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Indieweb – why you should take more control of your online presence and how to use WordPress to do it.

What you post online should belong to you, not a corporation. That corporation can close shop or change its rules tomorrow: you may not be able to get at your own data.

Even if you can get at your data, you often have little control over who can see your posts and messages.

The IndieWeb is all about you keeping control over your posts and data. Think of it as a declaration of independence. It means you get to choose who can see your material where and when. The idea is to build a long- presence that big business interests can’t take away.

It doesn’t mean you have to walk away from Facebook, Twitter or any other service. It does mean you don’t need to be trapped in someone else’s walled garden.

Indieweb and WordPress

WordPress is an ideal open source tool for building a personal online presence. You don’t need to be a developer to use it. And the Indieweb is a great way to get more from a WordPress web site.

At the November WordPress meet up I’ll talk about the ideas behind the Indieweb. We’ll discuss the problems it solves. Then I’ll look at the WordPress themes, plug-ins and other tools to help make it work. I’ll also talk about my experience using them in practice and in my work as a journalist.

There will be plenty of opportunity to ask questions during the presentation and after.

Event details:

notifications are hellIt doesn’t matter what app it is — they are all trying to get me to turn on notifications, again and again, so that I can come back to their service. Facebook and Instagram are the most aggressive, b

Source: Still living in a Notification hell – Om Malik

There comes a point where this is counter-productive with some users. In my case I first smelled a rat with Linkedin because of the constant barrage of notification mails. The service seemed desperate to get my attention.

That got thinking about the value I got from LinkedIn — close to zero and certainly not enough to compensate for the  time lost.

I killed my LinkedIn account. Nothing bad happened. In all the years I was a member I got maybe, one small freelance writing gig from LinkedIn. Since leaving my work in-tray is as full as it was and I’ve eliminated a time-sink.

Leaving Facebook is harder. There are people who are important to me who I’m in touch with there. The don’t seem to have any alternative online life. So the account lives, but I’ve turned off all notifications. In fact I’ve turned off almost all notifications from every online service or piece of software.

The only exceptions are where I need to react fast for business reasons. And, anything relating to my immediate family.

Here’s the thing. Nothing bad has happened. If anything I’m more productive.

Notifications are often not about serving our needs, but are about someone else’s business model.

Scientists say a meteor hit the earth 66 million years ago and wiped out most dinosaurs.

Journalists know how they felt. A meteor crashed into our world in the 1990s.

The internet’s effect wasn’t immediate. Now, two decades on, most of my former colleagues work in other industries. The media companies that employed us have either gone or are shadows of what they once were.

After the apocalypse

A handful of us write on. At times it feels like life in post-apocalypse science fiction.

Some ex-journalists eke out a living in what remains of the media. A few adapted to the new conditions, new rules, new demands and disciplines [1].

A decade or so after the first meteor hit, a second one arrived. Facebook threatens to kill off what’s left of the independent media.

The Empire strikes back

The cover story of this week’s The Economist nails it: Facebook is an empire. That’s no metaphor. Facebook’s power and reach rivals that of the USA.

Facebook has more inhabitants than China. It owns more souls than any religion. It makes more money than almost anything. It knows more about you than the CIA or any other spy agency in history.

The numbers are daunting. Facebook has 1.6 billion users. The Economist says around a billion of them use Facebook every day. On average they each spend 20 minutes at the site.

As a result Facebook is the sixth largest company in the world. And it continues to grow. Founder Mark Zuckerberg isn’t done yet.

Facebook is impressive. It appeared almost overnight. It innovates, takes risks and adapts to external changes at internet-speed.

Welcome to the new internet, not like the old internet

In some third world countries Facebook is, in effect, the internet. It controls the networks delivering services to users.

Facebook wants to have the same dominance elsewhere. The business is spreading into entertainment, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. There has never been a walled garden like this before.

Because Facebook knows so much about you and everyone else, it can target advertising with precision. This makes it valuable to advertisers.

Today Facebook is only second to Google in delivering online advertising. Together the two companies account for half of all mobile advertising. Their share is growing.

Advertising

Advertising is the media industry’s oxygen. With Facebook and Google sucking up an ever larger share, there is less, far less, left for publishers. And that means less to pay for journalists. In turn that means fewer valuable stories, less information, a less informed public.

Many media companies stopped fighting cat Gifs and click-bait. Instead they fill their channels with their own junk content in an attempt to protect market share.

Last year Facebook moved directly into the media space by launching Instant Articles. It is a technique to push out content faster. Instant Articles means media companies have to play ball with Facebook to make it work. That means sharing the thin advertising gruel with the online giant.

Media response

Many publishers have, in effect, yielded to Facebook. They are no longer masters of their own destiny. That’s risky, Facebook has its own agenda. It changes policy and strategy overnight. It does what it damn well pleases. It has never been a good partner.

Another risk is that Facebook acts as a censor. It has a prim approach that plays well with America’s mid-west, but doesn’t translate to other cultures. It gets to decide what is and isn’t allowed. Far right and extreme left views may not be acceptable. Conservative social opinions may not be tolerated.

Whether you agree with the censorship decisions or not, this leads to bland, homogenised media. It could mean important new ideas don’t get a proper hearing. It could send dangerous ideas further underground.

Until now, freedom of expression has always been a given online. That could go.

Not my friend

Facebook has a low reputation for trustworthiness by big company standards, mainly because it makes money from selling personal data to advertisers. It changes its own rules to suit its needs. Overnight private data can be made public. This is not the best organisation to filter and distribute news or other timely information.

It’s hard to avoid Facebook. But we need to stay wary and critical. I post my story links to Facebook, not being there isn’t a practical option. I wish it was. Perhaps even thinking that way makes me a dinosaur. If so, it’s a badge I wear with pride.


