Facebook vs. WordPress

The last few weeks have seen a great number of my friends turn to Facebook (and, of course, I know exactly how many). It’s great, it’s exciting, it’s suddenly become so easy to organise things and we can now all talk about Facebookwhen we meet for a coffee at the Front; however, all is not as funky as one might seem…

Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m all in favour of using Facebook — I just don’t think it should be used for everything. It’s great as a procrastination tool, for example, or for stumbling across long-lost friends, or being sent lovely pictures like this:

Picture: Sam got tapes for 35c.

But Facebook is, despite their oh-so-wonderful API, a closed system. We’re all piling our (desperately interesting, I’m sure) personal information into it, and giving no thought to what will happen to that information in the future. I don’t neccessarilly mean the usual conspiracy theories of governmental data-harvesting or derranged stalkers (they probably apply to wherever one is one the web), but what about ideas of cultural artifact preservation? (I know, I know, no one cares…)

Much of Facebook replicates systems that we’ve been using for years. Why, for example, did they have to build their own private messaging system? What’s wrong with email? Could they not have made it all work together — maybe someone will build an IMAP webmail application for Facebook, and prove my objections aimless.

But that’s all beside the point: I’m a geek, and prefer to build my own. An article in Wired started me off thinking about this, and since then I’ve been doing a bit of reading (eg. SNIX), and here’s my skeleton thus far of a distributed, home-grown, open-source, social networking system:

  • Start with a blog. I prefer WordPress, but the point of all this is that by using open standards it really doesn’t matter what software we use. Post whatever you want (images, movies, audio, anything) and enable comments on everything.
  • Collect feeds. Most blogging tools come with in-built support for news feeds of some kind, usually at least RSS and Atom. Create a page on your blog and aggregate all of your friends’ feeds there.
  • Post coming events. With a plugin like Event Calendar you can post future events, and produce a iCalendar feed to which your friends can subscribe. Add another page, to aggregate your friends’ events.

Unfortunately, that’s about where it ends. How does one have ‘Friends’ on a system that doesn’t mandate common software — or common anything save interchange formats?! I don’t know. Maybe Facebook does rock after all…

But I do know that I’d rather be using my own software, with all content remaining under my control at all times; the methods for sharing this with the world are maturing, and before long will be widespread and useable.

Relying on, but not trusting, technology

I have been sorting through my (digital) photos lately, uploading the good ones to my website. It’s drudge-work, peaceful in its way like all drudge-work, and now and then I stumble upon a particularly nice shot, or one that evokes some pleasant memory, and so I don’t mind doing it. My idea is that this little computer is likely to one day get broken or stolen, and I don’t want to lose everything.

I’m also doing it becuase I’m keen to have fewer belongings, and boxes of photos and old journals are something of a weight (literally and figuratively, obviously). I want to simplify. A bag and a box and a backpack. A computer, three books, and a hat. Hip flask, pen, and waterbottle. Although I’m never going to get rid of my Waterman or Moleskine, I’m coming to the computer to vent that creative energy that in a more perfect world would probably be put into woodwork — and at least I don’t end up with a chair to carry with me from house to house.

It’s not that I think of the Internet as ‘simple’, or even particularly reliable. I don’t. I quite understand its utter complexity and reliance on most of the most unsustainable things in the modern world. And I don’t like that. I’d much rather have a little stone hut and a few chickens.

But here I am, in Canberra, studying I.T. I do rely on the Internet, and I’m going to continue to upload my photos and writing, and just not worry about it. I might print a few things, if I really care about them, but at the end of the day if the Internet stops I’ll be far too busy planting gardens on the freeways to worry about losing a few photos.

hmwilson.archives.org.au

I forgot to mention, a few weeks ago when I set it up, that the family archives now have an online home at hmwilson.archives.org.au. It’s for family only, but if that’s you then I will set up your account; just email me. I’m jolly excited about going back to Perth this summer and working on this!

On Photography

It seems better to not take any photos at all, or at least not to incorporate them into this text. They break up the flow (mental, not typographical, although they do that too) and distract one from reading (and me from writing, which is more to my point — nobody reads this). I’ll still take photos I guess, but for the sake of others and of history (if I can say that without sounding too daft … I’m not sure that I can).

The General International Standard Archival Description

The Unesco Archives Portal is a wonderful directory (among other things) to all sorts of archives and archival-related information, all over the world. I found the ISAD(G) there, and I think it will be of great value in building the structure of [a project I’m working on].