Sense-making in federated discourse
In Feed Overload I made a brief case for some content gardening tools I'm missing in my fediverse experience.
Evergreen content gardens
99% of all microblog content is ephemeral by design, meant for a specific moment in time. But the 1% that should endure past the 24hr cycle doesn't have good ways to do so in the current paradigm.
Reddit has a simple Top sorting mechanism for viewing highly rated content in the past Day / Week / Month / Year / All Time. This is a great way to surface evergreen knowledge artifacts in places like r/AMA and r/todayilearned. It's also a very helpful way to get oriented in a new space.
The same could be done for hashtags on the fediverse. Treating hashtags as not just timelines of the present moment but also containers of institutional knowledge could lead to all sorts of innovations in knowledge management on the fediverse.
This been on my mind again whilst trying to follow the vibrant discussion on #bluesky. That hashtag receives close to a hundred posts per day. I'm also following opensource, fediverse and a few others, which is already enough to make my home feed highly impractical as an all-in-one aggregate.
For any of these topics, I'm sorely missing some basic tools for sense-making, and I think we're all worse off in their absence. This UX gap is made especially clear in the fedi-wide discourse regarding Bluesky. Of the 100 daily posts on the topic, only 20% are adding something to the conversation. The remaining 80% is a mix of:
- redundant repetition
- invite requests
- bad-faith attacks and misinformation
We lack tools to meaningfully move critical conversations forward. I'm seeing fedizens talking past each other, repeating questions that have already been answered multiple times, and making statements that are outdated or simply false.
I know Jack is a co-founder, and it deeply worries me too. But did you know he's only one of three co-founders, and thus doesn't have veto powers? And what do you know about Jay, the CEO? (a title frequently misattributed to Jack)
I know it's only a single instance which means they may have some major federation challenges to come. That doesn't mean the platform is doomed to a permanent state of centralization. Let's wait and see what happens!
Yeah it's a bummer that they didn't federate with ActivityPub from the start, but they have clearly stated their reasons, and people from both the AP and ATproto communities are starting to explore interop. At this point, talking about what can be done is far more generative than rehashing what has been done.
“It doesn't even have Feature X!” – It does now. Also, it's in beta.
Some simple sorting mechanisms could make this conversation considerably more focused and civilized.
When browsing #bluesky I wanna be able to filter for:
- Most popular (boosted/liked) posts in the last day/week/month.
- Posts by people I follow
- Most shared links
- Editor's picks
The last two ideas require some explanation.
Most shared links
I love hyperlinking. It is the epistemological glue of the web; links are how we trace the evolution of our shared knowledge. Posts linking out to longform articles are of the highest priority to me, so a dedicated sub-feed of posts with links would be 💯
We actually have something like this already in the Mastodon (iOS) app's News sidebar:
Frankly I've no idea how this feature works, but I'd love to find out, so please enlighten me! I don't use the News tab, but what I do want is basically that same sidebar tab scoped down to a specific hashtag and the Links posted within it. Clicking a link should show all the posts that have shared it. With that I can follow the longform thought pieces of the zeitgeist along with their accompanying commentary.
This one's even weirder, which makes me like it even more. It requires several moving pieces coming together, but there's inspiring potential here.
Imagine if you could subscribe to a client-side editorial service that highlights a few hand-picked posts for you every day/week. It'd probably be run out of a specific account or instance, but anyone could subscribe to it from their client.
The @firstname.lastname@example.org group for example is an entity I'd trust as a #bluesky and #fediverse Curator (which might be a better word for what we're trying to imagineer here). That account already works like this to an extent, but paired with dedicated client UX it could really shine.
In short: Design UIs that elevate the voices of experts in their respective fields.
In other words, I believe the next paradigm shift in the fediverse is going to happen client-side even more so than server-side. Elk has a major opportunity to be a leader in this space, and I'm also beyond excited about the impending release of the backend-agnostic Gobo.
Low quality discourse makes us collectively sluggish and disorganized. Continuously improving the signal-to-noise ratio of our feeds is perfectly aligned with the creator-minded ethos of the fediverse. We're long past shitposting as our primary pastime around these parts: People I follow in this community are part of a rapidly growing network of shared purpose.
The purpose of our globally networked communications is to break down systems of oppression, such as surveillance-based social media. In reinventing that tired old game, only mechanics that function in service of our pro-social agenda should be carried over into the new. We've only just begun to imagine what the comms infrastructure of The Commons can look like when it's not downstream of an autocratic technocracy whose sole aim is to own your attention.
We can do a lot better than 'posts per month' as our metric of success. I'd like to see us optimize for an increasingly higher ratio of boosts/favorites per post, because that implies a culture of uplifting and listening, as opposed to incessant chatter. Going beyond that, how about we look for ways to measure 'collabs per month', 'mutual connections per month' or 'ideas per month'. Quality over quantity, dear fedizens.