Highlights: “We need to rewild the Internet”

Today I read We Need To Rewild The Internet by Maria Farrell and Robin Berjon (April 16, 2024), and below are my personal annotated highlights from it.

Subtitle of the article, to set the tone:

The internet has become an extractive and fragile monoculture. But we can revitalize it using lessons learned by ecologists.

Concept of ‘shifting baselines’ which is useful in many other contexts when considering ‘change’:

As Jepson and Blythe wrote, shifting baselines are “where each generation assumes the nature they experienced in their youth to be normal and unwittingly accepts the declines and damage of the generations before.” Damage is already baked in. It even seems natural.

Rewilding vs. timid incremental fixes that afford no true progress:

But rewilding a built environment isn’t just sitting back and seeing what tender, living thing can force its way through the concrete. It’s razing to the ground the structures that block out light for everyone not rich enough to live on the top floor.

Deep defects run deep:

Perhaps one way to motivate and encourage regulators and enforcers everywhere is to explain that the subterranean architecture of the internet has become a shadowland where evolution has all but stopped. Regulators’ efforts to make the visible internet competitive will achieve little unless they also tackle the devastation that lies beneath. 

Public utilities need to be recognized as such, and funded as such (including the non-profit organization I work for, W3C, which develops standards for one application of the Internet: the Web):

[Instead, w]We need more publicly funded tech research with publicly released findings. Such research should investigate power concentration in the internet ecosystem and practical alternatives to it. We need to recognize that much of the internet’s infrastructure is a de facto utility that we must regain control of.

Better ways of doing it (also, read as a pair with the concluding paragraph of the article which I labeled ‘manifesto’):

The solutions are the same in ecology and technology: aggressively use the rule of law to level out unequal capital and power, then rush in to fill the gaps with better ways of doing things.

Principled robust infrastructure:

We need internet standards to be global, open and generative. They’re the wire models that give the internet its planetary form, the gossamer-thin but steely-strong threads holding together its interoperability against fragmentation and permanent dominance.

Manifesto (which I read several times and understood more of each time):

Ecologists have reoriented their field as a “crisis discipline,” a field of study that’s not just about learning things but about saving them. We technologists need to do the same. Rewilding the internet connects and grows what people are doing across regulation, standards-setting and new ways of organizing and building infrastructure, to tell a shared story of where we want to go. It’s a shared vision with many strategies. The instruments we need to shift away from extractive technological monocultures are at hand or ready to be built.

I am looking forward to a piece (or a collection of pieces) that will talk to the people in a manner that they hear this [understand it] and that moves them to make different choices.

Pretty much as I am doggedly and single-mindedly making different and sensible ecological choices for the planet, while I look forward to people being moved at last to durably do the same.

My thanks to Robin (who I know and work with) and to Maria (who I’d like to know now)!

mv wordpress.com WordPress (self-hosted)

This blog was hosted on wordpress.com in 2013-2023, and displayed at koalie.blog since 2018. This setup expires –and will close– in July 2024.

These are my notes for future me and whoever may be curious.

Blogging software

I’ve been blogging offline since 2005 (I used a local instance of Blosxom as a diary which I kept for myself via a terminal on my laptop) and online since 2006 (on my friend Amy’s blog Dullicious where I blogged as Barbie-dull for several years, and on My Opera). My previous migration in 2013 moved my blog from My Opera (which Opera shut down four months after) to wordpress.com.

All this time my website koalie.net was hosted for free on a shared server in one of the machine rooms at MIT and I could not easily get any blogging software installed, so my blog had to be separate from my website.

But last year’s infamous Gandi dick move was both a curse and a blessing. Ditto an internal decision at work that free hosting for personal websites was ending by year end as a result of W3C moving out of MIT in January 2023.

Domain name, email, Web hosting

In June 2023, Gandi announced that the free e-mail service included with domain name rental was becoming a paying subscription by year end, as well as a general increase of their prices the following month. For email, I was using 2 boxes (for me and my son), so that meant paying an extra € 115/year. So I resolved to get email elsewhere and set up a redirect on Gandi mail. For domain name rental, I had renewed it for 5 years in January 2022, so I’m all set until February 2027.

