A little Detail in Google Groups Reveals What Social Media is Really About

For months now I have been criticizing Facebook and blogging in general wishing that blogs wold be replaced by something more like USENET with its contextual reply feature. At the same time I noticed that some sites, like Reddit and Slashdot, did have some of the features that I wanted in allowing Markdown Format in replies, but at the same time that more than 95% of users did not use them. In addition, I noticed that these sites, particularly Reddit, were pretty useless for keeping track of a subject of threads. I found subreddits to not be particularly well formed or memomic. I began to wonder if a fixed topic hierarchy like in USENET newsgroups was superior to socially promoted topics on most blogs and social media sites.

Then, a couple of days ago I went over to Google Groups to have another look at the USENET feed it gets and to see if the interface for posting was improved at all. What I found there was telling and it helped me to isolate the critical differences between communication in social media and what it was in the hay-day of USENET. What I found was that all replies are to the first post of the thread and that you cannot reply to one of the other replies in the thread. This makes all the difference in the world and that reveals why social media discussions are so very much less powerful than USENET was.

I wondered immediately why Google Groups is run this way and even filed a query in one of their support forums for which I haven’t received a reply. People on the USENET have replied saying that I should get a proper newsreader and not use Google Groups, but that as far as I know there are very few free servers for text-only USENET. So why is Google Groups run as it is and what does this have to do with the rest of social media and blogging? The answer comes from Facebook’s use of its content. Facebook lookes at its users as marketers and the threads on its web site as marketing channels. A channel is owned by its originator and that person gets to set the agenda. The blog, itself, makes it hard for people to deviate from that and engage in the normal type of discourse, changing topics, introducing side issues, etc. People police themselves, self-censor, to avoid the friction the limitations of blogs impose on them. This is the intent. It is why Google Groups does not support reply-any, but only to the first post, reply-top. I am not saying that you can’t have a discussion on a blog, just that it is much harder and the content is much less rich than it could be. In fact most of what people say on blogs is ignored. I think that fact alone is contributing to the escalation of violence in society, people who need someone to talk to in more than platitudes, do not get served at all well by social media.

In a marketing channel the promotor wants to control and limit the conversations. He is de facto a moderator and rather than letting the readers respond and thinking about what is said, in other words, free speech, the channel is deliberately limited, possibly because the channel owners are charged a fee for their use of the channel. That may turn communication into marketing and monetize flow of ideas on the Internet, but it surely is not free speech and just because these companies own the channel and allow public access for free doesn’t mean that they can just suppress free speech to suit their business model.

At the very least they still use some public resources that are in the commonwealth, and thereby have an obligation to protect the rights of the public.  I am not saying that they cannot continue with marketing channels, but if they do they must provide some form of of open forum for free and speech. I have suggested that they should provide scaled NNTP servers and the type of interface in the newsreaders that serve USENET newsgroups. This can be text-only USENET and the impact on their networks would be much less than all of the images and streaming content they now provide. A blog interface will not suffice if it doesn’t at least support Markdown Format and the ability of users to change the topic line.

Neither the topic hierarchy of the topics should be socially promoted. The typology should be relatively static and neutrally structured.

I have said today that Google should face legal action for dumbing down its USENET interface in Google Groups and that it should be punished for trying to reduce free speech. I said that on Google Groups today as well as on Facebook. If I could start an action using a free-speech and human rights advocacy against Google, I would. We have the smoking gun of the desire by Google and other social media corporations to suppress useful free speech in the world.

Another area where this is all now crucial is addressing terrorism’s use of social media. In many ways terrorists are doing the same thing as marketing channels in preaching to self-selected communities that isolate themselves form different views. This was the media segmentation started by Ronald Reagan to give the Right Wing propagandists, such as Rupert Murdoch, the power to use wealth to buy channels in the broadcast media and bias them after the FCC allowed for more biased news and commentary.  If Homeland Security wants to address the terrorism problem in social media it should begin at the Federal Communications Commission not to censor ideas but to bring back the balance that existed on the public airways before 1980. This should also apply to social media companies and their desire to manipulate public discourse through social engineering and design. In fact not only should the managers of these companies be libel for damages done by their business strategies but that the engineers who knowingly implement the manipulative designs should also face legal sanction for coding them.

Bruce Salem

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apple isn’t that great after all!

I went out and bought a Mac Book Pro which had Mavericks running on it and upgraded to Yosemite (Mac OS X 10.9). I felt right away that support for Open Source was reduced and that the App Store was made more visible, most of which you pay for.

I tried to install a number of open source programs that have Mac versions. First, I had to turn off an option that disallows non App Store programs! There are a couple of well known programs that Apple will not let me install into Applications and run from the Launch Pad. Those programs can only be run from within the disk image files they shipped with. They are Celestia and Stellarium, two planetarium programs that ship with and run on all Linux systems.

I was able to install two versions of Emacs, both GNUemacs and Aquaemacs which is based on Gnu emacs 24 as well. The first does not save its settings and so I have to manually set a larger font to use it. A way around this has been to start terminal with a large font, which Aqua remembers, and run emacs 24 from within the shell. I had to find the path to the binary in Emacs.app and run it from a shell script. That works because emacs is designed to accept arguments from the shell.

I also installed anaconda, a big scientific library bundle with python and have been able to use ipython notebook from it. That was a major goal in getting a Mac.

