Having enjoyed the mobile app TimeHop and its functionality for a long time, I’d spent a long time a while back searching for what I was sure would be multiple WordPress plugins that might offer such functionality. At the time I could only find one and seemed deeply hidden: the Room 34 Presents On This Day plugin which has served my needs for a while.
While the two are implemented somewhat differently and have different levels of UI features, it’s nice that there’s now a bit of competition and options available in the space. Alan’s excellent version is a shortcode-based plugin with some options for configuring the output and he’s got lots of additional details for customizing it. The Room 34 version creates an archive view of most of its data and also includes a widget for adding the output to various widget locations.
I’ve added some of these examples and links to the On This Day page of the IndieWeb wiki, so that others looking for UI examples, options, and brainstorming for their WordPress-based or other sites might have an easier time tracking them down and building additional iterations or coming up with new ideas.
These sorts of plugins provide some useful functionality commonly found in other social media sites, including Facebook which allow you to go back in time. I find they’re even more valuable on my own site as my content here is generally far richer and more valuable to me than it is on other social sites which often have a “throw away” or a more ephemeral feel to some of their content. It’s nice to be able to look back at old thoughts, revisit them, possibly reshape them, or even see how far I’ve come in some of my thinking since those older days.
Now, if we could only get Timehop to dovetail with the WordPress API so that they could add WordPress websites to their offerings…
I’ve spent some time this morning thinking about the deplatforming of the abhorrent social media site Gab.ai by Google, Apple, Stripe, PayPal, and Medium following the Tree of Life shooting in Pennsylvania. I’ve created a deplatforming page on the IndieWeb wiki with some initial background and history. I’ve also gone back and tagged (with “deplatforming”) a few articles I’ve read or podcasts I’ve listened to recently that may have some interesting bearing on the topic.
The particular design question I’m personally looking at is roughly:
How can we reshape the web and social media in a way that allows individuals and organizations a platform for their own free speech and communication without accelerating or amplifying the voices of the abhorrent fringes of people espousing broadly anti-social values like virulent discrimination, racism, fascism, etc.?
In some sense, the advertising driven social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, et al. have given the masses the equivalent of not simply a louder voice within their communities, but potential megaphones to audiences previously far, far beyond their reach. When monetized against the tremendous value of billions of clicks, there is almost no reason for these corporate giants to filter or moderate socially abhorrent content. Their unfiltered and unregulated algorithms compound the issue from a societal perspective. I look at it in some sense as the equivalent of the advent of machine guns and ultimately nuclear weapons in 20th century warfare and their extreme effects on modern society.
The flip side of the coin is also potentially to allow users the ability to better control and/or filter out what they’re presented on platforms and thus consuming, so solutions can relate to both the output as well as the input stages.
Comments and additions to the page (or even here below) particularly with respect to positive framing and potential solutions on how to best approach this design hurdle for human communication are more than welcome.
Deplatforming or no platform is a form of banning in which a person or organization is denied the use of a platform (physical or increasingly virtual) on which to speak.
In addition to the banning of those with socially unacceptable viewpoints, there has been a long history of marginalized voices (particularly trans, LGBTQ, sex workers, etc.) being deplatformed in systematic ways.
The banning can be from any of a variety of spaces ranging from physical meeting spaces or lectures, journalistic coverage in newspapers or television to domain name registration, web hosting, and even from specific social media platforms like Facebookor Twitter. Some have used these terms as narrowly as in relation to having their Twitter “verified” status removed.
“We need to puncture this myth that [deplatforming]’s only affecting far-right people. Trans rights activists, Black Lives Matterorganizers, LGBTQI people have been demonetized or deranked. The reason we’re talking about far-right people is that they have coverage on Fox News and representatives in Congress holding hearings. They already have political power.” — Deplatforming Works: Alex Jones says getting banned by YouTube and Facebook will only make him stronger. The research says that’s not true. in Motherboard 2018-08-10
Glenn Beck parted ways with Fox News in what some consider to have been a network deplatforming. He ultimately moved to his own platform consisting of his own website.
Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart personality, was permanently banned from Twitter in 2016 for inciting targeted harassment campaigns against actress Leslie Jones. He resigned from Breitbart over comments he made about pedophilia on a podcast. These also resulted in the termination of a book deal with Simon & Schuster as well as the cancellation of multiple speaking engagements at Universities.
The Daily Stormer
Neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer was deplatformed by Cloudflare in the wake of 2017’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. Following criticism, Matthew Prince, Cloudflare CEO, announced that he was ending the Daily Stormer’s relationship with Cloudflare, which provides services for protecting sites against distributed denial-of service (DDoS) attacks and maintaining their stability.
Alex Jones and his Infowars were deplatformed by Apple, Spotify, YouTube, and Facebook in late summer 2018 for his Network’s false claims about the Newtown shooting.
- Deplatforming Works in Motherboard
Gab.ai was deplatformed from PayPal, Stripe, Medium †, Apple, and Google as a result of their providing a platform for alt-right and racist groups as well as the shooter in the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in October 2018
Gab.com is under attack. We have been systematically no-platformed by App Stores, multiple hosting providers, and several payment processors. We have been smeared by the mainstream media for defending free expression and individual liberty for all people and for working with law enforcement to ensure that justice is served for the horrible atrocity committed in Pittsburgh. Gab will continue to fight for the fundamental human right to speak freely. As we transition to a new hosting provider Gab will be inaccessible for a period of time. We are working around the clock to get Gab.com back online. Thank you and remember to speak freely.
—from the Gab.ai homepage on 2018-10-29
- Gab, the Social Media Site for the Alt-Right, Gets Deplatformed
- Microsoft threatened to stop hosting the alt-right’s favorite social network in Quartz 2018-08-10
- Face the Racist Nation from On The Media | WNYC Studios on 2018-08-31 includes a segment about deplatforming racist groups from news coverage in the early 1900’s.
- ‘By Whatever Means Necessary’: The Origins of the ‘No Platform Policy’ on Hatful of History on 2015-11-03
- Deplatforming Works: Alex Jones says getting banned by YouTube and Facebook will only make him stronger. The research says that’s not true. in Motherboard 2018-08-10
- Study finds Reddit’s controversial ban of its most toxic subreddits actually worked TechCrunch on 2017-09-11
- The case for quarantining extremist ideas by Joan Donovan and Danah Boyd in The Guardian on 2018-06/01
- You Can’t Stay Here: The Efficacy of Reddit’s 2015 Ban Examined Through Hate Speech Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact., Vol. 1, No. 2, Article 31. Publication date: November 2017.
The 5 R’s
I’ve seen the five R’s used many times in reference to the OER space (Open Educational Resources). They include the ability to allow others to: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and/or Redistribute content with the appropriate use of licenses. These are all some incredibly powerful building blocks, but I feel like one particularly important building block is missing–that of the ability to allow easy accretion of knowledge over time.
Some in the educational community may not be aware of some of the more technical communities that use the idea of version control for their daily work. The concept of version control is relatively simple and there are a multitude of platforms and software to effectuate it including Git, GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, SVN, etc. In the old days of file and document maintenance one might save different versions of the same general file with increasingly different and complex names to their computer hard drive: Syllabus.doc, Syllabus_revised.doc, Syllabus_revisedagain.doc, Syllabus_Final.doc, Syllabus_Final_Final.doc, etc. and by using either the names or date and timestamps on the file one might try to puzzle out which one was the correct version of the file that they were working on.
For the better part of a decade now there is what is known as version control software to allow people to more easily maintain a single version of their particular document but with a timestamped list of changes kept internally to allow users to create new updates or roll back to older versions of work they’ve done. While the programs themselves are internally complicated, the user interfaces are typically relatively easy to use and in less than a day one can master most of their functionality. Most importantly, these version control systems allow many people to work on the same file or resource at a time! This means that 10 or more people can be working on a textbook, for example, at the same. They create a fork or clone of the particular project to their personal work space where they work on it and periodically save their changes. Then they can push their changes back to the original or master where they can be merged back in to make a better overall project. If there are conflicts between changes, these can be relatively easily settled without much loss of time. (For those looking for additional details, I’ve previously written Git and Version Control for Novelists, Screenwriters, Academics, and the General Public, which contains a variety of detail and resources.) Version control should be a basic tool of every educators’ digital literacy toolbox.
For the OER community, version control can add an additional level of power and capability to their particular resources. While some resources may be highly customized or single use resources, many of them, including documents like textbooks can benefit from the work of many hands in an accretive manner. If these resources are maintained in version controllable repositories then individuals can use the original 5 R’s to create their particular content.
But what if a teacher were to add several new and useful chapters to an open textbook? While it may be directly useful to their specific class, perhaps it’s also incredibly useful to the broader range of teachers and students who might use the original source in the future? If the teacher who forks the original source has a means of pushing their similarly licensed content back to the original in an easy manner, then not only will their specific class benefit from the change(s), but all future classes that might use the original source will have the benefit as well!
If you’re not sold on the value of version control, I’ll mention briefly that Microsoft spent $7.5 Billion over the summer to acquire GitHub, which is one of the most popular version control and collaboration tools on the market. Given Microsofts’ push into the open space over the past several years, this certainly bodes well for both open as well as version control for years to come.
A Math Text
As a simple example, lets say that one professor writes the bulk of a mathematics text, but twenty colleagues all contribute handfuls of particular examples or exercises over time. Instead of individually hosting those exercises on their own sites or within their individual LMSes where they’re unlikely to be easy to find for other adopters of the text, why not submit the changes back to the original to allow more options and flexibility to future teachers? Massive banks of problems will allow more flexibility for both teachers and students. Even if the additional problems aren’t maintained in the original text source, they’ll be easily accessible as adjunct materials for future adopters.
One of the most powerful examples of the value of accretion in this manner is Wikipedia. While it’s somewhat different in form than some of the version control systems mentioned above, Wikipedia (and most wikis for that matter) have built in history views that allow users to see and track the trail of updates and changes over time. The Wikipedia in use today is vastly larger and more valuable today than it was on its first birthday because it allows ongoing edits to be not only improved over time, but those improvements are logged and view-able in a version controlled manner.
This is another example of an extensible OER platform that allows simple accretion. With the correct settings on a document, one can host an original and allow it to be available to others who can save it to their own Google Drive or other spaces. Leaving the ability for guests to suggest changes or to edit a document allows it to potentially become better over time without decreasing the value of the original 5 Rs.
Webmentions for Update Notifications
As many open educational resources are hosted online for easy retention, reuse, revision, remixing, and/or redistribution, keeping them updated with potential changes can potentially be a difficult proposition. It may not always be the case that resources are maintained on a single platform like GitHub or that users of these resources will necessarily know how to use these platforms or their functionality. As a potential “fix” I can easily see a means of leveraging the W3C recommended specification for Webmention as a means of keeping a tally of changes to resources online.
Let’s say Robin keeps a copy of her OER textbook on her WordPress website where students and other educators can easily download and utilize it. More often than not, those using it are quite likely to host changed versions of it online as well. If their CMS supports the Webmention spec like WordPress does via a simple plugin, then by providing a simple URL link as a means of crediting the original source, which they’re very likely to do as required by the Creative Commons license anyway, their site will send a notification of the copy’s existence to the original. The original can then display the webmentions as traditional comments and thus provide links to the chain of branches of copies which both the original creator as well as future users can follow to find individual changes. If nothing else, the use of Webmention will provide some direct feedback to the original author(s) to indicate their materials are being used. Commonly used education facing platforms like WordPress, Drupal, WithKnown, Grav, and many others either support the Webmention spec natively or do so with very simple plugins.
One of the issues some may see with pushing updates back to an original surrounds potential resource bloat or lack of editorial oversight. This is a common question or issue on open source version control repositories already, so there is a long and broad history of for how these things are maintained or managed in cases where there is community disagreement, an original source’s maintainer dies, disappears, loses interest, or simply no longer maintains the original. In the end, as a community of educators we owe it to ourselves and future colleagues to make an attempt at better maintaining, archiving, and allowing our work to accrete value over time.
The 6th R: Request Update
In summation, I’d like to request that we all start talking about the 6 R’s which include the current 5 along with the addition of a Request update (or maybe pull Request, Recompile, or Report to keep it in the R family?) ability as well. OER is an incredibly powerful concept already, but could be even more so with the ability to push new updates or at least notifications of them back to the original. Having the ability to do this will make it far easier to spread and grow the value of the OER concept as well as to disrupt the education spaces OER was evolved to improve.
Featured photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash
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Researcher posts research work to their own website (as bookmarks, reads, likes, favorites, annotations, etc.), they can post their data for others to review, they can post their ultimate publication to their own website.
The researcher’s post can webmention an aggregating website similar to the way they would pre-print their research on a server like arXiv.org. The aggregating website can then parse the original and display the title, author(s), publication date, revision date(s), abstract, and even the full paper itself. This aggregator can act as a subscription hub (with WebSub technology) to which other researchers can use to find, discover, and read the original research.
Readers of the original research can then write about, highlight, annotate, and even reply to it on their own websites to effectuate peer-review which then gets sent to the original by way of Webmention technology as well. The work of the peer-reviewers stands in the public as potential work which could be used for possible evaluation for promotion and tenure.
Readers of original research can post metadata relating to it on their own website including bookmarks, reads, likes, replies, annotations, etc. and send webmentions not only to the original but to the aggregation sites which could aggregate these responses which could also be given point values based on interaction/engagement levels (i.e. bookmarking something as “want to read” is 1 point where as indicating one has read something is 2 points, or that one has replied to something is 4 points and other publications which officially cite it provide 5 points. Such a scoring system could be used to provide a better citation measure of the overall value of of a research article in a networked world. In general, Webmention could be used to provide a two way audit-able trail for citations in general and the citation trail can be used in combination with something like the Vouch protocol to prevent gaming the system with spam.
Government institutions (like Library of Congress), universities, academic institutions, libraries, and non-profits (like the Internet Archive) can also create and maintain an archival copy of digital and/or printed copies of research for future generations. This would be necessary to guard against the death of researchers and their sites disappearing from the internet so as to provide better longevity.
Resources mentioned in the microcast
IndieWeb for Education
IndieWeb for Journalism
arXiv.org (an example pre-print server)
A Domain of One’s Own
Article on A List Apart: Webmentions: Enabling Better Communication on the Internet