500 Words A Day: Broadcast on Channels Where Your Tribe Are

How to share context with small groups that can self-form through adoption of emerging technologies

Tribe members Tim Bray and Robert Scoble, Northern Voice 2007, photo by me on Flickr

Back in 2005 when we organized the first Northern Voice blogging conference, we used blogs (and tagging!) to promote it. Since the Internet was a small place back then, and filled with only other enthusiasts, it made it easy to find the people that were interested in what we wanted to talk about. We used the channels where our tribe was hanging out.

In subsequent years, we moved on to other emerging channels, like Twitter.

Of course, at the same time, more and more people were discovering these tools, and they were all starting at a very junior level of usage, and were lacking in context. So we were broadcasting to lots of new users, because we were using the same wide open channels. This was what led me to move on from organizing — I want to have different discussions, with a more advanced context.

I’ve been thinking about this as I swim around the broad Internet and realize that it’s hard to have a conversation with people that self-identify around certain things. Everybody is on all the channels. We’re all shouting bits of information out loud in public, all the time.

I think this was in part what Josh Elman was getting at in his article The Paradox of Choice Has Finally Crushed Me, saying “I want an editor again. Someone who knows my tastes and knows what my friends like, and what’s generally popular.”

This process of editing or selecting pieces of content provides a shared context, something to root a conversation, a set of peers, and a set of norms in.

Is it too easy to add a tag to something? I very rarely use hashtags on Twitter anymore other than for live events or other automated streams, and often I do that as a courtesy to followers so they can mute that tag. From a discussion with Allen Pike, I learned that he mutes any tweet with any hashtag in it at all, in the likelihood that it’s some sort of marketing tweet.

Which of course leads to this Tweetbot regex:

I feel like following tags on Medium is actually still an undiscovered feature, so I can see some really interesting stuff, because the tags haven’t been spammed out of existence. This serendipity of finding authors and content by listening on the channel they are broadcasting is great. But I fear that it will go away. Or that they’ll hide it behind magical algorithms that I can’t tweak myself.

I’ll tell you about why I wrote more than 1,500 Gmail filters. They throw away more than 300 emails every day. Every day. It’s the best thing I ever did for my productivity. — Robert Scoble, The War on Noise

Hand tuning filters are interesting sort of very human algorithm. Trading them as regexes on the Internet is another aspect of this, but leads to bad effects like living in a filter bubble of your own making.

I bumped into Brock Whitten (in real life!) and we talked a bit about decentralized systems. I’ve been mumbling at a variety of people like Brock who have deep history and expertise with open source and technology that we need to get a (small) group together here in Vancouver to have a hackfest/plugathon/show-and-tell to explore these emerging technologies.

Of course, these discussions go beyond the physical, local area of Vancouver. Should we all hop on ZeroNet and have discussions about decentralized future communications, with the price of entry being figuring out ZeroNet? Is this the wrong way to go about attempting to design resilient, open, systems for the next billion that aren’t controlled or censorable? Or do we need a broadcast channel that is filled with enthusiasts as a starting point to play, with shared context?

This is a topic I will definitely revisit in the future. It got pretty mushy between spams and filters and such, whereas the simple aspect of having curated, smaller spaces to talk to a tribe are important.

Another observation is that I use Medium and my 500 Words A Day writing — and not cross promoting these posts anywhere — to have a purposefully small audience, and to have a space with “throw away” writing. Will be interesting to see what the Medium algorithms do with it over time.

I owe a whole post on ZeroNet. I briefly got it booted up on my desktop but it wasn’t quite working right, and I got distracted by the fact that having a working Mac laptop is a pretty high bar to entry. This has to run on smartphones as the only device required!