Is your social media unbalanced? Here’s some help to fix it.

Several people have commented that their social media feeds are depressing, upsetting, bitter, and in most cases: an echo-chamber.

I wrote about this recently on what you can do about “Your Facebook Bubble“, how the algorithm works (particularly on Facebook), and why it’s important. So today I thought I’d share a list of Twitter and other sources you might consider adding to your feeds.

I took the effort a year or more ago to balance out my streams and sources with opposing and bi-partisan sources. if you’re reading a lot of Slate, or getting all your news from Sam Bee, Sean Hannity, or Jon Oliver, try balancing out with some of these folks. I watch Jon Oliver, too, but that doesn’t help the echo-chamber.

I have tried to avoid large “ad” entities, like political parties’ sources, though I follow each just to read what they’re saying. There’s no Drudge or Breitbart here. There’s no hate-mongering people here. I’m looking for smarts, not entertainment.

I also include several Indiana-specific people, too. If you find yourself lacking in knowledge about what’s happening at the State House, these folks are indispensable.

And if you find yourself saying, “Oh, no, I don’t want to see that”, you’ve missed the point and opportunity. If you feel angry at these things, then it’s probably working.

Is this the end-all list? Of course not. But this has helped me understand more sides of important issues.

I’ve linked to Twitter and sites where possible here. Facebook and other URLs can often be found in the bios of these people. You can follow me directly on Twitter @jlharter.

Nicke Gillespie – Journalist at Reason.com, a libertarian-leaning news source.

Reiham Salam – Writer for Slate and the National Review.

Adam Wren – Writer for Indianapolis Monthly and POLITICO.

Charles Cook – Editor for the National Review, frequent panelist on Real Time with Bill Maher

Grover Norquist –President of Americans for Tax Reform (“the tax pledge”), which has the ear of every elected representative in Washington.

Brian Slodysko – AP Political Reporter for Indiana.

Dan Carden – Statehouse Bureau Chief for the Times of NW Indiana.

SCOTUS Blog – Indispensable source for Supreme Court coverage.

Indiana Law Blog – to add to the former, Marcia Odi has done stellar work over the years covering Indiana’s Judiciary.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz – Veteran Indiana politics reporter with a conservative tilt.

Nikki Kelly – can’t recommend following her enough. Great Indiana government and politics reporter covering the State House. One of the few left.

Aaron Renn – Indiana native now working at the conservative Manhattan Institute. An urbanist covering issues related to city growth and economies.

Doug Masson – Lafayette attorney covering Indiana’s politics for about a decade.

Alex Griswold – Media reporter at Mediaite.

Matt Welch – Co-author of the Declaration of Independents.

HHR – The urban conservative blog.

Matt Taibbi – excellent writer and journalist (left-leaning) for Rolling Stone. Also a regular on Real Time With Bill Maher.

Windsor Mann – Writer and editor of The Quotable Hitchens.

David French – Senior Fellow at the conservative National Review Institute.

This guy pulled out a gun and you can pretty much guess what he did

Was that a firework going off, or a gunshot? In many US cities, you probably don’t know.

Louis C.K. has this bit called “Of course but maybe”. This is apt for this weekend. It was a violent holiday weekend in Indianapolis. Much will be and has been written about a mass shooting of seven people in Broad Ripple and the death of an officer on 34th street the next day. Plus the death of another officer in Gary, Indiana shot in his patrol car.

The seven people shot outside the Vogue on Saturday morning were bystanders. They were waiting to get into the bars and clubs and some guy bumped into another guy and guns were drawn. Of course this is bad. But maybe if you’re standing outside at 2:30 in the morning to get into a place to buy overpriced liquor, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sketchy people are there, too. Indianapolis Metro Police say over 100 witnesses were there, and almost none of those people have come forward with any kind of information about what happened.

A matter of hours later in an unrelated incident, Officer Perry Renn was shot in the line of duty by a 25 year old guy with a prior record, a family history, and a rifle that penetrated right through his vest.

This and the Broad Ripple shooting warrants a lot of talk, as it always does. This city loves to talk, as do most others. The Broad Ripple issue is basically inciting calls of, “Oh my gosh, bad things happened in the part of town we all like.” Which is a thinly veiled way of saying, “Scary black people have managed to get near popular places for white people.” Every time Fishers has a bank robbery one only needs to go 1 or 2 comments deep on an article to find people saying, “Of course, he came from Indianapolis.” Like they’re termites.

But for all the talk, on one side you’ll hear about how these shooters were low life’s, they should have been behind bars, they should get the death penalty. It’s all very simple. Just lock them up or kill them.

On the other side you’ll hear about how these shooters were victims, they were given a shitty lot in life, they don’t have much opportunity or choice, they came from broken and forgotten neighborhoods. The solution is in education.

The truth is both sides are right about the problems and wrong about the solutions.

Proposed solutions leave a lot to be desired

We can’t build an infinite amount of jail space. We can’t become a police state. It’s expensive housing prisoners, and it’s expensive prosecuting them to the death penalty. Because we want Justice, we want our system of judicial processes to work, and we want them to work well. But that takes time and money. Time we might have, but we don’t have a lot of money. And the same people who clamor for locking people up are the same people that say we’re becoming a police state. So those people clearly haven’t made up their mind about much.

We can’t educate our way out of this problem, either. At some point there has to be a realization that some people just aren’t capable of learning advanced math, or they have no interest. Frankly, some people are just there. They exist, they muddle along, then they die. This is, sadly, most people.

But we can’t force them into a Bachelor’s degree, and we can’t force them into a trade program. Because a lot of people don’t really want to do anything. Some people do nothing, and they’re really very okay with that. I know people like that. Much to the chagrin of the rest of us who work for a living or are trying to improve ourselves, those people do exist.

But the important realization is that a lot of people have no business being at IU or any other school. They barely have much business in high school sometimes. So we can’t just pour money on to schools. We already do that anyway with little return.

So we can’t jail them and we can’t educate them. What gives? What happened and what do we do?

The answer is probably nothing. People have been murdering other people for centuries and that’s never changed. We will never achieve a murder free environment in large cities. It’s more likely that as murder rates are at all-time low, our awareness of them is at an all-time high.

Gun control can be practical

Large cities have gun violence and their solution to create more gun control laws just can’t work. It’s a lot like traffic. Cities have traffic problems and they control that traffic with stoplights, signs, divided highways, and so on. Sometimes despite that, they still have traffic. This is just part of living in a city. Rural areas throw a sign in the mud and call it a day. That works for cities, and that works for rural areas.

Gun control can’t work because people in rural areas like and need guns. On any given night in a lot of rural communities, there is only one or two deputies on duty. Those officers may even be at their homes and just “on call”.

If you’re living in a rural community and someone comes rattling your door knob, no one will come help you. Or if they do, it will be too late. So people have guns so they can protect their own property, among other fair reasons like hunting and scaring away animals that may harm livestock or crops. Cities have the opposite problem. To my liberal friends, do not look down your nose at gun advocates.

But gun advocates need to see the folly in their ways, too. We could remove all the high powered weapons, and that’s probably fair and reasonable to do. It’s hard to see value in having small canons and armor piercing weaponry in urban or rural environments. Pistols, rifles, and other “common” weapons aren’t going anywhere and shouldn’t. Common sense regulations are also fair. It’s a little unreasonable that it’s more difficult to rent a movie from Blockbuster than it is to buy a gun.

Guns will always spill over into the streets regardless of these regulations. I hardly doubt some doofus in a gang worries about forms. But it’s a reasonable first step and gives police a little something to work on in an investigation.

You actually could do something

The majority of the problem is cultural, and Indianapolis sure has a problem with this. It’s racial, socioeconomic, and largely fixable but only with a massive cultural change.

If you think about human behavior, people move to the suburbs because it’s safer (statistically and it just “feels” nice). They get all the benefits of living in a city with none of the downsides except a little traffic in the the morning and afternoon. Not a bad trade, really.

But all of that suburban flight has left a hole in our cities and that hole is sucking everything down with it. As former Indianapolis mayor Bill Hudnut used to say, “You can’t be a suburb of nowhere.” Carmel and Fishers need only look at Lawrence, Speedway, and Beech Grove to see where they’ll be in 40 or 50 years.

People could just stop running away from their cities. They could buy their homes in cities, raise property values, send their kids to city schools and lift all the boats.

You could, dare I say it, be friends with people and develop relationships with your neighbors. Plenty of cities have good luck with this. It turns out rich white people don’t turn to stone when gazed upon by a poor person. As proof, look at Downtown Indy. We all notice the “homeless” people sitting around, but they don’t bother us so much because there’s all kinds of other cool, neat, and nice things and people around. It sort of “waters things down”, for lack of a better way of saying it.

