Robin Rendle:

It bothers me that writers can’t create audiences on their own websites, with their own archives, and their own formats. And they certainly can’t get paid in the process. (Although yes, there are exceptions).

This. I love the newsletters I’ve subscribed to — but I love them because of their content, not their format. There is not a single one of them that I wouldn’t prefer as a blog. Blogs are better under every aspect — it just makes so much more sense to publish content in a way that’s reusable, searchable, linkable, and so on.

And I’ve come to the same conclusion as Robin, newsletters exist because they’re easy to subscribe to. It’s one click, two if they’re asking you to verify your email. How do you subscribe to a blog? RSS, right. I’m a big fan of RSS, but first you need to explain what it is, then how it works, then pick a reader — it’s just not as simple.

To me, newsletters look like an accident of the monopoly of a few platforms, in the sense that they provide a channel devoid of algorithmic sorting or filtering. But they aren’t better than the web. Were we to have built a subscription functionality in the browser (RSS but for everyone), they’d occupy a less central space.

But — here we are, in a world where to subscribe to content it either needs to belong to a network or else it will be delivered to me via email. Again, quoting Robin:

[W]riters choose a newsletter service like Substack because the business model is straightforward. I just sort of wish this infrastructure was built into websites themselves. […]

The web today is built for apps — and I think we need to take it back.

It’s gotten harder, rather than easier, to put something online without going through a platform.

These are not freedom of speech issues

We frequently bring up the right of free speech where issues of amplification are concerned.

All media is an exercise in prioritisation. We’ve seen again and again during these years that it’s possible for Facebook to tweak its algorithm to modify what bubbles through the newsfeed of its users:

Typically, N.E.Q. (a ranking it assigns to news publishers based on signals about the quality of their journalism) scores play a minor role in determining what appears on users’ feeds. But several days after the election, Mr. Zuckerberg agreed to increase the weight that Facebook’s algorithm gave to N.E.Q. scores to make sure authoritative news appeared more prominently. […]

It resulted in a spike in visibility for big, mainstream publishers like CNN, The New York Times and NPR, while posts from highly engaged hyperpartisan pages, such as Breitbart and Occupy Democrats, became less visible, the employees said.

They simply choose not to: viral content pays the bills. More so than speech, it’s attention that we’re fighting over.

It should also be noted that censorship alone doesn’t work in an information-dense society. As Zeynep Tufekci wrote a couple of years ago:

The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself. As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all. They look like viral or coordinated harassment campaigns, which harness the dynamics of viral outrage to impose an unbearable and disproportionate cost on the act of speaking out. They look like epidemics of disinformation, meant to undercut the credibility of valid information sources. They look like bot-fueled campaigns of trolling and distraction, or piecemeal leaks of hacked materials, meant to swamp the attention of traditional media.

Until value will be assigned by counting likes, and recency will triumph over accuracy, there’s little hope that the quality of the information surfaced by social media will improve. However, it wasn’t just the algorithm here that abdicated to its responsibility to keep the public informed. Newspapers, radio and television spent the last four years constructing their narration of the events from something someone has said on Twitter.

Blocking only tackles the tip of the iceberg, the obvious abuse. The solution will eventually have to include rethinking how content is prioritised and how importance is distributed. The noise we experience on these platforms is a direct consequence of the logic of said platforms. Speed and ease of replication — the ability to take an utterance from an account with 10 followers and re-cast it to millions of strangers by clicking a retweet button — aren’t just features but an objective. Viral content pays the bills.

The Baffler:

Spotify specifically wants to be seen as a mood-boosting platform. In Spotify for Brands blog posts, the company routinely emphasizes how its own platform distinguishes itself from other streams of digital content, particularly because it gives marketers a chance to reach users through a medium that is widely seen as a “positive enhancer”: a medium they turn to for “music to help them get through the less desirable moments in their day, improve the more positive ones and even discover new things about their personality,” says Spotify. […]

In appealing to advertisers, Spotify also celebrates its position as a background experience and in particular how this benefits advertisers and brands. Jorge Espinel, who was Head of Global Business Development at Spotify for five years, once said in an interview: “We love to be a background experience. You’re competing for consumer attention. Everyone is fighting for the foreground. We have the ability to fight for the background. And really no one is there. You’re doing your email, you’re doing your social network, etcetera.” In other words, it is in advertisers’ best interests that Spotify stays a background experience.

The goal of Spotify (or Netflix, for what matters) is for you to always be streaming.