  1. If you need someone to write for your website get in touch.  ↩

IBM cloudIBM’s reinvention as a software and services business still serves as an object lesson in turning troubled technology companies around. It switched from dependence on mainframe and servers to selling software, services and outsourcing.

At the time, the turnaround seemed miraculous. Now IBM needs to pull another rabbit from the hat.

The technology market is going through yet another transition. IBM has placed plenty of bets in the brave new world. It even has an acronym for these markets: CAMSS (cloud, analytics, mobile, security and social). They are all fast-growing areas, but IBM’s efforts are not growing fast enough to offset declines elsewhere in the company’s portfolio.

Worse, these new lines of business have lower margins than existing lines, which in turn have lower margins than IBM’s mainframe-era businesses.

This IBM reinvention is late to market

IBM was late to all these exciting new markets. Take cloud: In the latest financial report IBM says cloud revenues climbed 50 percent year on year. We need to be careful with these numbers as IBM has a habit of bundling hardware sales services into its cloud revenue numbers.

To put IBM’s figure in perspective, Amazon recently announced 80 percent year on year growth in cloud services.

Despite billion-dollar investments and Softlayer (a cloud business) acquisition, IBM trails a long way behind Amazon and Microsoft in market share[1]. Gartner also marks IBM behind Google and Rackspace on “ability to execute”.

To be fair, IBM isn’t a plain vanilla cloud company. It often wraps cloud with other sophisticated services. That sounds good, but it could be a problem. IBM doesn’t have the culture needed to run the commodity cloud infrastructure customers demand.

The cloud market looks set to shake down with a handful of global giants emerging along with specialist and geographic niche players. IBM doesn’t rate in the top five cloud companies. Its best hope is to be a specialist cloud niche player.

The other new markets are similar. IBM isn’t doing well in analytics and apart from a deal with Apple is nowhere in mobile.

IBM has yet to explain what the social part of CAMSS means, which leaves security. Now there’s no question security is an important and growing market. There will be fortunes made in this area, but security alone is not enough to sustain IBM. At least not the company we know.

Low margin business

One odd aspect of IBM’s strategy is the company is throwing money at risky, low-margin areas that don’t suit its culture. The cash might be better spent leveraging strengths.

Sure, the mainframe market is in long-term decline, but as ZDNet reports revenue from IBM’s latest mainframe was up 9 percent year-on-year.

IBM’s strategic problem is that it has no answers for the changes taking place in the industry. The people able to make the right decisions are the kind of people who don’t rise to the top of the company’s conservative culture.

The company’s stock response when a market turns into a low-margin commodity business is to sell it off and breath a sigh of relief that it doesn’t have to get dirty down there. It’s done that with printers, PCs and more recently, with servers. Then, every so often, it embarks on another session of masochistic cost reduction, which means sacking workers and making those who remain less motivated and even more risk averse.

This approach avoids difficult questions like “how can we adjust our business model to deal with the new realities?” It’s a question IBM can’t put off any longer.


  1. Although market share can be misleading in technology discussions, it is important in cloud computing because of economies of scale.  ↩

Mike Murphy gets to the point for Quartz when he writes Google will strip Google+ for parts.

Stripping for parts is a delicious metaphor — the tech industry just can’t get away from car analogies.

The deal is this: Google will pull the Photos and Streams components from Google+ and set them up as two new products.

… and Google Hangouts?

There’s talk elsewhere the company will do the same for Hangouts. I’ve never had success with Hangouts but I know many readers love the application and prefer it to alternatives like Skype and FaceTime.

In some ways Google+ is a better social media tool to use than either Facebook or Twitter. It has a clean interface and offers greater flexibility.

I’ve found engagements with others on Google+ can be more enlightening [1] than the terse 140 character limit Twitter imposes. And there’s a higher signal to noise ratio than you’ll find on Facebook.

Google+ easy to read, navigate

Best of all, you can quickly read back through discussion threads. That can get tricky on Twitter when talks take off in multiple directions. And, of course, being Google means you can find things fast.

The problem is that Google+ never managed to get past the feeling that there’s tumbleweed blowing down empty streets.

Google says there are billions of Google+ account. That’s sort of true. Signing up for the service is more or less mandatory if you use other Google products or even an Android device.

Yet estimates say Google+ only has a few million active users. That’s about two percent of Facebook’s active users and, maybe, five percent of Twitter’s.

Twitter grumble

There’s a joke that you go to Twitter to listen to people grumble, go to Linkedin to listen to people pretending to work hard, go to Facebook to watch people play and go to Google+ to see what Google employees are up to.

Google+ wasn’t Google’s first attempt at social media. You may remember Buzz and Wave. Both were awful, but they had fans. Google+ was a better experience, the basic idea and code were sound enough. It’s just that Google never seems to have got social media.

Commentators are writing Google+ obituaries. That may be premature, although one never knows with Google. This is a company that has no compunction about taking lame horses behind the stable for shotgun practice.

What is clear is that Google+ will change.

[1]: At one point I wanted to use Google+ as a way of managing comments on my site.

mssocialtools-1-600-x-401-600x401At ZDNet Jack Schofield writes West lags developing nations in using social networks for business.

He quotes a Microsoft sponsored survey showing China is leading the way when it comes to increasing productivity by using social media for business. Other leading countries include India, Turkey and Mexico.

Developing countries dominate the top of the table. While the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and Germany are laggards.

New Zealand sits squarely in the middle of the 32 countries surveyed at number 16 and with a score of 42%. That’s far behind China’s 84% and a tad behind the average score of 46%. But well ahead of Australia on 33%, the USA on 34%.