People could start taking the bus, so we don’t keep referring to a group of people as “bus people”, with the inclination that they’re lazy, gross, or dirty and should be avoided. Then we could start seeing transit as part of our infrastructure and not a service to the poor like other truly world class cities. We’d increase density and have a system where people clamored to be on or near a transit line as opposed to rejecting it for fear that “bus people” might be there.

People could recognize that if you leave a group of people in an area to effectively stew in their own bowl of societal loathing and disregard, you shouldn’t be surprised when those people develop a chip on their shoulders and become agitated and upset.

People could recognize that you can’t lump people together into groups by income and be surprised that poor people begat more poor people. If you make minimum wage, you’re going to get cheap haircuts, so the person cutting hair makes less, too. So instead of fighting the idea of “affordable rental housing” near luxury condos, try for a happy medium. There is a bit of a nugget of truth to the old Reaganism to “lift all boats”.

None of the shootings that happen in this city or elsewhere are all that surprising or confusing to me and they shouldn’t be to you, either. But the causes are really on all of us.

When I was growing up, if a kid seemed a little lost, there were people around who’d help fill in the gaps. They didn’t all run off to the suburbs (if Salem had suburbs).

So stop running, stop being scared, and live amongst the humans that are our neighbors. You’ll do more than any legislator, police officer, or social service worker could ever do.

My Latest Project

I’ve been pretty quiet lately. I’ve been busy as of late, working this year at X-Mester again and working with my good friend Tony on our re:build web conference coming up at the end of July. There’s a lot going on.

So, it seems like the perfect time to start another project!

While I was away at X-Mester, I was getting up at 6 AM, maintaining client work, teaching and supervising students and going to bed around midnight. There wasn’t a lot of time for much of anything else. So I got behind in the news of the tech world, something I follow very closely. I’m a news junkie that way.

It made me realize how much most things just do not matter. The endless stream of Facebook posts about nothing, Twitter posts that seem out of context to everyone but that person and all the news stories that happened in my industry that were of such little quality.

I wanted a website where I can go to and find out all the important stuff really, really fast that’s well designed and with no distractions. I’ve always wanted something like that even when I’m at the office during the day working. I can easily spend a whole afternoon in RSS Hell reading story after story. Most of them aren’t really worth it. Have you ever read a blog post that changed your life? No, of course not.

So that’s why I’m soft-launching SlowNews.me. A site that’s run by me where I’ll post all the big stuff, the stuff that matters. For now, I’m getting into the swing of things, so posting may be off my self-imposed deadline of twice daily (by 6 am and lunch).

No more wading through posts about endless Apple rumors (“A 24 inch iPad by next week!”) or endless dribble about some new phone (“The Nokia N93522914 is coming soon!!1!!1”) or posts about how to upgrade your browser to the latest version of Chrome. I don’t need that and neither do you. Those sites post stories for the sake of posting. Listening to podcasts is too time consuming and using Twitter for news is fine if you want to organize a bunch of lists to keep all the power-users from dominating your stream. I’m posting for the sake of sanity.

It’s tech news at the speed of productivity for developers, designers, tech lovers and users. It’s time to get back to work.

Check it out at www.slownews.me. You can learn more about the site at www.slownews.me/about.

Quitting Facebook

Facebook is dead. The spam has won.

I’ve been using Facebook for nearly 7 years now and I cringe to think how much time I’ve wasted on it, but I don’t think it’s been that much compared to a lot of other people. I use Facebook like this:

  1. Login
  2. Look at the recent status updates
  3. Maybe make a few comments
  4. View photos if they look interesting

I’ve enjoyed Facebook for years because it’s seemingly removed the need for a high school reunion. I know what everyone’s up to, who does what and so on. I don’t follow much family on Facebook, but I can see how that’d be nice, too.

Lately, things have started to change. Facebook, like any other company, can’t just say, “Well, that’s perfect. Let’s just maintain this now and not innovate anymore.” Could you imagine if Henry Ford thought the Model T was “just perfect” and left it at that? What if Microsoft stopped at Windows ME? Companies and people can’t just get to a point and stop. That’s how societies stagnate and crumble.

