then everyone -- early adopters and the mass audience -- would both benefit, I think.

Even assuming there were adequate mindshare to develop and maintain such an effort-- let's even just pick a modern day USENET-- how are you going to pay the bills?

USENET still exists, and someone pays the bills. Ditto for IRC. People still use them.

Though RSS is kinda dying, I'll give the author that.

Go read old IRC logs, it's pretty "meh". You can join mailing lists where there mostly "old schoolers", which is also pretty "meh". The people or the conversations where never that exciting. It was all about the context of being exposed to something emerging. You were chatting with people from the other side of the world while most people had barely read a foreign newspaper. I'm sure one could have similar experiences today, but it's unlikely to be in a text interface among adults with $3000 laptops.

I'd argue it was only "meh" in the same way the average verbal conversation is to a dispassionate listener. For those now able to exchange ideas on a favorite topic with people who were previously inaccessible, it was great. And not because it was emerging, but for the experience and capability itself.

I'd still argue that those experiences and that capability had 'merit' because it was emerging. If you go and try and manufacture hardware in China you can have those same meaningful mundane conversations. Because that's something emerging so there's scarcity of information, everyone is to some extent a beginner and there's therefor incentive to share information. So I don't think it's the people or the conversations, but the environment.

Sounds like more a reflection of you and your conversations than IRC as a medium.

Judging by your comment I don't seem to be missing out on much in terms of conversation.

Possibly. But at least there wasn't one million of them and they weren't out of context. Don't like a thread? Don't read it, mark it as mute. Won't see it again.

The Internet is decentralized. It doesn't matter that all the 13 year olds are congregating on Club Penguin or whatever; we can set up our own communities. That's why HN is great (and other small communities). It's intrinsically hostile to the wider internet simply by virtue of the subject and the format of its content.

The issue is when the unwanted folks follow the cool kids around. This happens a lot on Reddit. People will make a subreddit with the type of community they want. Others will join. Eventually people will complain that the quality has deteriorated. Then the cool kids will start a new one and migrate there. Rinse. Repeat... ad infinitum.

Edit: I don't know if there's a general name for this phenomenon, but I believe it is related to network decay. [0]

[0] http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NetworkDecay

Reddit really 'dug' (see what I did there) its own grave by aggressively catering to casual users, in order to drive signups and grow the user base. I can't remember exactly what happened at which point, but it all follows the general pattern of appealing to the mass market. E.g. the curation of the frontpage via default subs such as /r/AdviceAnimals that don't really contain meaningful discussion. There's no real need to do this if one is concerned with maintaining an existing community, or the standards of it. As a counterexample, private trackers have been rather good at this, generally by having interviews/invitations for new memberships, or even disabling signups entire. Though these are really the most extreme options.

The other main problem is that like Digg, that there is a powerful cabal of moderators in control of most mainstream subreddits, including those concerned with serious topics like news and politics and they do a lot of "curation" of content by removing stuff, rather than letting the users decide on which links and topics are relevant to discussion (by, ya know... upvoting/downvoting) with chilling effects on those respective subs. That this was allowed to continue, without overhauling and maybe even democratising the moderation system of default subs, was Reddit's choice. I can only suspect that this either (a) plays into the hands of advertisers directly via corporate censorship or (b) indirectly, by relegating content from users who fall outside of the "mass-market" demographic to niche subreddits or other websites.

Curation of shitty content is also built right into the algorithm.

They'll hide behind "But people are voting for this mindless content" but that's not the full picture. A vote after 5 seconds is actually weighted higher than a vote after 5 minutes.

It's specifically because Reddit the company is against too much engaging content. They want people to smirk, chuckle, acknowledge, and move on. Engaging content means fewer pages viewed, which means fewer ad views.

A vote after 5 seconds is weighted, or acts as if weighted?

If that's built into the algorithm, that's one thing. If the social effect of early moderation is amplified, well, that's still a problem (and a major one), but ... of a different sort.

Citations requested.

The first graph linked below shows "hotness" as a function of time with upvotes held constant. The equations are above the linked section. Compounding this effect, there is a feedback loop where hotter elements are more likely to be seen and voted, which increases hotness logarithmically.

So no, the algorithm doesn't intentionally punish dense material. But it does happen incidentally.


Right. Reddit definitely doesn't favour quality.

The name I've heard for this is "Eternal September":


Yeah, that was posted elsewhere in the thread. I thought of it as a name specific to Usenet, as Network Decay is specific to television networks. I was hoping for a general term.

I don't think the term is specific to Usenet at all. It's genesis is in Usenet, but I've heard it used many, many times to refer to the general phenomenon that the original Eternal September was a specific instance of.

It's fine to say that, but this phenomenon is even older than the Internet. Think of the hip bar that gains a sudden influx of customers following a New York Times story. Yogi Berra remarked on this phenomenon with one of his famous quotes "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded!"

Another idea related to the general phenomenon is gentrification: the cool artist colony suddenly overwhelmed with yuppies who drive up the rent, forcing the artists to move out.

Is there not a general term for this whole phenomenon?

I call it wankerisation. That is, a place, location or destination has become overwhelmed with wankers.

"I don't go to that bar anymore, it's too wankerised."

"I don't visit Facebook anymore, it's become wankerised."

"The neighbourhood is too wankerised, I can't afford to live there."

For communities and interests, I usually call it simply "getting mainstream", and the invaders "general population".

Eternal September afflicted mailing lists, too.

It happened a lot before Reddit too. Forums always used to have this cycle of starting out appealing to more mature audiences before getting flooded with casual users and spammers and many people then moving elsewhere.

Heck, in the world of webmaster forums, the ease in which they got filled with spammers and low quality content meant that the same people usually ended up being members of dozens of different forums and moving to a new site every month or two.

Other possible factors:

Is the monkeysphere is the root cause of the endless bifurcation of communities, culture? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

John Dvorak once opined that social networks stop being cool when that coworker you secretly hated tries to connect.

Of course, pushing the other way, is the power law distribution of attention. The best explanation I've read for our current winner takes all economy. http://www.shirky.com/writings/herecomeseverybody/powerlaw_w...

Appeal to the masses. It's a very pervasive concept.

See Hannah Arendt's "The Crisis in Culture" (by way of ... Reddit):



There's the "evaporative cooling effect":


I see these as mechanisms based on Gresham's Law, though that's based on a longer argument.

I believe "cool kids" is primarily used as sarcasm.

Yes, but there have been an increasing trend in "reddit style" comments on news.ycombinator.com . Myself and other users have noticed, called people out, downvoted etc for the lousy comments.

But the realities of the threading style & upvote democracy is that lowest common denominator spreads easily.

Related discussion in same thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14699133

It always sucks to have your insightful (in your own eyes at least) comments downvoted, just because there's a group of people who disagree with it. It's a downvote democracy, but not a true democracy because it only takes a minority to vote that way. I don't even have access to this downvote feature, I guess I don't have enough karma.

If something is unfairly downvoted, wait a while and someone else will usually upvote it again.

But it's also worth remembering they're just internet points, there's no real value. Keep contributing good stuff & you'll eventually get past the 500 karma mark. After that it's just a vanity number.

You do have access to the upvote button,so your vote can cancel out an unfair downvote.

Comments that get downvotes also don't get upvotes, so it's not just the small group who can downvotes who are causing the comments to be gray, it's also the large group who could upvotes but who chose not to do so.

Yeah, this too.

I was more lamenting the lousy comments eg. puns, comments that add nothing etc. These are possible with 0second old accounts.

Right, downvoting gets enabled when you hit 500 points, or so I remember.

Out of curiosity, could you explain what you mean by more Reddit style comments?

Because I don't think I've seen too many low effort comments here recently, or at least not much more than there were in the past.

And while political threads get a bit out of control, my experience there is that the most volatile, disruptive posts tend to get downvoted to hell before they can cause too much of an issue. So even if a certain percentage of alt-right/SJW type content is a bit more common than it was before, it tends to get rightfully buried under hundreds more thoughtful ones.

There's a lot more joke comments than there used to be even 2-3 years ago. I would date the shift to dang taking over and asking everyone to be nicer - before that HN was more caustic and the noise comments were shut down more quickly.

Comments that are only jokes, with nested replies that are word-plays are continuations of jokes. Good for a quick laugh occasionally but I prefer not to see that on HN (puns + groupthink meme jokes are not what I come to HN for).

Here, 2/4 comments on this new post https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14709907

jff 9 minutes ago [-]

If anyone else is using uBlock Origin, at least for me the page displayed completely blank until I disabled uBlock temporarily.

Nice one.


sluggg 10 minutes ago [-]

what if I want two? I can't have two third thumbs


piyh 44 minutes ago [-]

When I was a kid, I dreamed of having a functional third arm, this seems like the first step in that direction.


googlryas 25 minutes ago [-]

This is what my ex-gf would call my manhood. Guess why we aren't dating any more...

Example of "Reddit style comments" would be low effort jokes. Some subreddits are addressing this by using a convention where you can mark submissions with a "[serious]" tag, forbidding such replies (if there are any, they will usually be removed by the subreddit's moderators).

On HN, quite a few of them seem to get heavily downvoted (sometimes enough to mark them as dead, meaning you won't see them unless you explicitly opt in to see them).

Different subs vary. But the effect, overall, is discouraging.

Groupthink is another significant problem, particularly on topics which tend to gravitate toward ideology. Many economics subs operate this way.

>That's why HN is great (and other small communities)

SimilarWeb says HN gets approximately 20M visits a month:


Also Wall Street showed up, aka VCs, the suits, or the slick money guys.

This is probably the best and most truthful rebuttal to all the "the internet was better back in my day" posts that I've seen.

It's true but it's not a rebuttal. It's an explanation.

It's only an explanation if you accept that the internet was better back in the day. And I was there, too, and I don't buy it :)

"The eternal September"...

Which, as it happens, predates the arrival of 56k modems by several years. The author may in fact be one of those who arrived afterwards.

Which all goes to show that people, in general, believe the best time was when they arrived/discovered/attended whatever. In other words, "pull the ladder up after I get to the top."

This is true to a degree (reminds me of the old MAD Magazine adage that "MAD was at its best whenever you first started reading it"), though I feel communities usually have a localised version of Eternal September as well. At least if they get popular.

Eternal September on Usenet would hence be different from Eternal September on Reddit, Facebook or Hacker News.

Indeed. I wasn't on the internet in September 1993. Actually my first modem was a 28.8k around 1994/1995, but I can remember one of my most productive internet eras when I had a 56k around 1997.

Eternal September was September 1993... That's like, 2400 baud days

9600 baud modems had just arrived in 1993.


I was using a 1200 baud, via SLIRP[1]. In 1994 (I think?) remember cycling into University with a box of 10 1.44M floppy disks to copy Slackware 0.1 so I could install it at home.

The bandwidth of a box of floppy disks on a bicycle was higher.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slirp

No, but we can advocate for tech world equivalent of user/dev apartheid. Equal people, seperated, segregated internets, so we can milk the cow, while still enjoying salad.

If only it where not for those meddling open devs, distributing all the nice things among the clueless.

Elon Musk said that as time passes, technology continuously degrades, not improves, if people don't make a hard effort to keep improving it. The Egyptians knew how to build giant pyramids, and forgot how. The Romans built fantastic aqueducts, and forgot how. We built vehicles that landed on the moon in the 60s, and the next vehicle we built could only go into earth orbit, and then we no longer even had a vehicle that could do that.

Today, for some reason, everyone thinks that writing software for a platform on a platform on a platform with no interconnecting standards or protocols is a great idea. Instead of trying to improve people's lives, we're just making things needlessly complex, buggy, and bloaty. You need 8 gigs of ram minimum just to browse the web, and god forbid you want to do something like back up your data. I was just in a meeting where nobody could get Google's video conferencing to work.

Instead of building internet technology, we build web technology. The web is harder to write software for. It's an ephemeral, inconsistent, difficult thing. But if we try really hard, we can turn the tide on the unnecessarily complex box we've forced ourselves into.

The proposed fixes are good ideas, but they're bandaids on axe wounds. There are much deeper problems going on that won't be fixed by a feature add or a pivot. We need a re-evaluation of all internet-based technology, how we develop it, how we incorporate it into our lives, and what we want as a society from it.

I'm skeptical the Egyptians simply "forgot" how to build giant pyramids (especially as pyramid construction seems to be well-documented today). It seems more likely that the age of pharoahs ended and giant pyramid construction was no longer an important skill. Technology hadn't "degraded", it had adapted.

Just like we didn't forget how to build lunar vehicles, we just decided that it wasn't worth it in its current state. It's still very possible to do another moon landing, it will just cost a ton of money that corporations won't risk and governments won't spend without a clear political goal like the old space race.

Space technology isn't degrading, it's becoming more cost-oriented. A SpaceX rocket only reached orbit but it was relatively very cheap. Cost efficiency helps space technology reach more people and create greater impact, ultimately making the technology more valuable to society.

It's the same with the web. You say that the web is bloated "instead of trying to improve people's lives" but the reason the web platform is so heavy is because the platform is rapidly adding features and APIs and tools that make it easier for developers of all skill levels to make complicated applications. Letting more developers make stuff in less time improves people's lives. Maintaining backward compatibility at the cost of bloat also improves people's lives.

Society has been constantly evaluating the web and it has consistently reached the same conclusions: RAM is cheaper than developers, a slower platform with a bigger audience is worth dealing with over multiple native platforms, and weird legacy stuff is fine if it means we can run 15 year old websites.

