this is why we can’t have nice things

As you may know, I am involved in https://darcy.is, an attempt to build a better social network atop of Solid. The developers are chugging along at a slow but steady pace, expect a new version to come out soon.

Solid itself is a really intriguing and awesome idea: Everything you want to share or publish, regardless of public or for a limited audience gets stored on your Solid Pod, completely uncoupling data from application and publisher.

So your theoretical Facebook posts and likes and comments would not be stored and owned by Facebook. They would just handle the presentation and feed and recommendations and so on. And if you want to change the network, you get to keep all your content and contacts.

Now, the way Solid is designed has one big constraint: You cannot change the URL that points at your pod, ever. If you do, all the links between your content and that of others would get lost otherwise. So, if a pod provider would got belly up, that would be a bad thing.

One of the earliest pod providers is solid​.community. Or rather. Was. The service is shut down. Which is fine, it was advertised as experimental anyway, it was free and purposely only had a very small storage space. It was meant for those earliest of adopters and for developers to see how all this works.

Alas, someone thought it would be helpful to keep it alive and managed to migrate everything to solidcommunity​.net.

Which is also fine and helpful, except two things:

  1. I, as a user on solid​.community learned about this whole thing from someone completely uninvolved in this process, basically by accident. The move included my login data, whatever private data I may or may not have stored on that Pod, everything. I have never agreed to this, nor do I have any idea who the new person is. That is a major GDPR violation, and erodes a LOT of trust.
  2. The move is useless. As I pointed out above, now that the URL is changed, none of the linked data is properly linked anymore. It completely broke everything. And considering the amount of data (I think there was 2 MB of available space), it is not even a thing of „hey, people probably want to keep this!“.
useless people links on my Solid Pod

Seriously, my Fellow Nerds, especially if you work on something that promises privacy: These things matter! No one will adopt your project, if you fuck this up, and here, you fucked up quite a bit.

Before you rant at me: Yes, I am quite aware that what I was using was basically a test system. And I bet that 99,9% of all other users of that system knew this too and acted accordingly. I highly doubt that any actual private data was compromised. And I don’t think there is any foul play involved. People did what they thought would be best. But, well, guess what: They thought wrong!

Data is radioactive money?

This morning, I had a conversation with Karl H. Richter about data. He argues that data is money — and I mostly agree with him:

Sometimes we may want the tech companies to be trustworthy custodians, holding our data safely without being stolen or used without our consent – or we may want them to actively invest some of our data on our behalf, to work productively in the economy in exchange for a risk-adjusted return.

Karl on expectations with regard to handling data

I quite like this change of perspective. But I think there is something missing here — what happens if these custodian or „investment managers“ fail to keep our data safe? If we stick to the „money“ analogy, that would mean that the data is simply gone.

And yes, occasionally, this actually happens; just ask MySpace. Most of the time, though, data doesn’t get lost, but instead gets copied. It is a pet peeve of mine when these get labeled as "data loss" or "data theft" by those who report on it. Often this gets confounded by saying that the company who was the custodian of that data would be the victim here.

Please, nothing could be further from the truth, let me explain why and how:

  1. The data is usually still there. The company whose database was breached still has all their data. They can continue their normal operations, deliver goods and services, write bills, everything.
  2. The incident involved the companies servers, but they are not the true victim in these cases — it’s the users whose data became compromised! I would rather say, that the companies in question were more of an accomplice in this, by being (often willfully) negligent about their security practices.

The more fitting analogy for most data breaches is an environmental disaster. Think of it as a containment breech in a nuclear reactor. The reactor still produces energy, but the environment around it is damaged in ways we cannot entirely foresee. The long term effects are rather unknown and vague, depending on lots of external factors no one can fully control.

Worse: As with environmental disasters usually hit hardest on the most vulnerable or marginalized people, so do do breaches. And as with environmental damage, they are cumulative: Once the data is out there, it usually never goes away. And the more small pieces of my private data are known, the more they can be combined into something more dangerous.