Individuals are unlikely to make much money by selling their own data, yet the same data in the aggregate can be worth a lot. Gregory Barber from Wired recently tried to put his facebook data on the market and managed to make a grand total of 0.3 cents.

Tyler Cowen:

The economics here are a bit like the economics of voting. If it were legal, and you tried to sell your vote and your vote alone, you might not get much more than 0.3 cents. That vote is unlikely to prove decisive. Yet average and marginal value do not coincide. If someone could buy a whole block of votes, which in turn could swing an election, the price could be much higher.

Spotify, like Netflix, wants you to stream. That’s the point of a streaming service. To achieve that both platforms do two things: they make sure that the system nudges you into endless streaming (e.g. by auto-playing episodes) and they produce content which streams well.

The Baffler argues that there is now a new type of music, part of a new kind of genre (they call it streambait pop), which basically satisfies the demands of this kind of consumption and produces songs which flow, songs that work well in the background, lyrics which you can always be listening to without really noticing them.

The Spotify sound has a few different variations, but essentially it’s a formula. “It has this soft, emo-y, cutesy thing to it,” Matt says. “These days it’s often really minimal and based around just a few simple elements in verses. Often a snap in the verses. And then the choruses sometimes employ vocal samples. It’s usually kind of emo in lyrical nature.” Then there’s also a more electronic, DJ-oriented variation, which is “based around a drop . . . It’s usually a chilled-out verse with a kind of coo-y vocal. And then it builds up and there’s a drop built around a melody that’s played with a vocal sample.”

The formula wants the content to be atomic, to work well on its own. Its context is the playlist:

“It’s disposable AF. It’s too disposable. New Music Friday has seventy-plus songs every week. Who is actually supposed to hang on to any of those songs? There’s too much!” This is a symptom of the attention-driven platform economy as well: the churning stomach of the content machine constantly demands new stuff. In such an economy, music that doesn’t take off is dropped once it has outlived its usefulness—either as a brand prop or as playlist-filler.


Patricia Marx, The New Yorker:

The moment is equivalent, perhaps, to the juncture when fish crawled out of the sea and onto land. At the reception desk of a robot-staffed hotel in Japan, sharp-fanged, hairy-chested dinosaurs wearing bellhop hats and bow ties poise their talons at the keyboard; at a pizza restaurant in Multan, Pakistan, bosomy figures on wheels, accessorized with scarves around their necks, deliver food to your table; at a gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas, androids in garters perform pole dances.

The difficult part is not to teach humans to trust robots, but to teach them not to blindly accept them.

The truth is that what the algorithm says, we will do. Once it’s clear that something is convenient for us, we drop any initial resistance. And so software design choices end up becoming our default choices — the places that a map decides to emphasise, the suggested route, the results at the top of the search, the related items, and so on.

These suggestions might even help us — they are, often, convenient. Nonetheless, it’s important to ask why they’re there, to notice which details were tuned down or ignored to favour the default.

Most of Facebook’s interactions are local interactions, either between members of a community or people we already know in real life. The connections which span continents are estimated to be around 12% and 16% of the total.

Ethan Zuckerman thinks that Facebook is being led astray by its grand vision of connecting the world together, when really it should be focusing in enabling deeper local connections:

The most challenging problems Facebook faces are not those of ensuring that all humanity is connected. The challenge is to manage the connections we already have. Facebook’s tendency to connect us most tightly with those who share our perspectives and views is part of the web of forces leading to polarization and the breakdown of civility in politics in the US and elsewhere. The tendency to pay attention to the struggles and difficulties of our friends distances us from struggles in other communities, even as networks make it more possible for us to connect with those directly effected. Before we take the next step in human evolution, we need to look closely at the downsides of the connectivity we’ve already achieved.

The Next Web:

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are probably soon going to dictate what traffic can or cannot arrive at people’s end devices. GOOG-FB-AMZN traffic would be the most common, due to their popularity among internet users. Because of this market demand, ISPs will likely provide cheap plans with access to GOOG-FB-AMZN, while offering more expensive plans with full internet access — and it’s already a reality in countries like Portugal.

This would expand even more the dominance the three tech giants already enjoy. There would be no more economical incentive for smaller businesses to have independent websites, and a gradual migration towards Facebook Pages would make more sense. Smaller e-commerce sites would be bought by AMZN or go bankrupt. Because most internet users couldn’t open all the sites, GOOG would have little incentive to be a mere bridge between people and sites. […]

The common pattern among these three internet giants is to grow beyond browsers, creating new virtual contexts where data is created and shared. The Web may die like most other technologies do, simply by becoming less attractive than newer technologies. And like most obsolete technologies, they don’t suddenly disappear, neither do they disappear completely.