Those two views are equivalent - humans don't forget technology; what was once invented can be reinvented (the more of the old invention remains, the cheaper it is to reinvent it). So it's always about incentives. But GP (and Elon) has a point here.

Infrastructure projects are important and what enables society to grow. Moon landings were plain awesome and had important effects on both the zeitgeist and growth of technology. That we're not incentivized to grow, or even maintain them, says a lot about us, and not much of it good.

And I do think GP is right when they say: "instead of trying to improve people's lives, we're just making things needlessly complex, buggy, and bloaty." Any actual improvement to people's lives that falls off this process on the web is incidental. The conclusions you say we've reached, like "RAM is cheaper than developers, a slower platform with a bigger audience is worth dealing with over multiple native platforms" are not conclusions. They're excuses. Excused for doing shitty engineering in order to get to the market first. And anyone trying to do the things the right way moves too slow to keep up with the hype train.

Ultimately, the complaints about the way technology develops today stem from this: some people see the suboptimal solutions created by our incentive structures, and also notice there are much better solutions available only a small step from the path we're on - solutions we could reach if only we could relax the market pressures a little bit. This is true as much for the web (e.g. for interoperability issues and bloat issues) as it is for transportation (where electric cars finally got viable after one player basically started to shove a product into peoples' throats until the market forces gave up and accepted it).

Every time I use the word 'web developer' to describe myself, I feel a little pang wishing I was actually designing the internet.

Musk never knew how to make a good electric car people want to buy so I guess he has nothing to worry about.

This is partly what weboob (http://weboob.org) wants to solve, or at least work around. Its goal is to pull the web out of browsers (hence the name):

- each website is handled by a module that does all the scraping, or uses the api if needed

- each module provides one or more capabilities, such as "list an account transactions" (typically for your bank or your mobile provider) or "receive and send messages" (such as HN or reddit or tinder)

- applications plug into those capabilities and give the user functionalities, regardless of the website. You can list the schedule for your bus just as well as the schedule for carpoolings.

One of the applications is actually a daemon with the capability to send and receive messages (with threading and all) and sends messages to the email adress of your choice; you can also configure it as an smtp mta, which means you can use any mail client and interact with all your discussion websites without ever opening the browser.

Obviously this is not a perfect solution for OP's problems, but it seems to me it's going in the right direction. Oh and it doesn't stop at websites; I use it for sending RSS feeds to my email in the background.

The technology and concept are interesting, but the branding is a non-starter. Even if you forgive the overall project name, the individual applications are worse. They include:

- QFlatBoob

- QHandjoob

- Boobcoming

- Boobsize

- Flatboob

- Wetboobs

This naming convention undermines the project's potential. I can't take this to my boss & colleagues. I don't want it on my github profile or my resume. I don't want to talk about it at my meetups.

I suspect that you are surprised and disappointed to find that naming objections are the dominant response to your project. I assume you want the project to find a broad audience and didn't name the project badly on purpose. So let me try to explain why you're getting this reaction.

1. Boob jokes are juvenile.

They remind me of school buses full of sweaty pubescent boys, drenched in Axe body spray and crudely trying to discuss sex. I already lived that once and I really don't want to go back. Leave it on r/blunderyears/

2. Boob jokes sexualize needlessly.

Sex is a wonderful, healthy part of life. People's bodies are beautiful. But sex is also distracting. You don't want to be thinking about sex when you're trying to focus on building software. It's just counterproductive.

3. Boob jokes undermine community.

THIS is the biggest problem. By naming all your software after bad boob jokes, you make it very uncomfortable for women to participate in your project. Imagine a woman with great Python skills and a desire to improve the web finds your project. Do you want her thinking about how 14 year old boys talked about her adolescent body, or do you want her thinking about what cool applications she can build with you?


I hope you take this feedback in good faith and rebrand the project. I'd love to see it succeed.

PS. I'm writing this from the USA. It appears that weboob is developed out of France. Cultures are different, maybe this is more ok in France. But in the US, we're really trying to avoid this kind of thing.

Thanks a lot for this feedback, but this is not my project. I merely know about it (ansd contributed a module). It is true that coming from France, the issue is probably less important.

By the way, here's a piece the creator has written explaining their point of view on the whole thing: http://laurent.bachelier.name/2013/12/weboob-the-asshole-det...

Cool, which module?

Thanks for the link. It's fascinating to me that the name has been an issue since at least 2013 (when the post was written).

  There’s no denying they’re childish. What they are not, however, is sexist. [...] it’s all about friendly jokes.
I agree -- I don't see ill will or discriminatory intent here. It's just unprofessional and kinda off-putting.

  Weboob is a formidable tool to detect people that are part of the “be offended first, think later” crowd. Interestingly, the crusaders are to date all male, and often assert that women can’t like jokes about breasts or sex in general.
I'm sure that happens, and I'm sorry. I hope this discussion feels more productive. Culture wars are no fun for anybody. For the record, I am male, and not offended. Just disappointed. I agree that wetboobs is a funny name for a weather thing. But it's much funnier in a comedy movie [1] than a collaborative software project.

Seems like the project is well aware of and content with the current state of affairs. I wonder how much more it could have grown already without the brand as a stumbling block.

  They will always make a scene on how they’re never going to use Weboob because of names. Guys, here’s the thing: we don’t need you and we certainly don’t want you.
Most of this discussion is about the value of small communities, so maybe it's for the best. Personally, I want to read a bit more about the tech despite the name. Still, the name will likely prevent me from using the tech as broadly as I would otherwise. And that's the disappointment.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MG_LL9m7cl4

Am I the only one who read the name and thought this was a porn site?

I think the service would reach a greater audience with a simpler name.

(Btw I still don't get how the creator wants me to read the name and what it means)

I suspect the name was deliberate (look at the site's logo).

Either way, it definitely might struggle to get a bit more traction with that name/domain. It's like a modern day Pen Island or Experts Exchange.

The name stands for WEB Out Of Browsers. The naming thing is always the first point people take about and, unfortunately in most cases, the only one. Which is a shame because the project is useful, and using a software for what it is rather than for how it's called or presented is what hackers usually do.

Interesting. I've thought basically the opposite for years. At one point it seems that the web was standardizing, more applications were able to run in the browser, things like XUL were developing; but then along came mobile devices and things split apart into Apple and Google siloes, and every company started to need to hire (extra) mobile developers to develop special apps. I've been waiting for the equivalent of a standard mobile "browser" to re-unify all the apps. We had mouse click and drag events, etc., already; is it not possible to add other user interactions -- such as finger swipes or device rotations -- as a standard across "devices", as browsers were doing for (desktop/laptop) computers?

The real problem that weboob wants to solve is that websites tend to provide both the content _and_ the presentation layer, with no way to separate the two. Even though all the elements are standardized, it's impossible to fetch only the data and display it the way you want, unless the website provides APIs which is far from common. Weboon wants to provide that.

