Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “Twitter”

Twitter, antisocial media, and the zombie apocalypse

Yesterday Twitter said it was going to send me more “relevant” stuff, and said I could go to me “Settings” page and change it, but without much explanation.

I looked at the settings and clicked on “Disable All”, and got warned that I would be seeing less “relevant” tweets and ads. They also claimed that enabling it would give me “more control” over what I saw on Twitter — a bit disingenuous, that, because as far as I can see, it gives me less control, and completes Twitter’s exodus from the social media fold; it has now become an antisocial medium, because enabling those options means that they get to choose what they will show you.

In the old Twitter, you could choose who to follow and who not to follow. If you followed someone, you would see their tweets, and if you unfollowed them you would no longer see their tweets. That’s maximum control in your hands, and that is the essence of social media — interacting with other people.

The new Twitter, however, limits social interaction. You become an isolated individual, and they feed you what they want you to see, based on what web sites you visit, and other things that indicate your preferences. That means that Twitter becomes a kind of narcissistic ego trip, reinforcing your prejudices, isolating you from people who think differently from you, and thus reinforcing the trend for the Internet to lose whatever potential it had for being a global village, and isolating you in a kind of cyber-ghetto where you never have to move out of your comfort zone.

It also makes it rather pointless to post stuff on Twitter, because you can’t assume that your followers will be able to see it. Twitter might not find it “relevant” enough for them. It might be outside their comfort zone. So if you interact on Twitter, you’ll end up talking to yourself. And Twitter will then have completed the transition from a social medium to an antisocial medium, isolating us in little cocoons. You’ve heard of the “nanny state”, welcome to the Nanny Internet..

As it is, when I go to Twitter, I see if there are any notifications. If there are, I read my Twitter feed, but if there are not, I don’t bother, and go to another site, and look for stuff that I find relevant, and not stuff that Twitter has chosen for me. Because if there are no notifications, it means that no one has been reading anything I’ve posted, so why bother?

Now comes the test: if my tweet announcing this post gets at least 10 retweets on Twitter (that’s 0,86% of my Twitter followers), I’ll know that there’s still life on Twitter, and that there’s still some hope for it as a social medium. And if it gets no retweets, then the zombie apocalypse has already overtaken us, because Twitter will have turned us all into zombies.

Twitter vs Facebook and blog stats

This blog got the biggest number of hits over the last 30 days on 21 February, when I re-announced an old post on Home Schooling and Bigotry on both Facebook and Twitter.

I just checked the blog stats for that day, and the home schooling post was the most popular. It was interesting, though, that 45 visitors were referred from Facebook, and only 2 from Twitter.

I’m not a great one for stats, and don’t often look at them, though I have noticed that since I moved this blog from Blogger to WordPress the number of visitors dropped drastically and still hasn’t recovered. I moved it because the Blogger editor became more difficult to use.

But another blog I read, A Pilgrim in Narnia, had an article on blogging stats, and so I thought I’d take a closer look at them. And it seems that that blog, too, gets far more hits from Facebook than from Twitter.

Perhaps as a result of this, Twitter has started trying to imitate the Facebook way of doing things, and I suspect that that will cause them to lose a lot more ground a lot more quickly. Instead of doing what Twitter did well, the people at Twitter are trying to do what Facebook does, and doing it badly.

To start with, Twitter was a quick and concise way of sharing information, if necessary with links to where one could get more detail (so great for announcing blog posts). The 140 character limit ensured that. But then they added pictures, which made nonsense of the 140-character limit. Now, like Facebook, they are deciding what to show people, which means that big organisations get more exposure than individuals, and eventually the individuals will leave Twitter to the big organisations to tweet to each other.

There were other tools that enabled one to fine related material on blogs, but they’ve all killed themselves off, perhaps by trying, like Twitter, to emulate the Facebook model instead of doing something useful and unique. There were Technorati and BlogCatalog, which killed themselves off in that way.

So statistically, at any rate, Facebook seems to be one of the best ways of announcing blog posts at the moment



Social networking and social media

Over the last 30 years or so we’ve seen a tremendous increase in electronic communication by computer networking. Thirty years ago I mainly communicated with distant friends and family by snail mail. Now I mainly use email, if I have their email address. And there are social networking web sites like Facebook and Twitter where you can find friends and family even if you’ve lost touch with them.

But though the internet in general, and social networking sites in particular, make communication easier, the owners of the sites seem to go to great lengths to place obstacles in the way, so that the potential of the internet for communication is never fully realised. One of the most notorious examples was when Facebook, without telling its users, changed every user’s email address in its directory to a Facebook address, and hid mail sent to that address in a place where no one could find it.

I’d like to make some suggestions for improving the utility of social networking to the users. They probably won’t be tried, because there is a huge clash of interests, so Facebook is perpetually fighting its users in order to manipulate them and sell them, offering them the minimum of what they want in order to keep stringing them along.

Other social networking sites have been less successful at this. They start offering something that people find useful, and gain a lot of users. They then sell the site to a big company that announces that they are going to improve the site, and remove the very thing that attracted users in the first place. Yahoo! was notorious for buying up such sites and killing them — for example Geocities, BlogLog and WebRing.

When BlogLog went, there was another similar site called BlogCatalog, but they tried making “improvements” that crippled the main thing that attracted users.

Yet another was Technorati, which was a very useful tool for finding blog posts on similar subjects by means of tags. It also showed a list of trending topics in blog posts, some of which I did not understand at all, but curiosity made me investigate some of them, and so I leant something about popular culture, and the meaning of words like Beyonce, Pokemon and Paris Hilton (no, not the hotel, the daughter of its owner). And one of the things that trended was Twitter. I didn’t see much point in Twitter at first, but when Technorati abandoned its main function, Twitter became a less satisfactory substitute.

friendsWhenever I link to a new blog from one of my WordPress blogs, there is a kind of social networking questionnaire. It’s an idea that’s been around for a long time, and I’ve filled in the information in the hope that someone will find a use for it one day. It’s called XFN, or the XHTML friends network, and you can read more about it here.

The rationale behind XFN’s categories of relationship is given here. While I don’t agree with all their decisions and categories, I think that it is a pretty good starting point, and that social networking sites like Facebook would be immensely improved if they instituted something like that.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously "met". But otherwise, from left to right -- (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

In terms of XFN categories, all these are obviously “met”. But otherwise, from left to right — (1) friend kin colleague; (2) kin, friend; (3) me; (4) acquaintance (5) friend, colleague.

The only thing I would add for a site like Facebook would be the time dimension — the “met” category can mean last week or 40 years ago. I find Facebook most useful for contacting old friends and far-away friends.

But the use of categories like the XFN ones could enable Facebook to improve their algorithms of what they show to users. At the moment Facebook shows me lots of stuff from some people in the “contact” category, people I have never met.

Allowing users to categorise posts would also help. Some categories might be family news, general news, professional news, humour, trivia, etc. And possibly an importance rating — I don’t want to learn of a death in the family after the funeral has taken place (as happened in a couple of cases recently), while a new bird seen in the garden might be of less importance.

Does anyone else think any of this would be useful if implemented by Facebook or some other social networking sites?

It’s a good thing that no one is reading this

… so why do I bother to write it?

Pointless, my favourite TV show

Pointless, my favourite TV show

It seems that when I post a link to a blog post on Facebook lots of people comment on Facebook (never on the blog itself) and haven’t read the post anyway. It sometimes worried me and made me think sometimes that blogging was a pointless activity.

Here was I taking all this trouble to write something, but nobody was reading it. And anyway the people whose opinions I was seeking never responded because Facebook never showed it to them. Facebook’s algorithms seem pretty pointless too. I have something like 470 friends on FB, and Facebook only shows me stuff from about 15 of them. I become friends with someone on FB, and Facebook shows me their posts for 3 days and then stops. So what’s the point?