I chose to register in July a free email account at Infomaniak (more than one in fact –for me, my son, my dad), and then the day after Christmas subscribed separately for € 82,80/year the Infomaniak Web Bundle hosting plan that offers 250 GB storage, for up to 20 sites, and the ability to install and manage over 100 web applications and CMS. I’m sharing that space with a colleague of mine. In February 2027, I’ll rent the koalie.net domain name with them too.

I activated ssh and was able in minutes via rsync to move my website content from the external hard drive it lives on, onto the web hosting.

I figured I now could at last unite my blog and my website! My wordpress.com subscription for the Starter Plan costs € 42/year and the koalie.blog domain name rental costs € 22/year, so a total of € 64/year (since I signed up for it in 2018, it has cost me € 320+)

So I painlessly installed the WordPress web app on my Infomaniak space.

Exporting from wordpress.com

I was able to export a lot of my wordpress.com data (a 6.3 MB XML file once unzipped) and import it in the self-hosted WordPress app I installed on Infomaniak as a sub-domain of koalie.net: 495 blog posts and 150+ comments.

That’s not everything, though. I was dismayed that the media items aren’t part of the export. They remain hosted on wordpress.com and the blog posts that reference them continue to link to the files on wordpress.com. Similarly, themes settings and blog settings aren’t exported. Finally, all links in blog posts and pages are absolute. In my case, I had a mix of links to coraliemercier.wordpress.com (2005-2018) and koalie.blog (2018-2023).

Importing and fixing my blog

I exported my wordpress.com media items (3.06 GB for about 1300 files sorted by year and month). Then I spent many mind-numbing hours (over 80h) uploading them post by post.

In addition to adding back the media files, I wanted to write the alternative texts (wordpress.com is very bad at nudging bloggers to write any alt text and even if you think of it, the blogging workflow makes it difficult, I found), to check and fix the links (so now most if not all of my blog links start with / and don’t include the domain name), and remove all of the posts that included media from the Instagram account I deleted many years ago.

At the moment I’m using the same theme I was using in wordpress.com: Twenty Fifteen. For the theme settings and the blog settings, I put two windows side by side and compared the pages to click through the options and fiddle to replicate what I had. There are a few differences but nothing that bothers me.

It’s costly to leave wordpress.com

I used my Christmas vacation to make a dent in the massive undertaking of re-uploading my media files and then checking each post for quality assurance. That’s the first intangible cost: time.

The second cost is intangible as well: the loss of the wordpress.com network effect (ability to find new blogs from fellow wordpress.com users, and for them to find and “follow” min), and of wordpress.com’s SEO (which only can explain that my blog had consistent hits every day.)

On wordpress.com that blog had 156 subscribers, and received 46,112 views (4.6K/month on average) from 28,123 visitors. Its most popular day was April 29, 2020 with 772 views. The visits picked up near the end of 2019, so in the past 5 years, the average views were 5.3K/month.

I don’t care that much but I’m pretty sure that after 10 years of being used to these figures (however artificial they are), I will feel the difference!

Screenshot of the wordpress.com stats interface showing a grid of the total views by months and years between February 2013 and January 2024.
koalie.blog all time total views by months and years

The third cost, which I chose not to incur, is the tangible cost of redirection of a wordpress.com blog elsewhere on the Web. It costs € 13/year.

What I did instead was to trash all of my posts on the wordpress.com end and replace that blog with just one static page as homepage, and a blog post, announcing that the setup was going to expire and close in July 2024.

Screenshot of a static page showing an illustration of people carrying cardboard boxes next to a message with my picture announcing the blog has moved
koalie.blog static page as homepage

Looks of my blog over the years

Screenshot of a wordpress blog with Twenty Fifteen theme in white and light grey
My self-hosted wordpress blog using the Twenty Fifteen theme in white and light grey

The good things about my Mastodon clients

For a few years I was a happy and fulfilled user of the iPhone app Metatext, a client for the federated social network Mastodon. When Metatext stopped being developed, I spent days reading comparisons, trying other clients, and settled on two which eventually matched all of my criteria:

  1. Ice Cubes for Mastodon (free), an open source, collaborative, SwiftUI Mastodon client made by @dimillian
  2. Ivory for Mastodon by Tapbots (subscription), a Mastodon Client for iOS & Mac.

