Reification In Social Media: More Please


1. The consideration of an abstract thing as if it were concrete, or of an inanimate object as if it were living.
2. The consideration of a human being as an impersonal object.
3. (programming) Process that makes out of a non-computable/addressable object a computable/addressable one.

(see also the Wikipedia disambiguation page)

I find the concept of reification fascinating and useful (according to Five Dollar Words for Programmers, it's from the Latin res facere, "thing making"). I actually didn't know about meaning #1 (especially in the fallacy sense, as in "we need to be careful not to reify the economy"), nor about meaning #2 (apparently it's a thing in Marxism and in critical theory). The Computer Science/programming meaning, however, is something that I think about constantly, and I would like to explain why it's relevant to you.

Let's start with an example of what reification is in social media.

Consider a plain blog post, either on WordPress or on LiveJournal. It's a generic, untyped container, and it can hold pretty much anything expressible in HTML -- text, links, images, videos, and so on. The fact that posts are general-purpose is a good thing. But the downside is: the blogging engine cannot readily determine what kind of post it is.

Now, take a look at what Tumblr does, when you go to make a new post. It gives you choices:

You can make a Text post (very much like a regular blog post, with links and paragraphs and so on). But also, you can instead post a single standalone Photo. Or just a URL (Link) you want to share, with commentary or without. Or a link to a (YouTube, say) Video. (I didn't actually know what the Chat type is for, but apparently it's for "overheard" conversation snippets). You get the idea. Now, why do they have those choices? Can't you just make a plain blog post (using text or HTML), and have it consist of a single YouTube video link, and have it serve the same purpose? I'm going to explain the advantages shortly. The key thing to note is what's happening here, behind the scenes.

If you made a regular blog post, and all it contained was a quote that you liked, in quotation marks and everything, you would know that the post contained a quote. And your readers would know that the quote was the whole point of the post. (You could also add proper HTML markup, and actually put it into blockquote tags). But the blogging engine, the system, wouldn't know that it was a quote.

But if, instead, you had a way to explicitly mark your post as a Quote type (by clicking on the new Quote button in Tumblr, for example), that would be an example of reification. The blogging software would then "know" that your entry was about a quotation, in the sense of, you could test for the type in the backend logic, and display the quote differently, file it in its own category, and offer new functionality based on that knowledge.

To put it simply, reification (in the context of social media software), is where when you go to make a new entry, you can choose what kind of thing it is (whether you're creating a long-form post, a short Twitter-style note, or just sharing a link, or uploading a photo).

So, why force users to make extra decisions, why complicate your code, risk confusion, and so on? Reification enables you to do the following things.


You can display entries of different types, well, differently. If it's a quote, you can center it, put really bitchin' giant quotes around it, format the author/source of the quote correctly, center the whole thing, and so on. If it's a YouTube video, the user can just post a URL, and behind the scenes, you can actually post an embedded YouTube player already showing the video, and so on. This is a minor advantage, relatively speaking, since technically, the user could apply those special styles manually (if they knew HTML and cared about doing that).


Instead of a single generic stream of posts (which is the only option for a system like LiveJournal), you can now give readers additional choices. Do they not feel like reading at the moment, and just want to look at pictures their friends posted? They can click on the Photos stream, and only view those. Or the inverse -- don't care to be spammed by people posting videos or pictures, at the moment? Turn those off, for this session. FetLife does this quite well, by the way -- you can either read your entire update stream, or just view people's pictures, or videos, or only their posts, etc. In this context, you can think of post types as agreed-upon tags/categories, that are built right into the user interface, to make the reader's experience easier.

Aggregation and New Functionality

Once you start going down this path of having explicit entry types, you can really get creative with your functionality.

For example, having a separate standalone Photo type means that you can now easily integrate with third-party photo-specific services (and vice versa). So now, when you upload a photo, you can select a checkbox and also have it post to your Instagram account (or Flickr, or Pinterest, or whatever comes along). Similarly, you can now extend Instagram/Tumblr/whatever clients to also cross-post to your blog engine, correctly typed and formatted. And if you look at it another way, having Photos integrated into your blogging platform in a first-class way can replace specialized services like Instagram. You can now offer the same functionality as Instagram, for example (in the sense of, a dedicated image feed from your friends), with the advantage of being able to reuse users' existing friends lists, filters/circles, and other such security and trust mechanisms.

Even if there are no other third-party services to integrate with, for a particular post type, this separation means that you're gaining the functionality of standalone apps. Consider Links, for example. Why use a standalone bookmarking service (do you remember in addition to sharing those links with your friends, when you can click a tab and view all of the links (and just the links) you've ever posted? Same with Quotes. I love quotes, and keep a simple quote text file. I would much rather have it integrated into my blogging system/social network, so I can see quotes that other people posted, so I can see just mine, so they can be linked off of my user profile.

You can now have all sorts of fun with stats. Viewing a user's profile, you could now view a pie chart, "This user's activity is 80% videos, 10% photos, and 10% text posts".

That's just with a small handful of existing types that Tumblr offers. And those types only denote what kind of media a post primarily contains. You could actually get even more specific, and start marking more abstract conceptual categories, denoting an author's intentions:

Book/movie/game reviews - What if you had a way to explicitly mark "this post is a review"? Now, you could say "I really like how catvalente writes about movies! Let's see what else she's watched and reviewed lately." Or "regyt wrote some intriguing book reviews last month, let's see if I can find that one book she raved about." Review types are especially powerful when combined with widely-recognized unique IDs. If you can not only select "This post is a book review", but also input its ISBN number? From there, given an open enough API, it's a skip away from being able to install a browser plugin, so that when you're looking at a particular book in your favorite online bookstore/library/whatever, you can see at a glance what your friends, from your contact list, had to say about the book.

Recipes I would love to be able to view the recipes my friends list posted, or to use my own feed as a personal cookbook.

Quantified Self type entries - Things like RunKeeper entries, exercise program updates, diet progress, steps walked, all that stuff which you now track through separate apps, and keep separate contact books (and filters, if the apps have any) for, why not centralize those channels, and reuse one set of friendslist / filters / whatever?

So, to summarize: reification, in the contest of social media posts, offers all sorts of useful new features and capabilities, and I would like to see more of it.

The Flattening of Design

I'm still not sure how I feel about the "All the things must be flat" design trend. (Well, that's not true, I certainly hate Windows 8's Xbox-like desktop, the way that the Xbox UI was changed to match it, and the iOS 7 UI update.) Also, I did notice, the other day, how LJ's own user interface was certainly, er, flattenized.

But, I thought this article was interesting:

The Flattening of Design

"[...] companies aren't simply following Microsoft's lead in the quest for flat. There are cultural and technological reasons for this new look and feel."
Also, unrelated (well, related in that the article mentioned that the flat design is reminiscent of these):

Gallery of Russian Propaganda Posters

Github Page Views / Analytics

Something I didn't know about, and was excited to find out yesterday.

Github finally has traffic analytics built-in! (Well, finally as in this past January. But still, I didn't realize!) And all thanks to Ilya Grigorik and his excellent ga-beacon repo.

See, for the longest time, if you had a Github repository, you could only get a sense of how many times your code has been forked, or how many people "starred" it or were watching it. But to answer a question as simple as "How many page views did my repository get?", you had to arrange your own tracking.

Since you couldn't put your own Javascript snippets into a README file, using Google Analytics was right out. So the only other recourse was to use a "beacon" image (this is how email views are tracked, also, by the way). If you included an image (usually a clear 1x1 pixel image) that lived on a server you controlled, you could track how many times the image was requested, and so you could track page views (and the usual analytics stats).

Ilya took the next step, with the ga-beacon repo. He used the beacon image idea, and hooked it up to Google Analytics, so you could get all those nice graphs and tracking for free.

Once the repository became popular enough, it sounds like Github decided to just include this functionality natively. (So, if you own the repo, go to its Graphs > Traffic, to see the page views and visits).

Though you can still use his code, since Google Analytics provides more info and better graphs than the simple reporting included in Github.

So, this made me happy for two reasons:
1) Github has native pageview analytics now!

2) If your favorite site is lacking features, sometimes you can embarrass it into supporting them by coding them yourself, and having your code become sufficiently widespread.

Solar Roadways, etc

I've been thinking about solar panels a lot lately, not sure why. (Probably because I've been reading a lot of apocalyptica, and thinking about energy and technology trends).

A coworker sent me a link to the Solar FREAKIN' Roadways! youtube video. Which is an exuberant info video about the Solar Roadways Indiegogo project.

So the video is awesome. But I was immediately thinking, wait, so, what's the downside here. Cause it seems way too interesting and promising.

And the first question that popped into my mind was -- the manufacture process is key here. I wasn't quite sure about what was involved in the process of solar cell manufacturing, but I vaguely remembered various doom-prophecying analysts saying that solar tech at the moment involves too many rare metals, so is not scalable, etc.

Taking a look at the project's FAQ page did not fill me with confidence.

Q: Are you using rare earth metals in your Solar Road Panels? Will there be enough? Will it be toxic?

A: "Neither of us have expertise in this area, but we plan to hire a materials engineer who does to help us. [...]"

Yeah, see, that did NOT sound promising to me. "A materials engineer"? If the fundamental limitation to manufacture is rare elements, that aint gonna cut it.

So I shrugged and moved on.

But kept thinking about it, in the back of my mind. And eventually, pulled up some Wikipedia.

First, I looked at solar panels and their manufacture. Huh! Well, that's not so bad. There's a ton of different methods, and many of them involve just silicon crystals. And there's a virtuous cycle there, the more panels are manufactured, the more research and optimization is done, the cheaper each one becomes. Well, ok.

My next thought was - copper. Are we not facing a 'Peak Copper' sort of scenario (again, vaguely remembering some analyst or other)? Pulled up that page.
Fascinating! So, the US is actually the second largest producer of copper in the world. Another factoid that caught my eye was - copper is ridiculously highly recyclable. And that more copper goes onto the market (in the US) from recycling previously made copper, than is mined. Neat! And that some unlikely high percentage of all the copper ever mined in the history of humanity, is still in circulation. So, promising..

And lastly, I was thinking about lithium, and batteries. (This was relevant and amusing since I was riding in a Prius hybrid at the time). Even if we get the solar panels thing down, how are we going to build enough high capacity batteries to power enough transport, to matter? Pulled up a page on lithium and mining. And again! Not too bad. I had no idea that much of it is extracted from brine. And that there's plenty of evidence that we'll have enough lithium, as a planet, to build a ridiculous amount of Prius-sized batteries.

I figured I'd share my thoughts and findings. Since, while not a cure-all for our energy problems, the situation was at least slightly better than I thought.

(Also, I pulled up the Indiegogo page for the 'Roadways, today. And it surprised me -- just a few days ago, they were at like 20% of their goal. And now, it's fully funded and then some.)
fast & furious

Getting Back Into Reading (Books)

I was talking with @zaboots a few months ago, about the fact that we've both slowed way down, in terms of reading printed books (ebooks included). Meaning, we weren't reading much lately, or at all, really.

At first, I put forth the theory that it was due to subtle (and granted, silly) logistics, and started comparing our favorite reading spots, and complaining about the lack of well-lit comfortable places (that are out of the way of high-traffic living areas), to actually do the reading in. Then there was the time thing, too, and the difficulty of scheduling uninterrupted blocks of reading during the days, with any regularity.

Cat, whose livelihood kind of depends on people actually reading things, shook her head, and was like, "You guys... those are terrible reasons".

I kept thinking about this topic, long after the conversation. I very quickly recognized that logistics wasn't the culprit, in that I can read while walking down the street, if need be. I thought about the few times that I did read books during the year (usually involving long flights or vacations), and what the experience was like. Also, since I've had habit-building on my mind, I started thinking about how one would go about creating a regular (daily?) reading habit.

Then I realized what the problem was. Addiction.

