Weird Facebook

Steven Thomas, for Real Life:

The term “Weird Facebook” is fast becoming synonymous with Facebook pages dedicated to posting ironic memes — some of which, like Bernie Sanders’s Dank Meme Stash and I play KORN to my DMT plants, smoke blunts all day & do sex stuff, can clock over 100,000 followers. New York Magazine called them home to “thousands of the web’s most innovative weirdos,” while the Daily Dot called them “fodder for the guy you bought weed from in high school.” These larger groups often act like fan pages: One or a handful of admins make and post the memes for subscribers to like and share. But the delight of Weird Facebook is the network itself, which spills beyond these Facebook groups to the feeds of many of their members. “Dank Meme Stash” is only one realization of a vital and much more expansive sensibility. Weird Facebook lives in the posts that a loose community of artists, writers, weirdos and depressives make on their personal accounts and in conversation with each other. A genre emerges in these personal posts, something like a combination of performance art and comedy, and uniquely Facebookian: The art is in the performance of self, real or fictional or some combination thereof, with the depth and scope that a full profile, photo album and Timeline can allow.

See also:

The Food Lab’s BLT Manifesto

J. Kenji López-Alt goes characteristically deep on the BLT sandwich:

It wasn’t until I tasted my first great tomato, at the vine-ripe old age of 22, that I finally understood the true nature of the BLT (and, by extension, why I’d never enjoyed tomatoes on my sandwiches or in my salads). Here we go: A BLT is not a well-dressed bacon sandwich. A BLT is a tomato sandwich, seasoned with bacon. From this basic premise, all else follows. Indeed, a better name for the BLT might well be the Tomato Club, for it is the perfect tomato, not the bacon, that is the rarest, the most ephemeral, the most singularly delicious ingredient.

Facebook to remove share count API

Last year Twitter stopped sites from displaying the number of times an article had been Tweeted. This sent marketers into meltdown. Now Facebook is doing the same thing.

James Parsons, for Inc.:

This is an interesting change. Facebook clearly still shows share counts on their own buttons. It’s only the availability of data for third party buttons that has been removed. In other words, Facebook is trying to shut down third party share counters, in favor of making marketers either use no-count buttons like Twitter, or making them use the official Facebook buttons.

Site owners everywhere will need to update or remove their sharing buttons. It’s questionable how useful having the count next to the button is to the audience anyway:

My question is actually how long Facebook’s buttons will continue showing share counts. I may be erring on the apocalyptic side here, but this hints to me at a larger change in the works. Facebook share counts are a good metric to monitor for tracking engagement rates, but the display of the counts wasn’t necessarily helpful or valuable.

Here’s what I think is the key takeaway:

[Marketers] didn’t work towards better goals, and treated share counts as the goal in and of themselves […] I’m not saying seeking engagement is a bad thing, but it’s just another example of fixation on a number that isn’t as meaningful as people thought it was.

Goebbels’ ex-secretary: “it was just another job”

Kate Connolly interviews 105-y-o Brunhilde Pomsel, who displays a surprising lack of remorse about her involvement in the Nazi inner circle:

While she admits she was at the heart of the Nazi propaganda machine, with her tasks including massaging downwards statistics about fallen soldiers, as well as exaggerating the number of rapes of German women by the Red Army, she describes it, somewhat bizarrely, as “just another job”.

And:

There was really nothing to criticise about him.

A documentary about her life was recently released.

Twitter map bots

@unchartedatlas is a Twitter bot that programatically generates maps of fictional lands:

Here’s a bit of background on how the bot does its thing.

See also @emojiatlas:

https://twitter.com/emojiatlas/status/765778998546862085

The art of writing microcopy

Christine Hawthorne has a great post about microcopy on the GatherContent blog.

User experience design aims to make things feel intuitive for the person using your app or platform. Microcopy needs to act in the same way.

Just a few, carefully chosen words can go a long way in apps and can stop users struggling or dropping out of the process altogether.

Microcopy shouldn’t explain the design. It should enhance the user experience, working within context and to answer the question a user might have. For example, the copy on a button shouldn’t tell users to click it. It should say where they will go next, or what will happen when they press it, i.e, it saves the information.

Creating a tone of voice

Ellen de Vries, for the Clearleft blog:

  1. Gather up a set of magazines, some of which you feel have affinity with your brand, some of which are total wild cards.
  2. Establish a question that you’re hoping to answer with this exercise.
  3. Allow your team to spend time ripping out anything and everything that sparks their imagination, from the profound to the downright silly.
  4. Ask the team to group the images according to relevance. Do it out loud.
  5. Harvest their language as you go.

As they spoke about their choices, wild and wonderful language emerged, almost by accident. This language serves as an authentic starting point for the tone of voice.

Creating a tone of voice is something I’m asked about a lot, and this is an interesting approach.

A year on the road with Donald Trump

Katy Tur, for Marie Claire:

Trump called me naïve. He told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. He shamed me when I stumbled on a question. And when the cameras shut off, he was furious. He didn’t like my questions, which were direct, or my tone, which was conversational.

“You couldn’t do this,” he said, searching for a put-down. “You stumbled three times.”

“It doesn’t matter if I stumble,” I said. “I’m not running for president.”

That’s when he landed what he saw as the harshest insult of all.

“You’ll never be president,” he said. I laughed. What else was I supposed to do?

This is both fascinating and not at all surprising.

