Just Shelley Weblogging

Weblogging and 9/11: Something kind of broken

We look at today’s social media world post-Trump Presidency and we see a highly disconnected and fragmented world. The media proclaims it’s never seen society so polarized, but we’ve always been polarized. The only difference now is who controls the visibility of the fragments.

Unlike earlier years, what was fit to print, or fit for all of us to know, was controlled by the media. First the newspapers, then radio, and finally TV.

Now, we’re all publishers, even if all we publish is 280 character blurbs to a handful of people. And as publishers, every single one of us proclaims as loudly and emphatically as we can our interests and our beliefs, and all too frequently, our disagreements. It’s a wonder we can still think with all this chaotic noise.

It never used to be this way I think to myself, as I spend time recovering old weblog pages from the Wayback Machine. Before there was Twitter, and before there was Facebook or TikTok or Instagram, we had weblogging: a tightly integrated community of early practitioners who linked each other in a continuing dialog that was equally special and mundane, profound and silly.

Yet at the very beginning, we were broken.

9/11 and the rise of social media

Weblogging wasn’t the first example of social media. I’d say that honor goes to Usenet, which was fairly popular before the invention of the web. But weblogging made social media accessible to everyone, not just enthusiasts and geeks.

This page is as good a history of weblogging as I can find online. As you can see, weblogging started not long after the web, itself, though the number of webloggers began small. But this all changed with 9/11.

I remember watching the horrific events of 9/11 unfold in real time on TV that day. We watched as the planes hit and the towers fell. In the days after 9/11,  many of us wanted to reach out to people, to connect, and to talk about the events and try to make sense of what happened.

At the same time, our country was in a virtual lockdown. We’ve forgotten with the recent COVID-related restrictions that this isn’t the first time the country has been locked down. It isn’t even the first in recent history. The photo at the beginning of this writing is one I took from my apartment in San Francisco. Two days after 9/11 the military showed up with barbed wire and concrete barricades, blocking off a major street in order to protect the machinery of the Bay Bridge.

A combination of wanting to connect while physically distanced combined with new tools and inexpensive hosting led to an explosion of weblogs. And thanks to blogrolls and linking, we formed communities of seemingly like-minded people who became close even though we might be on the other side of the world from each other.

However, if 9/11 brought us together, the events following 9/11 soon started tearing us apart.

9/11 and the fracturing of social media

What brought on this writing was spotting a graphic from a Wayback Machine archived page of my friend Jeneane Sessum’s Allied weblog. I had recently discovered my old Radio weblog pages in the Wayback Machine, and shared the discovery with my Facebook friends. Many of these friends are people I’ve known for decades now because of our earlier weblogging connections. So, I posted links to some of their pages, too.

In a page from 2002, Jeneane had posted a sidebar graphic that read “1st off Mike Sanders’ Blog”.

Graphic reads 1st off Mike Sanders' BlogI hadn’t thought about this event, or Mike Sanders, in years. The graphic brought back the memories, albeit a bit fuzzy from time.

I searched throughout my Wayback Machine archives for the same time frame, and found the post that explained what this was about. I’ve recovered it to Burningbird, but you also have to look at the page in context.  It links a March 1, 2002 weblog posting that read:

I was out of town but had to return early.

This morning I received an email from Mike Sanders asking me to remove his weblog link from my blogroll and he has removed my weblog from his. The reason is because of my “moral equivalency” arguments last week, and because I linked to Daniel Ord’s piece Stereopticon in Friday’s post.

According to Mike:

    • Unfortunately some of my fellow bloggers understand and/or support both the Palestinian terrorist reign against Israel and terrorism against the US. I can longer in good conscious include those people on my blogroll list and I respectfully request anybody who understands or supports Palestinian terrorism or Islamic terrorism to please remove my name from your blogroll list as well.

I wrote the following in an email to a friend, regarding my posting on Friday:

    • No one noticed in my posting, my use of “viewpoint”, not opinion. Though sometimes treated as synonyms, they aren’t the same thing. A viewpoint is a point of view, the culmination of all our life’s experiences. How we see things. From this issues both action and opinion. Without understanding and respecting each other’s viewpoints, we can’t hope to understand where each of us is coming from when we speak or act.
    • I started my list with Ord because he is doing just that — he’s showing two viewpoints of the same incident. Without understanding the Palestinian viewpoint of the WTC tragedy, we can’t hope to stop these incidents from happening again, because we’ll never understand why they happened in the first place. The title of his piece tells us this — stereopticon.
    • stereopticon — viewpoint
    • I deliberately listed absolutely conflicting opinions, and invited the audience to understand the different viewpoints.

