The Daily Stormer’s style guide

Ashley Feinberg for The Huffington Post:

Back in September, Vox Day, a Gamergate holdover who has assumed the position of racist alt-right figurehead, published a handful of brief excerpts from what he described as the “Andrew Anglin” style guide. For the blissfully unaware, Anglin is a neo-Nazi troll and propagandist who runs The Daily Stormer, one of the more prominent sites of the white supremacist web. The passages selected by Vox Day in his blog post suggested that Anglin is persnickety about detail and presentation ― except on the subject of the Jews, who are to be blamed “for everything.”

HuffPost has acquired the 17-page document in its entirety, as well as transcripts from an IRC channel where the document was shared in an effort to recruit new writers. It’s more than a style guide for writing internet-friendly neo-Nazi prose; it’s a playbook for the alt-right.

This is, as you’d expect, appalling. It’s also fascinating; the lengths to which they will go to (a) blame ‘everything on the Jews’ and (b) create a state of confusion, all wrapped up in the sort of guide you see elsewhere:

The guide is particularly interested in ways to lend the site’s hyperbolic racial invective a facade of credibility and good faith. Or at the very least, in how to confuse its readers to the point where they can’t tell the difference. The Daily Stormer, for instance, uses block quotes for much the same reason Richard Spencer stuffs himself into vests. In explaining why a writer should heavily block-quote mainstream news articles, the guide notes that it allows writers to borrow some of mainstream media’s air of scrupulousness and good hygiene.

See also The Master Race’s Graphic Masterpiece:

Published in 1936, The Organizationsbuch der NSDAP (with subsequent annual editions), detailed all aspects of party bureaucracy, typeset tightly in German Blackletter. What interested me, however, were the over 70 full-page, full-color plates (on heavy paper) that provide examples of virtually every Nazi flag, insignia, patterns for official Nazi Party office signs, special armbands for the Reichsparteitag (Reichs Party Day), and Honor Badges. The book “over-explains the obvious” and leaves no Nazi Party organization question, regardless of how minute, unanswered.

Underscores, optimization & arms races

Eventually, people wanted to have the whole title of their article show up in the web address. Part of this was just because it looked cool, but some folks had started to suspect that having those words in the address might help a blog post rank higher on Google. (Google was still a smaller player in the overall web search market at the time, but it was already by far the most popular search engine amongst internet geeks.)

But here’s the thing: web addresses can’t have spaces in them. To include a full title with spaces in a web address for a blog, the spaces would either have to be removed (ugly!) or converted into something equivalent. Since we were one of the first to encounter this issue, our team designed to have our content management system use underscores, based on the rationale that underscores were the character that most closely resembled a blank space.

The end result? Anybody who used our tools could write a a blog post entitled “My Great Cookie Recipe” and it would live at an address that looked like example.com/2005/04/my_great_cookie_recipe.html. By contrast, the WordPress team thought that hyphens looked better, so blog posts published on their tool would look more like example.com/2005/04/my-great-cookie-recipe. Sure, these different tools made slightly different choices about which character to use, but such a subtle distinction couldn’t be meaningful, right?

As it would turn out, we’d stumbled across a harbinger of how the entire web was about to change.

Source: Underscores, Optimization & Arms Races – Humane Tech – Medium

How hyphens vs. underscores kickstarted the race to optimise for, and game the systems of, the web’s biggest players.

Kickstarter launches subscription platform Drip

Kickstarter seeks to take on the likes of Patreon, Flattr et al:

Kickstarter’s hesitance to launch new products over the years gets back to this same apprehension. “Once you start to have some success, everyone, both inside and outside the company, starts asking, ‘Why don’t you try this or launch that?’ I’ve seen how that can be insatiable, and we’re always trying to watch out,” Chen explained. “Very quickly through inertia, you can end up at a place where you don’t have control.” For many employees, this restraint became a point of frustration. “We’re falling behind the competition, and we’re at risk of losing our lead in some key categories,” a current staffer told me.