Not only does Apple try to dissuade from installing third party software not in the App Store but you are required to get an Internet login at Apple called an Apple-ID to upgrade your system at all. There is a gotcha that is not well enough documented that it is possible for core apps to be installed with a different Apple-ID then the one you set and you will be denied the ability to upgrade and the resulting message doesn’t really tell you the workaround, which is to go to the store  menu and override the login for each app, individually.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why Knoppix 7.2 is one of the best Linux distros and how Apple can win.

As I thought about it a bit more I realize that Knoppix is a winning Linux distro in a totally different way that Apple OSX wins, but ultimatly wins for the same reason, and is what is losing about many other Linux releases, especially Ubuntu. It isn’t that these other distros are failures, but in the discourse over whether Linux can defeat Microsoft and Windows, they are. I can relate this cmparison to Sun and Solaris which had chance to defeat Microsoft and failed, and now I think that I can see why. The answer has nothing to do with the underlying complexity of UNIX. It has to do with controlling the platform and that doesn’t necessarily mean a proprietary hardware platform although having that makes solving the other problems easier.

So Knoppix is designed to run on any hardware, but it is controlled pretty much by one person, Klaus Knopper who is a very skilled person who knows intimately the details of administrating a Linux system, but his goal was to create a rescue system that would run live off a DVD. His was one of the first live linux distros, and it does not really work well as a hard-disk multiuser install. It is designed for forensic and system rescue use. Knoppix does illustrate what having control over everything on the DVD cab get you, especially with a well-constrained mission.

Apple wins for the same reason, but through a different route, It controls the hardware platform, but that gives it the ability to prove that install and configuration issues for packages are settled before it shipps. Sun had that control, but it didn’t have the GUI and human engineering of Apple’s look, and the marketing success, but like Apple its platforms were a little too expensive to make it the Windows Killer it wanted to be. Apple now has the change to make a big penetration into Microsoft’s market share not by trying to port OSX to non-Mac platforms or installing on legacy hardware, but by cutting the price of its systems by about half. Then it would have a fighting chance to be the Windows Killer. OSX has matured to the point, that based on UNIX, it has solved for the average computer user most of the configuration difficulties that still plague most Linux distros. That would force some of them out of business, too bad.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bunch ‘O systems, none perfect, some worse than others

Sorry, I haven’t posted here in  a while, and I forgot how much I have written here, so maybe I ought to make a bigger investment.

I am not running Ubuntu 12.04 on my desktop and running Ubuntu 14.04 on a laptop that is a brick to lug around, I had live booted many linices on some other machines and have a Debian 7 and a Knoppix 7.2 install on a small legacy system, the latter not really setup to be installed permanently, but I have in the meantime settled into an area of interest that ties all these together and incidentally have seen Windows 7 and 8.1 and can see the possibility that finally Microsoft is ready to lose its dominance in the personal computer world, only if Apple would now offer a cheap Macintosh, one half as expensive as it is currently, then Mac OSX or BSD Unix could finally put the nail in the coffin of Windows and Microsoft.

The trouble is that Linux is still not as easy for the average Windows user to use, whereas Mac OSX is. It has nothing to do with the complexity of UNIX. It has to do with Apple’s control of its platform and the ability to hide the underlying complexity under tested install and application support. Linux distros cannot claim this ability to assure that the configuration is well controlled so that the application installs and is known to work.

The common environment I compare between them is the ipython notebook. Not only does the Ubuntu repo have really old versions  but bugs keep creeping into its tools because of configuration errors. On U. 12.04 help doesn’t work on Python 2.7, and although it does on U. 14.04 the Debian documentation reference doesn’t work as dwww because the apache2 config is out of sync with the upstream repros. This kind of stuff, requiring UNIX admin skills to fix, cannot be tolerated in a Windows killer. That is where but for the cost of its hardware Apple could become a Windows Killer with UNIX, but where it has proven the configuration before it ships.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Gnome Metadata Tracker eats my machine on Ubuntu

I try to kil it off whenever I can and it may be enough justification to drop Gnome as my window manager, but the tracker programs eat my CPU, and yet there is no good accounting of what they do and why they are necessary and weather they should even run.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Installed WordPress on my private loopback site.

I had not been as active here as I  might be, but I happened to find a tar-ball I had downloaded of WordPress for a personal site. I run a web server even though it doesn’t face the Internet. It uses the loopback address and I can use it as a sandbox without worry, so I installed WordPress there. I had tried drupal but got into some Catch-22 with MySql and that problem still presists. I got into that server just once, created one blog post and a reply and logged out and have never gotten back in. I could look at the database from the shell command for Mysql, so it is probably some wierdness in the settings.php file that my poor eyesight hasn’t picked up.

But I got WordPress up and running, no problem. It built the database, fine. I did find out from mysql-workbench that you set the account limits to zeros to disable them, which is conterintuitive, but when I saw that all of the system accounts that use the database had zero values, I decided to go with that, It worked. I was able to look at the WordPress tables in the MySql database from the shell confirming that the data got written.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My Account has a Rich Text Editor, only

It doesn’t adhere to the claims in the documentation about editor features that allow me to shift from WYSIWYG to text editing; especially the claim that I could get to input HTML into posts. That is why I have colored this text.

It is pretty clear that either I am a beta user of an unreleased editor, or they blue it.


Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment