How social media broke our democracy

Mike Caulfield:

I could not sleep last night at all. So I organized my notes I’ve been taking over the last year on the problem of doing politics in distributed feed-based systems.

I know this election was about so much more than that (so much more), and our problems are so much deeper. But I remain convinced that even if social media is not the fire or the fuel of Breitbartian racism it is in fact the oxygen that helps it thrive and spread.

There are 537 pages of notes in this PDF, and it may not be immediately clear what each has to do with the book, but in my head at least they all relate. They are worth a read.

[pdf]

Wow—this is fantastic, and exactly what I was getting at in my earlier post about indiscriminate collecting. I’ve started using DEVONthink to collect and organise my notes and web clippings. I hope to get to a point where I have a similar collection. Not only does it help my understanding of concepts, but it enables me to make unexpected connections between them.

Gluten-free economic meritocracy

1: Why I unfollowed you on Instagram

I’m looking for an intelligent feed of my interests. A feed of stuff I’m going to like, drawn from a white-list of trusted curators but personalized for me. Not specific to one vertical (News, Music, Stuff to Buy, etc) or one content type (movies, photos, text, links). Ordered by the most relevant, the stuff I need to see RIGHT NOW. […] We would do ourselves a favor to stop lumping all these tools together and calling them “Social Networks” or “Social Media” and instead note what makes each service uniquely great and push these companies to improve what they’re best at. What they all are is “distribution”, ways of building direct connections between people and each other or brands. Person -> Person, Brand -> Person, Person -> Brand.

2: A new use for the @-symbol

This is a gorgeous old carousel in Jerez, Spain. Both adults and kids likely want to ride it. Let’s look closely at the motorcycle, too small for adults to ride. The sign says it’s exclusively for niñ@s to ride. I believe they are using the @ to be an a and o simultaneously, creating a clever all-encompassing plural for “boys and girls”.

3: Computer Show

Today’s technology transplanted to 1983. Made by the wonderful @lonelysandwich.

4: Women who sniff this Hawaiian mushroom have spontaneous orgasms

According to a 2001 publication in the International Journal of Medicinal Mushrooms, the smell of the fresh fungus can trigger spontaneous orgasms in human females. In the trial involving 16 women, 6 had orgasms while smelling the fruit body, and the other ten, who received smaller doses, experienced physiological changes such as increased heart rate. All of the 20 men tested considered the smell disgusting. According to the authors, the results suggest that the hormone-like compounds present in the volatile portion of the gleba may have some similarity to human neurotransmitters released in females during sexual activity. The study used the species found in Hawaii, not the edible variety cultivated in China.

5: The most mysterious star in our galaxy

Astronomers have spotted a strange mess of objects whirling around a distant star. Scientists who search for extraterrestrial civilizations are scrambling to get a closer look.

6: Business Town

An ongoing project attempting to explain our highly intangible, deeply disruptive, data-driven, venture-backed, gluten-free economic meritocracy to the uninitiated. With apologies to Richard Scarry.

  <img src="http://static1.squarespace.com/static/5051d6b824ac3544de31ef8b/5051d73de4b040c6b9bcd681/561e97d6e4b0d9c5e4242088/1444845533222//img.jpg" alt=""/>

7: Why ‘social justice warrior,’ a Gamergate insult, is now a dictionary entry

Most people hadn’t heard of a “social justice warrior” until about a year ago, when it emerged as the preferred term among the Gamergate movement for the people they believed to be their greatest enemies. Now, the word has crossed over enough into mainstream use that in August, “Social Justice Warrior” was included in the latest batch of words added to Oxford Dictionaries. The online dictionary from Oxford University Press defined the phrase as an informal, derogatory noun referring to “a person who expresses or promotes socially progressive views.”

8: How urban planning made Motown Records possible

The family piano’s role in the music that flowed out of the residential streets of Detroit cannot be overstated. The piano, and its availability to children of the black working class and middle class, is essential to understanding what happened in that time and place, and why it happened, not just with Berry Gordy, Jr. but with so many other young black musicians who came of age there from the late forties to the early sixties. What was special then about pianos and Detroit?

