Facebook’s takeover of political media

The always-excellent John Herrman, for the New York Times:

For now, the network hums along, mostly beneath the surface. A post from a Liberty Alliance page might find its way in front of a left-leaning user who might disagree with it or find it offensive, and who might choose to engage with the friend who posted it directly. But otherwise, such news exists primarily within the feeds of the already converted, its authorship obscured, its provenance unclear, its veracity questionable. It’s an environment that’s at best indifferent and at worst hostile to traditional media brands; but for this new breed of page operator, it’s mostly upside. In front of largely hidden and utterly sympathetic audiences, incredible narratives can take shape, before emerging, mostly formed, into the national discourse.

While this is (mostly) about the U.S. election, the same basic pattern exists in all territories at all times. The only surprising thing should be the scale (tiny) and profitability (staggeringly high) of the content farms.

Gawker’s 2007 style guide

Nicholas Carlson has posted the entirety of Gawker’s 2007 style guide on a post for Insider. It’s still almost completely relevant, with evergreen tips for clear communication filed alongside prescient comment on things like SEO and what has become the dominant bloggy tone: irreverent, humorous, sharp.

See also:

The end of Gawker

Tom Scocca, for Gawker:

Gawker always said it was in the business of publishing true stories. Here is one last true story: You live in a country where a billionaire can put a publication out of business. A billionaire can pick off an individual writer and leave that person penniless and without legal protection.

If you want to write stories that might anger a billionaire, you need to work for another billionaire yourself, or for a billion-dollar corporation. The law will not protect you. There is no freedom in this world but power and money.

See also Nick Denton’s final post.

A weeklong cruise for conspiracy theorists

Bronwen Dickey, for Popular Mechanics:

It was a bit after seven, and I should have been downstairs on Plaza Deck, dressed in formal attire and enjoying dinner with the conspiracy theorists. There were about a hundred of them, and they were nearing the end of their week—the last week in January—aboard the Ruby Princess. Many of them were older people, and each of them had paid $3,000 (not including airfare and beverages on board) to participate in the first-ever Conspira-Sea Cruise, a weeklong celebration of “alternative science” hosted by a tour company called Divine Travels. For the past five days, they had debated UFOs, GMOs, government mind-control programs, vaccines, chemtrails, crop circles, and the Illuminati’s plan for world domination, all while soaking up the mystical energies of three Mexican tourist towns known mainly for wet T-shirt contests and Señor Frog’s.

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.