January 31, 2023

The Platform Cooperative Cloud

Tom Critchlow has written a great essay about The Magic of Small Databases.

We’ve built many tools for publishing to the web - but I want to make the claim that we have underdeveloped the tools and platforms for publishing collections, indexes and small databases. It’s too hard to build these kinds of experiences, too hard to maintain them and a lack of collaborative tools.

Towards the end he talks about how part of the problem isn't really a technical one:

Actually - maybe this isn’t a real technology problem. Or at least not completely a technology problem. I think Substack is a good analogy here. Substack’s innovation comes in two flavors: firstly it is a lovely UX for creating, publishing and maintaining a paid email list. But secondly it’s also creating social validation and educating people that running a paid email list is a viable business.

That reminded me of a post I wrote fifteen years ago (almost to the day) - Let a Thousand Niches Wither.

In that I was grappling with how to release a tiny web service to let authors track their book's rank on Amazon. In the end I put the effort in to turn it into a service and ran it for a few years; but it wasn't ever profitable and eventually died from API-rot.

These days I'd likely just release the single-user version as open-source code, but that doesn't help most of the potential users if they don't have the technical ability to spin up their own version.

Heroku offers a solution to that, where the developer can add a fairly simple JSON file to give Heroku the instructions on how to run a version of the code. Then non-technical users could—without too much know-how—run a version of it from their Heroku account.

That used to let you run tiny sites on the free version of Heroku, but now there's no such thing. Five dollars-a-month isn't too bad, but soon adds up. More importantly, you'd want the ability to run it on a number of different services; not be tied to a single supplier.

I wonder if the Heroku JSON file would allow the bootstrapping of open-source cloud that supports such services? Ideally there would be a platform co-op (or even better, a number of platform co-ops) which would be owned by the users and the maintainers and developers. Maybe this is what co-op cloud will become?

Let me have a one-click "run this on a co-operative cloud" button to add to my open-source projects!

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January 30, 2023

Interesting Things on the Internet: January 30th 2023 Edition

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January 15, 2023

Blog All Dog-eared Pages: Medium Design by Keller Easterling

At the end of last year I read Medium Design by Keller Easterling. It didn't quite click with me—I couldn't quite put my finger on why—but here are my dog-eared sections from reading it.

Page 11

It is less like designing objects and more like adjusting the faders and toggles of organization.

Page 13

The fourth part considers the cultural narratives and persuasions that must also be designed to propel a change through culture. It may not be enough to mix new chemistries of space in the absence of these narrative catalysts that can also alter the physical contours of power.

Page 47

Everything will be distributed, ad hoc, individualized, and heterogeneous, except their own one, true, monistic platform.

Page 53

On Ebenezer Howard's ideas in To-Morrow: a Peaceful Path to True Reform in 1898.

The corporation would purchase the land and issue bonds, and it would be paid back by rents yielding but not exceeding an agreed-upon profit for the investors. Once the bonds were repaid, the renters became co-operative owners. Capital was a temporary means to generate value from arrangements&mspace;proximities to employment and community as well as access to green space. Those values and affordances, now sitting on the land, could be managed through collective ownership.

Page 72

In medium design, to consider only digital data as information is to exclude most of the information that a city exchanges.

Like the situated values discussed in the previous chapter, spatial arrangements embody actions and latent potentials. These social, economic, environmental, and political potentials constitute heavy information. Organizations of all kinds become more robust when they do not parse information with a single language, whether that language is lexical, digital, or mathematical. And they are information-rich because of the coexistence rather than the succession of technologies. Most prized is not the newness of technologies but the relationships between them.

Page 106

Perhaps most important, anytime the construction industry is activated, whether to build or subtract, jobs are created. Instead of relying only on housing starts for construction jobs, the deconstruction of houses offers many other kinds of work tied to many industries. Deconstruction could have compounding effects, since the material harvested as well as the physical construction prompts even more jobs related to everything from reuse of buildings to carbon sequestration.

Page 129

The legal apparatus that works so hard to expel people might focus instead on recognizing strings of timed journeys to acquire experience before returning home, or more robust procedures for granting international credentials in exchange for this work. While, for some, a fixed destination is appropriate, for others, there is only certainty about the next ten years of their child's education, or the next four years of college, or a need for professional reaccreditation. For still others, there might be a chance to design a global life for fifteen years of changing locations and educational opportunities.

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January 09, 2023

Interesting Things on the Internet: January 9th 2023 Edition

  • Optometrists, Octopii, Rubber Ducks & Centaurs: my talk at Design for AI, TU Delft, October 2022. Matt Jones always gives me new things to think about. This time it was more rediscovering the idea that I should be able to train a local "AI" to make my life better, without having to hand over all that data, and learnings, to some tech startup.
  • After self-hosting my email for twenty-three years I have thrown in the towel. The oligopoly has won. I'm not giving up on my own email, but this lays out how the big providers are abusing their power.
  • Network effect. "But Mastodon is not a platform. Mastodon is just a tiny part of a concept many have been dreaming about and working on for years. Social media started on the wrong foot. The idea for the read/write web has always been different. Our digital identities weren’t supposed to end up in something like Twitter or Facebook or Instagram." This.
  • We Live In The Age of The Bullshitter. "There is no quick fix for the problem—if I offered one, I would be the very kind of bullshitter I strive to avoid being—but we at the very least need to recognize what it is we are trying to change. We are trying to create a culture of thoughtfulness and insight, where people check carefully to see whether what they’re saying is true, and excessively egotistical people are looked upon with deep suspicion."
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January 03, 2023

What If Co-operatives Aren't the Answer?

Co-ops or workers' revolution? is an interesting critique of lots-of-co-operatives being how to move to a better society. I'd been tending towards co-ops being the way forwards, but having read that I think (as ever) the answer is more nuanced.

I'd also been assuming that DoES Liverpool is a co-op in all but legal structure. However, there isn't an intent in ownership of the means of production in there; rather, it's a stewardship of the means of production. Aiming to expand access to tools, capabilities and space for everyone, and to sustain that access in the future.

It's made me realise (even more) that commoning is a better description of what we're doing. Maybe there are better legal structures that we should be aspiring to apply? If there aren't, maybe we should be looking to construct them and set examples.

The difference is arguably in what we don't do. For example, it's often suggested that we run courses, or bid for funding for art projects like the River of Light Festival, or Eurovision celebrations. That would be the easier option, and I think we'd be pretty successful with such an approach; however, that would put us in competition with our community. We'd much rather support members of the community when they're running courses or bidding for work.

It's also in how we don't let any one party monopolise use of the facilities. Whether that's turning down community groups that want to take up too many of the available evenings to use the events room; or the rule that you can only book your next (single) visit to use the laser-cutter.

A fair bit of that isn't explicitly written down, and comes under a general "don't take the piss" rule. That's useful because it allows some discretion in how it's applied, although it runs the risk of falling foul of the tyranny of structurelessness.

In general, that and the culture of the space do a reasonable job of protecting this commons from bad actors, but we should be working out how to strengthen it with more formal and legal options. More homework to do then I guess.

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