This looks really cool, but I found it distracting to see the word "boob" in all the app names.

I'd be inclined to ignore it, but then I saw this on the carousel:

"QHandJoob - You are unemployed? Use this application to search job offers!"

This naming convention is a sure-fire way to lose a big chunk of potential users.

Quite possibly the worst named project ever.

> But we need a common API ... so that people can use their favourite tools

Yup, that's exactly what made the internet great in the good old days.

But how do you monetize users who get to use their favoirite tools instead of yours?

Perhaps some form of decentralized hosting to offload the costly aspect of hosting an online community to its members? The percentage of people with access to ample broadband connections at home is increasing constantly, and bittorrent proved that distributing large amounts of data amongst peers can be done without centralized hosting.

It would be pretty neat if everyone could simply buy or configure some low-power hardware (like a router in both size, cost, and energy consumption) and have that become their internet 'home'. When participating in a community that supports the protocol used, that device simply allocates an amount of bandwidth and does its share of distributing content to the swarm. All a community would need is a central place to host the data needed to get started. Anyone could set up a new community with a minimum of means.

If technique used is standardized (and open) and gained popularity, service providers could even create hosting packages that do the hosting of your internet 'home' for you for a small monthly fee, so you don't have to bother with setting up your own device (although you could, and should always be able to).

This kind of concept probably exists of course. The challenge lies in getting it both technologically feasible for mass-scale adoption, and simple enough for anyone to participate. Still, doesn't this make sense for a future were we won't be as depended on a handful of commercial silos?

This has been tried in various forms, and always fails for a few reasons:

- Spam. When the cost of bandwidth goes to zero, the most useless freeloaders are enabled with no negative consequences for their pollution.

- Media storage. There is a huge demand for storage of (pirated) movies, tv, music or video games, which sucks up the vast bulk of volume. Entertainment needs monopolize communication resources to the detriment of knowledge preservation and freedom of expression.

- Legal and other liability. Aside from the piracy, there's child porn, private information, politically sensitive topics, etc. Society wants an accountability mechanism and will destroy or discredit platforms that lack it.

Commercial silos tend to address all three. Social media in particular is effective at #1 by leveraging the social graph as a filtering and reputation system. Which means once people are invested in their profile or channel, you can wield it as leverage to ensure compliance with #2 or #3.

There are still huge pieces missing to do this in a decentralized and federated way. For starters, a reputation and identity system that is not fully public and transitive. And also, a return to the willingness to tolerate violations of #2 and #3 on a local scale for the sake of intellectual freedom, which the contemporary web sorely lacks.

Email isn't even an exception. Becoming a reputable sender is hard, the data volume is still limited, and the privacy protection is laughable in the wild.

We need a win-win system.

People adopted schema.org so their search ranking improved. Adding markup for machine consumption doesn't make sense otherwise.

We need to build systems that benefit both parties.

This is an EXTREMELY good point. We'll need to dig out a way.

This is what happened to twitter in a nutshell.

Sell better tools?

I'm going to write a chat app built on IRC that gradually uses more and more RAM, and adds new features while breaking old ones.

Just as it has everything MSN used to have ill have it shut down, rename itself and its website and start all over again.

Don't forget to make it struggle to scroll text at some point in the cycle.

Make sure you get people excited about a standard and then shit all over it to keep competitor clients from accessing your network.

So Slack then?

Ping me. I'm really excited about this.


So, Discord?

Did we get to this point of fragmentation due to smart phones and their walled garden philosophy? People stopped making applications for the sake of interoperability. ... if RealAudio™ was founded today it'd be king.

Or is facebook to blame? John Gilmore famously said "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." -- he was wrong, censorship just has to wait for the right monopoly to appear. And with the success of monopoly interoperability becomes its casualty

Amazon and Facebook, to me, are symptoms of a deeper problem: Technology is still hard. We're building complex large-scale products because the non-technical consumers can't use the simple small-scale products.

We're here because it's convenient, not because it's good.

I always felt that Google should have created simple tools for web publishing and creating personal walled-gardens - make the web personal for 7 billion non-technical humans, and the brands they consume. Surely there must be something in between Facebook and Jekyll/Hugo.

G+ copied Facebook when they should have studied why people were using Facebook instead of the open web. Don't make the problem worse, fixed those problems; take the role of guardian of the internet. Create or support standard APIs, release relevant IP/research, and bankroll SV startups that build the tools to publish or consume through the open web.

Google is still an ad/search company that relies on the open web. They need to protect it and drive further innovation. What happens after the coming adpocalypse - micropayments? Subscription bundles? Who knows? Or, perhaps we'll be chained to ads forever because we'll be locked into walled-garden apps... what a hell that would be.

Are there any companies working in this space? Closest I've seen is Squarespace, and even then... not really...

> Surely there must be something in between Facebook and Jekyll/Hugo.

I guess Wordpress is an example. It's got a hosted plan, which requires little more computer literacy than Facebook, and you can also leave at any time and self-host the software, which keeps the hosted offering honest. But it's just not as contagious as something like Facebook. That's the problem, Facebook isn't just more 'convenient' than self-hosted tools, it also has your friends tagging you in photos.

I'd argue that, in terms of features, Wordpress is little better than Jekyll/Hugo. Social integration is the aspect that's missing. Chat, access control, tagging, push/pull update, etc.

I envision this is a two part problem: the "back-end", one-click install or oauth register services to create your private space and identity (possibly a VPS or agglomeration of AWS services) for sending/receiving emails, direct messages, tags (push), and friend posts, group updates, news subscriptions (pull), plus APIs for search, access control, creating/managing your own content, so on; and the front-end, a glorified RSS reader for using the above services through standard APIs.

That's the challenge. The solution is way more complex then the existing offerings, like WP or other simple blogs, but all that complexity must be buried away so it's at least as easy as registering to Facebook.

It's possible, all of the constituent problems have been tackled separately... what's lacking is a unified standard, comprehensive tools, and stable (corporate) backing.

and I kinda wonder how much of this ultimately falls on ISPs for not building out high speed internet... it's not inconceivable to imagine an always on "social network" box, or more options for home servers

> Surely there must be something in between Facebook and Jekyll/Hugo.

There's an effort to try and build some standards for open web sharing at indieweb.org - cross-post comments, syndication to existing social networks. A few of those standards have now been given the W3C stamp (MicroPub, WebMention).

There's some services built on top of it like WithKnown, MicroBlog and people building on top of WordPress, building their own site and so on.

The founding principle of that community (build what fixes your problem, don't try and solve everyone's problems) keeps it quite well focussed.

Actually, that's a misquote from an incident at Stanford involving USENET in the early 1980s. There was an administration attempt to censor alt.humor.funny over some forgotten PC issue. The group was blocked at the main Stanford USENET gateway.