I get addicted to things, easily. And once I started a book, it was often worse than the shiniest new videogame. I would want to do nothing else except read, and usually stay up way too late several nights in a row, and would be in zombie mode for like a week.

Faced with this state of affairs, I unconsciously reacted to books (and reading) the same way as I did with videogames. I started avoiding starting them. Because if I didn't start a new book, I couldn't get addicted to it and stay up forever and so on.

But again. This whole thing is silly. I don't want to hide from books like that, they're an important part of my life.

A bit later, when I was talking to omnia_mutantur about this on IM, I figured out how I could at least approach reading again:

I would have to practice stopping reading, regularly.

Scheduling, or logistics, or reading itself, was not the problem. Stopping the activity after a reasonable amount of time was. Since I have a daily call at noon each day, I could schedule a regular reading time during lunch, right before the call. And since the call serves as a natural barrier, I can use it to book-end the reading activity, and use it as training wheels to practice stopping.

I am now a month or so into this new habit, and it's been a mixed success.

The bad part: the actual stopping, once I sit down to read, is still really damn hard. I still have to keep practicing, and when the noontime alarm rings, I have to consciously say to myself "D, you are practicing *stopping*". Also, I've been doing this thing where, if I'm flying somewhere, I usually start reading in the airport, and since my trips take up most of the day, I end up reading most of the book in one sitting. So when I get home, I am compelled to finish it! So again, I've stayed up late a couple of times, gobbling up a book in one sitting. So yeah. Work in progress. I'm thinking, this is still acceptable civilian casualties, in the battle to have reading in my life.

The good part: I've read way more printed fiction this last few months, than I have in the previous year or two! I've been alternating re-reading old favorites and reading new books.

Recently Read:

* re-read Interstellar Pig (held up surprisingly well!)

* finally finished Engine Summer by Crowley. Loved this deeply, all other post-apocalyptic books need to go stand in the corner and think about what they've done.

* finished Eon by Greg Bear (after ages of trying). Again, I was really impressed with the book this time around, and I loved how it portrayed some incredibly advanced posthuman topics (and it was written in the 1985)!

* read Space Demons (mentioned a while ago by @zaboots; very similar plot to Interstellar Pig). Given that this was about a computer game (that was actually real!), this was way better than I figured it would be!

* re-read Neuromancer. I reallly don't understand all the .. no, not hate, the disdain for this book :) I, personally, think it has aged fairly well. I'm biased, though, this is probably the book I have re-read the most.

* read Eternity, a sequel to Eon. Similarly surprised and impressed.

* Finished Bleeding Edge by Pynchon. Ugh. I am a huge Pynchon fan, but I think this has been the weakest of his works that I've read so far. (And I loved Mason & Dixon, and Against the Day. And Crying of Lot 49, too.) Though his writing is just how I usually like it, it deals with two subjects that are a huge turn-off for me. One, it takes place in NYC the summer before September 11 (and touches on it, towards the end of the book). I.. gah. Can't stand that, as a theme in my fiction. In addition, one of the most central features of the book is this video game, an open-source MMO type thing that is, shall we say, well beyond the means of 2001 technology. Damn kids playing in my techno sandbox, and getting it 'rong.

* read The Myocene Arrow by Sean McMullen. (book 2 in the trilogy started by Souls in the Machine). Mwahahaha, I loved this with unabashed glee. Postapocalyptic Australia (and now, North America)! Psionic whales! Rogue AIs! Wind-powered trains! Mutants! Sex and drama! Flintlock-pistol-wielding dueling librarians! Computers made out of people! Diesel-powered retro airplane dogfights in the Rocky Mountains!. I could not get enough of it.

* read The Eyes of the Calculor, book 3 in the Myocene trilogy, sequel to the above. More of the same, but now with more convoluted Shakespearean comedy style drama! (Low-tech) intercontinental war between Australia and North America! More rogue AI action, more dogfights, more people-powered computers! What is not to love? (don't actually answer that).

* re-read The White Queen by Gwyneth Jones (book 1 of the Aleutian Trilogy), which I remember liking a lot when I read it. Has held up well.

* read North Wind and Phoenix Cafe (books 2 and 3 in the Aleutian Trilogy). I deeply like this series. Has some of the best meditations on gender, biotech, alien contact, politics and much more. (My one quibble with it is.. hmm, this is going to take a longer post. I'll just say - inconsistent treatment of magic technology and the actual effect it would have on things.)

Whew! Next up, gonna re-read The Hormone Jungle by Robert Reed, which is a fairly obscure book but I remember really liking, way back.


I want to livejournal, but I don't know how to (re)start. I've been away for a while, and for some reason I'm lightly obsessed with the idea of chronological narrative, of continuity, of filling in what I've missed. It's silly, but compulsive. And I've had so many changes in my life, over the last couple of years, that I don't know how to go about it.

Hey, whatever, though. I miss you all. Miss writing, especially.

I've been thinking about LJ recently, because of Secret. It's an interesting service. I feel validated, in that I've ranted in every conversation even remotely on topic, about the value of anonymity that LJ provides, that very few other services offer. And here is this social site, very elegantly done, good design (by ex-Googlers, I think?), based on that very premise.

Except there's a twitter-like character limit to each post (maybe a few chars longer). And the long form that LJ has is so seductive, way more conducive to intimacy.


Has personal summer actually arrived? Let's check.
Things that I associate with summer, deeply:

* Cherries. Apricots. Melons (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew). In season, or close enough to it. Somewhere on my continent. Status: I think I hit all three, now. (To a smaller extent, corn).

* The boat. Sailing. To be honest.. I inwardly don't think the summer has started until the boat is in the water. (Which means, those couple of years where we didn't have the boat, after moving to Maine? To some extent, I never thought summer actually happened. Silly, but there it is). Status: Not quite there yet, but I'm working on it furiously. Still some steps left to sort out the mooring situation. To take apart the roller furler and see why it's jamming. To schedule the truck, to actually lower it into the water. Alllmost there. I can taste it.

* Swimming naked. (Off the boat, really). Or just swimming, in whatever state of dress (preferably, in a wet suit, cause damn it gets cold out here). Status: Plausible. Meaning, I waded in for a few dozen freezing seconds, in the middle of my run, a few weeks ago. And swam a bit, down in North Carolina at my parents' house, but that doesn't count, since it's the pretty much tropics down there.

* Jumping in the water in the middle of a run. Hmm, I'm starting to sense a water-centric theme here. Unlike all the other associations on this list, this one is more recent, as of moving to Maine. But I love it deeply. Status: Done (see above).

* Shashlik. (A type of Middle Eastern / Russian barbecue). Status: Pending.

* Playing Magic: The Gathering. Not sure why I associate this with summer, really, as I like to do it year round. (And haven't, in a while). Maybe for the same reason that I associate Fall and Winter with playing D&D (and tabletop RPGs in general). Status: Pending. I got some decks together, just need a free evening when Cat and I are in the mood. Also, trying to play Duel of the Planeswalkers over Steam with a close Aussie friend. 'Cept there's some bug in the Steam version, and it's not letting us join each other's games. Hopefully fixed soon.

Overall verdict, on summer: pretty much here. But will be _even more here_ shortly.

NYC, Boston-bound

It's been a gorgeous two days in NYC, so far. Hot and springlike at first, with buds and new leaves everywhere, plus a thunderstorm and a pleasant chill in the air, today.

My weekend plans are shaping up a bit:

* Gonna stay with emilytheslayer and lynxreign on Friday night

* Stay with omnia_mutantur and her boy on Saturday

* Head over to mtolan for his birthday shindig on Sunday.

Not sure what to do on Mon and Tues, except at some point I know I need to make it back home to Portland, park the car, and get ready for the flight to Cleveland.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

So, I love games. One of the upcoming ones I'm really excited about is: Torment: Tides of Numenera (currently in Kickstarter form, as you can see).

They just.. they did SO many things brilliantly, with their kickstarter, with their design, with communicating with the fans. Here's why I think it'll be awesome:

* Planescape! Well, so unfortunately, this is not a Planescape title. BUT. As you can probably tell by the "Torment" part of the name, this is largely the same team that did the brilliant Planescape: Torment game for PC. Not only that, but Colin McComb (the Creative Lead for 'Tides) and Monte Cook were two of the creators of the original Planescape setting!

* Monte Cook is amazing. He was part of the original Planescape setting creative team (he did a lot of other stuff besides, for Iron Crown, Rolemaster, TSR etc). He was the lead designer for D&D 3rd edition. Created the Dark Matter setting for Alternity. But after he left TSR/Wizards of the Coast, he started publishing his own campaign settings and RPG materials. Ptolus was a vivid and atmospheric campaign setting, very reminiscent of Planescape. (I also liked how he implemented essentially a CSA for RPGs model, where you paid him a subscription, and he sent you modules / rpg stuff in the mail). After Ptolus, he went on to create the Numenera campaign setting, which is going to be the IP/setting behind this game.

* Colin McComb is also pretty amazing. So not only was he part of the Planescape team (Planes of Law, Planes of Conflict, Hellbound, Well of Worlds, etc, etc), he also created the Birthright Campaign Setting for TSR, and did some Ravenloft stuff as well. He also worked on Fallout 2, and also Planescape: Torment the videogame.

* Numenera, the setting itself, looks to be very intriguing. I missed Monte's kickstarter for it, though you can currently pre-order it through its website. But it basically looks to be a posthuman Planescape - heavily philosophical and stylish, with echoes of Iain M. Banks and Gene Wolfe. Can't wait to play it, tabletop-wise.

* Their Kickstarter itself, the publicity behind it, the design of the reward tiers, and the constant project updates they send in the mail, is astonishingly well designed.

* I like their YouTube video series (start with Tales of Torment: Episode 1), where Colin and other writers and designers talk about each particular element of the game, their design process, the setting, and so on.

* I liked their IAmA on Reddit (in fact, it sounds like the game has its own Torment sub-reddit), and the Risking their Careers article on PA.

Anyhow, thought I'd share, in case any Planescape fans out there haven't heard of either the videogame, or Numenera the tabletop setting.

Good things

We've both been sick the last week or so. I've been struggling at work, hiding from everything.

But fuck it, here's the good stuff that's going on.

* Cat is finally home, for a good solid number of months, from a crazy tour that's now over! I am relieved beyond measure.

* We have in our possession an actual crate of lamb meats. (Two women who rented our house before us left the island to start a farm up north. I hear rabbit meat is next up.)

* We have a new kitten. I suppose he's no longer technically new, and he is too gigantic to be a kitten. Still. I love that little guy. He's the bravest and most affectionate cat I've ever had.

* I've discovered Prophet (comic series), and now I'm so addicted. I've been reconnecting with reading more comics lately. And I forget how I came across it, it was saved in one of my bookmarks. But it's reminded me just how much I missed science fiction, that crazy alien sense of wonder. Man, it's so good. This review explains it better than I could: Prophet, the barbarian space opera you should already be reading.

* Our boat survived hurricane Sandy. Why is that a concern at all? Like a dumbass, I got distracted and busy and left it in the water, as the storm hit. I rowed out to its mooring a day or so before the winds arrived here to strengthen the ropes and batten everything down. And I'm so glad I did, it survived (one of the mooring ropes broke, a second one frayed halfway, but the third one held).

* My dream car, the Pulsar.. is starting on a fairly regular basis. Enough to take me to the grocery store when I need it. I've been learning a lot about car repair, oddly enough. There's still a few major-ish issues to fix (new exhaust pipe, fix the leak in the power steering), but at least I know what they are.

* Christmas/New Years is coming. We're sickie and exhausted and unprepared, but still. It's snowing and beautiful outside, and I got a tree waiting to go up and be decorated. (Just have to move the bookshelf out of the way).

* I've gotten back into playing Kingdom of Loathing after many months away. It's a weird game, but makes me happy.