But then I read this (from a link from Twitter), and thought I’d better stop worrying about it Why it’s a very good sign that people don’t read your content:

When I started out as a blogger, I had no idea what I was doing. I was working so hard, and creating content that was pretty darn good. And yet, nobody was reading my posts, commenting, or sharing. I was frustrated.

Pointless-3But if it’s all pointless anyway, what does it matter?

As that article points (oops!) out, it doesn’t matter whether people read it or not, so why bother to try to write anything coherent when no one is going to read it anyway just random stream of consciousness stuff will do and writing a blog post will be like a dog scratching itself to get rid of flees but why is my doing still scratching himself when I just put Frontline tick stuff on him three days ago? Ah, Frontline there’s a brand, and brands are the most important thing nowadays. Content is nothing, brands are all. I’ve seen web sites that ask you what you’re interested in and one of the important things to be interested in is brands not brands of anything — cars, shampoo, antitick stuff for dogs it doesn’t matter the important thing is brands. Not art literature books or anything just brands.

TelkomQuotaActually I haven’t been reading many links on Facebook myself lately either. I “like” it or not based on the headline, because if I go to the article itself this will happen –>

And waiting for web pages to load becomes like watching paint dry. Telkom does have a thing where you can buy more bandwidth and speed it up again, but it hasn’t been working for a week now, which makes Telkom Internet pretty pointless too.

So I’m not reading your content and you’re not reading my content, but that’s a good thing, according to the quoted article, which I bet you haven’t read either.

And so life is reduced to pointless click bait.


What has happened to

For some time now I’ve been using the web site to make sense of Twitter.

One can get overwhelmed by so many tweets on different topics, and now that Twitter has added pictures, it’s become a bit of a bandwidth hog too, producing nearly as many “a script is not responding” messages as Facebook. produces a digest of articles with links on Twitter, suitably formatted and headlined. My personal one is The Steve Hayes Daily, which it makes from my Twitter feed.

But what I found even more useful was the ones based on Twitter hashtags, which enabled one to follow topics of interest. So I regularly look at The #Theology Daily and The #orthodox Daily.

There wasn’t one for my own field of Missiology, but let me create one, with the URL And you can see it as The #missiology Daily. So if anyone posts a link on Twitter to a missiological article, and includes the hashtag #missiology in the tweet, all those links will be conveniently collected in one place.

The problem is that no longer appears to allow this. The existing papers based on hashtags continue, but it seems that it is not possible to create new ones.



I am interested in the group of authors known as the Inklings (who include, among others, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien and Owen Barfield). There quite a number of bloggers who blog about these authors, and there are other interesting articles on their works that people tweet about, and I thought it would be nice to see tweets about them in one place, so I looked for an #Inklings paper on, which would have the URL

But there wasn’t one.

But invited me to create one.

I tried to do so, but the URL wasn’t based on the tag, it was based on my name, and the content was a mishmash of stuff, none of which seemed to relate to the #inklings hashtag. I deleted it and tried again, but it still didn’t work. So it seems that the people at have removed the functionality of creating a paper based on a hashtag.

Boo hiss!

Actually the people who run web sites seem to do this quite often. They come up with something that people find useful, and attract them to start using the site, and then they remove the very thing that attracted them. They seem incapable of learning the lesson that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Now there’s a thought

Now there’s a thought:

and liked your Tweet

For what it’s worth the tweet was:

Old ANC: The People shall govern. New ANC of tenderpreneurs: The Guptas shall govern.






Dead phones and the power of Twitter

Our phone is working again after being dead for 12 days.

We reported the fault to Telkom as soon as we noticed that the phone wasn’t working, and when it hadn’t been repaired within a day, I posted a message on Twitter & Facebook (via cellphone) to let people that we had problems, so they would understand that we would not be able to respond immediately to e-mail messages and such things. Something similar had happened about 6 months ago, when the phone line was down for a similar period, and when the service was restored I found lots of messages saying “Did you get my previous message?”

Occasionally the ASDL Internet connection worked, even when the voice line was dead, It worked for an hour or so, perhaps once every 3-4 days, and then would die again.

