The UX of 280

This is where the design challenge comes in: How can we make a UI that communicates these different character constraints that is still easily understood globally? Simply replacing the number doesn’t work because we can’t be certain which language you’re going to be Tweeting in. We could guess which language you’ll use, based on your location or system language, but that falls apart quickly, as many people live in foreign countries or travel regularly. Additionally, many people Tweet in multiple languages, sometimes within a single Tweet. Because we count dense alphabets differently than non-dense, mixed language Tweets can result in some intricate math that we want to be able to abstract away. The challenge here was to create a design that adapts to different character limits without relying on a number, works with the many ways people compose Tweets, and is intuitive enough that people don’t have to spend time thinking about it.

A recap of some of the UX decisions made to show that Twitter users now have 280 characters with which to compose their post, not 140.

Source: Looking After Number One-forty – Twitter Design & Research – Medium

Fuck Twitter

Gabe Weatherhead:

Twitter-the-company is made up of people that have consistently made poor, self-serving decisions while patting themselves on the back for making the world more connected. Well, fuck you all. You gluttons helped put us all here and now suddenly you might come up with an algorithm to spot Nazis? Here’s an idea to put on your fucking Trello board: Look for avatars with swastikas on day one. Take day two off to recover from your code bash hangover. Day three you can look for accounts that mostly post negative sentiments (using a Python library that’s five years old) and then map their connections to find another Nazi pool-party. On day four, take another break. You deserve a rest for waiting a decade to do even the smallest amount of engineering work to make the world better. Day five might be busy while your executives are explaining to congress why you actively assisted a foreign government to spread disinformation during the US election. Also, enjoy your weekend you fucks.

Source: Fuck Twitter

Some opinions about Tweetstorms

I will say: though tweet storms suck as a medium for collecting and preserving your ideas, they are a pretty great compositional gambit. One of the biggest struggles I have as a writing instructor is getting people to just write. By breaking that down to 140 char chunks, I think people find it easier to piece together something that flows one idea at a time.

So please! Keep doing that. Just, you know, copy the words and paste them into something with a single stable URL.

Tim Maly: Some Opinions about Tweetstorms

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:

Donald Trump’s fake Twitter followers

Nick Bilton in Vanity Fair:

The problem, like almost everything that comes out of Trump’s mouth, is that this number is drastically exaggerated. A large number of those followers aren’t potential voters. They are not even people. They’re bots.

The percentage varies tremendously according to who you ask: anywhere between 3.4 and 41 per cent.

I enjoyed the payoff to this paragraph:

Back in the early days of fake followers, the programmers who made the bots often just plucked pictures of people from Google, created a fake name, fake biography, and—voilà—you had a fake follower. But now, to subvert being found out, bots have become incredibly clever, even sometimes becoming indistinguishable from real people. They use semantic analysis to understand what people are tweeting about, and reply with answers that are mostly coherent, which also more or less describes how Trump uses the service, too.

Related: my friend Phil on the user experience of buying fake followers.

I want to be a 55-year-old black musician

1: Better as a Tweet

From John Herrman’s excellent Awl series, The Content Wars:

What’s unusual about text, and which helps explain why journalists’ reactions to this change are so confident and visceral—as opposed to the resigned and uncertain responses they have to changes in Facebook, which, to them, is much more powerful in ways they can control much less—is that, unlike, say, native Twitter images, which marginalized a small number of Twitter-specific companies, longer posts change a professional calculus for anyone who uses Twitter to promote writing online. An old boss used to say, half-joking and then eventually not joking at all, “maybe that story would be better as a tweet.” What was initially almost pejorative—said to mean “short” or “slight” or “unworthy of a longer post”—became a complex judgement. Could this piece of news be conveyed well in a sentence or two with an image or video? Could we just screenshot that statement, or release, rather than asking people to follow a link to a post where it’s quoted? If the answer is yes, then the corresponding reader question—would I rather see this on Twitter, or click on some site—is answered as well.

