There Is No Cat

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Thursday, May 18, 2023

I Added a Twitter Archive site to My Instagram Archive site

I started using Twitter at SXSW in March, 2007, because all my friends there were using it to coordinate what they were doing that week. After the week was over, I found it was a great way to keep in touch with the people I met there. I was no stranger to online social media; I started using Usenet 20 years earlier, in 1987, when I started working at AT&T and got access to the nascent net. I met my wife on Usenet in 1990. So while I initially resisted Twitter, SXSW turned me around on it, and I quickly became an avid participant.

And I continued to be an avid participant for most of the next 16 years.

By the end, I was getting a little tired of it. I had accumulated a list of people I was following that was slightly too large for me to keep up with, and it started to feel like the tail was starting to wag the dog. So when Racist Spice bought the company, it was like he did me a favor in giving me the opportunity to burn it to the ground and start over somewhere else.

I could characterize the people I followed on Twitter into a few categories. There were my initial follows, the people I met at web conferences like SXSW over the years; that overlapped to a large extent with people I knew in previous years from the early days of blogging, so I kind of treat them together. Then there were the journalists and political posters I started to follow at some point. Some of them were prolific posters, and a few posted so often that I eventually had to unfollow them just to keep from feeling overwhelmed. More recently, two other communities that I started to follow were film photographers and experts on Ukraine. It was a great way to keep up with what was going on in the world.

A few years ago, I set up an account on Mastodon. I participated sporadically. When Twitter was set on fire, I moved the effort I had been putting into Twitter over there. Of the four communities I mentioned, the photographers made the most effort to move to Mastodon, so the majority of the people I follow there are photographers. A few of my OG follows from blogging and conferences and web stuff have moved, but really not that many. Journalists and politicos have largely stayed on Twitter, although there are a few who have jumped into Mastodon with both feet. And Ukraine? With one exception, a guy in Canada who posts a lot of translated stuff from the Ukrainian armed forces, none of them moved. I miss the people who haven't moved. I tried to read Twitter sporadically after I stopped posting there, particularly through lists made up of the communities I mentioned, but when Twitter turned off API access for third party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterific, I stopped. Having to read Twitter through their own site is a freaking nightmare. I don't know how anyone puts up with their terrible interface.

When I stopped posting to Twitter, I downloaded the archive of my posts that they offered. Much like Instagram, they have a lot of information about you, but don't share the stuff that other people have created in response. So the archive lacks most of the context. They do include the number of retweets and likes each post got, which Instagram doesn't include, but nothing about who did them. There is a bit of context in that quote tweets are identifiable by the fact that they end with a link to the original tweet, and that reply tweets include a link to the tweet they're replying to. So that's something, and it's better than Instagram's petulant insistance that they own the community aspects of your presence. One other thing that's nice is that for shortened URLs, they include the original URL in the data, so you don't have to contact Twitter's services to decode them.

Prominent members of the web dev community that I've folllowed over the years have always made the point that you should post your content on your own sites. In that spirit, and in the understanding that Twitter may not continue to exist in its current form forever and all that effort would be lost, you can see all my posts there at https://tweets.thereisnocat.com/.

Posted at 1:00 PM
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Monday, May 8, 2023

Things I Learned Making a Site to Archive My Instagram Posts

Instagram offers users the ability to download a ZIP file that contains a lot of information about your account. It has all your posts. It has all the comments you’ve made. It has a record of every post you’ve liked. It has a record of every thing you’ve bought, every ad you clicked on, what they’ve figured out about you because of your behavior on the app. It’s interesting and a little disturbing.

I started on Instagram the first hour they were open to the public. My friend Dan Rubin had been a beta tester and was linking to his posts there during the beta period in his tweets, so I knew it was coming and was looking forward to joining. I got in really early; my member number is 2529. For a long time, it was fun, but over time, it became less so, to the point where I just didn’t enjoy posting there any more. So I stopped. I work in advertising, and I’m all too aware of how we track people online and sell what we learn to advertisers. I believe this practice, surveillance capitalism, is a danger to democracy and our way of life, and I just don’t want to participate in it any more. I miss the friends I made there who haven’t moved on the way I have, but life is short and participating in things I don’t enjoy any more is a non-starter. So fuck Instagram. I post my photos on sites where I pay for the hosting, which means that I’m the customer, so the people running the service have the incentive to make me, their customer happy, instead of a the way a “free” service like Instagram has the incentive to make their customers, the advertisers, happy.

So anyway, Instagram has all this information, and they’ve been shamed into letting you have a copy of it, because after all, you created it. They don’t have to provide it in a format that’s easy for you to understand, mind you. If you open up the files in the archive, you’ll find a lot of brackets and quotation marks and stuff that wouldn’t make sense to a civilian.

Fortunately, I’m a web developer. The brackets and quotation marks and stuff is a format called JSON (JavaScript Object Notation), and it’s designed to be easy to read by a web app. So I wrote a web app.

Here’s some things I figured out about the data they provide (and maybe a few other things).

  1. They provide you with the set of everything you liked. Every post. Not the post itself, mind, you, just the fact that you liked a post with this ID. You generated it, therefore you own it. But it’s missing the context; you liked this post, but that post belongs to someone else, the person (or corporation) that created it, so it’s not in your data file.
  2. The flip side of this is that all the likes that your posts generated belong to the people who created them, so there’s no record of who liked your posts or how many likes they got. If that’s important to you, you need to access the app. I assume there’s a data table somewhere that records all the likes on a post and they’re associated through a SQL JOIN command or some equivalent (basically a way of associating data held in different places with each other), because generating the list of likes for each post by looking at every individual’s list of likes would get very costly. But those likes don’t belong to you, so you don’t get them.
  3. They provide you with every comment you’ve ever made. But (and you can see this coming), they don’t provide the context. Again, you get what you generated, and nothing anyone else generated (except for stuff like the shit they figured out about you, whether it’s right or not). Some subset of the comments you made are likely to be on your own posts, but again, without context, you lack the data to make sense of them or fully reconstruct what’s on the site.

It’s interesting. It’s like “We heard you, you want a copy of everything you’ve created on our site, and we’re going to give it to you good and hard”....

So if you want to create an archive of your Instagram posts, you have to understand that it’s not going to be a complete copy of what’s on Instagram itself.

In many ways, the chase for likes on Instagram is part of what makes it such a sick place to be, so I don’t miss them. I’m probably wouldn’t include them in my archive even if they were available. The missing context for comments is a little harder to accept, but it is what it is. The cudgel that Instagram uses to keep people coming is the community; if they give that community away, they lose their hold on you, you drift away, and now they can’t sell your eyeballs.

The archive that I created is at gram.thereisnocat.com. It has all of my pictures, with none of the comments or likes. I created it as a way to evaluate different web frameworks we were looking at for an upcoming project at my new job. So I basically wrote the thing three times, and the one I liked best is the one I published. I’ll write another post focused on that experience.

Posted at 11:05 AM
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This site is copyright © 2002-2024, Ralph Brandi. (E-mail address removed due to virus proliferation.)

What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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