It didn't work. USENET nodes, when they connect, automatically exchange any messages in any group common to both that the other node hasn't seen. There were a few other USENET low-bandwidth nodes on campus that connected to the outside world, and as long as there was at least one, the missing posts in "alt.humor.funny" would be re-inserted. USENET really did route around censorship automatically.

I'm not saying we should get back to IRC or to NNTP.

I am. Not in the sense of go back to using them for everyting (they're still there if you want to), but int eh sense of building some new protocols on those existing foundations. NNTP was really good given its technical limitations. TBH I think part of the secret of Facebook's success is that it hews to the same ethos of standardization and simplicity, as opposed to myspace which quickly feel victim to its own customizability and ended up being as chaotic and hard to navigate as the web itself.

"Nowadays we have people instead of topics. I have nothing against people, but maybe, if I follow a great software architect, I'd like to hear what he's got to say about software, not about other shits."

That's so true. I want to follow some people on Twitter because sometimes they tweet very useful things, but the amount of "noise"/tweets I don't care about is too high. Tons of people put very good info on Twitter because is quick and easy compared to writing a blog post.

Yeah, I'm old as well. Things change. Not for the better maybe, but you can't turn back the clock.. the only way forward is to make something new and better.

I'm still using RSS without issue. Funny thing is, i didn't really use it back in the day, I've just gravitated toward the best UX available over the years.

This. Many stuff is still there for who want to use them. I use feeds, email and nntp everyday. Also paper books, fountain pens. And also WhatsApp. I don't get the need that the stuff I use to be justified by its popularity or its newness.

"There is no such thing in America as an independent press. I am paid for keeping honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. If I should allow honest opinions to be printed in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation, like Othello's, would be gone. The business of a New York journalist is to distort the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilivy, to fawn at the foot of Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. We are the tools or vassals of the rich men behind the scenes. Our time, our talents, our lives, our possibilities, are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes."

Anonymous publisher, as quoted by Hamilton Holt, Commercialism and Journalism, 1909.


Maybe what people want is a centralised web, not a "good practice" web ? This is not what I want but as a matter of fact, that may be what majority wants. I wonder how devs/techies people think they know the truth for other people.

What changed a lot of things are modern apps and their new features : push notifications, infinite scrolls (attention killer) or adding a f... emoji (I miss smileys personnaly). The rest is just filling empty boxes about what people want/need : a chat for friend, a chat for work, a single feed and not 10's of website to search to have a single information. All I think is missing is local web, all is considered as world and then maybe local, people don't talk to each other in the bars, they prefer now to use Tinder and Facebook to insult themselves.

The people want a working web. They don't care if it's centralized or decentralized, and most probably never even lost a thought about it.

"Techies" think that they know better because they are the first to be impacted and have noticed the shortcomings of a centralized web.

I think this is related to monetization, since the web gets "louder" to attract advertising consumers. Most companies are actually advertising companies and the users are just part of the product (sold to advertisers). Maybe we need more paid services - and the will to pay.

I'm thinking about creating a hierarchical forum like the usenet, but I'm sceptical whether this would earn enough money to work in the long run.

I'm very much for this. I have five messaging apps, two email clients, three file storage apps and a news reader all on my iPhone - just to stay in touch. It's hard to stay organised when businesses use different technologies across different platforms and there's no single place just for "Messages".

I don't care how the message is sent, I just want to make sure it gets to the right person.

Don't worry. I'm in the process of solving this.

The solution was in front of us all this time. It's the semantic web. What was missing is an accessible client, and it will be available soon.

Imagine one giant unified semantic decentralized database of everything. Add smart contracts, quantified self, intent inferring, and binary input (à la Tinder or Akinator). Organize this on a timeline, so that your OS becomes a task management system. That's it.

Unfortunately, my strategy is to target kids that haven't yet be corrupted by current communication paradigms. I think 5 to 12 year old is the sweet spot. Older people will be able to use it, but I don't know if they'll be able to grasp the full potential. Only time will tell.

The Semantic Web is going to solve all these problems very soon. There are just a few details to be worked out.

This will be as true ten years from now as it was ten years ago.

It would be great if you contacted me as well: waltergr@gmail.com . I worked on WinFS and am very interested in schematized, linked information.

> one giant unified database of everything

That's Google (almost; not everything is online). No need for the semantic web at all, or to wait for your vaporware 'solution'.

That's Google (almost; not everything is online).

As a (presumably) end user, do you think that the interface provided by Google is database-like?

query; results. So yeah. It's easy enough to scrape. All this stuff about structured data is trying to find something that isn't there to begin with. If you want structure from unstructured data then use machine learning, don't try to sell everyone a "semantic data format" they have no incentive to use.

How do you do JOINs?

gmail me please, we are pursuing similar lines of inquiry.

Whenever I come across a new Twitter handle I think of following I first run it through http://www.tweetstats.com. I check one simple data there:

     Number of tweets per day (tpd); and also maybe tweets per month (tpm)
If the handle is churning out more than ~10 tweets per day I tend to stay away. Because if even a couple of hanldes I follow crosses 30 tpd or so my feed will pretty much become pointless unless I am glued to my feed all the time and I would miss a lot of good content.

Another big problem is repeated content as the article suggests - I follow a quite some literary Twitter handles and longform handles. Everyday I come across just too many tweets that link to the same article. What is worse sometimes the same handles tweet about the same articles repeatedly (to get more views I reckon) with different texts. I usually end up unfollowing many of those handles and that means I actually going to miss a lot of content that I would have otherwise liked but in a moderate dose, at a slower pace.

I request my friends/family members to remove me form there WhatsApp broadcast lists and after sometime I simply tell them if they don't stop with that daily "Good Morning/Evening" forwards and all that crap I am simple gonna block them. I wish WhatsApp let me remove myself from all the broadcast lists I am added to or let me choose that I don't want to receive broadcast messagegs at all (if they can't/won't make it granular).

I've completed given up on Facebook. Sometimes it shows me posts that I've marked hide like five times. It never keeps my friends photos, self written text posts on top but all those video and silly article shares, those annoying and mostly unfunny memes. In fact they have a limit I guess (haven't really used them in a while) and the personal posts get drowned in the mass market noise.

Maybe the problem is we talk of Internet being decentralised but we are all try to find that decentralized Internet at any one place or vert few places - be it Twitter, or Facebook, Google. We are adopting the social networks, content sources wrong... maybe.

I am excited at the proliferation of Mastodon servers. Every cohesive tribe that can afford a $15/month VPS should set one up and ditch Facebook.

Maybe that'd help ditch Twitter, but not Facebook. There needs to be a better (de-centralized) solution for writing that's longer that also provides the ability to add photos, videos, etc. The substitute for Facebook should be like Facebook in almost every way in terms of features to get better adoption, with improvements in several areas where Facebook is weaker.

The internet is definitely getting noisier but I don't get his "solutions", especially about "blogging". What does it ever mean "I think most of us won't discuss about so many totally unrelated different fields. It's a change of mentality - we shouldn't write something just because we can."? He makes it sound as if there are tons of irrelevant blogs out there spewing nonsense and polluting people's experiences, while in fact the people who blog are still the absolute minority. I particularly agree with the idea of "blog small things", since no matter how "small" your experience might seem to be, there could well be somebody else facing a similar situation who can be helped by your article. Also I don't understand his "blog with focus" thing. Many of us are not writing blogs as commercial projects. We are just blogging whatever we find might be helpful to others and in this sense there's absolutely no point in overthinking it. Just blog whatever you want. I get that he might be unsatisfied with the rambling comments in many websites and forums. But come on, what does that have the least bit to do with blogging and "write just because we can"?

And apparently there are now state-sponsored sources of noise.

Wasn't there an RFC finalized recently for a site-independent comment system?

Do you remember anything about the name of this? I am very interested in contributing!

I think that is called Web Annotation: https://www.w3.org/annotation/

If anyone is wondering, Usenet is still alive.

It is. But it's not where the majority of the discussion happens these days.

How do you connect these days? My ISP doesn't bother running a server anymore.

http://www.eternal-september.org/ offers free accounts for text groups.

Well, at least it's sort of not dead.

I just reposted this article to comp.misc, where we've been keeping up a parallel discussion for years. Usenet doesn't have the sheer numbers it used to, but anyone still there is there because we love it. Usenet's flaws remain unmended, but its strengths remain unfettered. :)

Out of curiosity (as someone who never had the chance to see Usenet at its prime), what are Usenets strengths and weaknesses?


Totally de-centralised - your post on your local NNTP server, and it gets replicated across the NNTP mesh to all the other servers.

Built in threading... Actually HN is very similar to how a fairly busy newsgroup would look back in the day.


Posts used to take hours (sometimes days) to replicate across the whole mesh. Not so much nowadays tho.

Text only; no native support for rich media or Unicode (although some might see that as a Strength)

I lurk on comp.misc via Google groups RSS feed:


I'm on the hunt for a good dedicated Windows NNTP reader, failing that I might have a go at writing my own (that supports text posts only - none of that dodgy binaries rubbish!).

Look what you done now! I'm setting up a newsreader. I'm going back in.

Recommendations on a good Windows client?

I use Thunderbird for both email and usenet.

Whatever you use, make sure it's a dedicated NNTP client and not some e-mail client that also "does" NTTP as a side stint.

how come?

Because Thunderbird sucks, as do other email clients that claim to also support news. As an email app it's below average, but as a newsreader it's downright horrible.

A good newsreader needs to be able to thread and block and filter and preview binaries. Few apps ever did this well, and many that did have since become obsolete (Pan2, Unison, etc).

With the rise of Windows and the decline of Usenet, the demand for newsreaders faded fast, leaving few or no supported freeware newsreaders alive today. Even commercial newsreader apps are increasingly rare.

Frankly I think what is missing is an understanding of statistics.

Even having “1000 friends”, which sounds amazing, is statistically insignificant when we are talking about populations of millions or billions. Think about the last “really long thread” you read on Reddit or something, and think about when you tuned out: was it a few dozen comments, maybe a few hundred? Still statistically insignificant, or at the very least severely biased.

People are regularly exposed to, and worse respond to, statistically biased samples. This is a really, really bad thing. What we need is a way to almost forcibly blend samples from many different populations so that the number of comments you can “stand” is a more representative sample. That way, when you get up in arms about “what people think”, it might actually represent what “people” think instead of “my friends” or whatever other biased sample is out there.

I'd like to see better moderation systems. Moderation done by people who are actually good at it rather than just upvoting or downvoting comments depending on whether they agree with them or not (moderating the moderators). Ways to mark comments as duplicates so they are all grouped into one bundle. A way to avoid the "first posts" effect, where the earlier posts are likely to be the highest rated regardless of their merits.

Aggregators like Hacker News are already part of a solution; putting interesting articles in one place so that we don't have to subscribe to 10^8 personal blogs and fringe tech sites.

Begs the question: what are the best moderation systems in software? Are there any?

I always thought slashdot had a pretty good moderation system. Would in most cases separate the wheat from the chaff leading to excellent comment threads

Yeah meta-moderation, limited mod points and a secret algorithm for earning mod points based on reputation works pretty well. Oh.. and a maximum score for comments.

The Twitter status sample (https://dev.twitter.com/streaming/reference/get/statuses/sam...) is a reasonably unbiased sample (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1306.5204.pdf). You'd have to learn 6 or 7 languages to really follow it, but there are some ways to filter it to English-only.

Also useful is https://www.reddit.com/r/all/top/?sort=top&t=day, a bit US/tech-biased but definitely a few million.

The internet era our author mentions was not dominated by companies whose investors measure success by "engagement" -- that is, by wasting our time.

FB and Twitter measure success by engagement. That means they don't have the incentive to organize our information and save us time.

(Gotta go... Hacker News is about to tell me to get back to work!)

What do you think about Reddit? Topics are enforced and have an API.

The same thing happens to every subreddit. It's good, people like it, it grows very large, the quality of submissions goes down (or the same content gets reposted constantly). People are incentivized by their visible "karma" score to post mass amounts of low-effort content.

I feel like Hacker News is one of the only online communities I've participated in where the score is handled appropriately. It's a good personal measure of how well my posts and comments were received by the community, but it's not bragging rights. No one else can see my vote tallies here, so I have no real incentive to increase it.

I've seen this affect sites like Stack Overflow as well. At the bottom of any popular question are usually very low-effort answers from posters who really shouldn't have answered at all. I wonder if it's an example of their otherwise well-executed reputation system creating noise that might have been avoided.

Out of curiosity, does any one know of any research or articles into reputation systems in general?

Randy Farmer's "Building Web Reputation Systems" is a good start:


There's a blog, book, and wiki.

Some keyword searches: http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=kw%3A+online+reputation+sys...


This can be solved by moderation. Not voting, old school approach of moderators removing things. https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/ still has quite a high standard, and that's because they have strict moderation.

You can't have "democracy" and "voting" and "algorithms" and then have high content.

Depending on the subreddit, it's sometimes interesting. but I haven't found a NNTP-level client for it, yet.

It does support RSS quite pervasively. Tag ".RSS" to the end of any URL (before the arguments), and you'll get a feed.

Subreddits, users, posts, searches, and a number of other elements.

A quick search finds at least two GNUS backends for reddit.

Same problem as Twitter/Facebook: little to no barrier to entry, endless bots and politically motivated low-value posters.

I still use NNTP every day. I've never used Usenet, but it's very useful (through Gmane and Gnus) as a way to follow mailing lists. Also, the internal forums at $DAYJOB support connecting through NNTP, which is extremely convenient.