On the Twitter messge I used the #hashtag #Telkom, and was interested to see that it was picked up by @TelkomBusiness, who asked for the phone number, and then followed up with the technical department, and after we had been without the phone for 10 days asked them to “escalate” our fault. Whther as a result of that or something else, the phone started working again today, and with it the Internet connection. So thanks to @TelkomBusiness for the role they played in that. It just goes to show that someone out there keeps an eye on the hashtags, and picked up the #Telkom one, and followed it up. It also shows the power of Twitter. Thanks to the people at @TelkomBusiness for their readiness to help.

It will take some time to deal with all the accumulated mail: when I downloaded it in the brief windows when the ADSL was working I would sort it into various “To Reply” folders, sometimes with a quick note that I would deal with it when the line was working again, and delete the spam. Apologies for the notes that were perhaps curt and abrupt, or full of typos. I was typing fast to try to get it off before the connection died again.

Gideon Iileka, Steve Hayes, Thomas Ruhozo, at Kamanjab, Namibia, 5 October 1971And here’s a picture that shows the bloke who was sending the notes; that’s me, in the middle.

The picture is over 40 years old, but then some of the people I send e-mail to I haven’t seen for 40 years, and so they will be more likely to remember me looking like that. And the two other blokes in the picture I haven’t seen for 40 years either. But I like the picture, and I’d like to see them again, and perhaps take a follow-up picture.

There’s one other thing to add.

I posted this to let people know that our phone line is working again, and over the next few days I’ll be working to deal with the accumulated mail. But when I tried to write this, I couldn’t. WordPress would not let me.  The WordPress editor simply would not let me type the text. So I thought I’d try to write the message on my Tumblr bloglet, Marginalia, but that wouldn’t let me edit it either. So eventually I tried loading Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, and that seemed to do the trick. So it looks like the current edition of Firefox is broken, and needs an update.


Human Rights Day, and Twitter’s birthday

Today is  Human Rights Day, and the 53rd anniversary of  the Sharpeville massacre, which it was instituted to commemorate. We’ve remembered it for many years, and officially commemorated it for nearly 20 years, but this time it is somewhat different.

Sharpeville Massacre 21 March 1960

Sharpeville Massacre 21 March 1960

Ten years ago I was at a commemoration of Human Rights Day in St Alban’s Anglican Cathedral in Pretoria. It was a special thanksgiving service for the completion of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the handing in of their final report on gross human rights violations in the apartheid era. Speaking at that service, Desmond Tutu, the chairman of the commission and Anglican bishop, said that we had come a long way since then.

This is what I wrote in my diary ten years ago:

Friday 21 March 2003
Val and I went to a special service in the Anglican cathedral in Pretoria, to mark the close of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We went to Mamelodi to fetch Johannah and Thabitha Ramohlale.

Most of the commissioners were there, and several massed choirs sang. Several of the victims of the human rights abuses investigated by the commission were there too, as were some of the perpetrators. Perhaps the most moving thing was when Anglican priest Michael Lapsley sprinkled holy water on the congregation, in silence, using his artificial hands, because his hands were blown off by a letter bomb sent to him by the security police.

There were also the survivors of the Trust Feeds massacre, where 11 members of a family were killed. They were accompanied by Brian Mitchell, who led the police who had killed them, and is now working on projects to help the community.

Hanging from the pulpit, unremarked, was an embroidered banner, showing a stylised white person and a stylised black person embracing in a gesture of reconciliation. It had been given by Cecil Kerr about 20 years ago, a gift from a group in Northern Ireland that had been working for reconciliation there. And as they passed on their vision for reconciliation, perhaps we in South Africa can pass on ours.

Today is a public holiday, known as Human Rights Day, and it is 43 years since 69 people were killed outside Sharpeville police station where they were protesting against the pass laws. As Bishop Desmond Tutu, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said, we have come a long way since then.