9: Most readers of this blog subscribe by RSS. If you’d rather get posts by email, or know someone else who might like to, visit the subscribe page.

Beyond personal hygiene

1: Reclaiming social: Content strategy for social media

This is one of the best things I’ve read about content strategy or social media. Terrific.

“We want to go viral!” says the chief communications officer. “Can’t help you” used to be our standard answer. But by doing this, we’ve left social media in the hands of marketers and self-appointed “gurus” more concerned with Klout than user needs. It’s about time we reclaimed social media.

2: Please be patient–this page is under construction

‘Under construction’ GIFs rescued from Geocities by the Archive Team.

3: Sad Topographies on Instagram

Places on Google Maps with desperately sad names.

4: What’s really hot on dating sites? Proper grammar

Dating site Match asked more than 5,000 singles in the U.S. what criteria they used most in assessing dates. Beyond personal hygiene—which 96% of women valued most, as compared with 91% of men—singles said they judged a date foremost by the person’s grammar. The survey found 88% of women and 75% of men said they cared about grammar most, putting it ahead of a person’s confidence and teeth.

5: When I’m gone

Death is always a surprise. No one expects it. Not even terminal patients think they are going to die in a day or two. In a week, maybe. But only when this particular week is the next week.

6: Lessons From Five Years in Mobile News Apps: #1 Don’t have a news app

I spent five years working on a mobile news app — first as an editor helping curate and package content and then as a product manager shepherding it through a complex visual and technical redesign.

And here’s the #1 lesson from my experience: If you are a small or medium sized publisher don’t have a news app. If you already have one, shut it down. Use your resources to make your mobile web site better. Kudos to The Atavist for making this decision.

7: Think the floppy disk is dead? Think again! Here’s why it still stands between us and a nuclear apocalypse

When was the last time that you used a floppy disk? While still used as the save icon in modern software packages like Microsoft’s Office suite, it’s unusual to see one out in the wild. Given that a typical floppy disk offers up a minuscule 1.44MB of space — not even enough to house a three-minute pop song in MP3 format — there’s seemingly no reason for these disks to stay in circulation.

But while the average user might not have any cause to use a floppy disk, there are those out there who can’t settle for anything else. They’re in dire need of the disks, which most manufacturers have stopped producing. The floppy disk might seem like something better left in the 1990s. Instead it’s a product that’s alive and well in the 21st century.

8: Uncovering the secret history of Myers-Briggs

Not one article details how Myers, an award-winning mystery writer who possessed no formal training in psychology or sociology, concocted a test routinely deployed by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies, the US government, hundreds of universities, and online dating sites like Perfect Match, Project Evolove and Type Tango. And not one expert in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry with over 2,500 different tests on offer in the US alone, can explain why Myers-Briggs has so thoroughly surpassed its competition, emerging as a household name on par with the Atkins Diet or The Secret.

Migrants are too wealthy

1: Spotify is getting unbelievably good at picking music — here’s an inside look at how

There’s a playlist on Spotify I love called Discover Weekly. It’s updated every Monday with a mix of songs, some I know and some I’ve never heard, crossing into almost every genre with no discernible pattern. Like magic, it just knows what I want to hear.

It’s one of the reasons why I’m listening to Spotify more than ever. And I’m not alone.

I’m pleased with Spotify’s Discover playlist. Mine this week is 30 songs (2hr 1m) and is a nice mix of bands I’ve never heard of, back-catalogue songs by bands I know, and a handful of songs I own and/or I’ve listened to (on Spotify) multiple times. I think this last tactic is deliberate; relatively few people will want two hours of music that they’re completely new to, and will appreciate a bit of familiarity along the way. I’d like more new (to me) music, but I’m a bit odd: maybe ‘Discover’ could be an integral part of the Spotify app, along with ‘Browse’ and ‘Radio’ and the like, that we could tinker with using filters and settings depending on what we want to expose ourselves to.

I still like Apple Music, by the way, and I’ll likely carry on paying for it and using the free version of Spotify, which I downgraded to a couple of months ago. But the excitement of the ‘For You’ section in Apple Music has worn off. There’s only so many times I want to see ‘An Introduction To’ an act whose back catalogue I own in its entirety, nor ‘Deep Cuts’.

2: Social decay: How Tweets can predict the death of an app

We used Twitter data to analyze the health of social apps and find out which ones might be in trouble — or, as we call it, in social decay.

Interesting to see the slow decline of This Is My Jam, and how Ello has peaked, dropped and plateaued.

3: How to write a great error message

Your job as product manager, designer or developer of an app is to recognize that writing copy in your app is not something that you can just do on the side. It’s just as important as having the application work correctly and the user interface being easy and efficient to use.

4: Surprised that Syrian refugees have smartphones? Sorry to break this to you, but you’re an idiot

On the surface this may look like xenophobia searching for something to grab on to following a shift in the public mood towards refugees from the Middle East. But it is actually a fairly progressive stance: just weeks ago the anti-immigration brigade were complaining that migrants are unskilled and just want our benefits. And now they’re arguing that migrants are too wealthy instead, implicitly arguing we should prioritise helping the poor. But in any case, it does raise an interesting question: Exactly how surprised should we be that people from Syria carry smartphones?

5: How media ‘fluff’ helped Hitler rise to power

In the years preceding World War II, news outlets from home magazines to the New York Times ran profiles of the Nazi leader that portrayed him as a country gentleman — a man who ate vegetarian, played catch with his dogs and took post-meal strolls outside his mountain estate […] The 1930s marked the rise of celebrity culture, in the era of talking movies, radio and new lifestyle magazines […] Hitler’s propagandists took advantage of the new celebrity culture and even helped to shape it.

6: Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto explaining World 1-1 is the best game design lesson of the week

Miyamoto talks level design.

To cheep, as a young bird

1: An interactive guide to ambiguous grammar

This might be the best thing I’ve read all year. I didn’t guess where it was going.

2: The great big Twitter purge (you probably haven’t heard about)

Specifically the millions of followers that have been wiped from dozens of so-called parody accounts, the influential profiles that satirize celebrities or pop culture. The most powerful accounts have audiences in the millions, and their owners can make thousands of dollars per day through sponsored posts. But many accounts are being accused of stealing the content they share.

3: Facebook’s new spam-killer hints at the future of coding

When Facebook engineers needed to build new anti-spam system, they turned to Haskell, a relatively niche programming language. Here’s why. (This is of broader appeal than it might first appear!)

4: Today I fucked up by letting my brother take advantage of my Yu-Gi-Oh! card addiction

A cautionary tale of why you should always follow doctor’s orders. No matter if your siblings bribe you.

5: How podcasts have changed in ten years: By the numbers

I’ve noticed since starting a podcast of my own that research on the field is scant. Most of the research I’ve read has focused on listener behavior, which is fine for marketers, but other questions about the medium have gone unanswered. I decided to address a few.

  • What iTunes categories have the most podcasts?
  • How many podcasts are launched per month?
  • How many podcasts are active?
  • How long is a typical podcast episode? How often is a typical podcast updated?
  • How many podcasts have explicit content?
  • How many podcasts are not in English?
  • How many ratings or reviews does a typical podcast receive?

6: Tools we use 1: Publishing print newspapers online: CMSs

Which newspaper sites use which CMSs? I expected to see a big difference between BLOX for U.S. dailies and WordPress for everything else, but the gap is huge.

7: A brief history of yippee-ki-yay

The yip part of yippee is old. It originated in the 15th century and meant “to cheep, as a young bird,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The more well-known meaning, to emit a high-pitched bark, came about around 1907, as per the OED, and gained the figurative meaning “to shout; to complain.”

8: Create free brand & design style guides with Frontify style guide

Manage logos, images, colours, typography etc. See also Canva for Work.

9: Tips for writing and editing news stories involving trans people.

10: Dear pedants: Your fave grammar rule is probably fake

It turns out, virtually all authoritative sources agree these rules are nonsense. We can consider the authority of historical texts before the advent of these pop grammar rules. Does historical record show that speakers were breaking these rules before they even existed? Yes. Or we can appeal to literary usage by expert wielders of the English language such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, James Joyce, Mark Twain to name just a few. They’ve all had their fair share of grammatical ‘errors’. There are examples throughout the history of the English language of many of these grammar rules being blithely broken by speakers. Even the style guides of contemporary publications such as The Economist admit that “Happy the man who has never been told that it is wrong to split an infinitive: the ban is pointless. Unfortunately, to see it broken is so annoying to so many people that you should observe it.” Or as Geoffrey K. Pullum wryly translates it “this mythical and pointless prohibition against a natural syntactic construction has never been defended by any serious grammarian; but observe it anyway, because we’re scared of our readers.”

11: Lastly, type I’m feeling curious into Google.

Nothing to do with abdominal glandular organs

1: Timelike

Another time-travel based short. Because why break the habit of a lifetime?

Madeline and her boyfriend are enjoying a quiet evening at home when they are interrupted by a visit from a stranger bearing a message from Madeline’s future self. (An explanation of sorts?)

2: How London’s terminal stations got their names

St Pancras International: The international part is fairly obvious, given that this is the London home of Eurostar services to the continent. But who was this St Pancras? London’s most magnificent station and the surrounding area take their name from a Roman teenager, who was beheaded for converting to Christianity at a time when this was outlawed (c. 304 AD). Young master Pancras had probably never even heard of Londinium, and it’s unclear exactly why the founders of the first church on the site should choose him as their dedicatee. It may be that Pancratic relics found their way to the region, or perhaps his memory was promoted by members of a nearby Roman camp, established at a date when Christianity was more widespread within the Roman Empire. Either way, this is thought to be one of the most ancient sites of Christian worship in the country. The name has nothing to do with abdominal glandular organs.

3: 2 kinds of people

There are only 2 kinds of people in this world, those that find this blog hilarious and those that have no sense of humor whatsoever.

4: Something fishy

The true story behind four curiosities of everyday sushi.

5: Design a cover for the twentieth anniversary edition of Infinite Jest

There are two routes to literary immortality:

  • Slave for years—if not decades—over a work of fiction so searingly sui generis, so well and truly fused with an authentic zeitgeist, so deeply attuned to life’s vicissitudes and the mysteries of the soul, that establishment and nonestablishment figures alike have no choice but to revere you and send you soaring toward the firmament, never to be forgotten.

  • Hitch your wagon to David Foster Wallace’s star.

6: Time is a privacy setting

John Herrman on the ephemerality of Twitter and Facebook posts. Social networks change with such frequency, and the passing of time removes context and meaning from our posts. How do we deal with this? Herman deletes things after a week.

Facebook’s Timehop-esque feature was interesting to me at first until it started showing me things from my early days on the service that made me shudder and squirm. I initially used it as a prompt to delete old stuff that was just awful. Now I can barely use that feature. Seeing the ‘You have memories’ notification is enough to send waves of undiluted cringe flowing through my body.

7: Inside the manipulative world of film color correction

Professional colorists reveal their secrets—and a neuroscientist explains why they work.

8: All hail the Ned Flanders-themed metal band Okilly Dokilly

Nekrogoblikon, a band with a goblin mascot, once famously sang “We Need a Gimmick.” Phoenix band Okilly Dokilly have found one, and it’s blowing up the internet. The five-piece band are entirely inspired by and about Homer Simpson’s neighbor Ned Flanders. They’re hardly the first band to be inspired by The Simpsons (hello, Fall Out Boy), or even the first metal band to take their name from the show (what’s up, Evergreen Terrace?), but the world’s only “Nedal” band are fully committed to their shtick. All five of them dress like Homer’s nemesis (green sweaters, gray pants and spectacles, and three of them even have mustaches.

I begin to hate their smiling faces

1: Grimes in reality

Grimes started as a fantasy project, then became too real. Now Claire Boucher is taking back control and showing the world that pop stars can be producers too.

2: Happy Birthday copyright bombshell: New evidence Warner Music previously hid shows song is public domain

Last minute evidence that completely turns a legal case on its head doesn’t come about all that often—despite what you see in Hollywood movies and TV shows. The discovery process in a lawsuit generally reveals most of the evidence revealed to everyone pretty early on. And yet… in the high profile lawsuit over the copyright status of the song “Happy Birthday,” the plaintiffs “Good Morning to You Productions” (who are making a documentary about the song and are arguing that the song is in the public domain) have popped up with a last minute filing, saying they have just come across evidence that the song is absolutely in the public domain.

3: No. 32: Who’s your daddy?

I could read burger blogs all day every day.

4: I Poked all of my 615 Facebook friends. Here’s what happened

At first, it is delightful. I don’t know Facebook’s algorithm – if there is a rhyme or reason to why people appear in the list the way they do. But in the beginning they are all dear friends, and I flick through their pages, seeing profile pictures of them with loving spouses or beautiful children. The messages on their homepages vary – from inspirational quotes to cartoons to outrage over Sandra Bland’s death. I am proud of my friends. They care about people. They are politically aware. I love them. After 108 pokes, barely scratching the surface of my list of more than 600 friends, I begin to hate their smiling faces. I start poking out of spite.

5: Prune for iPhone

A lovely relaxing puzzle game in the same mould as Monument Valley.

Prune is a love letter to trees. A game about the beauty and joy of cultivation. With a swipe of a finger, grow and shape your tree into the sunlight while avoiding the dangers of a hostile world. Bring life to a forgotten landscape, and uncover a story hidden deep beneath the soil.

6: Spaghetti in cones might be NYC’s most loved street food

But however frivolous and gimmicky it might seem, the spaghetti cone is a highly utilitarian innovation. A cardboard cone, it turns out, is an ideal delivery system for spaghetti […] The cone shape facilitates the trick by giving natural purchase to the tines of the fork as they twist. The curved sides of the cone help guide the strands of spaghetti into a ball around the fork. The twirl excludes the need for spearing any bit of food with the fork.

7: Domain stories: Citizen Ex

Tales of techno-geo-socio-politics.

Behind each domain you visit are other stories, that might happen to other people. As part of Citizen Ex, James Bridle explores six of these domains: Libya, Syria, Scotland, Wales, Yugoslavia, and the British Indian Ocean Territory, all of which are available to read online.

8: Reading War and Peace on my iPhone

Will our flighty brains ever get as much out of phone screens as paper? Are the great works of literature doomed to fade away like ghosts? I wanted to find out. So I did an experiment. I pulled out my iPhone and downloaded the hugest, weightiest tome I could think of. War and Peace.

They pay in faeces

1: A/B tests are destroying your conversion rate

Have I heard clients tell me that they incur performance slowdowns due to their use of A/B tests? Absolutely. But when I hear that, I don’t hear “A/B tests are the problem.” I hear “maybe you need to put in a bit more work until you get it right.”

2: Ultimate steak sandwich: rib-eye, Boursin & watercress

This really does look excellent.

3: The 33 best 33 1/3 books

The 33 1/3 series has revealed a way that we can save the album: by dislocating it from history and letting a new generation develop their own canon. Recently announced titles suggest this trend will continue, but while we wait for new editions on Beat Happening, the Raincoats, and the Geto Boys, here are the 33 best 33 1/3 titles in alphabetical order by artist.

4: Incubus on Instagram

The mostly-forgotten band Incubus are doing something extremely interesting with their Instagram feed. (This looks much better in the app as there is less padding between posts.)