Likewise I use IRC every day, through Bitlbee, to interact with people on Facebook Messenger and other platforms.

I can do all of this from my client of choice (I choose Emacs) without a problem.

Admittedly this doesn't solve the problem of topicality, but I think things are better than they seem.

The problem is that it appears most people actually want noise, and it's becoming especially apparent as a lot of these content channels become more mainstream.

Anyone who's been on Reddit for the majority of the site's existence will probably have noticed monumental shifts in popular content, which I feel is essentially a movement away from serious diverse discussion towards entertainment and self validation.

I don't think I'd be going out on a limb to say a large amount of HN readers are interested in serious discourse, and I wouldn't be surprised to find there are many like me who feel completely alienated by modern Reddit. Previously it was enough to just ignore the default subs, but the momentum has become so strong that it has become pervasive even in niche subs.

I've been thinking about it a lot recently, probably mostly stemming from nostalgia of what Reddit used to be, but I feel something that is quite important is identifying that different people are interested in different content, an that nobody is really entitled to stop others enjoying the category of content they want to consume.

I don't care about entertainment on Reddit, and I particularly don't care about image macros, in-jokes and one liners. I absolutely love the high effort informational posts and discussions though, and some of them are truly insightful. I yearn for a mechanism to reliably filter out most of the entertainment things and promote the high effort content. I'd love for it to stay some form of voting mechanism though as it seems really effective when the community votes using congruent inclinations.

The Slashdot voting system worked using a classification system (interesting, funny, etc.) but that is hardly good supporting evidence for content classification as it didn't work particularly well, perhaps because it was so limited (votes themselves were limited in quantity.)

My current line of thinking is using emoji reactions might be an interesting option like you see on GitHub comments. If I want to avoid the entertainment posts I could filter out posts which predominantly have the laughing emoji. There is evidence that emoji reactions themselves are compelling enough to be used, and possibly more compelling than the style of categorisation that Slashdot used.

I feel that it's fundamentally important that a system like this needs to integrate into existing communities somehow, as there's no point having it if there's no content to apply it to. This is probably the hardest part but possibly also a very compelling part, having a content indexing / classification system might also be a way to centralise a lot of this content.

This post got a little long winded and ranty so apologies for that, but I've been wanting to get these thoughts in writing for a little while. If anyone has any ideas around this general topic I'd love to hear. I've gotten to the point where I'd like to invest energy into attempting to solve it.

Yeah it seems that people like the memes, image macros, and one liners. It's throwaway entertainment so people don't have to think (of course, there are people who do want to think and have intelligent discourse too). Like someone else wrote in this thread, what happened was that people came, people who didn't grow up using the Internet in the days when it was run by academics, government, and hobbyists.

I think the solution (as much as there can be one) is to just stick to your own communities where you find the discourse that you enjoy. For me, it's Hacker News, certain subreddits, and some forums.

My view has always been that after a day of work or school, the last thing most people want to do is engage in a deep discussion. Instead they want to scroll down funny content (I do this myself or just play video games, just in case I sound like a snob).

In a way it's good that many people do that during work/school time, leaving some cognitive reserves for an actually productive evening.

Now we have great discussion forums and link aggregators where a small group of moderators rule over a very large number of places and will frequently go on power trips, dominate discussion (or coddle a power user) and, not rarely enough, engage in doxxing.

One thing that keeps me returning to YC is that I'm not even reminded of the existence of moderators over here.

Indeed. I miss the days of IRC and such. The internet started feeling really noisy after the iPhone was popularized.

This. It's because of smartphones. People don't write things on smartphones, it's tedious.

It also brought a lot of people online who previously were not. Desktops were stashed in some room, one per household, and laptops were still seen as somewhat nerdy or work related.

Walled gardens and a "protectionist web" are the natural outcome of the legal structure we've chosen to put up around the internet. It's not a technical limitation, and technical solutions can not really affect it.

Just this week there was a "Show HN" that combined data from Twitter et al in interesting ways. It was offline less than 24 hours later as all the comments indicated that it was a clear violation of the policies of various content providers.

Why should we care about those policies? Well, because under the CFAA, we've made it a federal crime to send packets to a server in a way that displeases the server's owner.

There is no technical limitation stopping people from collecting and curating data from many sources and combining/filtering them according to their own interest. The internet is already open in principle (cue Schneier: "trying to make digital bits not copiable is like trying to make water not wet"). The issue is that we've given the Facebooks and Googles of the world the right to hold our data and our personal networks hostage.

Start a decentralized, standardized protocol like email or IRC and companies will cooperate insofar as they must to ride the wave, and then they will work aggressively to corner things off into their own little world.

Understand, all software companies want one thing: lock-in. They want to make it so that there is as much pressure as possible to remain on their platform. It's the age-old story of someone who can't move to Mac, even though they greatly envy it, because their greeting card program from 1997 won't work on it. Instead of importable programs, it's importable personal networks -- but now, with everything server-side, it's usually illegal to try to bridge that gap on the user's behalf (insofar as doing so involves contacting the server of a competitor).

The situation with potential copyright and patent violations was precarious enough when it was all occurring on the user's local machine (WINE is in a big legal grey area, for example; my instinct is WINE would lose if MS ever decided to seriously try to squash them), but once you cross the line into some company's IP space, all bets are off. The CFAA allows them to define "authorized access" to their servers on their own terms, including "people trying to access our server to provide data portability". This has already been litigated with specific regard to Facebook in Facebook v. Power Ventures.

As long as we give companies the legal tools to exert effective ownership over user-generated data, we are destined to see well-designed, decentralized protocols that maximize availability, resiliency, and portability get whittled away by the overriding corporate interest in establishing some element that can be used to keep users locked in.

The Halloween memos may have caused a stir in the late 90s, and they're all but forgotten now, but their sentiment is more alive than ever.

> Just this week there was a "Show HN" that combined data from Twitter et al in interesting ways. It was offline less than 24 hours later as all the comments indicated that it was a clear violation of the policies of various content providers.

I missed that. What's the HN URL?

> Why should we care about those policies? Well, because under the CFAA, we've made it a federal crime to send packets to a server in a way that displeases the server's owner.

There are ways to avoid such oversight. Consider, for example, Sci-Hub or TPB or third-generation dark markets. What's hard is doing that at scale. And that, I believe, is a huge niche that's aching to be filled.

>I missed that. What's the HN URL?

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14639451 ; looks like the linked site has come back online (for now).

>There are ways to avoid such oversight. Consider, for example, Sci-Hub or TPB or third-generation dark markets. What's hard is doing that at scale. And that, I believe, is a huge niche that's aching to be filled.

The TPB saga should scare all of us, because it shows how far corporate interests will go to remove a thorn in their side. TPB lives on because the swarm refuses to let it die, but its founders were rewarded with a witch hunt led by the top brass in the United States, exile, and imprisonment.