Marikana Massacre 2012

Marikana Massacre 2012

But this year, following the Marikana Massacre, the thought that we have come a long way since then sounds a bit hollow. We’ve slipped back a long way since that commemoration ten years ago.

And one thing I’ve noticed is that on the radio government people do not speak about the Marikana Massacre, but the Marikana “tragedy”.

And then on Twitter, there is this rather strange tweet from Zwelinzima Vavi (@Zwelinzima1), the General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu):

DA continues its campaign to appropriate struggle history and symbols. Was lying wreaths in Sharpeville this morning

Now I hold no brief for the DA (Democratic Alliance, an opposition party). But when one recalls that the people who were killed at Sharpeville were there because of a protest campaign organised by the Pan African Congress, does that mean that only PAC supporters can commemorate Sharpeville? While Cosatu is not a political party, it is in alliance with the ANC, and the ANC opposed the PAC’s anti-pass campaign back in 1960. Today the PAC commands the support of only about 1% of the South African electroate. Are only those 1% allowed to commemorate Sharpeville? Or is it something for all South Africans to remember? Perhaps such sectional thinking is why the way we have come from Sharpeville seems to be growing shorter. Zwelinzima Vavi is one of the people I follow on Twitter because I think he speaks a lot of good sense. But on this occasion I think he fluffed it.

Speaking of Twitter, it is also Twitter’s 7th birthday today, and I see that I joined it on 14 April 2007, nearly 6 years ago. It has probably come a long way since then too, and here’s an interesting article about it.


Internet entropy

A couple of days ago our ADSL router was fried by lightning and we were offline for a couple of days until we could get and configure a new one. I wondered if we might be missing something important, but it turned out that we weren’t. What had piled up in our absence was not important communications, but a huge pile of “notifications” about utterly trivial things that were hardly communication at all.

There were notifications that several people had tweeted on Twitter, or that someone I didn’t know was following me on Twitter, or wanted to be my “friend” on Facebook. Eventually I’ll probably start getting notifications about notifications. Well actually they are already are, because Twitter itself is a notification.  This morning I deleted 144 spam comments on my other blogs most of them from something called “lista de emails”. There may have been some false positives there, but it’s too time-consuming even to scan the headings to see.

Web sites that were useful a few years ago have become less so. One of these is Technorati. It used to be useful for finding out what was going on in the blogosphere, and what people were blogging about. But no more. I already blogged about that about a year ago, see here Search Results Technorati | Notes from underground:

Back then it had stuff that interested me as a blogger. I could go there to find blogs and blog posts I was interested in. There used to be “Technorati tags”, and one could click on them to find who was blogging on what topics. If I was going to blog on a subject, I’d look up tags related to that subject, and if those blogs said anything interesting on the topic, I’d link to them.

Now, however, you can’t find stuff that you find interesting on Technorati. If you look at their tags page, for example, you can’t search for tags. They only show you the currently popular tags for the last month. Do not expect Technorati to give you what you like. You WILL like what Technorati gives you and tells you to like. There is a kind of arrogant authoritarian flavour to it.

I noticed that Technorati’s stats on some of my blogs had not been updated, including this one, so I checked to see why. It turned out that I didn’t have a full RSS feed turned on. In the interests of saving bandwidth, I had a partial feed, so that people could see the heading and first couple of paragraphs of of blog post. If they were interested, they could click on it and read the full thing. But Technorati wanted the full feed, even if no one reads it. So I turned it on. They responded with ” This site does not appear to be a blog or news site. Technorati does not support claiming of forums, product catalogs, and the like.”.

Well that’s nice to know. But I doubt that anyone is reading this non-blog anyway, so why am I writing this? No one will read it. No one will comment, except, perhaps, “lista de emails”

I looked at a friend’s Posterous blog the other day, and it had apparently been hijacked by someone posting fluff and incomprehensible garbage. Link-farms stuff.That’s why, when I moved this blog from Blogger, I did not delete the old one, and I disabled comments on it. Spammers love to post comments on abandoned blogs. Tip: If you get tired of an old blog, don’t delete it! If you delete it, the link farm people will move in and take over, enjoying all the traffic from old links, providing yet more junk to clog up the Internet.

