Why brands are friendly on social media

Ian Bogost discusses the style, tone and “methods of engagement” used by #brands to surprise and befriend you, the potentially influential follower.

This resonated strongly with me—I’ve worked in several offices where people really wanted the social channels to talk in Innocent-ese or jump on the back of whatever the John Lewis ad was that year or surprise followers with “random acts of kindness” (which of course were neither random nor kind).

It’s a bit gross, horribly transparent once you start to notice it, and of course it works. So it will continue forever.

Social media has made it easier than ever for companies to connect with people. These new, personal bonds between companies and customers feel uncanny—the brands are not real human friends, exactly, but neither are they faceless corporations anymore. Isn’t that the point, though? Branding’s purpose is to get under your skin, to make you remember an otherwise forgettable company or product. When the surprise wanes, that feels a lot less delightful.

Source: Why Brands Are Friendly on Social Media – The Atlantic

The constraints that shaped grime

It’s interesting to read about how art is created in spite of—or perhaps because of—constraints and limitations. This tale of the tools used to make early grime singles is fascinating:

London’s unique, lickety-split digital version of rap was built by teenagers with little-to-no formal musical training, taking whatever cheap (or free, illegally “cracked” and downloaded) software they had to hand, creating strange, glowing, sci-fi sounds from whatever tools they could find.

Grime’s early-2000s pioneers like JME, Skepta, Wiley, and So Solid Crew broke the mold with none of the synths, samplers, and drum machines that had been vital to hip-hop production, instead doing much of their world-building on basic PC software like FruityLoops Studio. Inevitably, the sound was determined by the technology itself.

One of grime’s only consistent formal attributes is that, like its sibling genre dubstep, it runs at around 140 beats per minute — the consistency is important for DJs to be able to mix records seamlessly. Producer Plastician is not the only one to have observed that FruityLoops’ default tempo is set to 140bpm, which “may have a lot to answer for.”

Source: UK grime couldn’t exist without ringtones, Playstations, and other low-fi tech

The best Mario Kart character according to data science

Here are a couple of sentences I didn’t ever expect to read:

The question for an aspiring Mario Kart champion nowadays is “How can I pick a character / kart / tire combination that is in some sense optimal, even if there isn’t one ‘best’ option?” To answer this question we turn to one of Mario’s compatriots, the nineteenth century Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who introduced the concept of Pareto efficiency and the related Pareto frontier.

Source: The best Mario Kart character according to data science

Brutalist web design guidelines

Don’t tell anyone, but the Brutalist web design guidelines are simply guidelines for intuitive, usable web design:

  • Content is readable on all reasonable screens and devices.
  • Only hyperlinks and buttons respond to clicks.
  • Hyperlinks are underlined and buttons look like buttons.
  • The back button works as expected.
  • View content by scrolling.
  • Decoration when needed and no unrelated content.
  • Performance is a feature.

Source: Brutalist Web Design

The bizarre story of the Seattle mystery vending machine

In the city of Seattle, Washington there exists a vending machine that over the years has become something of a local landmark amongst residents who are familiar with its mysterious history. Situated on the corner the John Street and 10th Avenue East in the bustling Capitol Hill neighbourhood, the seemingly ancient machine is well known for dispensing random, sometimes rare, cans of soda- a fact that’s made all the more intriguing when you consider that nobody seems to know who stocks the machine or where it came from.

Source: The Bizarre Story of the Seattle Mystery Vending Machine

Why I Taught My Son to Speak Russian

One of my downfalls as Raffi’s Russian teacher is that I am bad at scheduling. There are constant Russian parent meetups in Brooklyn that I can’t attend or just don’t care to drag myself to. Nonetheless, a few weekend mornings ago I took Raffi to a kids’ sing-along in a bar in Williamsburg. A Russian parent had booked the space and gotten a singer, Zhenya Lopatnik, to perform some children’s songs. There we were—a bunch of Russian-speaking parents with our two-and-three-year-old kids. Most of us were more comfortable in English than in Russian, and none of us had any wish to repatriate. Why, then, were we doing this? What did we want to pass on to our children, exactly? Certainly nothing about Russia as it is currently constituted. Perhaps it was fitting that we were listening to children’s songs. There was something magical about our childhoods, we were sure of that; what we couldn’t know was whether any of it was due to the music we listened to or the books we read in Russian or to the very sound of the language. Probably none of these things; probably it was just magical to be a child. But as we couldn’t rule out that Russian had something to do with it, we had to give it to our kids as well. Maybe.

A brilliant piece about raising a bilingual child.

Source: Why I Taught My Son to Speak Russian | The New Yorker

Why influencer marketing lacks trust and credibility

It’s one thing for brands to work out that influencer marketing is mostly a scam but quite another to stop investing marketing budgets in it. If we have learned anything over the past decade about digital it’s that evidence of malpractice and fraud has absolutely zero influence on the prevailing levels of investment that a platform subsequently receives.

Keith Weed can ask for as much transparency as he wants; the problem with influencer marketing is axiomatic. Which is a $2,000 way of saying that its fucked from the outset but that this won’t stop brands spending money on it regardless.

Specifically, there are three contiguous, ever-decreasing circles of bullshit surrounding all influencer marketing. Let’s break them down one by one and reveal the fundamental issues that all brands should be aware of before they start paying Mr Sixpack and Ms Perky to start pumping their products.

This is very good. Influencer marketing is gross and I don’t know why anyone can seriously defend it.

Later, an experiment:

I decided that the best option would be to take a picture of my arse (obviously) and ask my 18 newly recruited influencers to post it on their Instagram feeds with a complementary comment. I took the photo (shown above in all its glory) and then pixelated it using a graphics program from 1996. The resulting image was then titled ‘The Colour of Influence’ and I asked my new-found influencer army to proclaim it “amazing” or “my best work ever”.

How many of the influencers would lower themselves to that standard within the 12-hour time limit I set them? How many would refuse the commission and prove themselves trustworthy and credible? Would my bottom become a new social media sensation that would propel me to global arse-driven fame? A Kardashian, if you will, for the marketing industry. In just 12 hours’ time I would find out.

Source: Mark Ritson: Why influencer marketing lacks trust and credibility

The Gambler Who Cracked the Horse-Racing Code

Bill Benter did the impossible: He wrote an algorithm that couldn’t lose at the track. Close to a billion dollars later, he tells his story for the first time.

Source: The Gambler Who Cracked the Horse-Racing Code – Bloomberg

A great in-depth feature on how algorithms, and a lot of automated betting, were used to win on horse racing. Sort of—there’s something of a twist at the end.

The Miranda Grosvenor Obsession

She said she was a beautiful, well-connected blonde named Miranda, and she enchanted an astonishing circle of powerful men—Billy Joel, Paul Schrader, Buck Henry, and Quincy Jones among them—with her flirtatious, gossipy phone calls. But who was the woman behind the voice?

Source: The Miranda Grosvenor Obsession | Vanity Fair

This starts off a bit slow but is very interesting in the end. I’m surprised the various men in the story—all famous, and most were friends with each other—didn’t put two and two together sooner. But that’s the male ego, I suppose.

How advertisers took a mallet to the English language

“In adland, we don’t call it language-mangling, we call it ‘Language DJing’ or ‘Langling’,” jokes Alex Myers, founder of agency Manifest. “In reality it’s just lazy creative work. Copywriting is a lost art. Ad agencies need to ‘Think more good’.”

Eagle-eyed bad-ad fans can quickly notice patterns emerging: “finding” something and it being “amazing” appear with the same clockwork regularity as Love Island contestants on Instagram. See, for instance, Rightmove’s “Find your happy” and Visit Wales’s “Find your epic”. Or Lexus’s “Experience amazing” and Deliveroo’s “Eat more amazing”.

Source: Smart knows that’s not English – how adland took a mallet to the language | Media | The Guardian

Baking the Most Average Chocolate Chip Cookie

We wondered if there was a way to leverage computers and hundreds of pre-existing recipes to create the most average chocolate chip cookie. Would it be bland and unremarkable? Or, perhaps like averaging human facial features, the results would be even better than each of its individual parts. Maybe an average cookie would be the most delicious of them all.

But what is an average cookie? We decided to interpret this idea using three different methods: a mathematical average, predictive text algorithms, and neural networks. After feeding each algorithm over 200 chocolate chip cookie recipes, they each generated something new. And, yes, we actually baked them.

Source: Baking the Most Average Chocolate Chip Cookie

Hello, my name is ________: Searching for names is not always straightforward

I really like names. There’s so much variation in the way people use their own names—formally and informally, at home, work, or online. And there’s even more variation in names across cultures. In this blog post I’m going to touch on some of my favorite kinds of name variation and how such variation can make it bafflingly hard to search for people “by name”, on Wikipedia or elsewhere.

Source: Hello, my name is ________: Searching for names is not always straightforward – Wikimedia Blog

This is exactly my sort of blog post, comprising interesting facts about how names are used and constructed around the world, and how Wikipedia overcomes the myriad ways this can negatively impact search. (The Wikimedia blog has been consistently great lately. You should subscribe.)

When Homer envisioned Achilles, did he see a black man?

By and large, then, ancient Greeks probably looked generally like darker versions of modern Greeks (which, incidentally, sheds interesting light on Homer’s ‘black-skinned’ Odysseus and Eurybates). They were, of course, shorter too: the average height of the owners of surviving ancient Greek skeletons was around 5ft 4in (163 cm) for men and 5ft (153 cm) for women. Also, at the time that the Iliad and the Odyssey were written, there is likely to have been a greater variation at the individual level than at the time of the study, because of the extent of Greek reach across the Mediterranean and into north Africa, and the likelihood of immigration and intermarriage. In brief: the Greek warriors that Homer imagined probably did not look much like David Gyasi (Achilles in the BBC show), but nor did they look like Brad Pitt (Achilles in the Hollywood movie Troy).

Source: When Homer envisioned Achilles, did he see a black man? | Aeon Essays

Real People Are Turning Their Accounts Into Bots On Instagram — And Cashing In

In late February, an Instagram account called Viral Hippo posted a photo of a black square. There was nothing special about the photo, or the square, and certainly not the account that posted it. And yet within 24 hours, it amassed over 1,500 likes from a group that included a verified model followed by 296,000 people, a verified influencer followed by 228,000, a bunch of fitness coaches, some travel accounts, and various small businesses. “I really love this photo,” one commented.

The commenter wasn’t a bot; nor were any of the accounts that liked the black square. But their interest in it wasn’t genuine. These were real people, but not real likes — none of them clicked on the like button themselves. Instead, they used a paid service that automatically likes and comments on other posts for them. Instagram says this is against its terms of service, but it continues to operate. It’s called Fuelgram and, for a few dollars a month and access to your Instagram log-in credentials, it will use the accounts of everyone who paid that sum to like and comment on your posts — and it will use yours to do the same to theirs.

Really strange that lots of people don’t see this as a shady thing at all. See also: Confessions of an Instagram influencer from 2016.

Source: Real People Are Turning Their Accounts Into Bots On Instagram — And Cashing In

Designing page previews for Wikipedia 

Wikipedia recently launched page previews for their content—hover over an internal link (i.e. from one Wikipedia entry to another) and you’ll reveal a pop-up with summary information about the destination page.

The link at the bottom of this post summarises some of the design and UX work that went into the new feature. But why so much thought? It’s a simple, straightforward new feature, right? Well:

  • Nearly ~28 percent of Wikipedia’s traffic comes from clicking on internal blue links. a.k.a going down the rabbit hole
  • Blue links account for ~230 million page views per month
  • ~2 million links get hovered per minute across all Wikipedias

In other words, blue links are the most frequently-used interactive elements on Wikipedia. This makes messing with or changing any feature related to blue links a bit more… delicate and challenging.

Not only that, but not every destination page has the same content. They can have long or short titles or descriptions; images of any size or aspect ratio; differing licence information; or other textual formats such as mathematical formulae or musical notation. The post gives a good idea of the challenges and how the feature might develop from here.

Source: How we designed page previews for Wikipedia — and what could be done with them in the future – Wikimedia Blog