Anyone who wants to take this on: do not expect a more favorable outcome than TPB's founders got, especially if you live in the U.S., where they won't have to threaten sanctions against your homeland to get you brought down.

> There are ways to avoid such oversight. Consider, for example, Sci-Hub or TPB or third-generation dark markets. What's hard is doing that at scale. And that, I believe, is a huge niche that's aching to be filled.

TPB and BitTorrent helps move files. Sci-Hub helps move a particular type of files (scientific papers). So maybe we need a TPB/BitTorrent for data streams? Some way of moving around generalized access to and results from APIs of server platforms?

The question is whether we're fetching this off of the same APIs i.e. Twitter themselves are using, or if we're scraping it from server-side rendered sites. If we're attemtping to do it via their open APIs we're going to be hitting rate-limits, and probably also face liability. What if there was some service that you could run on different computers, that each had their Twitter API tokens, and then we'd distribute the requests to different hosts, so that it could not be tracked.

We are working to restore the openness of online discussion with Lyra: www.hellolyra.com. We aim to provide helpful services for conversation, not to get users addicted.

We have made the choice to focus around people and conversations rather than topics (because Lyra is designed to be harrassment-proof, and topics lead easily to harrassment - you don't see this so much in the tech world but in the mainstream it's a huge problem).

We are currently thinking about the best way to do notification aggregation (Facebook does this very badly - several comments on the same conversation will give you several different notifications) and marking-as-read. We have several interesting options in test at the moment.

Just some thoughts: putting the full message in the discussion tree means that people will tend to write shorter / comment-like messages, and not in-depth argumentations.

On the other end, having only a tree of authors is a bit to slim, cause you have to read the content of each message to know what's going on. I think people who reply to a thread should give it a "reply title". You know it's the same thread, but you can have an idea of the content with the reply title.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Are you suggesting that every reply should have a title?

As someone who remembers being uber frustrated at having to use trillian to talk to all of my friend, I disagree, there was major fragmentation back then as well. Also for which BBS you were on, which friends were on AOL or other nerfed internet.

It was possible to use and create trillian. Now I need to have slack, Hangouts and WhatsApp web open independently

It kinda is possible. You can use Franz: http://meetfranz.com

Would trust this service, if I could read the source. I don't know what the plan with MeetFranz is, but since it isn't open source, something tells me that there at some point will be monetization involved. Monetization isn't bad, but it also will at some point cause misalignment between it and the users.

Medium is quickly becoming the central place for programming articles, and it's ridiculous they don't offer an API.

Check it out: https://github.com/Medium/medium-api-docs/issues/91

More of these website are just becoming data silos and not sharing their data. Unfortunately I don't know of a better place to write programming content. https://sergiotapia.me

If you're a developer and you care about this, like I do, where would you recommend we write articles sans-self hosting?

> Medium is quickly becoming the central place for programming articles

How? There are many programmers on medium, maybe. But it's a website I categorically avoid (too big and clunky, and hardly ever any quality content found there), and yet I can follow many programming blogs.

You could just push your stuff to github.io...

Or on your own website. Get your own domain! Host some static files!

It's not that these points aren't valid; they are, and I know some people who've been rightfully hammering the exact same points for, well, decades, at this point.

But we arrived here neither out of pure accident or grand overarching malice, but simply out of the necessity of the now-commercial web and its lack of good business models, and perverse incentives.

Back when most of the traffic on the Internet was academic, institutional, government, or hobbyist, the incentives were to get the content out there and interoperate with others, because the dissemination of the information was seen as having intrinsic value, and the expenses were covered by out-of-band means (i.e. not monetized through the content or the consumers).

On today's particular flavor of a commercial web, especially when your next funding round depends on showing user numbers, easy out-migration is a liability, easy in-migration is a feature, so even the use of APIs frequently helps the product and the company more so than it helps the user.

When commercial entities started appearing on the Internet, particularly on the World Wide Web, some sites were pure billboards containing only an about page and contact information, e-commerce sites funded the operation through selling actual wares, but news/media/entertainment sites brought with them their previously trailblazed business model of giving away content and trying to recoup some of the cost with advertising. Later, VC-funded content silos took a page from early hobbyist web forums (that were mediocre reimagining of BBSes) and created login-walled playgrounds that funnel the content inward, making it easier to track, analyze, and monetize. It's no surprise that today's four largest display ad servers are Google, Facebook, Verizon/Yahoo/AOL, and Twitter.

Other business models only work for specialized players who can command some brand awareness and attract a discriminating customer willing to pay for quality (e.g. big-name or niche newspapers, streaming media sites, data brokers); and, as the HN meme goes, micropayments get much more interest from those who want to collect them than those who want to pay for them, so the everyman's market is full of me-too sites vying for limited attention, or captive content silos that re-create everything on the inside. The battle is largely lost, unless realistic progress is made in the web monetization space.

Luckily, there are no technical barriers to people banding together and making interoperable services like the way things used to be -- and keeping up the protocols that make that a reality. It's just that they will have to contend with the realities of playing in that space and competing with similar offerings that don't. Havens on the old web, or the old Internet for that matter still exist, just like amateur radio still exists along with public access television. It's just not where the mainstream attention-hours go.

As i read your well said reply i only know one thing: it will?change again.

  > Can't mark things as read
  > ...
  > it could resurface at any time
Except that you can't come close to consuming content faster than it's produced on things like Facebook. That's what the news feed is for, taking the massive stream of stuff that your friends and pages are generating, and prioritizing it. I don't think it generally shows you things you've already seen before.

> Incidentally, this is not a call for the open internet; I could not care less if there's a leading provider for content, as long as such content is accessible in a standard way.

There is such a provider and it's called Facebook, that is if you don't care about the open internet is exactly what you get.

For all that RSS is "dead", it sure still seems to be everywhere. A few big-name sites like Twitter shut their feeds down, sure. Out in the rest of the web, I can't think of the last time I looked at a site or a blog that didn't have a pretty usable feed.

If you want to focus on something, just google it - depending on what it is you'll get Wikipedia, some blog posts, and maybe a book or two on the subject.

What Facebook / Twitter / Blogger / etc. are good for is providing context - why should I be interested in something. Generally it's as simple as "I like Mr. X and he's interested in Y". They're also reasonable at finding new topics to explore, although if you dive deep enough it turns out that everything is interconnected and you'll find it anyway.

It's really hard to define "topic" or "noise" in a way that isn't based on search keywords or (facets of) people.

> Once was IRC


Uuh, despite the enormous attention, the article was written in just about an hour, and I'm not a native English speaker; that error slipped through the cracks. Thanks for pointing it out.

I was very tired when I wrote that, my apologies.

What I meant was that IRC is still alive and kicking.

How old are you?

OP's Italian, go easy.

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