I tried to post on my own Posterous blog, and it didn’t work. So I’ll probably abandon it. It has been taken over by Twitter, and lots of stuff doesn’t seem to work any more. My Tumblr blog used to provide an aggregate of my other blogs so it could be a place I could refer friends to who wanted to keep in touch. It also doesn’t work any more.

When Geocities stopped working, I moved my static web pages to Bravenet. But they’ve stopped working too. Go to one of my pages there and they just say that “This website is currently expired. If you have any questions, please contact technical support.” But there is no way of contacting “technical support”. None whatsoever.

So as a result there are a few thousand (or million) more dead links out on the Internet, where people say more and more about less and less. And actually it is not people saying it at all in most cases. It’s bots. The dormant predecessor of this blog at Blogspot still gets more readers than this one, though I ghaven’t updated it for months. And one of the biggest sources of traffic was a bot that told people how to get bots to write blog posts for them, so that they could make money from the web. I think that’s what may have happened with my friend’s Posterous blog. Snake oil, anyone?

Ranking blogs by Twitter followers

I recently came across a list of the top 100 Christian blogs ranked by Twitter followers — Top 100 Christian blogs ranked by Number of Twitter followers

…a Top Christian Blogs list with a difference. This list is ranked by another measure of influence that as far as I can see the other lists dont measure: Number of Twitter followers. Interestingly I found almost nobody in the top blog lists who didnt also Tweet, and the vast majority of them post all their blog posts as links to their Twitter feed (usually automatically). If you run a blog and don’t do that yet, its time you sort that out!

I find that rather odd, because I’ve never found a blog that tweets. Bloggers tweet, yes; but blogs, no. At least not in my experience.

And then someone I follow on Twitter tweeted this:

“People you may know” from @twitter is pointless. I don’t use Twitter that way; I don’t think many people do. I follow ppl I DON’T know! :p

And that made me wonder how people use Twitter.

I do follow a number of bloggers on Twitter, because I read their blogs, and want to know when they have posted something new. Similarly, I sometimes, but not always, tweet when I’ve posted something new on one of my blogs. But I tweet about lots of other things, and I’m sure a lot of people who follow me on Twitter never read my blogs at all. So I find it strange that one could measure blog popularity by the number of Twitter followers.

And what makes a “top Christian blog” anyway?

According to Amatomu (when it works), the “top” South African religious blog is a thing called Discerning the world which seems to specialise in venomous attacks on people and churches that the blogger doesn’t like. What she never bothers to tell us, though, is what she does like. Oh, and Adrian Warnock mentioned the absence of female bloggers in many “Top Christian blogs” lists. Well adding Discerning the world should help to remedy that deficiency!

I’m not sure how Amatomu calculates top blogs either. One that ranks consistently high is Dion Forster’s old abandoned blog, Dion’s random ramblings, which his current blog, An uncommon path, somehow never quite manages to catch up with.

Unlike @grahamdowns, whom I also quoted above, I don’t follow people on Twitter because I don’t know them or because I do know them. I follow them because I think they might tweet about stuff that interests me, whether I know them or not. And I often keep caught up by means of the daily digest of tweets, though its criteria for what is interesting don’t always coincide with mine. But that was how I found Adrian Warnock’s post in the first place.

What I find interesting, and use Twitter to help me to find, is not so much blogs as blog posts on topics that interest me. And for that Twitter is most useful if the tweets use hash tags. Adrian Warnock recommends Twitterfeed as a way of automatically notifying Twitter etc of new blog posts. But does Twitterfeed know how to use hash tags? (And, incidentally, that’s one reason I find blogs that ask you to log in before letting you comment annoying. Having to register to post one comment on one post that you find interesting seems a waste of time).

I use hash tags a lot to find tweets by people I don’t follow on subjects that interest me, and some of them, like #missiology, even produce a daily paper if enough people tweet on it.

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