 

Rethinking the Olympic host city

Uri Friedman for The Atlantic:

These troubles are not unique to Brazil. Despite exceptions such as the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, “in most cases the Olympics are a money-losing proposition for host cities,” the economists Robert Baade and Victor Matheson conclude in a 2016 paper. In recent years, many Olympic host cities have had to reckon with corruption, ballooning costs, underinvestment in public services in the run-up to the Games, and projects that don’t help—and sometimes harm—much of the population. Once the festivities end, cities are frequently left with a load of debt and a bunch of useless megastructures. It’s no wonder then that, according to one recent poll, 63 percent of Brazilians believe hosting the Olympics will hurt their country.

Given these realities, many of the governments jockeying to host the Olympics these days are autocratic. Since the leaders of Russia and China aren’t accountable to voters, they are free to spend as much as $50 billion on the competition. Meanwhile, in many democracies, support for hosting the Olympics is waning—especially amid concerns about economic stagnation and income inequality.

Baade and Matheson propose several solutions to today’s predicament, including a pretty profound change: Why not designate a permanent home for the Olympic Games?

I like one of the other suggestions: run all the events in the most suitable cities across the globe at the same time.

Starting a Szechuan restaurant in the US

Han Chiang, for Munchies:

Everybody takes spice differently. When I opened my first restaurant, I got so many complaints about the level of spice. A older woman once tried to call the cops on me because she thought that I was trying to fuck with her because the dish was so hot.

So I started thinking, What can I do to solve this problem? As a Chinese restaurant in America, we have a lot of people send back dishes to the kitchen, and this is culturally the greatest offense to us. This is unheard of in China. If you don’t like a particular dish, you don’t eat it, and then you don’t go back to that restaurant. In China, you would get your shit kicked in in the back of an alley if you sent a dish back.

A nice tale of tradition and authenticity vs. giving the customers what (they think) they want.

The Washington Post uses AI to generate Olympic content

Peter Kafka for Recode:

The Post is using homegrown software to automatically produce hundreds of real-time news reports about the Olympics. Starting tomorrow morning, those items will appear, without human intervention, on the Post’s website, as well as in outside channels like its Twitter account.

The idea is to use artificial intelligence to quickly create simple but useful reports on scores, medal counts and other data-centric news bits — so that the Post’s human journalists can work on more interesting and complex work, says Jeremy Gilbert, who heads up new digital projects for the paper.

Instagram adds Stories for teens who delete posts

Casey Johnston for The New Yorker:

A recent Washington Post profile of Katherine Pommerening, an eighth grader from Virginia, noted that she never has more than a couple dozen posts visible on her Instagram profile at any given time. Teens love to post, but they love nearly as much to delete and unburden themselves of past gauche choices—the selfie taken in bad light, or with a then friend, now enemy. Pommerening and her cohort, in other words, have been rigging Instagram to do what Snapchat does automatically.

Audiogram turns audio into video for social media

WNYC, America’s most popular public radio station, is open sourcing its Audiogram service for turning audio clips into videos for native sharing on social media.

The most popular social media platforms—Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—don’t have a content type for audio and are predominantly visual. Facebook in particular sees video at the heart of what it does, and brands are using the format more often. See for example the huge increase in cooking and how-to videos.

It’s increasingly important to share content natively on social media platforms—that is, to use the platforms’ own media types, which are privileged in users’ news feeds.

Common solutions are to use audio hosting services such as SoundCloud or Audioboom, but these are a click away from a user’s Facebook news feed, or st the very least don’t auto play. This means that a user is less likely (source) to click to play or visit the content, which in turn results in low engagement, which in turn leads to lower exposure within Facebook.

I’ve seen this anecdotally when sharing SoundCloud recordings. I see far fewer likes, comments and shares, and people tell me they never saw the posts in their feeds.

WNYC’s tool turns audio files (.mp3 and .wav) into movie files, adding branding, captions and a waveform visualisation. They plan to introduce options for subtitling in a future release. The idea isn’t brand new—organisations like The Economist have had some success already—but by open sourcing their workflow, more people can try it out.

The target audience for the tool is WNYC partners and other news organisations who record interviews, but there are potential uses for:

  • Bedroom musicians to share demos
  • Podcasters
  • Writers of spoken-word fiction or radio plays
  • Stand-up comics

WNYC’s Delaney Simmons:

WNYC shows have been seeing great results. On Twitter, the average engagement for an audiogram is 8x higher than a non-audiogram tweet and on Facebook some of our shows are seeing audiogram reach outperform photos and links by 58% and 83% respectively.

Maybe turning audio into video is the way for it to finally go viral?

Spotify’s Release Radar

Release Radar is Spotify’s latest personalised playlist. Whereas Discover Weekly updates on Mondays and takes its pick from all the entire Spotify catalogue, Release Radar updates on Fridays and focuses solely on the past few weeks’ releases.

Ben Popper, for The Verge, quoting Spotify’s Edward Newell:

When a new album drops, we don’t really have much information about it yet, so we don’t have any streaming data or playlisting data, and those are pretty much the two major components that make Discover Weekly work so well. So some of the innovation happening now for the product is around audio research. We have an audio research team in New York that’s been experimenting with a lot of the newer deep learning techniques where we’re not looking at playlisting and collaborative filtering of users, but instead we’re looking at the actual audio itself.

Discover Weekly is easily my favourite thing about any streaming service, and this appears to be just as good, in spite of the data challenges posed by focusing on new releases.

I got tracks by:

  • Favourite artists that I already know have new material out (Dinosaur Jr., Father John Misty)
  • Favourite artists that I didn’t know had new stuff (Wilco! Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?)
  • Long-forgotten artists I would likely otherwise never have heard of again (Cotton Mather)
  • Artist I haven’t heard of but seem up my street

It’s brilliant. My only issue is that these great features sit apart from my iTunes library, so Spotify can’t learn from my broader listening habits, but that’s clearly no fault of the product.