The Internet

Interview with Om Malik


Interview of Om Malik by Manton Reece from

  • blogs can’t compete with the speed of social media — an opportunity for more considered work
  • for innovation, pay attention to how younger people are using tech — us old folks didn’t pick up on the value of the front-facing camera
  • platforms are into verbifying themselves — specialty vocabulary using their brand — intentionally did not come up with a special name for posts like tweet, toot, etc.
  • text-casting — rolls together blogging, microblogging, etc.
  • how we interface with “the internet”: browser –> apps –> ??? (Chat-GPT might be a sign of the future)
The Internet

The eerie coincidences of the Internet

Liked The Internet Thinks We Don’t Know Its Secret. But I Do. by Merritt Tierce (Slate)

What do I mean when I say the internet is reading my mind? I don’t mean simply that it collects my data and observes patterns and interacts with me by reconfiguring that data in ways designed to engage me… I’m also not talking about my awareness that Instagram is listening, that even when my microphone is “off” or my Instagram account disabled, I know other apps are listening, or my phone itself is listening, or such now-standard input-output cross-platform fence-jumping. I’m not even talking about how my phone is “looking” at things I see in the world… At all times, I understand that the internet is using data I somehow gave it, and that those processes and technologies are now too complex for me to track. But it feels aggressive to me, in the way it would feel aggressive if suddenly every kind of advertisement everywhere you went in the world was designed only for you.

On Friday, after my husband got assaulted, we spent hours searching how to wash off pepper spray (and then cleaning up). Finally after he’d taken like five showers we lay down to decompress and watch some TV. I’m bad at working the smart TV so it just randomly turns on on some Samsung channel despite my attempts to leave it on something inoffensive; a billiards tournament came on (something we’ve never watched). He left it going while I got ready, and two ads repeated: for laundry detergent and personal injury lawyers. Logically, we know it was a coincidence, but humans are so good at seeing patterns and causality — and that instinct is reinforced when sometimes it *is* true that the Internet is spying on you.

Featured The Internet Writing

Blogging’s emotional obstacles

At yesterday’s Galactic Bonus Homebrew Website Club, I appreciated hearing others’ perspectives and approaches to managing some emotional aspects of blogging.


We discussed overcoming perfectionism on our websites and in our blogging — a pernicious, perpetual challenge for creative expression. I’ve had some success tricking my mind to be less precious about writing shorter, less formal content: this entire mind garden is meant to be a ‘first stop’ for thinking; I created a category called “ponderings” to encourage myself to post little thoughts and curiosities; and in the course of composing a post, if I’m having trouble harnessing my thoughts, I’ll start with a framework of bullet points.

Business Society The Internet

Pairing: business values

Substack CEO Chris Best Doesn’t Realize He’s Just Become The Nazi Bar (TechDirt) by Mike Masnick

If you’re not going to moderate, and you don’t care that the biggest draws on your platform are pure nonsense peddlers preying on the most gullible people to get their subscriptions, fucking own it, Chris.

Say it. Say that you’re the Nazi bar and you’re proud of it.

Say “we believe that writers on our platform can publish anything they want, no matter how ridiculous, or hateful, or wrong.” Don’t hide from the question. You claim you’re enabling free speech, so own it. Don’t hide behind some lofty goals about “freedom of the press” when you’re really enabling “freedom of the grifters.”

You have every right to allow that on your platform. But the whole point of everyone eventually coming to terms with the content moderation learning curve, and the fact that private businesses are private and not the government, is that what you allow on your platform is what sticks to you. It’s your reputation at play.

This is also where Twitter is going. I think Musk would be fine with either outcome: driving Twitter to bankruptcy or driving out all the liberals and turning it into 4chan with a veneer of carryover trustworthiness.

(See also: Controlling the information platforms, controlling the information)

I don’t get it. Are there that many Nazis that these businesses think that’s a better long-term business audience than… everyone else? Because no one wants to hang out at the Nazi bar besides Nazis. Or are they worried their VC funding will dry up if they don’t allow Nazis? Because Substack’s already dried up…

I’d bet Substack thinks they can somehow pull off the rewards of social media without accepting the responsibility. They looked at their shrinking budget and said, you know what? It doesn’t matter if we enable genocide, because we can’t afford quality moderation, but without this shiny new sell the company will fold. And what are the odds we’ll actually support a genocide?


We should all be embarrassed that companies in the entertainment industry are taking leadership positions on pushing back against fascism, while companies involved in journalism, education, and publishing, are taking the collaborator stance.

The parts of society that everyone promised would save us from fascism, are failing. The parts of society that the Very Serious People ™ saw as frivolous pastimes, are providing more truth and safety.

This is the Teen Vogue’ification of the world.

— Mekka Okereke
Apr 15, 2023, 09:44

The example he highlights of Scholastic preemptively censoring material is exactly as Tim Snyder calls out in On Tyranny: compliance in advance. There are no actual restrictions on explaining that Japanese internment was the result of racism, but Scholastic is vaguely concerned it could be “bad for business” because the topic of racism has become controversial to conservatives who don’t want to talk about bad things white people did to people of color in the past (especially in ways that highlight those continuing practices)… basically showing Scholastic doesn’t actually care about their purported value of inclusion, and is more scared of conservative book bans than public outcry from liberals over their censorship (which is exactly what they’ve gotten — and tbh now the book has gotten so much attention it will certainly be included in book bans and boycotts). Essentially, in censoring this book they’ve gotten the worst of all outcomes: they’ve tarnished their brand among liberals and drawn a lot of attention to this particular book so it’ll be on the conservative’s radar for book bans. If they don’t publish it now liberals cry censorship, and if they do conservatives push against it.

You can’t appease both fascists and their victims at the same time. You have to choose.

— Mekka Okereke
Apr 15, 2023, 09:39

Future Building Technology The Internet

Read On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big? 🦜

Read On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots | Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency

In this paper, we take a step back and ask: How big is too big? What are the possible risks associated with this technology and what paths are available for mitigating those risks? We provide recommendations including weighing the environmental and financial costs first, investing resources into curating and carefully documenting datasets rather than ingesting everything on the web, carrying out pre-development exercises evaluating how the planned approach fits into research and development goals and supports stakeholder values, and encouraging research directions beyond ever larger language models.

LLMs reinforce existing structures and values, and overrepresent certain (privileged) viewpoints.

The net result is that a limited set of subpopulations can continue to easily add data, sharing their thoughts and developing platforms that are inclusive of their worldviews; this systemic pattern in turn worsens diversity and inclusion within Internet-based communication, creating a feedback loop that lessens the impact of data from underrepresented populations.

Even if populations who feel unwelcome in mainstream sites set up different fora for communication, these may be less likely to be included in training data for language models.

The Colossal Clean Crawled Corpus, used to train a trillion parameter LM in, is cleaned, inter alia, by discarding any page containing one of a list of about 400 “Dirty, Naughty, Obscene or Otherwise Bad Words”. This list is overwhelmingly words related to sex, with a handful of racial slurs and words related to white supremacy (e.g. swastika, white power) included. While possibly effective at removing documents containing pornography (and the associated problematic stereotypes encoded in the language of such sites) and certain kinds of hate speech, this approach will also undoubtedly attenuate, by suppressing such words as twink, the influence of online spaces built by and for LGBTQ people. If we filter out the discourse of marginalized populations, we fail to provide training data that reclaims slurs and otherwise describes marginalized identities in a positive light. Thus at each step, from initial participation in Internet fora, to continued presence there, to the collection and finally the filtering of training data, current practice privileges the hegemonic viewpoint. In accepting large amounts of web text as ‘representative’ of ‘all’ of humanity we risk perpetuating dominant viewpoints, increasing power imbalances, and further reifying inequality.

Society The Internet

Controlling the information platforms, controlling the information

Liked The Corruption of Clarence Thomas & A Note on Censorship by Jared Yates Sexton (Dispatches From A Collapsing State | Jared Yates Sexton)

Musk’s control over Twitter, and now his attack on Substack, are examples of how this landscape is not only dangerous, but devastating. Control over Twitter and other social media hubs is just a proliferation of the same control over information and discourse methods that have existed all along, only now they are at the whims of individuals who can decide, on a moment’s notice, to effectively silence any critics or honest brokers standing in their way.

At every step the tech barons have shown both an eager willingness to work with authoritarians and a ceaseless desire to forward their own agendas through control of information. They censor and aid dictators and dictatorial regimes. They look the other way as dangerous actors spread disinformation designed to undermine elections, public health, and generally inform people. And now, Elon Musk’s roughshodding of Twitter has revealed what has lain at the heart of all of this all along: a system not only vulnerable to the whims of the wealthy and their agendas, but a system that designed explicitly to serve those whims.

It’s not just the Substack thing, it’s also marking NPR as government propaganda despite having full editorial freedom.

I am also concerned about LLMs concentrating the power of information in the hands of a few companies (one of which Musk has a stake in), moreso than they already are as referrers.

I’m thinking of (years ago) when Google told me they’d downrank my website because it wasn’t mobile friendly. When you get to decide where to source information, that gives you a lot of power over information and its presentation. Their YouTube algorithms already strongly control how videos are made, what they’re made about, and how they’re positioned as people try to game the algo. Then you have the development of algospeak to avoid saying words believed to be censored.

Activism Learning Society The Internet

Destroying a public good

Replied to Twitter is dying by Natasha LomasNatasha Lomas (

However if the point is simply pure destruction — building a chaos machine by removing a source of valuable information from our connected world, where groups of all stripes could communicate and organize, and replacing that with a place of parody that rewards insincerity, time-wasting and the worst forms of communication in order to degrade the better half — then he’s done a remarkable job in very short order. Truly it’s an amazing act of demolition. But, well, $44 billion can buy you a lot of wrecking balls.

That our system allows wealth to be turned into a weapon to nuke things of broad societal value is one hard lesson we should take away from the wreckage of downed turquoise feathers.

Society isn’t equipped to prevent the willful destruction of things that give power to the masses by the elites who wish to uphold the status quo.

Musk buying Twitter (with Saudi financing 😒) to drive out the libs and boost the incels is like LJ when it was taken over by the Russians to drive out the gays. The site may continue to exist, but any value it once had to society has been destroyed. Twitter will surely use the vestiges of its former power to do harm too.

Authoritarians and the wealthy will always use every tool at their disposal to suppress free speech by the masses, because it benefits us far more than it does them.

The Internet Writing

Blog posts don’t have to be long

Replied to Write Less by Matt Gemmell (Matt Gemmell — Thriller, Horror, and Suspense author)

We took away our own permission to write less, unless it was on someone else’s network.

There’s a pervasive and unwritten convention about this now. On social, content of any length at all is fine — and indeed the maximum allowed length is often very short, which reinforces the association. So, perniciously, our eager-to-simplify brains have decided that the converse is true for blogs: you can write only longer, weightier stuff.

Everywhere I read I see McLuhan these days, maybe I should actually read him 😂

But really, I absolutely feel this:

Those who do blog will often sit on pieces for too long, because they’re waiting until they have more to say — or they shelve pieces entirely, wrongly believing they’re too brief and thus somehow trivial.

I’m trying to think of blogging in terms of the scientific community: every commentator adds a new piece, a new angle, and every little bit further understanding boosts the whole community. Together we rise, whether any one person’s blog post causes a large shift in the community’s thinking or not. It’s like the way geology happens: the landscape changes both a little bit at a time, slowly, and cataclysmically. Our thinking and writing can be accretive to others, it needn’t be explosive to be of value.

Another silly thing I’ve shelved posts for: being too slow to respond, feeling as if I’ve missed the cultural moment of discussion around a piece.

Via Nitin Khanna.

Technology The Internet

Read The Shallows

Read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Nicholas Carr’s bestseller The Shallows has become a foundational book in one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the internet’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply? This 10th-anniversary edition includes a new afterword that brings the story up to date, with a deep examination of the cognitive and behavioral effects of smartphones and social media.

I didn’t expect a tech book more than ten years old to feel so relevant. There are a few dated passages, but on the whole it’s very aligned with our technological path, even if we’re a bit farther along. I’d say there’s a little too much detail on brain science, but overall this feels invaluable. I’m very glad to have read it.

I read the 10th anniversary edition and appreciated the new afterword.

Art and Design The Internet Websites

Universal Design for online education

Bookmarked Neurodiversity Design System (Neurodiversity Design System)

The NDS is a coherent set of standards and principles that combine neurodiversity and user experience design for Learning Management Systems.

See also:

Everyone prefers plain language

Resources for learning about accessibility