My first time being accused of supporting terrorism

Two things made Sanders’ email stand out. The first was that it was the only time when someone had asked me to remove a weblog link, not just remove a link to my page from their weblog. Today, this would be equivalent to someone on Twitter blocking you, but having to ask your permission, first.

The second was being accused of supporting terrorism because we weren’t willing to condemn Palestinian actions post 9/11. Mike Sanders was a strong supporter of Israel. In the process, he not only stepped over the line into Islamophobia, he raced across it. To the point where he would label us terrorists solely because we were willing to listen to other viewpoints.

Being labeled a terrorist by some extreme conservative isn’t all that unusual on Twitter or Facebook today, but it was a shock back in the early days of weblogging. Especially when the person leveling the accusation was a friend, or at least, you thought he was a friend.

And the fragments would only grow as our group broke into pieces over the Bush invasion of Iraq.

Killing the Blogroll

My response to the Sanders’ request was to eliminate my blogroll in its entirety. I had been considering doing so anyway, because I thought it was better to introduce folks through my writing and referencing them, rather than a static list of links in the side of the page.

If you random sample my old weblog URL on the Wayback Machine in later years, you won’t see a blogroll. Hell, you won’t even see more than one page column to my site now, in deference to mobile devices.

Mike Sanders’ request was the tipping point to the decision. I didn’t want to list or be listed or be beholden or not to someone because of links or not. I didn’t want to endorse or be endorsed. If I liked what someone wrote, I wanted to point it out to folks. If I wrote something interesting, I hoped for the same.

barbed wire

Thankfully, I never had anyone email me and tell me not to link to their writing. Perhaps this will change as I become more active in this space again.

End of Story

So much writing about something that happened so long ago. And probably much ado about nothing.

Mike Sanders quit his weblog that December, but he was back weblogging the following spring. And yes, he had a blogroll, and yes, I was on it.

It wasn’t as easy for me to push it all aside, though. It wasn’t just being accused of supporting terrorists. It was the idea that someone felt that they could tell me what I could or could not do on in my own web space.

Yet here I am, on Facebook and Twitter, letting them tell me what I can or cannot do in my own space.

There’s something kind of broken about that.







Comments cont.

I just published the second part of the essay on comments at Many-to-Many:

When I chastised the other person, when I suggested how they should change their interaction and behavior, we were no longer peers discussing a volatile subject – I had assumed a parental role, trying to force a child role on the other person. And, in some ways, Sam assumed a parental role when he chastised me.

I hope you also take a moment to read what others have written on this subject by following the trackbacks attached to my earlier posting, and those who have trackbacked to Sam’s postings. There are many eloquent and thoughtful arguments on what is not an easy issue.


Weblogging: More Than Words

Two friends have stopped by to say hi since I turned comments back on.

Bill mentions the Radio Userland days,which puts us back in very ancient weblogging territory. So ancient that today’s TikTok kids weren’t even born when we got together in Userland pages.

I also used to have a Userland Manila weblog, but those days are permanently gone. The Manila weblogs were lost in the Wayback Machine because of a bot-killer Dave Winer implemented. Sad, but such is life.

AKMA also stopped by and discussed doing weblog  recovery for his space, but what about the comments? We can recover the words, but we can’t recover the comments.

Indeed this is the biggest loss when we’ve moved our spaces all about: we can move our words, but we’ve left the community behind.

Thankfully, Wayback Machine rode in and saved the internet. Not only does it preserve a page, it preserves the theme of the page, the look and feel and in-place context. It also frequently preserved the comments.

I may have recovered the words to Cheap Eats at the Semantic Web Cafe in this space, but the Wayback Machine saved everything else about that old posting in its space. And I’m eternally grateful for the gift it’s given us.

You see what I did there? I did weblogging.

Burningbird Technology Weblogging

Another year, another web server

Drupal 7 is right around the corner, and my efforts to see how it would work on my existing server made me decide it is time to move to another hosting company. I need more control over my own space, and what is, or is not, installed. After discussions with the inestimable Laura Scott (@lauras), my go-to person for anything Drupal, I’ve decided on a Linode VPS account.

Linode has attracted a good Drupal community, which is important to me. In addition, it provides an extremely easy to use interface, which makes it quite simple to manage the space. I also like the fact that the company provides a good selection of documentation on how to do things geared to its own environment.

Since I’m making a major Drupal upgrade and moving to a new server, now is the time to look seriously at how my web sites are configured and designed, and make changes. I think this is one of the advantages to major releases—they provide a time to stop, think, and decide if you want to keep what you, or if now is the time to make all those other little changes you’ve been thinking about.