For the privileged, it is easier to cope with data breaches. If I’m a millionaire, I can simply move when my home address gets compromised. Sure, it’s a nuisance, but it is completely doable. If I am living on minimum wage in an area that is under gentrification pressure, I won’t be able to afford a move.

If my sexual orientation, religion or race gets published (I’m a white, cisgender heterosexual atheist), I’ll have exactly nothing to fear. If I were gay and lived in Saudi Arabia, the same data piece suddenly becomes life-threatening.

So, we should think about data as if it were radioactive money. Whoever controls it can use it to generate wealth with it, but if it spills, there will be long lasting unfathomable damage.

We need to hold the custodians of our data accountable to the highest standards. And if they fail at their jobs, we shouldn’t let them get away with it as easily as we do today.

Online Interaction types — what is there, what do I look for?

While going through the Spreadsheet I created as a tool after writing the last blogpost here, I realized that what was completely obvious to me, isn’t necessarily to others. Mostly because the whole argument about the details was mostly in my head.

So, let’s write it down:

To start, and to have a common vocabulary, we should set down a few basic communication model parameters:

  • Realtime versus Asynchronous.
  • One to one vs One to Many or even Many to Many
  • Closed vs Open
Realtime is the discussion we have at the breakfast table, or when we trashtalk our opponents inside a videogame, in a meeting, over the phone or even text or video chats. The key element is that it happens in real time, attendance is perceived and people generally consider it rude if you make them wait for an answer too long.Asynchronous communication is much more robust in regard to time constraints. In olden times, we simply knew that the messenger pigeon will take a while to deliver that missive to the King, so we waited. Letters took their time, and it was acknowledged that the recipient will then need time and effort to compose a proper answer.
One to One is a discussion with just two participants. That can be realtime (a phone call) or asynchronous (a letter).One to Many used to be the prerogative of official proclamations, public speeches and, later, newspapers and radio or tv broadcasts.
Many to Many is something that we have quite a lot today on the Internet. A group of people communicating within itself, or with another group of people. Sometimes in there, you have a few separate one-to-one conversations. Sometimes everyone is listening to just one person, sometimes everyone is broadcasting at once while no one listens.
Closed communications strive to be private — no one outside the elected circle may listen in — or they may listen in, but they are not allowed to participate.Open on the other hand is there for all to see, hear and join.

And on top of those models, we have the selectors by which people decide which communications they want to see or even participate in:

  • Serendipitous discovery
  • by topic
  • by curator

Serendipitous discovery of new topics, persons and discussions is something that is, in my mind, incredibly important these days. We need to be exposed to ideas and persons we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. We often don’t know that we were missing an idea or something before we actually found it. I cannot search for unknown unknowns.

What I can look for are topics: Show me articles about that car I plan to buy. Or I’m looking for a place to discuss my new favorite game. Systems that make it easy for me to find those topics are helpful — but they tend to keep me in that bubble, I don’t often learn about things outside that topic.

Human Curators of content are incredibly important. Malcolm Gladwell calls them "Mavens" — a group of people that hunt out information about things and then strive to educate people about those. These curators are often very similar to a discovery by topic, because they usually have a theme, a thing that they are mostly interested in. But not exclusively so. Everyone has side hobbies, interests that are not obvious, and these make their way into the communication stream of a curator too.

Finally, we need to look at the different bits of communication and who owns them: This is less interesting in a face to face conversation in a room, without any technical tools, but gets really important very fast if you do things over the Internet.

Take this blog article here. It is written by me, posted on my Blog. I wholly own and control it — I can delete it if I want to, I can edit and revise it.

I also control the comments that are submitted on this Blog. If you have something to say about this and want to correct me, you can submit a comment here, that everyone will then be able to read.

But I will still own the comment in some sense — I will be able to hide it, delete it, even completely ban you from ever commenting again. Heck, WordPress even allows me to edit the comment, putting words into your mouths that you have never intended to write!

(I could have a variety of reasons to do so: I found what was written offensive. Or deemed it to be just not helpful for the discussion I wanted to have. Or I just don’t like the commentator. Some of these reasons can be completely legitimate, some are somewhat to very hostile)

If you want to assure ownership of your writing, you will have to do so on your own Blogpage. You could write an article of your own, pointing at mine and say whatever you want to say and I could not immediately delete it.

