Uncategorized #9 – The Web We Wanted

March 1, 2020 in Uncategorized

We have new neighbors. I you’ve been following along, you may recall me complaining about all the construction noises. Well, that’s over, and the new tenants have started to move into the unit next to us. I saw them in the lobby this morning, moving a few boxes from their car with a shopping cart. Peak Brooklyn, as they say. 

The temps have dipped back down, and it’s March! Even with the extra day, February seems like it’s only half a month. March is a regular, “proper” month, and my calendar is already nearly filled, so continue to follow along, as I will be quite prolific this month if all goes well!

Previously

Last week I took a turn down memory lane and talked about all the craziness that happened after 911. 2002 was an insane year. I got some interesting feedback, including one message that reminded me about the whole Anthrax scare that also happened around the same period in Washington, DC. Weird I sort of purged that one from my memory—not sure why. 

I’m gonna come back again and again to this time period, but I need to do this over a long series of posts, spread out over time. That’s just how it has to be. 

This Week

This past week was pretty rough. Everyone was sick with various colds or flus and now we are all on the mend and heading back to 100%. Meanwhile the coronavirus has quite literally taken over every aspect of every social media platform and news outlet I follow. I had to delete Facebook from my phone because I just can’t take it anymore—all the fear and doubt and posturing, and mostly just blind re-posting and re-circulating of articles. Facebook has rendered itself literally useless to me. I will check in from time to time on my computer, but I’m gonna do my best to stay logged out. Sometimes you just need a break!

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking a lot about the web, social media, and blogs and privacy. I’ve been following along with a few folks online who I admire and who have really caused me to think hard about how and why we do the things we do these days on the web, especially when it comes to public institutions like museums and cultural orgs.

Let’s see if you can follow my train of thought here.

There’s a new email platform coming out called “Hey.com” by the makers of Basecamp.com. It’s meant to be a new email service focused on bringing us back to the days where email was actually fun and useful. So, they’ve been talking a lot online about privacy, creepy tracking of email opens, and all the fun things marketers do to “create a better experience for their customers.”

The fact is, the internet was pretty awesome, and then someone invented ad-tech and it all went to shit. Now, just a simple browse around the web and you are tracked from place to place, and delivered advertisements based on your interests and your profile. We all know the big joke now where you can be having a conversation about a product with a friend and next thing you know it’s in your Instagram feed, right? Well, it’s not a joke, it’s real, and super creepy, and makes me really hate the way the internet works these days. 

Then, a new online news/journalism outlet called The Markup launched. I’m so happy to see this finally happening, partly because I know someone who works there, but also because it’s such a refreshing thing to see in this world of silly, corporation owned journalism. They’re a non-profit and they’ve decided to make all their content licensed with Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND licenses, and they have zero tracking enabled on their site. Not only that, but they also switched to another mailing list service so that they could turn off all tracking there as well.

I started to think about this list, and how I have been tracking your opens and how I shouldn’t be.

So then I tweeted about how I think museums should really reconsider their default, blanket use of Google analytics, which is easily installed on any website and sends user info back to Google. I even came back and tweeted a thread of a number of alternatives and strategies. Right in the middle of all that, Smithsonian made a huge announcement about how they’ve released over 2.8 million images into the public domain and nearly 14 million collection records available in their API. It’s a major milestone for the institution and I know it took over a decade for this to happen, so I am super happy about all of it.

I guess I am starting to conflate open access initiatives at museums with those same museums doing things like installing Google Analytics on all their websites. Here’s the thing, it just doesn’t pair.

On the one hand, we have all these institutions making huge waves, “leadership moments” as they might call them, by putting their collections, images and other media out there for anyone to use for free. It’s truly a great thing, and one of the major aspects of the work we do at my studio. But, on the other hand, these same institutions, without really thinking much of it, are capturing their visitors data and sending it off to Google for nothing. The museum gets to use Google Analytics for free so they can pat themselves on the back when their latest marketing campaign hits their target, and Google gets to deliver on its promise to its advertisers. But what does the visitor get? 

Museums have been so vocal about privacy concerns, accessibility and inclusivity amongst other things when it comes to the brick and mortar visitor, but when it comes to the online folks (many of which are the same actual people) it seems like its perfectly ok to send off their personal data to the biggest tech company in the world without consent or even acknowledgment. Yuck. It just feels like yuck and I can’t really explain why, except that I know it’s yucky. 

So, here’s a tweet thread I posted with a few ideas on alternative strategies instead of using GA. — https://twitter.com/micahwalter/status/1233082274733625345

I will just leave you with this statement from the American Alliance for Museums. They did a study recently and found the following:

  1. Museums support 726,000+ US jobs.
  2. More people went to museums than pro sporting events in 2018.
  3. Americans consider museums to be the most trustworthy sources of information.

That last one really hit home. How are museums going to continue to be thought of as the “most trustworthy sources of information” when all along they’ve been just another cog in the great big Google ad machine?

We need to un-yuck this up, and fast.

Finally at the end of the week, Seb Chan pointed me to a couple of articles about “blogs.” They’re still at the top of my reading list, but my mind is already spinning. Why did blogs die? Or did they? I’ve got a new love for Feedly, my RSS reader, who’s been helping me re-discover the internet. The feeds never went away, we just stopped following them. There is still a wonderful World Wide Web of blogging happening all over and its some of the best stuff I’ve been reading these days.

Playlist

None this week. Sorry!

Reading List

Museum Facts by the AAM – https://www.aam-us.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Museums-Facts-Infographic.pdf

Swinging the Vote — Swinging the Vote? – The Markup

24 Hour Theory People: Mark Fisher and the blogosphere

24 Hour Theory People: Part 2

Epilogue

I feel like this episode was half a rant and half a whirlwind of emotions about museums and privacy and openness and all that. I feel like that’s just fine. It’s what I’m here for. Not all of these thoughts have really crystalized for me yet, and plus, the hazy fog of illness is still doing the work of leaving my body, so there is that. But, I wanted to raise these issues here and now, because I think there’s still a light at the end of the tunnel and a way back to the un-yucky, non-creepy, creepy in a different way, less-slimy version of the web we always wanted. We just need to do our part. So, like a few other pioneers out there, I will be turning off all tracking on this newsletter going forward. I don’t need to know if you opened this email or if you clicked a link or two. I sent it to you and if you want to reply, please do. That’s the whole transaction. Nothing slimy, nothing secretive, no dark corners—it’s just an email.

Until next time, have a good week!

-micah


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