No more Discus

I’ve been forced to remove Discus comments from tailpuff.net. They have taken the same approach to the GDPR that Facebook has taken, and while I think the GDPR sucks, I think this kind of corporate sleaze sucks worse. I won’t support people who treat the public as if we’re too stupid to see their crimes for what they are.

So from now on, or until I find a superior alternative, comments on tailpuff.net will require you to register for an account. I thought about offering guest commenting but unfortunately the maturity level of the human public has not reached a point where that can work.

Alternatives?

If you know of a similar service that respects it’s users privacy, please let me know. I do like the Single-Sign-On aspect of Discus but no feature is worth sacrificing privacy or the privacy of my visitors.

care bears holding paws

How to socialize on the internet

Preface

It occurs to me many internet users maybe don’t have a Free and Open Source guide to the socializing options available to everyone. We all know about large social media corporations but perhaps you’re tired of the limitations they place on your content, or the invasions into your property rights or privacy. So this guide will be a signpost to a few great (and free!) choices.

The Blog – WordPress

WordPress is currently the best choice for blogging. It’s a great choice for a lot of other purposes too, which makes it a solid leader for “best website software”. Your family photo album, your small business, your personal opinions, and many other capabilities. I suggest starting with free themes, and low cost private hosting that offers you E-mail with your website’s domain name.

How will my friends follow me?

All the best blogging softwares, including WordPress, include support for publishing content “feeds”, including rss, rss2, atom, and so on. This is usually built in and enabled by default, allowing anyone to use various free RSS feed reader applications to follow their friends’ updates.

Link to WordPress: https://wordpress.org/.
Link to RSS Readers: Wikipedia.
Link to Hosting: Pride Tech Design.

The BBS – phpBB

A somewhat underappreciated feature of social computer networks is the bulletin boards, these days called forums. It’s a slow and thoughtful way to communicate and an excellent method to meet new friends with similar interests. I recommend the phpBB software, it’s extremely mature. It’s not as easy to install or administer as WordPress but there is documentation and with a little effort anyone can do it.

Link to phpBB: https://www.phpbb.com/.

The MicroBlog – Mastodon

Twitter is a corporate giant and your satisfaction as a user is second place to their return on investment. An excellent choice of alternatives is Mastodon, which is a diversified and federated network of private and community “instances”. You can join one or many, you can create your own, and everyone can participate together.

Link to Mastodon: https://joinmastodon.org/.

Simba as a cartoon tornadoUPDATE: After years of watching how people socialize on microblogs I’ve determined they are a terrible thing. They start out fine, but they do not scale. Eventually nobody is paying attention to anyone anymore, and it’s like trying to socialize in a tornado.

The Chat – Matrix

You’ve got a lot of options for chat softwares.. that is any app aimed at instant response conversations with support for group conversations. I recommend Matrix.org, for a number of reasons. It’s free, it’s open source, it’s distributed, it’s disowned from any corporate masters, and it’s ambitious. You’ll need to be patient with it, it is brand new software and they are trying to do a lot of very modern and exciting features. It’s a great opportunity for new programmers to cut their teeth on something exciting too.

Link to Matrix.org: https://matrix.org/.
Link to Riot.im (Leading client): https://riot.im/.

The website is the modern equivalent of a dialup BBS

Preface

Today I read a really cool and nostalgia article about the BBS, which stands for Bulletin Board System. BBSes were what the cool kids used to communicate online before there was a consumer internet. You can read that article here

I just had to comment, because BBSes played a significant role in my teenage life. I spent more time online than I did in the classroom. Seriously I failed several classes in high school because I never attended, I was at home playing Legend of the Red Dragon or responding to posts in the forums. I’ve included my response below:

My response

I think it’s awesome what you’re doing, I grew up on BBSes and I didn’t think they were weird at all, but everyone at school thought I was weird. Then the internet hit their living rooms and I don’t talk to those people anymore. Too busy getting paid $100/hr to build and support their websites.

While I love the nostalgia of this project, I think it’s worth noting that the “Modern BBS” is called a website. I know I know, ‘it’s not the same!’, believe me I get it. But from a purely end-user functionality standpoint, a website is exactly the same as a BBS, only improved.

Forums are handled by software such as phpBB (hands down the best UX in forums), you can play all sorts of web based games including dosbox classics with some java plugin, chat rooms are easy to embed especially with the new Matrix.org protocol, and of course we have various ‘wiki’ software to handle documents.

Best of all, an IP address is cheaper than a phone line ($5/mo droplets from Digital Ocean are the way to go) and the cheapest solutions can still handle 5–20 simultaneous visitors.

One of the things I always thought was really great about BBSes is how they empower “regular” people to organize and communicate ideas. Literally anybody can set one up, you don’t need a license or permit and the costs aren’t prohibitive. Websites are the same. We’ve been seeing the results of this anarchy for the past 30 years as corporations are no longer able to monopolize the distribution of information.

When I was a kid I ran my own BBS using the Renegade software. I had wicked ASCII art I found on pirate sites when you logged in, I forget what but it was probably a grim reaper or something. Now I have tailpuff.net and the first thing you see are high resolution full color graphics. It doesn’t tweak the nostalgia but it definitely is an improvement of the model first presented by the BBS.

How to Build a Modern BBS

I thought people might be interested in this idea, and so I decided I would provide some links to software and resources you can use to re-create all of the features of a BBS from your own blog website. These are not the only solutions, just my personal favorites.

Full disclosure: The Digital Ocean link is a referral link, if you sign up I will get credit toward my own hosting bill.

Encryption, PGP and Keybase.io

Privacy matters. Encryption matters.

Everyone has heard that the united states government is spying on you. They probably aren’t the only ones. If you aren’t concerned that strangers are reading your emails and instant messages and tracking your browsing histories you really, really should be.

A strong encrypted solution to online privacy has existed since 1991 when PGP was invented. A lot of people think that key-pair encryption, also known as end-to-end encryption, is really complicated or technical but it isn’t.

How it works

You have two keys. a PRIVATE KEY and a PUBLIC KEY. Your PRIVATE KEY is kept private, and you give your PUBLIC KEY to the world.

Receiving encrypted files & emails

When someone wants to send you an encrypted message or file, they encrypt it using your PUBLIC KEY. You decrypt it with your PRIVATE KEY.

Sending encrypted files & emails

When you want to send someone else an encrypted message or file, you encrypt it using their PUBLIC KEY and the other person decrypts it using their PRIVATE KEY.

The Trust Issue

There is another consideration, how do you know if the PUBLIC KEY that claims to be from john.doe@example.com actually belongs to Mr. Doe? In the past the method was to create a “web of trust”. John would personally give you his PUBLIC KEY, and you would digitally sign it using your key. Then when John gives his PUBLIC KEY to someone else, they can see that you have vouched for it’s authenticity. The problem with this is that everyone needs to do it. This has been one of the greatest hurdles in the adoption of key-pair encryption.

Enter Keybase.io

The clever folks at Keybase.io have found a solution. Their service allows you to connect your PUBLIC KEY with various online identities, such as Twitter and Reddit, or websites which you control. These entities are considered trust-worthy, because we use them every day to communicate with our family, friends, and colleagues. This service practically solves the trust issue, eliminating the necessity for the “web of trust”.

Keybase.io will also help you with the creation of a key pair, which simplifies and standardizes the process for a lot of people. Keybase.io also generates seperate key pairs for each device that you use, be it a smart phone or a laptop or desktop. If you stop using a particular device (for example if your smart phone is lost or stolen) you can revoke the keys for that device, preventing someone from using it to impersonate you, without having to destroy your original PRIVATE KEY.

The Future, Transparency and Ease-of-Use

Encryption is the future. It is the future because the alternatives are too horrifying to live with, which is why we have books and movies like 1984 and The Matrix warning us about them years in advance. Privacy is sacred and as a race human beings are going to embrace it, whether the government likes it or not (they really don’t like it). There have been technical hurdles to overcome, but with open-source community funded projects like Keybase.io, I am confident that the future of privacy looks bright.

“Algorithmic” timelines & social media, #RIPtwitter

The Slow Crumbling Death of Social Media

Today Twitter drove the final nail into the social media coffin. Twitter was the only wildly popular service which still presented a chronological timeline. Twitter does not make money, and they think the solution is to be more like facebook. Their mistake is that facebook is also not making any money from social media. Facebook makes money from unrelated “premium” content which they tack onto their social media product. Twitter does not offer that, so trying to copy Facebook is a sincerely foolish mistake. Their users have been telling them this for years as they’ve experimented blindly with various techniques to raise money, and they have ignored the wishes of their users, another serious faux pas.

For example I offer my own case. For the past 2 years I have been carefully pruning my tweets to ensure that what is left behind will be of some value, and representative of my mind and emotions. The chronological presentation of these tweets is critical to this effort. The new algorithm means something I posted 1 year ago might display today as if it were brand new while more recent tweets are lost in the noise. That is not the way I want my “micro-blogs” to be presented. In my case I saw the product that Twitter offered and I did something creative and soulfull with it, and in the flip of a switch Twitter has taken a giant shit all over my effort to embrace their product.

It is exactly the same as if you walked into a museum of art and decided to remove body parts from a statue and replace them in different spots because “trending data suggests people want to see arms where ears should be.” It’s thoughtless, short-sighted, and displays more disrespect for their own product than anything else. Their decision shows they have no faith in their service. If Twitter’s own executive board has no faith in their product then why should anyone else?

The people who run these social media “giants” are suit and tie business men who do not understand the culture of the internet, they don’t understand how it began or how it grew to where it is today, and they do not understand how their products fit into that culture. They don’t understand how people use their products and worse they’ve turned blind and deaf to user feedback. As corporate leaders, these people are the definition of failures. The continued crumbling of the social media “blogosphere” is proof.

All is not lost. It is increasingly simple to set up a personal blog site using free software, free of the controls of corporations like Facebook and Twitter. Thru the magic of RSS, a technology which predates social media and keeps control in the hands of the users, those corporations can be eliminated from the social media scene completely. The only roadblock has been ignorance to the available tools, but as social media users become more familiar with the internet and the kinds of technologies that it offers besides the World Wide Web, there will be wider adoption of protocols such as RSS. Indeed, that’s why you’re reading this post on tailpuff.net.

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