I donate 0,99€ per month to the developer of Ice Cubes for Mastodon, and I pay the yearly subscription for Ivory (which costs 1,50€ per month.)

There are a 8 features specific to #IceCubesApp and 7 features specific to #ivory that I am really keen about. Since neither implemented them all, I continue to use both.

Ice CubesIvory
Quote post transforms the quoted post into a card with embedded contentBoost/favorite from/as a different account
Featured hashtags surfaced on our own profile + clicking them filters only our own posts using that hashtag (Ivory’s implementation in v. 1.7)Label in the timeline to denote posts displayed as a result of following a hashtag (Ice Cubes implements it as of 2023-12-04)
Add/edit filters via our own profileApp-integrated statistics for the rolling week, with bar graphs, directly in the tray
Private messages button in the trayUngrouped notifications
Filtering notifications in the notifications paneDate format choice between relative & absolute (I’m a sucker for the latter)
Collapse long postsOption to get a missing Alt text reminder
Auto-detect language when postingCan send iPhone “stickers”
Displays all posts for a given followed hashtag (whereas Ivory apparently displays only a portion)
comparison table of features I love that are specific to each application

I made straight lines & cover page labels for my #reMarkable

2023-11-16 update: since release 3.8, which happened yesterday on my tablet, straight lines are now available as a new feature!

I recently acquired a second-hand e-ink tablet. The reMarkable2 comes with very little but specific features which optimize for efficient note-taking mainly, and for some sketching.

For the latter, the only assistance available is a few templates that afford guide lines, and the possibility to work with layers. In both cases the handling tools consist of a couple of erasers and a selection tool which lets you resize, rotate, copy and paste (except for what you typed as text, it only works for what you put on “paper” with the “pen”). No warping, no inversion, no tool to create any common shape or make a straight line.

Yet it knows of straight lines because when you use the highlighter on a PDF or EPUB file, it can “snap to text” and your highlighter strokes are transformed into straight lines.

I don’t know how others manage, when they prefer not to “jailbreak” (for lack of a better term) their tablet, but I don’t care whether I can display a custom image while my tablet is sleeping, but I do care about straight lines and shapes that are scalable. So I drew some and made a PDF of the pages.

How I use them

Note: the illustration pictures are post processed with a filter to give them a slight background that changes the colour (the eggplant colour should in fact be black, the red is in fact much more vivid.)

Horizontal and vertical lines of various thickness and lengths, and one rectangle

I made horizontal lines of varied thickness and length, a few vertical lines too, and a rectangle.

When I need a line, I navigate to this page in my templates folder, use the selection tool to copy it, navigate to my destination page, and tap the pen. Then I drag it where I want, stretch it or shrink it, rotate it if I need. And repeat as often as needed.

Oval black label with hand-written text in white reading: Notes & thoughts

For this cover page label, I used one of the black oval shapes I hand-drew, copied it with the selection tool, navigated to my notebook page, pasted it, and gave it the size I wanted.

Then I added a new layer. I chose the calligraphy pen, thick size, and white ink and wrote. The layer protects the oval if you erase or select and move your words.

Black rectangles of various sizes stacked on top of each other with white hand-writing inside to look like a cover

This is exactly the same instructions as the oval label, but selecting all the black boxes of various sizes and using the medium-sized calligraphy pen nib.

In this particular notebook, I used the same cover page for each of the modules. I duplicated the first one, moved it to the right place, selected the layer where I wrote and made changes.

Large red circle and red outer outline within which is hand-written in white: My evil schemes, and in block black letters underneath: Book 42, year 2023

This is page 14 of the PDF I made. I duplicated the whole page and moved it as cover page of a new notebook. I could have selected the shape, copied it, and pasted it elsewhere, but I wanted the circles at exactly the same place.