Source: Kickstarter launches Drip, a new service that lets fans subscribe to their favorite creators – The Verge

The unpredictability of Medium

“Ev Williams is trying to brute force his way through the problem of publishing and monetization,” said Choire Sicha, cofounder of The Awl network, which migrated a handful of its sites onto Medium during its publisher partner phase in late 2015 and early 2016. “In doing so, he has upended people’s lives — he has upended good publications.”

“I understand the desire to be agile and to pivot, and to try new things when things aren’t working,” Sicha continued. “But it’s destructive — you can’t try people and things on, then discard them. It’s not how a media company or a publishing company can work.”

Ev Williams Wants To Save Media — Again. But Some Writers And Publishers Are Skeptical.

I have mixed feeling about Medium. I launched a publication for work, and that’s gone brilliantly well; I get mostly interesting things delivered to me in the digest emails; people I follow on other platforms (Twitter, mostly) surface great Medium content.

Increasingly, I read a headline and think “that sounds interesting”, yet I can’t read the article, as it’s for members only. But will I subscribe? No, because I’m not confident that this membership model will exist in 6 months. Something will change. The baby will get thrown out with the bath water. It’s not worth the bother. (I hope I’m wrong.)

How Dictionary Editors Find Meaning in the Age of Internet Speak

It is the role of modern lexicographers, according to Brewster, to track these changes—to wade through a near-infinite pool of formal and informal discourse, and, in the process, differentiate fleeting trends from substantive shifts in usage. Whether these shifts are annoying or welcomed is inconsequential—once they reach critical mass, ubiquity eclipses controversy. “What was once shunned and disparaged,” she says, “has a good chance of joining the ranks of the unremarkable.”

As a prime example, Brewster points to the word “negotiate.” In the early-20th century, journalists and orienteers began using the term as a verb meaning “to successfully travel along or over.” Grammar pedants took great umbrage at this usage and soon brought their fight to the mainstream media. A writer’s use of negotiate in a 1904 edition of The Saturday Review inspired one critic to fire off a letter to the editor. “Surely no purpose ornamental or useful can be served by this unwarranted extension of the sense of a familiar word,” he sassed. “Do the spoilers of English negotiate the English dictionary?” Despite similar complaints elsewhere, the new sense rapidly gained currency and eventually clawed its way into acceptance.

How Dictionary Editors Find Meaning in the Age of Internet Speak – Motherboard

News story formats

Following the birth of my son I’ve just started an extended period of parental leave from work. Prior to my departure I was trying to better understand, rationalise and improve the way we used platforms and formats.

These are clearly linked: you cannot post audio to Twitter; you can’t post a long-form article to Instagram. But this is good! Most publishers are just doing the basic stuff and there’s room to easily reach a far larger audience by publishing in different formats or by repurposing archive content for different platforms. And within our faculties we have so many potential writers, presenters and collaborators! We were just beginning to get somewhere. Oh well. Something to pick up when I go back.

When I’m doing this sort of work I’m a sucker for this sort of visualisation:

This comes from Beyond 800 words: new digital story formats for news, a typology of news formats by Tristan Ferne for BBC R&D:

For the inception of a BBC R&D project to explore alternatives to these conventional formats I’ve conducted a review of the landscape of digital news, looking for innovations in article and video formats online. I’ve been looking particularly for story formats used for news that aren’t legacies from print or broadcast, that try to use the affordances of digital, that have been specifically designed for news and that are re-usable across stories and genres.

The challenges of translating a maritime novel into a ‘landlocked’ language

From an obituary of linguist Ognen Čemerski:

Čemerski spent about 12 years working on the translation of “Moby-Dick,” a project initiated during his undergraduate studies at Graceland University in Iowa, USA. He conducted it as a scientific endeavor, and used it as basis of his masters’ thesis in linguistics.

This was not the first translation of “Moby-Dick” in Macedonian. There was one edition published in the 1980s, translated from Serbo-Croatian, which did not produce a lasting impact.

