Where should I put my Internets?

For the past six months or so, I’ve been wrestling with where to put all of my Internet content. I create various things from time to time, and I like them being available and visible (and in many cases, open for modification and redistribution, a la MIT license or Creative Commons). But I’m at the point where many of the services I’ve used for a long time are no longer doing it for me.

  • Photos: For the past six years, I've posted pictures on Flickr. The platform has been left to decay ever since Yahoo bought it, and a lot of their user base has left. The recent iPhone app upgrade is probably too little and too late. (Especially since I'm not an iPhone person.) I've experimented with some other services, including Instagram, but none seem quite as open, simple, and powerful as Flickr was (and still is).
  • Programming projects: I've got a code page here that I assembled when I was looking for jobs. I've got a lot of Greasemonkey on UserScripts.org, but I think it's been abandoned (emails are bouncing and there have been no blog updates for 18 months), and it was never that great to begin with. What I'd like is something that's useful for both technical friends (navigate my code easily, like GitHub) and non-technical ones to (download UserScripts and play with some of the interactive things I've made).
  • Minor thoughts: Last month, I found that I'd read very little on Facebook that I cared about. I've taken a bit of time away, and realized I don't miss it that much. I'm still sorta active on Twitter, but as far as network effects, it's not nearly as powerful. I'm not sure what I want from this sort of social network, but I do know that Facebook had it. It's just too bad that the downside (uninteresting noise) of Facebook outweigh it. Perhaps the answer is just a friend list purge.

I’m no longer at the point in my life where I want to reinvent the wheel for any of these things. I want a simple solution that allows me to do what I’m interested in doing. (That’s apparently: taking pictures, writing small bits of code, complaining, and moving on.) Simplifying my blog back in the fall was one part of this struggle, but it was really just a tiny step.

I'm an image meme

Three winters ago, I took this picture while I was working from home, waiting for the icy roads to warm up. Since then, it’s become a fairly common photo to accompany blog posts about working from home. (Thanks, in part, to my very friendly Attribution-only Creative Commons licensing.) Here are a couple examples.

But now it’s come back to bite me. I’m now an image meme called “Freelancer Fred”. It’s on quickmeme, and BoingBoing covered it yesterday.

The Eternal Shame of Your First Online Handle

Inspired by The Eternal Shame of Your First Online Handle, here’s my story. My first online handle was simply Pink Floyd. I was somewhat obsessed with them when I connected (via 2400 modem) to C-C-Chat, a ten-user simultaneous chat system. This was probably 1994. Within not too long, I was going by Pinky more than the full version. I bounced back and forth between Pinky and Zamboni Man on local BBSes.

When I logged into IRC for the first time in 1996 or so, “Pinky” and “Pink Floyd” and many derivatives thereof were taken on the quite busy EfNet. So to come up with a unique name, I just concatenated the first two things I came up with. And CheesePez was born. I finally stumbled upon Plutor in a fit of sleep deprivation the summer between High School and college. I think nowadays the most promising online handles aren’t words or names, but rather simply pronounceable strings of letters.

What’s yours?

Stack Overflow

I’m not a huge fan of karma-accumulation websites. You know what kind of site I mean: Other people can vote up or down your stories and comments, and you get points when you’re voted up, and lose points when you’re voted down. There are lots of these, each with their own scoring foibles: Digg and Reddit are two of the most well-known. Slashdot has done it for a while (in fact, I think they’re why I still call this concept “karma”). The concept is good: You limit the requirements for moderators by allowing users to essentially moderate each other. If a post or comment gets enough down votes, it might vanish. If a post gets a lot of up votes, it becomes more prominent. Fewer dedicated moderators generally means lower overhead costs and, in theory, a “fairer” moderation policy.

In practice, though, there are a lot of things to not like about these schemes. Accumulating points becomes an end in itself, which leads to posting a lot of simple or purposely-misrepresented posts (“whoring”). When points are used to control if your posts are seen at all, creating multiple sockpuppet accounts to vote up your own contributions (“gaming”) is inevitable. On the larger sites, an above-the-fold link can mean tens of thousands of hits; gaming then becomes a lucrative business. Preventing whoring and gaming through algorithms can work, but search engine optimizers are smart and tenacious. It’s a continuous arms-race.

Stack Overflow logoStack Overflow is a point (“reputation”) accumulating site that somehow works extremely well. At first glance, it is a simple programming question-and-answer forum where you gain reputation for answering questions and having those answers voted up or chosen as “correct” by the asker. But there’s a number of things I haven’t seen anywhere else that makes Stack Overflow excel where other sites struggle. The most obvious difference is that you are able to do more things as you gain reputation. You can’t even vote up questions or answers until you’ve received a couple of votes of your own, increasing the burden to entry for sockpuppets and gaming. Maybe more importantly, points accumulation isn’t single dimensional. Stack Overflow gives you badges for activities that are difficult to game, and displays your badge count right next to your reputation.

But there’s a bigger reason why this works on Stack Overflow. There’s no real benefit to gaming or whoring. Since the focus of the website is question-and-answer, instead of directing traffic to other websites, there’s almost no way to make a profit from having a question voted way up. And the relative smallness of the audience compared to some of the giants out there means that even if there was a way to turn a profit, focusing on other sites would still give you a better return. What’s left to be seen is if Stack Overflow can keep such a high signal-to-noise ratio as it continues to grow.