Different communication systems handle this ownership differently — Twitter, Mastodon and similar systems don’t know any post-comment separation. Everything is a post, and every post fully belongs to the person who made it. That has upsides (as no one can maliciously remove your contribution) but also downsides (no one can easily take stewardship of a discussion, not even with the noblest of intents)

Lastly, there are some concerns about safety: Sadly, there will always be people who use communication systems to harass others. They could use technology to stalk people, flood their screens with hateful messages or simply spread rumors and lies about them. A good system will need a few tools to address that:

  • mute a person (prevent them from talking to you. They can still see your content, but are unable to show up on your screen)
  • block a person (same as muting, but they will also be unable to see your content)
  • throw someone out of the whole communication network (they cannot interact with anyone on this system anymore, at all.)

Not all of these tools should be in everyone’s hands (I should be able to decide that someone cannot see my things anymore, but a complete ban needs a higher and accountable authority), and not all of these need to be applied for a lifetime — sometimes it is sufficient to mute someone on just this one conversation, or for just a month. Sometimes people learn after a ban and come back as a better person.

So, having set down some definitions and ideas, how does all that relate to what I expect from a system that allows me to interact with others on a daily basis?

  • In case you haven’t noticed — I love the serendipity aspect of the Internet. It is a machine that keeps showing me new and exciting things and people.
  • I also am more interested in persons than topics — so I have a greater need to follow those, instead of just subscribing to car-news and roleplaying games.
  • Even if everyone comes with the very best intentions — moderation of a discussion is important. And I prefer if those moderation powers come in very small packages, limiting the scope of the moderation to just certain parts. If not, this can quickly sour a whole community if things go wrong.
  • I believe in ambient findability. That means that it should always be easy to see the whole discussion, and where they branch off. Threaded views are key for this.
  • Text — I love memes. Really. Communicating ideas and feelings with bits of moving pictures is a great thing. And I love gorgeous photography or a well-made video. But to convey complex ideas, Text is still the best carrier. Sure, make it illustrated and hyperlinked text, where you can look up related information. But due to so many restrictions (screen size, disabilities, can’t have audio on because I’m in a quiet place, I just don’t have the bandwith because #Neuland)
  • Lastly, and this has nothing to do with the things I outlined above, whatever system we use to build our social media stream with, it should be as open, portable and vendor-lockin-free as possible. Because we learned the hard way what happens otherwise…

Du willst also auch mal Rollenspiel ausprobieren?

Keine Sorge, es geht jetzt nicht um Cosmopolitan-Tipps um Euer Sexleben aufzubessern, sondern um diese tolle Hobby von dem alle reden: Fantasy Rollenspiele, Erzählspiele, Pen&Paper RPGs..

err.. Moooment! Hey, JollyOrc, Dein Blog ist voll von Rollenspielbeiträgen. Warum erklärst Du das jetzt nochmal?

Ganz einfach: Das hier ist ein Beitrag zum aktuellen Karneval der Rollenspielblogs, diesmal zum Thema „Tipps für neue Spielleiter“

Ah.. ok, das klingt nach einem hehrem Ziel. Weitermachen.

Danke.

Du warst also gerade beim Gratisrollenspieltag oder hast ein Starterset zu so einem Rollenspiel zum Geburtstag bekommen und willst loslegen. Prima, leg los!

Nein, wirklich, leg einfach los, Du schaffst das schon, mich brauchst Du dafür nicht.

Ok, Du bist immer noch hier, also bist Du entweder sehr, sehr neugierig oder irgendwas hindert Dich, einfach anzufangen. Was könnte das sein?

Du hast keine Mitspieler

Frag einfach Deine Freunde und Bekannte. Wenn die nicht begeisterungsfähig genug scheinen, schau in Foren oder die Spielerzentrale. Oder besuch eine Convention.

