creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Long long ago, in a web far far away, everything was like neat little home made bungalows stretched out on the open plain, under a giant expansive sky, where we wandered freely, exploring. Now we crowd among densely ad covered walkways of a shiny giant mall, never seeing the sky, nor the real earth, at whim to the places built for us.

A new web service offers us something for free, a feature we love. We feel micro-content. Same web service takes it away later, or just shutters up its shop, we are irate.

You may be a pawn, but you do not have to act like one.

Via @savasavasava someone I “know” on twitter (and have met in 3D landia), I come across someone I do not know, or have never read. In From the Porch to the Street Frank Chimero, makes a lovely metaphor describing how twitter, a mall owner, has changed the design of the mall to make you walk into stores you do not like being in.

We concede that there is some value to Twitter, but the social musing we did early on no longer fits. My feed (full of people I admire) is mostly just a loud, stupid, sad place. Basically: a mirror to the world we made that I don’t want to look into. The common way to refute my complaint is to say that I’m following the wrong people. I think I’m following the right people, I’m just seeing the worst side of them while they’re stuck in an inhospitable environment. It’s exasperating to be stuck in a stream.

Here’s the frustration: if you’ve been on Twitter a while, it’s changed out from under you. Christopher Alexander made a great diagram, a spectrum of privacy: street to sidewalk to porch to living room to bedroom. I think for many of us Twitter started as the porch””our space, our friends, with the occassional neighborhood passer-by. As the service grew and we gained followers, we slid across the spectrum of privacy into the street.

I get a sense of that, twitter is a different place when it was a shiny new, weird, wondrous, un-monetizable thing in 2007. Frank is saying that he, and others, are more modulated now, off the porch. And I agree with all he says, it just inspired me to jump to the pawn image.

But he does not speak for my experience, which is the experience I happen to know the best. Why am I still on the porch? I don’t spend much time in the street- I almost never look at twitter via which is the food court of the mall.

I borrow a strategy I lifted from Alec Couros in 2009– it made me say WTF at first when he talked about following 15,000 people. But ti does not mean you read anything.

It’s all filters baby.

My twitter porch is Tweetdeck. Way on the left, is the street. I almost never look at it. Only when mildly curious/bored. I live in a column that’s a list- I call it something goofy like “friendz” but generally it’s people whom, after some watching, I find I’d rather hear what they have to say more often. I just checked, it’s a tad over 100 peeps. I prune and add to it from time to time.

But that’s my porch, with a few porch columns of mentions (cause if you tweet me I will most likely tweet back, I’m a boomeranger), and 2-3 of hash tags I am currently interested.

I won’t be a pawn to the platform they want us to have via the web interface.

When I say “pawn” it means when you limit what you can do with a web tool to what it provides on the surface. Sometimes it’s browser add ons. Take YouTube.

You’ve heard of them? They occupy a weird large space- I still am amazed that no one caught on to YouTube’s own sanctioning of remix of their videos (without providing attribution, but hey, they own the mall). YouTube downloads videos form YouTube, can you?

Easily. Try

Or those stupid ketchup ads when I want to see a video clip of a movie (that i plan to download, ahoy!). Boom, gone with Ad Block.

Or Flickr. Oh, yes, they are going down again, and Yahoo ruined the mall. Yeah, I’ve heard it. I use all kinds of end arounds that work for me. An Aperture uploader that allows me to keep all my photo data on my computer first. I can use their API to make new sites that do what I want to do with photos, not what they want. They do a lousy job of helping attribute creative commons photos? Big deal, I make it work for me.

“But I am not a coder”. Pfffft.

These examples may not mean much to you. That’s not the point.

It’s the attitude.

If a platform does not do what you want, what is your course of action? Gripe on twitter? give up?

Not me, I start seeking end arounds.

And maybe give up after that.

Maybe that was at the core of my ejection of the ultimate shopping mall experience. It is so fiendishly designed, there are barely any end arounds. Not my kind of place.

I am not a pawn of the mall.

Because this is still my kind of internet.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by tommaync

There’s seats for you on the porch.

The post "Don’t Be a Platform Pawn" was originally dropped like a smoking hot potato at CogDogBlog ( on August 27, 2014.


  • Mike Caulfield

    The thing I’ve come to realize recently is that it’s actually the strcuture of the web itself that leads to the mega-sites.

    You look in 1993 and see Guido Van Rossum and Berners-Lee arguing that instead of an IMG tag there should be a general “include”, that would allow you to pull together pieces of multiple sites together from multiple MIME types. Twenty years later, there’s still no include.

    You see Shirky and Weinberger talking in 2003 about how the web was designed to connect pages, not people, and the groups forming were essentially hacks on top of that. But that power to connect people doesn’t get built into the protocols, or the browser, or HTML. It gets built on servers.

    It’s almost like the web’s inability of us to connect people, places, and things was the ultimate carve-out for corporations. Because the thing is that if the connections have to live on a single server (or server cluster) then the company who controls that server wins.

    RSS was one of the few counter-examples to this. But even with RSS we had to rely to much on server-based aggregation schemes. Googe Reader pulls the plug, and watch the dominoes topple. The solution seems to be to get your own server and host your own reader, but that doesn’t address the underlying problem.

    Rambling. I get the culture of workarounds and end arounds and hacking. I also yearn for something bigger — something that fills the carve-out that led to this mess. That could be federated wiki, or something else — but I think it has to ultimately not be a server, but a smarter, general purpose browser.

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog

      I’m with ya, dreamer! I did not mean to imply end arounds as end solutions, but a way to assert ones own ways beyond what is “served”

      Yet I am not convinced new protocols will do much. It’s a Pogo problem. “Creating web content is too complicated” –we get LMSes. “connecting is hard” we get Facebook. The razor most people shave with is not Occam’s (simple) it’s someone else’s (easiest).

      It’s ironic we call the access to the web a “browser” which leads one to consuming what is served (forgetting the first Mosaic browser had an editor built in).

  • Cathy Finn-Derecki

    I prefer to think of myself as a platform whore (while wearing platform shoes).

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