The ability to post 10,000 characters will make the answer to that question “yes” in a majority of situations. Possibly a large majority! This post, for example, would fit in a 10,000 word text card. I doubt anyone reading it expanded in their Twitter feed would think, “damn, I wish I was reading this on a website instead of right here! I wish I had clicked a link, for some reason!” This is somewhat worrying if you’re in the business of making posts against which ads are sold.

2: What’s the plural of emoji?

You may well have seen this doing the rounds—just as interesting is Meyer’s follow-up note.

3: An isochronic map of the world, c. 1914

This is an isochronic map – isochrones being lines joining points accessible in the same amount of time – and it tells a story about how travel was changing. You can get anywhere in the dark-pink section in the middle [London] within five days – to the Azores in the west and the Russian city of Perm in the east. No surprises there: you’re just not going very far. Beyond that, things get a little more interesting. Within five to ten days, you can get as far as Winnipeg or the Blue Pearl of Siberia, Lake Baikal. It takes as much as 20 days to get to Tashkent, which is closer than either, or Honolulu, which is much farther away. In some places, a colour sweeps across a landmass, as pink sweeps across the eastern United States or orange across India. In others, you reach a barrier of blue not far inland, as in Africa and South America. What explains the difference? Railways.

4: After years directing indie films, Transparent star Jay Duplass found himself in an unlikely place: in front of the camera

It’s a choice that belies Jay’s relative lack of acting experience. He and Mark began making movies in New Orleans when they were very young, and because of their age difference — Jay is four years older than Mark — it worked out that Jay would operate the camera while Mark stayed in front of it. As they grew up, they lived what Jay calls an “uncultivated, un-curated” childhood, filled with street football and DIY art projects and a general improvisational spirit, including a deep involvement in music.

“When you grow up in New Orleans, like, the only way to be an artist is to be a 55-year-old black musician. That’s basically what we wanted to be,” he said. “If you had asked me very truthfully what I wanted to be when I was 16, the answer would’ve been, ‘I want to be a 55-year-old black musician.’”

5: Ruth and Martin’s album club: Ram by Paul McCartney

Martin Carr (The Boo Radleys) listens to Ram for the first time. Spoiler: he loves it. As he should. (See also Dave Depper’s The Ram Project, where he re-recorded everything you can hear on the album over the course of a single month.)

6: Pavement: 10 of the best

Where is ‘Shady Lane’?

Let’s see what the dog will do

12 weird, excellent Twitter bots chosen by Twitter’s best bot-makers

This includes several of my favourites. (A reminder that I have an ebooks bot (also created by Brett), @cold_ebrains. If you follow it it might talk to you.

Noel Gallagher talks to GQ

I’m not quite sure it deserves its own subdomain, but it’s typically good value from Gallagher. A typical quote:

And I hate pop stars who are just… neh. Just nothing, you know? “Oh, yeah, my last selfie got 47-thousand-million likes on Instagram.” Yeah, why don’t you go fuck off and get a drug habit, you penis?

How we became the heaviest drinkers in a century

Everyone in alcohol research knows the graph. It plots the change in annual consumption of alcohol in the UK, calculated in litres of pure alcohol per person. (None of us drinks pure alcohol, thankfully; one litre of pure alcohol is equivalent to 35 pints of strong beer.) In 1950, Brits drank an average of 3.9 litres per person. Look to the right and at first the line barely rises. Then, in 1960, it begins to creep upward. The climb becomes more steady during the 1970s. The upward trajectory ends in 1980, but that turns out to be temporary. By the late 1990s consumption is rising rapidly again. Come Peak Booze, in 2004, we were drinking 9.5 litres of alcohol per person – the equivalent of more than 100 bottles of wine.

Why is English so weirdly different from other languages

Nevertheless, the Latinate invasion did leave genuine peculiarities in our language. For instance, it was here that the idea that ‘big words’ are more sophisticated got started. In most languages of the world, there is less of a sense that longer words are ‘higher’ or more specific. In Swahili, Tumtazame mbwa atakavyofanya simply means ‘Let’s see what the dog will do.’ If formal concepts required even longer words, then speaking Swahili would require superhuman feats of breath control. The English notion that big words are fancier is due to the fact that French and especially Latin words tend to be longer than Old English ones – end versus conclusion, walk versus ambulate.

Alvin and the Chipmunks played at 16 RPM

Super sludgy and very listenable.

What can a technologist do about climate change?

A hugely comprehensive look at what Silicon Valley’s best could do to tackle a rather bigger problem.

This is a “personal view”, biased by my experiences and idiosyncrasies. I’ve followed the climate situation for some time, including working on Al Gore’s book Our Choice, but I can’t hope to convey the full picture — just a sliver that’s visible from where I’m standing. I urge you to talk to many scientists and engineers involved in climate analysis and energy, and see for yourself what the needs are and how you can contribute.

This is aimed at people in the tech industry, and is more about what you can do with your career than at a hackathon. I’m not going to discuss policy and regulation, although they’re no less important than technological innovation. A good way to think about it, via Saul Griffith, is that it’s the role of technologists to create options for policy-makers.

The archive of eating

One 84-year-old librarian has spent more than half her life building a comprehensive database of cookbooks throughout history. […] From ladyfingers to latkes is a prose poem suggestive of whole worlds. The list runs on and on, from aal (German for eel) to zucchini, seeming to contain the promise of a universal cookbook of European and American cuisine, pieced together from all the recipes ever written — a Borgesian feat of quixotic and fantastical taxonomy.

The new New York skyline

This is beautifully presented.

Manhattan is in the midst of an unprecedented boom in tall buildings. Before 2004, Manhattan was home to 28 skyscrapers 700 feet and taller. Since then, an additional 13 have been built, 15 are under construction, and 19 are proposed—47 more in all. These additions are rapidly—and radically—changing the skyline.

Quiz: The pieces everything is made of

A quiz about the elements of the periodic table by Randall Munroe.

Several years ago, Munroe, the creator of the Web comic “xkcd,” published his own blueprint of a Saturn V rocket, the launch vehicle that sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon. He called it “Up Goer Five.” The blueprint, he explained in a parenthetical note, was annotated “using only the ten hundred words people use the most often”—that is, the thousand most common words in English. It was aerospace engineering made simple. The rocket’s tower-jettison motor became the “thing to help people escape really fast if there’s a problem and everything is on fire so they decide not to go to space.” The Apollo command module became the “people box.”

Buster Keaton – The art of the gag

Before Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson, before Chuck Jones and Jackie Chan, there was Buster Keaton, one of the founding fathers of visual comedy. And nearly 100 years after he first appeared onscreen, we’re still learning from him. Today, i’d like to talk about the artistry (and the thinking) behind his gags.

Brown acid black leather: The story Of The Jesus And Mary Chain’s Psychocandy

We couldn’t understand why people couldn’t love both things and that combination of melody and extreme noise was so obvious to us. And they were equally as important. And so was Motown. Take ‘Just My Imagination’ – that’s three chords with really strange reverb on it. Everybody talks about The Velvets but we were more than that. Nobody really mentions the Motown influences or glam rock. You know, stuff like Gary Glitter and that were a huge thing in our life when we were young. The first thing we bought was T-Rex.

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder

1: Karaoke ebooks

This is terrific. As you might guess from the ebooks part of the name, it creates Markov chains from your tweets, but it forms rhyming couplets and sets them to MIDI music. Brilliant.

2: Stop your team using technical terms and jargon – disambiguity

Most weeks I am ridiculed by someone for insisting on plain language – avoiding acronyms and technical language / jargon in particular. People tell me that I’m slowing the team down by making them use proper words, and that their end users or stakeholders expect them to use technical language.

These things are both true. You should still use plain language.

3: Across the USA by train for just $213

Traveling coast-to-coast across the United States by train is one of the world’s greatest travel experiences. Amazingly, it’s also one of the world’s greatest travel bargains — the 3,400-mile trip can cost as little as $213.

4: Scenes from our unproduced screenplay: ‘Strunk & White: Grammar Police’

BEAT COP
It’s over here, detectives. The body was found about an hour ago.

STRUNK
Use the active voice, rookie.

5: As the Guardian Berliner format turns ten, we look back at a decade of design change

Ten years ago this month the Guardian launched its Berliner format. We talk to its creative team about a decade of rapid change at the paper, and examine how design is now more important than ever in helping us navigate an increasingly complicated media landscape…

6: How to Have 106 babies (and counting)

Ed Houben is Europe’s most virile man. And after years of donating sperm the “normal” way (sterile room, cup, cash), he and some women looking to get pregnant for free began cutting out the middlemen and getting it done as nature prefers it (sex!). Today, Houben has over a hundred children—and Ed the Babymaker is in greater demand than ever. We imagine you have some questions

7: How Spotify’s Discover Weekly cracked human curation at internet scale

The algorithms behind Discover Weekly finds users who have built playlists featuring the songs and artists you love. It then goes through songs that a number of your kindred spirits have added to playlists but you haven’t heard, knowing there is a good chance you might like them, too. Finally, it uses your taste profile to filter those findings by your areas of affinity and exploration. Because the playlist, that explicit act of curation, is both the source of the signal and the final output, the technique can achieve results far more interesting than run of the mill collaborative filtering.

8: Me Inc.

The paradoxical, pressure-filled quest to build a “personal brand.”

9: P.G. Wodehouse On The Dangers Of Literature

It was one of the dullest speeches I ever heard. The Agee woman told us for three quarters of an hour how she came to write her beastly book, when a simple apology was all that was required.

And:

Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.

10: Apologies To The Queen Mary turns 10

A truly terrific album gets a good anniversary review.

Apologies To The Queen Mary is far more approachable, an album that spins universal reverie out of family trauma, relational struggle, and spiritual crisis. It’s music that renders the horror and delight of life on Earth as an epic struggle we all share. “I’ll believe in anything!” Krug sings at the album’s peak, desperately reaching for a fresh start and the freedom of some anti-Cheers: “where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.” Apologies To The Queen Mary itself can function as that kind of common ground, a set of inspiring songs many kinds of people can rally around, if only for a few fleeting moments. A decade into its history, it remains music worth believing in.

11: Future reading

I’m not entirely swayed by this piece—straw men abound—but it seems to have gotten a lot of people talking about books and reading and formats and focus, and that can only be a good thing.

From 2009 to 2013, every book I read, I read on a screen. And then I stopped. You could call my four years of devout screen‑reading an experiment. I felt a duty – not to anyone or anything specifically, but more vaguely to the idea of ‘books’. I wanted to understand how their boundaries were changing and being affected by technology. Committing myself to the screen felt like the best way to do it.

11: Nihilistic password security questions

On what street did you lose your childlike sense of wonder?

12: WEIRD SIMPSONS VHS

Critiquing the Ewoks

1: Curiosity and the cat: quantum theory and the Coen brothers

I didn’t expect to read an article about quantum mechanics and the Coen’s ouvre. But I’m glad I did.

We’re used to a world in which seeing is believing, which we test through the evidence of our own eyes. It’s why expressions like these exist in the first place. Whether we’re scientists, artists or just looking at the view, what we see is a Newtonian world. Apples drop from trees, capsules hurtle into space and Van Gogh’s sunflowers can’t be anything else, no matter how hard we screw up our eyes in an effort to see something different. Anything outside of our Newtonian comfort zone seems immediately counter-intuitive, unreal, and often disturbing. But we’re in a comfort-zone nonetheless, because what we might like to think of as ‘real’ is bigger. We know that now. At the level of ultimate detail, the one on which everything else is built, the rules of engagement are different. Welcome to the quantum level. And welcome, too, to the Coen Brothers, those frustrating indie auteurs whose films seem most at ease when they occupy a space which seems both recognisable and alien in turn. Now we see it… or do we?

2: Notion

This looks very interesting: drag and drop elements to create and edit documents; link them together to create a hierarchy and publish them; collaborate with other within the doc and by video chat.

Beautiful. Lightweight. Always organized. Notion is an expressive and collaborative document editor that gives your ideas a place to grow.

3: I reviewed jail on Yelp because I couldn’t afford a therapist

User-review sites have become an unlikely destination for raw, informative accounts of Americans’ everyday interactions with our criminal justice system. Yelp declined to provide the number of prison and jail reviews on its site, but dozens of correctional facilities are filed under “Public Services & Government” alongside DMVs and post offices. Search for your local prison or jail and chances are that Google reviews will pop up alongside more traditional hits. (Even TripAdvisor once hosted a lively debate about whether a tourist visit to Sing Sing Correctional Facility or Rikers Island would be ethical, if such a thing were allowed.)

4: Mobile-friendly web pages using app banners

I missed this Google announcement from the beginning of the month about websites that take mobile users to an interstitial page to drive app installations:

After November 1, mobile web pages that show an app install interstitial that hides a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page will no longer be considered mobile-friendly. This does not affect other types of interstitials. As an alternative to app install interstitials, browsers provide ways to promote an app that are more user-friendly.

5: If you like Return Of The Jedi but hate the Ewoks, you understand feminist criticism

When I tweeted about my frustration with the female characters in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (one human, one primate, both of whom contribute very little to the plot), a friend replied, “Sorry to hear it’s a bad movie.” But it isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it was one of my favorite action blockbusters of last summer. Yet my specific feminist frustrations were extrapolated into a larger condemnation of the film. No one assumes that critiquing the Ewoks means you dislike Star Wars. So why did my complaints imply I hated Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes?

6: A terrible perfect couple

A very short story about a couple who are a little too alike.

7: Exist

Exist links various services (calendar, fitness tracking, location, weather, social stuff) and provides feedback based on averages rather than goals. I’m not completely sold on the quantified self moment, but have signed up for a 14-day trial to see what this is like.

8: NASA Graphics Standards Manual

The original manual from 1976.

9: The hunt for a possible Pynchon novel leads to a name

I obviously had my eyes and ears closed while this was playing out on the literary scene last week:

The post went viral. How could it not? Even without proof, the possibility that Pynchon was playing a giant practical joke on all of us was too enticing. Even after Pynchon’s publisher, Penguin Press, told New York magazine’s Nate Jones, “We are Thomas Pynchon’s publisher and this is not a book by Thomas Pynchon,” people kept sharing Winslow’s piece, and the subsequent, inevitable writeups in Vice and The New York Times. In fact, many saw Penguin’s denial as proof of Pynchon’s involvement. Jones himself ended his piece with a wink: “But, then again, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

10: How Google’s new logo is just 305 bytes

By using standard geometric shapes with fewer anchor points Google have reduced their logo’s size from 14,000 bytes.

11: Where do languages go to die?

If a Middle Eastern man from 2,500 years ago found himself on his home territory in 2015, he would be shocked by the modern innovations, and not just electricity, airplanes, and iPhones. Arabic as an official language in over two dozen countries would also seem as counterintuitive to him as if people had suddenly started keeping aardvarks as pets.