Du hast keine Ideen

So gut wie alle Rollenspielbücher und  Startersysteme kommen mit einem Einsteigerabenteuer und einer kurzen Einleitung, wie man das anfängt. Von da ergibt sich alles andere meistens fast wie von selbst. Wenn Du das schon hinter Dir hast, schau doch zum Beispiel mal auf die One Page Dungeons zur Inspiration! Alternativ bieten gerade die „großen“ Rollenspielsysteme wie Das Schwarze Auge, D&D oder Splittermond auch eine reichhaltige Auswahl an fertigen Abenteuerbänden.

Du weißt nicht, ob Deine Ideen gut genug sind

Es gibt nur einen Weg das herauszufinden: Probiere sie aus! Nimm die Idee und fang an zu spielen. Im allerschlimmsten Fall stellt Ihr fest, dass das gerade keinen Spaß macht, und dann macht Ihr halt was anderes. Das ist kein Weltuntergang, und danach hast Du mehr Erfahrung und kannst es nächstes Mal anders — und wahrscheinlich sogar besser machen!

Du weisst nicht, ob DU gut genug bist

Ich möchte Dir jetzt gerne versichern, dass Du natürlich gut genug bist. Und um einfach mitzuspielen bist Du es bestimmt. (Hier ist die Frage eher: Hast Du Lust darauf und haben Du und die anderen am Tisch auch Spaß daran. Wenn ja: Mach weiter und lass Dir von niemanden reinreden!)

Wenn Du selbst in die Rolle des Dungeon Masters, also der Spielleitung schlüpfen willst, dann sieht das etwas anders aus: Es gibt zwar keine harten Richtlinien, und vorab kann Dir niemand sagen, ob Du geeignet bist oder nicht, aber es gibt definitiv gute und schlechte Spielleitungen. Natürlich ist das kein Job, für den Du eine langjährige Ausbildung brauchst, und niemand verlangt von Dir, erst einmal alle Regelwerke und deren Kommentarbände im Internet zu lesen.

Aber Du solltest Spaß daran haben, für andere etwas vorzubereiten. Sei Dir klar, dass es sich hier um ein soziales Spiel handelt, und Du mehr damit beschäftigt sein kannst, die anderen Spieler zu lesen und anzuführen, denn einfach das Spiel nach Regeln abzuklappern.

Nichtsdestotrotz: Probiere es einfach aus. Lass Dir nicht den Mut, und vor allem nicht den Spaß nehmen!

Du willst Dich erstmal so richtig vorbereiten

Mach das ruhig. Aber sei Dir darüber klar, dass es unfassbar viel Material zum Thema gibt, sich das meiste widerspricht, Du bei fünf Rollenspielern sieben Meinungen zu einem Thema finden wirst, und im Endeffekt beim eigentlichen Spiel alles anders kommt.

Das bedeutet nicht, dass Vorbereitung eine schlechte Idee ist. Mindestens eine Person am Tisch sollte mindestens einmal zumindest die Schnellstartregeln des gewählten Systems gelesen haben, und das kannst natürlich Du sein. Dennoch, übertreibe es nicht, denn sonst traust Du Dich unter Umständen irgendwann gar nichts mehr.

Was Du auf jeden Fall vorbereitet haben solltest:

  • kenne die wichtigsten Regeln
  • kenne die wichtigsten Nichtspielerfiguren — und hab zur Sicherheit eine Liste ihrer Namen bereit
  • habe eine Vorstellung von den Örtlichkeiten, die Du Deiner Runde präsentieren willst. Verstehe, wie sie zusammenhängen, habe ein Gefühl davon, wie es ist, „da“ zu sein.
  • Sei bereit, all das wegzuwerfen, weil garantiert eine Person in Deiner Gruppe jemanden anspricht, den Du nicht vorbereitet hast, oder plötzlich alle entscheiden, dass Dein dahingeworfenes „ah, Rum aus der Teufelsee, wo sich nur die besten hinwagen“ als Herausforderung anzusehen…

Du weisst nicht, womit man am besten anfängt

Im Idealfall hast Du beim Gratisrollenspieltag ja schon was bekommen. Wenn nicht, macht nix: Es gibt diverse Möglichkeiten anzufangen, manche kostenlos, viele günstig: