The Nomadic Web

Alexander Singh (via kottke):

Over the past 25 years, the web appears to have transitioned from a primarily nomadic culture to a mostly agrarian one, mirroring the Neolithic Revolution 10,000 years ago.

The simplicity of HTML-only site building, spaces like Geocities & Angelfire, and cultural artifacts such as web rings coupled with poor search engine tech saw us navigate the web like nomads: from point to point, link to link.

The web has developed & so have the skills necessary to build within it. HTML was easy. CSS took a little more time & JS more again, alienating most and establishing a class hierarchy. Discovery was solved, weakening point-to-point navigation.

The literate Priesthood can still build & interface with the web, but the vast majority of people are relegated to the peasantry. “Fortunately” for them, motivated benefactors have offered a Faustian bargain to make their lives “easier”.

Corporate Feudalism has emerged to create centralized, “safe” spaces for the peasantry to work & play. Attention is farmed and sold in exchange for convenience, protection, mediated self-expression & an indifferent audience. You can do anything if it’s within their borders.

Interesting observations. I haven’t taught at the university level for around 7 years, so I’m not connected with young designers as much as I was.

I’d be interested to find out how many young, internet ‘nomads’ there are today, building their own ‘handmade’ websites (like this one with WordPress, customized CSS and MySQL) or launching readymade versions with Squarespace (like my portfolio site).

Private Service, Not Public Utility

Shoshana Wodinsky writing for The Verge on the platforms that have removed Alex Jones:

The biggest criticism of Jones and Infowars centers on the seemingly endless torrent of conspiracy theories that were a part of the network’s regular programming — including the idea that the Sandy Hook shooting was entirely staged with paid “crisis actors” and that global pedophilia rings are run by Hollywood and DC elites. Despite being patently false, as well as involved with the incitement of real-world physical violence, some platforms, including Facebook, initially declined to ban Jones from its platform even while acknowledging the damage he does while spreading false information.

After Apple booted five of the six Infowars podcasts available via iTunes earlier this morning, Facebook took down four Infowars pages from its site for violations of the site’s guidelines, including “glorifying violence” and “dehumanizing immigrants.” Hours later, Youtube gave Jones the boot, cutting off the 2 million-plus subscribers regularly tuned into the channel, and killing many of the videos on the Infowars site as a result. Even Pinterest felt pressure to quietly nudge the pundit off of its site.

As many other people who have functioning brains have pointed out, these are private companies with their own platforms that are banning Jones. They are not public utilities and this has nothing to do with denying Jones of his First Amendment rights.

Jones still has his own website and app on which he can spew his vitriol and lies. 

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Community, Law

attention and money

[I have a backlog of articles related to Instagram I’m trying to get through and post (like my last two posts here and here). I spend a decent amount of time on Instagram and I find the mechanics and strategies behind account creators and Facebook interesting.]

Writing for The New York Times, Daisuke Wakabayashi on the mating rituals of brands and online stars:

Deals between big brands and viral online video performers, once an informal alternative to traditional celebrity sponsorships, are quickly maturing into a business estimated to reach $10 billion in 2020. Some brands pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single sponsored video. Brita, the water filter company, paid Rudy Mancuso and Andrew Bachelor, who is known as King Bach, to make music videos with the basketball star Stephen Curry. Mr. Bachelor’s song imagined being roommates with Mr. Curry, who would regularly refill the Brita container. Mr. Mancuso’s song imagined Mr. Curry helping him live a healthier life by drinking water from a Brita instead of a bottle.

Despite The Fat Jew believing Instagram is super-saturated with influencers, it seems unlikely they’re going away anytime soon.

What’s the alternative? Broadcast television? What’s broadcast television?

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Community

Flophouses, sorry, flop accounts on Instagram

Over at The Atlantic, Taylor Lorenz informs us teenagers are using ‘flop accounts’ on Instagram to debate and distribute the news.

What the hell are flop accounts?

[…] pages that are collectively managed by several teens, many of them devoted to discussions of hot-button topics: gun control, abortion, immigration, President Donald Trump, LGBTQ issues, YouTubers, breaking news, viral memes.

And their content?

The accounts post photos, videos, and screenshots of articles, memes, things, and people considered a “flop,” or, essentially, a fail. A flop could be a famous YouTuber saying something racist, someone being rude or awful in person, a homophobic comment, or anything that the teen who posted it deems wrong or unacceptable. Some of the teens who run a given account know one another in real life; more likely, they met online.

The kids say these accounts are more accurate than what’s being put out by news organizations:

“A lot of news nowadays claims to be facts, but it’s based off people’s opinions or they purposefully omit information,” she said. “I wish we could trust articles more, but it’s been proven multiple times of people reporting things that aren’t true. It’s just hard to know who to trust, so you always feel the need to check things yourself. You can’t just read an article and take it as fact, because there’s always a chance that it isn’t.”

I think these Instagram accounts are fine as an outlet for kids to talk about issues with their peers, but the irony is they are exactly what they claim to be fighting against. Ah to be young and ignorant.

The teenage admins of these flophouses need to truly understand how journalism works and how companies like The Washington Post and The New York Times operate.

Categories:

Community, Journalism

playing to an empty room

The Twitch streamers who spend years broadcasting to no one:

“It’s kind of exhausting playing to an empty room day in and day out with no results,” one Redditor wrote on a now-deleted thread on r/Twitch.

“It’s fucking hard to stay positive when doing this 5 days a week when it feels like nobody drops by,” another Redditor wrote in a different thread, after spending months streaming to nobody. “I’ve come to a realization that streaming just isn’t working for me.”

“Been streaming on and off for 4+ years and everytime I come back I go weeks where the majority of time I’m streaming to no one,” another Redditor wrote. “It’s tough.”

I think about this story in the context of this website and my podcast. I maintain both of them more for myself than to have what I do seen and heard by others. Sure, I’d love to have an audience that grows every day, but I do these things as hobbies and mental exercises more than anything else.

I’ve become a better writer from writing here since 2006, and I’ve become a better speaker from doing a podcast semi-regularly since 2014.

The same goes for my Instagram account. The fact that I have around 1,100 people interested in my photos street cars is great, but I was doing it way before Instagram existed (how about me with a 2.1 MPX Canon PowerShot ELPH S100 on the streets of Manhattan in 2000).

Clearly some Twitch streamers enjoy the sense of community they get from it, but for the streamers who don’t enjoy the actual process of streaming, then maybe it’s not the right hobby for them.

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Community

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“Twitter is shit when it comes to meme”

Young people still love Twitter — as screenshots on Instagram:

“You’d think, ‘I have a viral account on Instagram. Almost 50,000 people pay attention to me. Surely they care about what I’m tweeting?’” says Hartwig. “But people absolutely do not give a single shit about what you’re tweeting,” she says. “When I post on Instagram, I can expect about 2,000 likes a post. With Twitter, I expect about two retweets and 20 to 30 likes.” She says Twitter rewards trends and current social relevancy, while Instagram offers more topical flexibility.

In theory, Twitter should make sharing content easy; retweets are a vital part of its model, and you can share anything with one click. Going viral on Twitter is also a double-edged sword: even if you pop off a good joke, its success is unlikely to reward you with substantial new followers, and most meme creators are looking to build a fan base, not just go viral for 15 minutes. Having viral tweets can often make the platform virtually unusable, not only because of spam, but due to the personal harassment and dogpiling that often accompanies it.

This sounds very similar to my experiences with Twitter and Instagram. I’ve had my @combustion Twitter account since 2007 and for the last 4-5 years I’ve been hovering around 330 followers, whereas on my Instagram @combustionchamber, I’ve gone from ~500 followers in 2017 to ~1100 followers this year. Admittedly, I put more effort into maintaining my Instagram account, but my effort and focus is rewarded with more followers who appreciate my obsession for snapping shots of the old cars I find on the streets.

There’s a simplicity to both viewing and creating content on Instgram that I think makes it much more approachable than Twitter, regardless of age. In light of the news last week that Twitter is replacing their head of product (again) it should be no surprise their platform seems like a shitshow with no clear focus or objectives.

Let’s also not forget they dropped support for their Mac desktop client earlier this year. Luckily Tweetbot still exists.

Categories:

Community, Product

New York continues to trade a rich culture for a culture of rich.

In a piece for Harper’s Magazine, Kevin Baker writes about the continued rise of affluence in New York, at the expensive of diversity, community, and affordability (via kottke):

New York has been my home for more than forty years, from the year after the city’s supposed nadir in 1975, when it nearly went bankrupt. I have seen all the periods of boom and bust since, almost all of them related to the “paper economy” of finance and real estate speculation that took over the city long before it did the rest of the nation. But I have never seen what is going on now: the systematic, wholesale transformation of New York into a reserve of the obscenely wealthy and the barely here—a place increasingly devoid of the idiosyncrasy, the complexity, the opportunity, and the roiling excitement that make a city great.

As New York enters the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is in imminent danger of becoming something it has never been before: unremarkable. It is approaching a state where it is no longer a significant cultural entity but the world’s largest gated community, with a few cupcake shops here and there. For the first time in its history, New York is, well, boring.

Boring is the wrong word and trivializes all the bad things Baker lists out that have happened in New York. I don’t give a shit if New York boring. What pisses me off about New York in 2018 is that it continues to cement it’s status as a playground for the rich.

A culturally “rich” city is the result of diversity: of income, of ethnicity, of trade, of perspective, and many other things. New York continues to trade a rich culture for a culture of rich.

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Community, Finance

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Dumb Fucks

Jean-Louis Gassée posted another great Monday Morning Note, Mark Zuckerberg Thinks We’re Idiots:

The message is clear: Zuckerberg thinks we’re idiots. How are we to believe Facebook didn’t know — and derived benefits — from the widespread abuse of user data by its developers. We just became aware of the Cambridge Analytica cockroach…how many more are under the sink? In more lawyerly terms: “What did you know, and when did you know it?”

A company’s culture emanates from the top and it starts early. In 2004, the man who was in the process of creating Facebook allegedly called Harvard people who entrusted him with their emails, text messages, pictures, and addresses “dumb fucks”. Should we charitably assume he was joking, or ponder the revelatory power of such cracks?

I deleted my Facebook account last week like (a lot of? a few?) others, but as I mentioned on Twitter, I’m not naive.

My newsfeed has been full of junk, memes, opinions, and ignorant political rants for too long and this Cambridge Analytics scandal was just the extra push I needed to do want I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time.

‘Tis a silly place.

WhatsApp co-founder tells everyone to delete Facebook:

In 2014, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion, making its co-founders — Jan Koum and Brian Acton — very wealthy men. Koum continues to lead the company, but Acton quit earlier this year to start his own foundation. And he isn’t done merely with WhatsApp — in a post on Twitter today, Acton told his followers to delete Facebook.

“It is time,” Acton wrote, adding the hashtag #deletefacebook. Acton, who is worth $6.5 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. WhatsApp declined to comment.

I deleted my Facebook account 2 days ago. When I talk about Facebook, I’m usually talking about the ‘face’ of Facebook — the newsfeed/homepage. It’s just junky. It’s been that way for a long time. I almost exclusively talk with my close friends in a private group we set up. I ignore everything else.

I’m not convinced Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the leadership at Facebook have backbones.