The trick, however, is innovating and growing in a mature, sensible way with purposeful iteration.

Facebook grew out of the .edu-only years and started enabling everyone with anything to say a place to say it. They innovated quickly, pushed changes at people very quickly and without warning. A slew of privacy issues has come of it, too. Under pressure from Twitter, Gowalla, FourSquare and others, they’ve added real-time status updates, check-ins, chat, email, photo sharing and they’ve monetized by putting ads in front of people that are creepily more targeted than Google’s famed AdWords.

Facebook is the new AOL, trying to be everything to everyone and in the process is becoming nothing to no one. Here’s what I see right now as I log into Facebook:

With all due respect to the original authors, the first two posts are effectively ads. The third post is about a music video I don’t care about or like. The rest are seemingly mundane posts that I either don’t understand or have no affinity to. The last post is a check-in from someone I went to high school with. I’m sure they’re having a fine time, but I don’t know where that is or why I should care. It’s one thing to check in from the White House, Grand Canyon, Times Square or the Space Station. It’s another to post that you’re at some random bar. The events are always pointless to me because everyone invites me to everything from a birthday party to a meetup to a political event. Has anyone ever looked at their Facebook wall and thought, “Hey, I want to do that, too!” or “I’m there, too! Let’s meet!”

In my mind, Facebook is the ultra-social site that combines the one-off services from other providers. Check-ins from FourSquare or Gowalla, statuses from Twitter, photos from Flickr, video from YouTube and so on. It’s becoming a bit much.

I’ve taken the time to at least try to curate my friends list. I know many individuals who have blocked me on Facebook, mostly old high school classmates. That’s fine because we didn’t have that much in common anyway. But now I find that Facebook is becoming “User Streamed Spam”. I guess I do it, too, with blog post links and the sort. But I do try to curate my posts as best I can. I respect people’s viewing experience on Facebook. Most people do not and post whatever pops in their mind.

Twitter, for me, is a better experience. I’ve carefully selected who I do and don’t want to follow, which admittedly, doesn’t happen as much on Facebook. On Facebook, I tend to hide a lot of people. Usually people who I met once somewhere and now they know me from some event I hosted. I’ve unlinked my Twitter and Facebook account in an attempt to refocus status updates to both targets differently at times. And, I’ve un-followed people on Twitter because I follow them on Facebook (or vice-versa) and I got tired of seeing the same thing. That became very cumbersome. Now, Facebook has removed the ability to hide apps on your wall, too. It’s almost as if they’re forcing me to see everyone’s horoscope.

Maybe I’m an old fuddy-duddy, but I don’t like Facebook anymore. It isn’t fun, social or unique like it used to be. While I admit to using Facebook to blurt out some things I’m hosting, I try not to do it a lot. And, I actually do take the time to think about clever things to post on Facebook. No one cares about my dinner, I get that, and I don’t post about it. Heck, I don’t even care about  my dinner. I also try not to repost the same old things that have spread around the web time and time again.

The new polling feature is the death nail for me. I answered a question once, out of boredom, and lo, it re-posted to my feed with no way for me to know or delete it. I spammed people with some dumb question and didn’t even know it. I don’t care whether you like Pepsi or Coke enough to want to see it on my wall at 2:30 in the afternoon.

And, as an aside, on two occassions this week I’ve posted comments on two different people’s Facebook statuses. One, for instance, claimed that Obama moved his State of the Union Speech to accomodate Dancing with the Stars. That’s sorta true, if it weren’t for the fact that the State of the Union happens in January. I mentioned a correction that the speech was about Libya. A few minutes later, that post was deleted. How dare facts make it on to the Internet. On another occasion, someone removed a post because, I guess, they don’t like me. That’s fine, but it makes for a bad experience. That’s probably why Facebook doesn’t have a “Dislike” button. Everyone would get mad at everyone and just leave.

I’ll be leaving Facebook alone for a while and spending more time among the people and content I care more about over at Twitter. You can follow me @jlharter (or @justifystudios or @refreshindy or @rebuildconf). But unlike Facebook where it seems rude not to befriend a person when you both know you know each other, Twitter doesn’t have that culture so don’t expect me to automatically follow you back. It reminds me more of the early Facebook. I ‘like’ that.

Google Rolls Out Updated Algorithm

Google:

Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.

Translation: “We see you people trying to game our system by doing a bunch of bogus link crap. Stop it.”