5: A brief note to readers new to Infinite Jest (and a very incomplete list of motifs in the novel)

Yes, I am still re-reading this goddamn novel.

6: When you give a tree an email address

This is wonderful:

The city of Melbourne assigned trees email addresses so citizens could report problems. Instead, people wrote thousands of love letters to their favorite trees.

7: leejohnphillips on Instagram

Spending the next 4 years of my life drawing every item in my late grandfather’s tool shed.

8: lightyear.fm

Radio broadcasts leave Earth at the speed of light. Scroll away from Earth and hear how far the biggest hits of the past have travelled. The farther away you get, the longer the waves take to travel there—and the older the music you’ll hear.

9: My burger manifesto

10: One-minute time machine

A great short film.

11: God tier: Facebook moms run the meme game

The advice meme as we knew it (original characters captioned in Impact) is dead. But while the internet cultural vanguard moved on, a newer class of internet user, the well-connected mainstreamer, reinvented it. We live in the age of the post-meme.

12: This plant is a hotel for bats, and they pay in faeces.

13: Archeologists have found 2,000 ancient golden spirals and they have no idea what they are

I was also surprised to find out that I live about 1 mile away from one of the biggest concentrations of Bronze Age gold known from Great Britain, valued at £290,000.

14: Species in pieces

30 species. 30 pieces. 1 fragmented survival. A CSS-based interactive exhibition celebrating evolutionary distinction.

Nominally about Seville orange marmalade

How to lose weight in 4 easy steps. This is really great and I won’t spoil it for you. Ensure you get to step 3.

Why did everybody do the Harlem Shake?. “Experts said the ‘Harlem Shake’ phenomenon was emergent behavior from the hive mind of the internet—accidental, ad hoc, uncoordinated: a ‘meme’ that ‘went viral’. But this is untrue. The real story of the ‘Harlem Shake’ shows how much popular culture has changed and how much it has stayed the same.”

Some Genius named Rick Rubin is annotating Kanye West, Beastie Boys, and others. Yes, that Rick Rubin is nonchalantly tossing out facts about music that he helped make, and comments on music that he didn’t.

Facebook is bigger than anyone knew, even Facebook. “We all know Facebook is huge, and drives incredible amounts of traffic. But thanks to its recent efforts to uncloak the sources of content with no known referrer, we now know that the numbers are bigger than anyone believed.”

GDS Digital Services 2 – An Opportunity Missed. Amid the (rightful) celebration of the great work the UK’s Government Digital Services project has done, Clearleft’s Andy Budd describes his dissatisfaction at the process used to select designers and developers.

One man’s quest to rid Wikipedia of exactly one grammatical mistake. Wikipedia user ‘Giraffedata’ has made over 47,000 edits since 2007. Almost all were to fix incorrect use of ‘comprised of’. Be sure to read his explanation.

A bittersweet and brillig tale. I don’t think I’ve ever shared one of Rachel Roddy’s posts here—they are uniformly excellent; a combination of tremendous travel writing, beautiful insights into childhood (in England) and adult (in Rome) life, and invariably brilliant recipes. This one is nominally about Seville orange marmalade, but really much more than that.

Are you ready for your sunny day? I approach this with no small amount of personal bias. The speaker in this TEDx talk is Jay DeMerit, a professional footballer who played in the late ‘00s for the team I support, Watford, and who was part of one of the most unlikely teams to have reached England’s Premier League, the top division of professional soccer. His career—and there are many hugely unlikely events that he glosses over here, self-deprecatingly—is strange enough to have been made into a film, but in this talk he outlines his particular approach to life, which amounts to focusing on positives rather than negatives. This includes a particularly nasty sounding injury, which to my knowledge was never revealed until now. Suspend your snark and irony: this is an upbeat talk—by a intelligent professional footballer, no less!—about being positive and preparing for the best, not the worst. There are many terrible TED talks out there, but this is a good ‘un.