Since I’ve designed my own Drupal themes, I need to upgrade them to Drupal 7, as well as incorporate new HTML5/RDFa features. I may even do a re-design, not sure yet. I don’t like web site designing, so I may just grab one of the existing Drupal themes, and tweak it.

Several of my sites haven’t been updated in a donkey’s age, so I need to figure out if I’m going to continue writing at the sites. I probably will keep most, if not all, but I may do some major re-organizing.

I’ve not been taking many photos this year, as some of you have noticed. I need to re-design my photo pages to incorporate Drupal 7 changes and also my changed photography habits.

I’ve become much more interested in eBooks and the ePub format this last year. I was looking at creating an ePub module for Drupal, but someone already started this effort(Drupal ePub Module). However, there’s been little work on the module, and I’m thinking that an extension to the Print Module is a better approach. Or perhaps the best thing to do is just create an ePub friendly XHTML theme, and do a wget or curl on a book’s pages and use one of the many existing ePub publishing tools to create an ePub eBook. It’s better to be a smart developer than a clever one, and smart developers use what exists. Plus the same pages can be used to create a Kindle book, a Nook, and others.

I have been thinking of incorporating Disqus into some of my web sites. I’ve used this service at other sites, and I like how it works. Commenters can edit their comments, track their discussions across many sites, and they don’t have to provide a username and password for each web site (*cough* Gawker) to expose to hackers. Plus, if I turn comments off, the people still have access to their own writing. And Drupal has a module for Disqus, though I’ve not been able to get it to work with my theme (another reason to re-design my pages).

One thing I really like about Drupal 7 is if you don’t like the new administration interface, you can turn off all the new bits. You can turn off the overlay (don’t like), the page-top toolbar (still considering), and the new Dashboard (a keeper). I also like the fact that all the modules I use now are either incorporated directly into Drupal 7, or the developers have guaranteed a first day Drupal 7 release. Most of the modules have also committed to accessibility—that’s something you don’t often see with content management systems. Or W3C specifications.

Burningbird Technology Weblogging

My first attempt at Drupal 7 upgrade fails

I made my first attempt to use the new Drupal 7 beta to upgrade my existing module experiment site. Unfortunately, I quickly ran into a fatal error:

DatabaseSchemaObjectExistsException: Table cache_path already exists. in DatabaseSchema->createTable() (line 621 of /home/myname/public_html/books/includes/database/

I submitted a bug for the error at the time it happened. Checking back later, though, I couldn’t find the bug. I assumed I had mucked it up somehow when submitting, so re-submitted it. However, when I checked a couple of minutes later, I couldn’t find the second bug. I noticed then that when you access My Issues, it only shows open bugs. When I adjusted to show all bugs, I found that my bugs had been quickly closed out by someone saying they were duplicates of another.

I can understand the enthusiasm the developers have with wanting to close out bugs quickly, but unfortunately, my bug was not a duplicate of the bug so noted. What caused the problem, though, is known, but the error message I received was inaccurate.

Drupal 7 is dependent on the PHP Data Objects (PDO) extension that is now in PHP core. Previously, we could add PDO via PECL—the PHP Extension Community Library. However, the PECL PDO is out of date and Drupal 7 now only supports the core PDO.

One problem with this, though, is that cPanel, the site management tool popular with many Shared Hosting companies, disabled PHP core PDO because of compatibility issues. It’s only been recently that the application has stopped disabling PDO, but hosting companies like mine are still in the process of upgrading to the PHP core PDO. Until these companies make this upgrade, we can’t upgrade to Drupal 7.

The problem is further compounded by the fact that the Drupal 7 upgrade doesn’t test for the appropriate version of PDO, and we get bizarre errors such as the one I described earlier. Luckily, there is now a patch, which I ended up testing yesterday and that should give people the appropriate error. The problem with it, though, is that it recommends people check out the requirements page for Drupal, which, among other things, informs people that they can install PDO with PECL.

screenshot of Drupal requirements page with PECL PDO instruction highlighted

Hopefully, the disconnects will soon be corrected, and most folks are in environments where the PDO is from PHP core, rather than PECL. I was impressed at how fast everyone did jump on this after the initial duplicate bug mistake was discovered. Once the patch is in place, and the documentation updated, people will at least now know why they can’t upgrade and can chat with their hosting provider about the necessary upgrade.

Until my own shared environment is upgraded, though, I’ll have to stay in 6.x land. Many thanks to Everett Zufelt for his help in pulling all the Drupal pieces together for me.