Facebook Still Sucks

On Facebook’s news blog David Ginsberg and Moira Burke ask if Spending Time on Social Media Bad for Us?:

The bad: In general, when people spend a lot of time passively consuming information — reading but not interacting with people — they report feeling worse afterward. In one experiment, University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on Facebook. A study from UC San Diego and Yale found that people who clicked on about four times as many links as the average person, or who liked twice as many posts, reported worse mental health than average in a survey. Though the causes aren’t clear, researchers hypothesize that reading about others online might lead to negative social comparison — and perhaps even more so than offline, since people’s posts are often more curated and flattering. Another theory is that the internet takes people away from social engagement in person.

The good: On the other hand, actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends and reminiscing about past interactions — is linked to improvements in well-being. This ability to connect with relatives, classmates, and colleagues is what drew many of us to Facebook in the first place, and it’s no surprise that staying in touch with these friends and loved ones brings us joy and strengthens our sense of community.

So Facebook has concluded social media sucks if you use it the wrong way. Wow, thanks for the advice.

That’s like a car dealership selling cars that all pull to the right without turning the steering wheel and the dealer telling you, “The driving experience is better if you drive straight.”

Facebook created a platform that encourages the passive consuming of information garbage. If people are engaging in this incorrect usage, maybe Facebook should rethink how Facebook is designed, which it sounds like they’re doing.

Another way of feeling better about yourself is not using Facebook at all. I admittedly have an account that I check once or twice a week and I’m usually reminded as soon as I log in why I don’t like using it for more than a minute or so. If I spend any significant time on Facebook, it’s in the private group my best friends and I set up to talk.

The main Facebook newsfeed feels like I’m having a political debate in an isle of Walmart, with someone handing out pizza bites next to me and a row of TVs playing clips of stupid home movies and dogs tricks behind me, all the while hearing everyone else’s rants around me. Bleh.

What Ed Lee Didn’t Do

How Mayor Ed Lee remade San Francisco in Big Tech’s image:

It was for the have-nots, too, but not in the same way: many have found themselves economically banished from San Francisco. At the dawn of Lee’s tenure, nobody foresaw the explosion of tech industry job growth in this city and region at its present level. As such, the Lee administration’s gift bag for tech outfits — an industry that was poised for takeoff, regardless — led to unforeseen consequences. The avuncular Lee found himself portrayed by the city’s left as the smiling avatar of the tech- and business-friendly policies that have driven San Francisco’s inequality levels to be on par with those in Rwanda.

“Ed could have worked more robustly to address the runaway inequality in San Francisco,” says former city supervisor John Avalos, a critic of Lee’s from the left who ran against him for mayor in 2011. “The way he supported tech and the private sector was an effort that got out of hand. It was like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

This was all part of Ed Lee’s San Francisco. His policies made many people angry. But right now people aren’t angry; they’re sad.

Fuck that, I’m angry. Just because someone dies, doesn’t mean you can’t be critical of them.

The number of homeless people — and their sidewalk encampments of tents – exploded in number under Ed Lee, mirroring the explosion of techies and tech companies in San Francisco. I know this because I’ve lived in San Francisco for five years and I’ve been visiting it regularly since 2001.

I’m not saying Ed Lee is completely to blame for this, but he sure as hell didn’t make the situation better.

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Community

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Making Friends Over 30

Over at The New York Times Alex Williams explores why it’s so hard to make friends over 30:

As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends.

No matter how many friends you make, a sense of fatalism can creep in: the period for making B.F.F.’s, the way you did in your teens or early 20s, is pretty much over. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends) — for now.

But often, people realize how much they have neglected to restock their pool of friends only when they encounter a big life event, like a move, say, or a divorce.

I’m keenly aware of this problem as a 40-year-old dude.

My wife is initially surprised how dismissive I am of the boyfriends and husbands of her friends and co-workers. Then I explain to her that if the guy in question is cool, I’ll make a few concerted efforts at reaching out to them (grab a drink, hit a concert, meet my other friends) but I’m usually met either with radio silence or reasons they can’t hang out. At this point I write them off.

If I run into them again I’ll usually replace my previously genuine conversating with vapid smalltalk. If they’re not making an effort, why should I?