The main problem of translating a book from 1851 about sailing and whaling was that the Macedonian language lacked maritime terminology. Most of the ethnic Macedonian population had been landlocked during the last centuries, having little contact with the sea in general and sailing in particular. In order to overcome this, Čemerski had to re-construct the vocabulary by first discovering the origins of the English terms, and then trace their equivalents in Macedonian or other Slavic languages.

Notes on a case of Nicholas Gurewitch

In December 2014 I backed a Kickstarter project by one of my favourite artists, Nick Gurewitch, creator of the Perry Bible Fellowship:

The project is called Notes on a Case of Melancholia, Or: A Little Death.

This is book about Death’s despair regarding his kid- an affectionate “Little Death” who simply doesn’t have what it takes to carry on the family business.

Dr. Edgar O. Wye is a psychoanalyst who takes Death on as a patient. The book’s rhyming narration will be taken from his case notes.

The book will run about 42-50 pages long, and will be completely illustrated. Graphic novel “frames” will be used on occasion, but this will really be more of a picture book – deliberately similar to the short books of Edward Gorey, but with a character-driven plot. Though it has a pretty high body count, it is in essence a family story.

It’s running slightly late. (About 18 months.) This is mostly due to the painstaking subtractive work required to produce each page: they are created by painting a board with black ink then ‘drawn’ by scratching millions of tiny lines with a scalpel.

Nick and his project were the subjects of a short documentary:

Nick’s just found out that his publisher has folded. It’s not too late to support the project to ensure it appears in a (somewhat) timely manner.

A domain of one’s own is important

Audrey Watters:

Students and staff can start to see how digital technologies work – those that underpin the Web and elsewhere. They can think about how these technologies shape the formation of their understanding of the world – how knowledge is formed and shared; how identity is formed and expressed. They can engage with that original purpose of the Web – sharing information and collaborating on knowledge-building endeavors – by doing meaningful work online, in the public, with other scholars. That they have a space of their own online, along with the support and the tools to think about what that can look like.

It doesn’t have to be a blog. It doesn’t have to be a series of essays presented in reverse chronological order. You don’t have to have comments. You don’t have to have analytics. You can delete things after a while. You can always make edits to what you’ve written. You can use a subdomain. (I do create a new subdomain for each project I’m working on. And while it’s discoverable – ostensibly – this work is not always linked or showcased from the “home page” of my website.) You can license things how you like. You can make some things password-protected. You can still post things elsewhere on the Internet – long rants on Facebook, photos on Instagram, mixes on Soundcloud, and so on. But you can publish stuff on your own site first, and then syndicate it to these other for-profit, ad-based venues. […]

That’s your domain. You cultivate ideas there – quite carefully, no doubt, because others might pop by for a think. But also because it’s your space for a think.

Medium: $5/mo for nothing

Kieran McCarthy on Medium’s curious ‘offering’:

Medium is offering literally nothing beyond promises:

  • Future “exclusive stories from leading experts” – um, who? On what? And when?
  • Early access to “a new Medium experience” – they are going to revamp their homepage. You’ll get to see it earlier.
  • Personal, offline reading list – you can save stories to a queue.

We can pretty much guarantee Medium that no one outside a few over-paid techies living in SoMa or Palo Alto is going to think that represents good value for $5 a month. The whole idea is doomed to failure.

Data reporting links from NICAR17

Chrys Wu has a comprehensive list of talks and resources from NICAR17—the conference for the (U.S.) National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.

Some that jumped out at me as being particularly useful and/or interesting:

The different types of mis- and disinformation

From First Draft News’ post Fake news. It’s complicated there’s a useful figure that shows a spectrum of mis- and disinformation:

The scale, according to author Clare Wardle, “loosely measures the intent to deceive”.

Map these against the 8 Ps (Poor Journalism, Parody, to Provoke or ‘Punk’, Passion, Partisanship, Profit, Political Influence or Power, and Propaganda) and you start to see some mini-patterns:

New Creative Commons search in beta

Creative Commons has launched a new search tool. The search covers images from Rijksmuseum, Flickr, 500px, the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Eventually it could cover the entire Commons: approximately 1.1 billion literary works, videos, photos, audio tracks, scientific research and content in other formats. Hugely useful for web publishers everywhere.

Designing headlines to make them more useful

Nieman Lab is running their annual predictions for journalism. Melody Kramer’s piece about designing headlines caught my eye:

In other words, how can we encode as much useful information as possible in a headline? Colors, fonts, shading, size, position, pictures, interactivity, history, metadata — basically all the design elements of information encoding across multiple dimensions. Which of those are most helpful to enhancing the headline? How can we test them?

For example, could we think of a headline as something that one can hover over, and immediately see source material? Or how many times the headline has changed? Or how other publications have written the same headline? (How does that help readers? How could that help publications?)

Let’s go broader. Why are headlines text? Could they be something else? What is the most important element at the top of a page? Is it five to fourteen words or is it something else entirely?

The whole piece is interesting and (typically for Mel) full of good ideas. Later she discusses the role of text:

Do we only think of mainly-text-based solutions because of the current nature of the platforms we share on? What if that changes? How could that change? A lot of current restrictions around headlines come from social and search restrictions and it would be interesting to think about that impact and how publications might bypass them with headline-like constructs (like Mic’s multimedia notifications or BuzzFeed’s emoji notifications.) They’re take the headline space and reworking it using images. What could we use besides images? In addition to images?

This is key. We use text because, well, text. It’s demanded by the channels we use to disseminate content. As readers we can react in non-textual ways: Facebook, Buzzfeed and others allow us to offer what might be very nuanced reactions using (barely?) representative icons and emoji. But as publishers, our platforms—both those that we own and third-party sites in our extended IA—generally haven’t evolved to a point where we can implement much of what Mel imagines.

This is a shame, as there’s plenty wrong with text and how it is used. Alan Jacobs wrote a short post in November, disagreeing with another post that championed text over other forms of communication:

Much of the damage done to truth and charity done in this past election was done with text. (It’s worth noting that Donald Trump rarely uses images in his tweets.) And of all the major social media, the platform with the lowest levels of abuse, cruelty, and misinformation is clearly Instagram.

No: it’s not the predominance of image over text that’s hurting us. It’s the use of platforms whose code architecture promotes novelty, instantaneous response, and the quick dissemination of lies.

This is problematic, and brings me back once again to Mike Caulfield’s excellent take on the layout and purpose of Facebook’s news distribution:

The way you get your stories is this:

  • You read a small card with a headline and a description of the story on it.
  • You are then prompted to rate the card, by liking it or sharing them or commenting on it.
  • This then is pushed out to your friends, who can in turn complete the same process.

This might be a decent scheme for a headline rating system. It’s pretty lousy for news though.

[…]

So we get this weird (and think about it a minute, because it is weird) model where you get the headline and a comment box and if you want to read the story you click it and it opens up in another tab, except you won’t click it, because Facebook has designed the interface to encourage you to skip going off-site altogether and just skip to the comments on the thing you haven’t read.

No conclusions this end, but plenty of interrelated issues to ponder:

  1. How do we (re-)engineer headlines to be more useful by revealing more information than is currently available in a few short words?
  2. How do we maintain the curiosity gap without ever-increasing reliance on clickbait?
  3. How do we continue the battle against fake news and propaganda masquerading as unbiased thought?
  4. How do we reconcile this with third-party distribution platforms that can only (barely) cope with text, and that treat content as a title and comments box only?

There’s something else in here about headlines and metadata and their role in content discovery and dissemination, and how users decide what to read and when. I was talking about this today with Richard Holden from The Economist and it’s sparked a few assorted thoughts that are yet to coalesce into anything new or meaningful. Perhaps in time.