Category: tech

Why it’s time to leave Twitter and move to the Fediverse

Elon Musk seems to be a bull in a china shop with his heavy-handed treatment of Twitter. Reflecting on the situation I have had an awakening of sorts – remembering my early Twitter follows like Aral who stands up for data-independence and privacy.

Why should a money-losing massive single entity have a de facto monopoly on short message / microblogging service? Especially now that we may all have serious doubts about governance there.

I realise how much more reliant so many people, institutions and brands are on social media now. They don’t need to all be on a few key platforms (Twitter, Meta, LinkedIn…), but it suits them as they all vie for our attention in a few places. The early web wasn’t built on platforms. It was built on protocols – agreements as to how data could be exchanged via certain ways of formatting messages and exchanges between multiple small sites. I love the openness of the early web that brought us to where we are today. The foundations of everything are those open protocols: email, DNS, websites, etc.

For microblogging services we can exchange in similar ways via a distributed system. That is precisely what the Fediverse is. A collection of protocols to federate messaging, just like the original Internet. It’s been around for a long time. 

Twitter has gone crazy. It’s now overtly super-capitalist. Elon is making massive changes because the company is losing money. Precisely because Twitter has become the de facto platform – not protocol – for exchanging short messages among groups of like-minded people, and it’s free (so everyone goes there).

The cost of moving

I’m a big fan of a corner of Twitter where fans of the cue sport that is snooker hang out. Mutual follows and hashtag discovery have created a close group of fans. It’s cool that you can also connect to the players, referees and TV commentators. 

But I’m currently trying to move over to an open community.  There are a number of advantages. We can ban trolls, community wide. We won’t have an algorithm pushing adverts and “sponsored content”. We can push our own trending hashtags. We can control what we see in our local and federated timelines. We can be more inclusive. Imagine:

You’re not the product anymore. You’re a community member in your host’s ad-free server they pay for. There’s no venture capitalist payday coming for them. Everything you do here costs your host a little bit of money. Find out how you can chip in.

The downside is that it has to be on a private server (where someone is paying the hosting), or a paid-for service. Some people currently on Twitter aren’t available on Mastodon or other Fediverse sytems – yet. Perhaps that doesn’t matter so much once you start finding a community away from a platform that is pushing you shit you don’t want, because you use their service for free.

Some places are offering free accounts (as noted in the quote), though this may not be the best way to have a lasting presence. Taking control by paying a small subscription is a low price to pay for big freedom. 

Luckily I have a history of Linux server administration so I fired up a server in the cloud. I’ll shortly be writing about how I did this, on a server that costs around 10€ a month.

OK, I’m in!

Are you ready to jump in? Here are some tips from

Ten Tiny Mastodon Newbie Cultural Tips 🐘:

In random order 👇

  • Add Alt-Text to your pictures! It’s the norm here. 
  • Use Content Warnings (CW) generously.
  • BE KIND 💚 
  • Respect the work that your instance’s admin(s) do for you. Support them financially if you can, this is volunteer work there are no ads here.
  • Read the Code of Conduct and Server Rules for your instance. These are different between instances. You usually can find this information by adding “/about” or “/about/more” after your instance’s website address (which is the same as your instance’s name).
  • Do exchange genuinely with people. Interact!
  • Add genuine info to your profile’s bio.
  • It’s not the best to only use your account here to automatically forward all of your tweets without ever interacting. We are here to be here. This is not an advertising platform, and people might unfollow or mute you for this.
  • Many features that are not like on Twitter have been left out deliberately for a good reason. Respect that. Listen to the Mastodon elders.
  • This is NOT Twitter. It is MUCH better! 🐘✨


Handy Links

If you’re a snooker fan, you can request an account here: or if you don’t like snooker there’s a big list on

A useful user guide for getting to know the basics: 

Freebox Batch Video Conversion (mp4 to mkv)


I often have the problem of needing to convert a folder full of video files to a format compatible with my Freebox, without spending ages in front of my machine doing each video individually. This often happens when I have several takes from my mobile phone or camcorder as mp4 files. Here’s how I worked out how to do it. These instructions apply to Windows 7, and may also work elsewhere on Windows machines.

I have tailored these instructions for a generic encode that will work on Freebox (ADSL triple-play box in France) but since the resulting files stick to standards they should work on most set-top boxes and portable players, including phones and tablets except iPhone/iPad, which read mp4 natively anyway… The typical conversion required is from mp4 to mkv or avi; I prefer mkv for the Freebox as it has worked in more cases for me.

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Using wear and tear to guide usability simplification

Worn Remote

The great thing about physical objects is wear and tear. The places you touch most wear down, an ideal indicator for the key functions in your remote interface. This type of observation has even led to abstract art such as the traces left by different iPad apps. You can tell a lot about how something is used by investigating these physical traces. Doing the research to collect that data can be fun, using heat maps, click tracking or even a screen cover and paint. The results of that research can be visually persuasive too. It’s pretty obvious from the photo on the left that play and fast-forward are the main used buttons. ON DEMAND is bigger, screaming at you to spend money on content… why isn’t the really useful button (play) in that simple central place? Did the big “on demand” button increase rentals?

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Interactive Design Festival: notes from the WIF

I’ve just got back from the international interactive design festival, or WIF (from the original Webdesign International Festival). It’s a meeting of designers linked to the web and interaction (HCI) from around the world who come to talk about the latest trends and ideas.

I was on the jury for the design competition which gave student and corporate teams 24 hours to design a concept and create an interactive prototype. This year the subject was “the school of the future”. The entries were fascinating and most were impressive, especially given the limited time available.

Unusually for events like this, it takes place in Limoges, a town in the centre of France which is better known for porcelain and quiet country life than for international events. This gives it a different feel from the London and Paris roadshow corporate events, though it limits somewhat the audiences. Overall the WIF was a great experience and I hope to be able to attend next time it’s organised in an active capacity.

While the teams were busy sweating, I had some time to attend the many workshops and conferences (talks, really) and meet some very interesting design professionals. I thought I might share my notes, including my poor sketches which are nothing like the wonderful Sketch Notes by Eva Lotta Lamm.

Download them / view the PDF here => notes from the Wif 2012
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WordPress Pharma Hack and Updates

Hacks Honey Lemon Flavour

WordPress is a fantastic platform, with an excellent plugin mechanism and the most usable admin interface I have seen. I know and have used several others including Joomla, Zope, Drupal, and old stuff you may not have heard of. The problem with being popular though is that you are likely to be a victim of more attacks. There’s a strange pharmaceutical spam attack out there, and it got me too. I first found out about it when Google emailed my with a possible hacking notice. Links like /valium-high were appearing in the Google results for this site, yet when I tried the links they were giving me a 404 (page does not exist) result. The sneaky thing is that the hack is cloaked, the link /valium-high did in fact work but only if accessed via a search engine spider (or search bot / Googlebot). So Google sees a strange page selling valium, whereas regular visitors see a boring “page not found”. Spammers use these techniques to help their own strange pages rank in Google.

Using “Fetch as Googlebot” in Google webmaster tools allowed me to confirm the cloaking issue. To clean the hack, and simulate a search crawler without resorting to publishing tests live to my domain, I used my own server and tested using a search engine crawler simulator on a custom subdomain.

After a lot of searching, including various scripts like lookforbadguys and advice on checking the database I still couldn’t find the bad code. I gave up forensics and just reinstalled a clean version of WordPress (often the best recourse if you can’t find the hack quickly). It then took me a while to get a few other files I needed (my theme, images, custom scripts) from the old install and make sure they were working correctly.

Since I was making updates, I finally brought this WordPress site up to date with a few changes to CSS to take full advantage of screen real estate. This humble template was less than 800 pixels wide. I am now using a 960 pixel grid which is a de facto standard on the web given larger screen resolutions. I hope you find it a little easier to read.

The Facebook Walled Garden?

Is anyone else concerned that the Internet is becoming a walled garden on Facebook, encouraging people never to leave the facebook site? People are more likely to read the Guardian now it’s a Facebook app. No doubt this is due to having to install the app to read content “read” by others – frictionless sharing as they call it. It means a lot more traction gained for Facebook, and a less neutral web experience.

Net neutrality is already wishful thinking, now that Google & Facebook dominate so much – do you even have a separate Instant Messaging / email app outside of Outlook at work? Are you aware that most of what you listen to and read will be shared automatically with your friends?

‎”As well as increasing traffic, the app is making our journalism visible to new audiences. Over half of the app’s users are 24 and under – traditionally a very hard-to-reach demographic for news organisations. The Facebook app is one of a number of successful launches by the Guardian in recent months as our ‘digital first’ strategy gains momentum. We’re delighted with the results.”
Andrew Miller, chief executive officer of Guardian Media Group

I must be an old grumpy git, since being on Facebook is frighteningly efficient at appealing to the younger demographic. I do get nostalgic about plain-text email with properly nested quoting wrapping at 74 characters, web pages that are visible anywhere on any device, and music that comes from analogue encoding on physical objects. Will appealing to the younger net users without embedding your content on Facebook be possible soon?

Happy New Year too!

Facebook Redesign and Change Aversion

Every time a major site with a big audience changes, there are always going to be detractors. Especially a site like Facebook. People spend a lot of time there, so interface changes are almost tantamount to moving stuff around in their lounge/den.

I think there are a number of issues with the new Facebook homepage. I’ve seen it before. It’s called feature creep. Lots of stuff all clamouring for your attention. Chat, realtime updates, top stories, the rest of the news, adverts, suggestions for friends, app updates, messages (FB-ized email) and notifications. Continue reading

The Little Details

Supermarket receipt

On holiday this summer in the Vendée region (near the Loire valley), I was pleasantly surprised by my till receipt for my holiday shopping. Instead of a list in simple order of items scanned by the cashier, the receipt was both grouped by department, and ordered by highest priced item first. At a glance, you can see which items from each department are the most expensive, and which departments you bought the most goods from.

In the past, till receipts were printed line by line first mechanically – possibly with mechanical tabulation (addition of next item to subtotal) inside the machine – then by fairly dumb electronic calculators which would do much the same. More recently, bar code scanning meant the machines queried a database for the item price. Later, the item name would be queried and printed (initially a few characters per item) and yet the basic running totals and chronological ordering have still to change in many supermarkets and other stores where you buy a lot of items.

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