In our time-traveler’s era, after all, Arabic was an also-ran tongue spoken by obscure nomads. The probability that he even spoke it would be low. There were countless other languages in the Middle East in his time that he’d be more likely to know. His idea of a “proper” language would have been Aramaic, which ruled what he knew as the world and served, between 600 and 200 B.C.E., as the lingua franca from Greece and Egypt, across Mesopotamia and Persia, all the way through to India. Yet today the language of Jesus Christ is hardly spoken anywhere, and indeed is likely to be extinct within the next century. Young people learn it ever less. Only about half a million people now speak Aramaic—compared to, for example, the five and a half million people who speak Albanian.

12: The mind-bending physics of a teen ball’s spin

How tennis players create spin is about as complicated a physics question you can set about solving without invoking subatomic particles.

13: “This is a shady business we in, fam”

Here’s another post about ‘parody’ Twitter accounts, the content they steal, and Twitter’s new (sort-of) stance against them.

14: Amazon web services in Plain English

Hey, have you heard of the new AWS services: ContainerCache, ElastiCast and QR72? Of course not, I just made those up.

But with 50 plus opaquely named services, we decided that enough was enough and that some plain english descriptions were needed.

15: Waluigi’s Unbearable Existence

The new Mario Maker game for the Wii U looks fantastic—the levels some people are making are brilliant. Here’s a particularly unsettling one.

Ballet Slipper, Spice Route, Jurassic Gold, and Sea Turtle

1: What it’s like to run the Twitter handle “@message”

It’s an increasingly important part of any publication on the web, and it’s always changing and moving. Doing it successfully takes more than being good at Twitter, being good at talking to people, coming up with headlines or snappy descriptions, paying attention to traffic and timing, being willing to experiment and learn from it. It’s also depressingly easy to screw up and send the wrong tweet from the wrong account, which I managed to do more than once. Social media is a full-time job, and anyone who does it well has my admiration and respect.

2: Movie lists

Analysing the sentiment and volume of Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb ratings to find lists of the best recent, best unknown, most underestimated, and most overrated movies. Lots to dig through.

3: Rain is sizzling bacon, cars are lions roaring: the art of sound in movies

Skip Lievsay is one of the most talented men in Hollywood. He has created audioscapes for Martin Scorsese and is the only sound man the Coen brothers go to. But the key to this work is more than clever effects: it is understanding the human mind.

4: A blankness full of meaning

The app, OMBY, is a game that you win by unscrambling Moby-Dick, a few words at a time. The complete text of the book has been broken into 10,395 consecutive morsels of about twenty words each, but with each morsel missing a few words, and the missing words’ letters mixed up like Scrabble tiles. Rearrange the alphabetic chaos of those tiles to form the missing words, and swipe forward to the next puzzle. Now do that 10,394 more times, in order, all the way through the book […] What I love about this is the occasion it provides to engage Moby-Dick on the level of the word, which might be Moby-Dick’s weirdest and most delicious level.

5: How pantone is still turning color into money

Some 210 new colors came into the world last week. Ballet Slipper, Spice Route, Jurassic Gold, and Sea Turtle, among others. These shades always existed in nature, but now they are official—dramatic names and all. One can buy them from Pantone, a small company in Carlstadt, N.J., that literally snatches its products out of the air.

6: The secret history of “Y’all”: The murky origins of a legendary Southern slang word

Many discussions of the word connect it to the history of second-person pronouns in English. Old English had singular and plural forms of “you,” and these eventually morphed into the formal “you” and informal “thou” pronouns you find in Shakespeare and the King James Bible. But “y’all” isn’t a descendant of these, and there’s still debate about its origins.

7: Bar chart baselines start at zero

There are visualization rules and there are visualization suggestions. Most are suggestions. The ones that are rules exist because of how our brains process visual information. There’s just no getting around it.

I already covered the small handful of rules that pertain mostly to traditional statistical graphics. The first one—to always start your bar charts with a zero baseline—unexpectedly drew some disagreement, and I am unexpectedly compelled to go into more depth.

It’s true that every rule has its exception. It’s just that with this particular rule, I haven’t seen a worthwhile reason to bend it yet.