Mike Monteiro racconta la sua relazione con Twitter — un posto inizialmente dove stringere amicizie e incontrare sconosciuti, diventato poi sempre più difficile da gestire e ostile verso i propri utenti:

At some point in 2006, or possibly late 2005, Noah Glass walked into our office all excited about something. That in itself isn’t news because Noah was always excited about something. Dude had an energy. Noah worked across the hall from us on the sixth floor of a old broke-ass building in South Park. He came over all the time. He was friendly like that. Here’s why we’re talking about this particular visit: Noah was excited to tell us about a new thing he was working on. “You can use it to send group SMS.”

Brad Frost:

But lately I’ve noticed the platform feeling increasingly grabby, to the point where they’ve broken the fourth wall with me and now the whole experience is no longer enjoyable. They’ve gotten so brazen in their tactics to keep users engaged (ENGAGED!) I think it’s no longer possible to be a casual Facebook user. […]

This is what happens when the metric of how much time users spend using your thing supersedes the goal of providing legitimate value to your users. The tricks, hooks, and tactics Facebook uses to keep people coming back have gotten more aggressive and explicit. And I feel that takes away from the actual value the platform provides.

Anch’io registro un numero sempre più consistente di notifiche fuffa, del tipo guarda cosa stavi facendo un anno fa, celebra due anni d’amicizia, questo tuo amico ha appena postato una foto, sono tre giorni che non fai x, etc.

Dave Winer su Medium 3.0, la cui differenza principale è l’aver rimpiazzato il like con degli applausi — che uno può applicare infinitamente e ripetutamente allo stesso articolo. Gli (mi) sembrano un po’ agli sgoccioli:

We’re in the long tail of the demise of Medium. They’ll try this, and something else, and then another thing, each with a smaller probability of making a difference, until they turn it off. At that point, if that happens (disclaimer: I’m often wrong), it will be a disaster. A lot of important stuff was published on Medium over the years.

Winer suggerisce a Medium un’altra via, prima di gettare la spugna: smettere di essere una piattaforma chiusa (con obiettivo unico quello di monetizzare il contenuto degli scrittori che attraggono), e diventare un software aperto, una base, sulla quale altri possano costruire.

Come sottolinea Nick Heer, molte delle testate che Medium era riuscita a convincere a passare alla sua piattaforma, meno di un anno fa, se ne sono andate o hanno intenzione di farlo — perché i loro contenuti si perdono dentro Medium, dove tutto si somiglia:

Earlier this year, Film School Rejects and Pacific Standard moved away from the platform; this month, the Awl announced that they went back to WordPress with their old custom theme. The Ringer and Backchannel also left Medium. Once again, I can tell those sites apart from each other.

Fuck Facebook

Joe Cieplinksi:

The number of restaurants, bars, and other local establishments that, thanks to crappy web sites they can’t update, post their daily specials, hours, and important announcements only via Facebook is growing. That’s maddening. Want to know if we’re open this holiday weekend? Go to Facebook.

Go to hell.

John Gruber:

Treat Facebook as the private walled garden that it is. If you want something to be publicly accessible, post it to a real blog on any platform that embraces the real web, the open one.

Dave Winer:

It’s supporting their downgrading and killing the web. Your post sucks because it doesn’t contain links, styling, and you can’t enclose a podcast if you want. The more people post there, the more the web dies. I’m sorry no matter how good your idea is fuck you I won’t help you and Facebook kill the open web.

Facebook non è parte del web. È un’entità chiusa ostile al resto dell’ecosistema.

Quelle volte in cui riesco a ignorare per giorni i social network, lo stream di notizie, twitter, blog, e a sparire brevemente da altri luoghi sociali della rete noto, come Kottke, che dell’assenza non frega nulla a nessuno:

Not a single person noticed that I had stopped using social media. (Not enough to tell me anyway.) Perhaps if it had been two weeks? For me, this reinforced that social media is actually not a good way to “stay connected with friends”. Social media aggregates interactions between loved ones so that you get industrialized communication rather than personal connection. No one really notices if a particular person goes missing because they’re just one interchangeable node in a network.

Ben Thompson:

This, ultimately, is why yesterday’s keynote was so disappointing. Last year, before Facebook realized it could just leverage its network to squash Snap, Mark Zuckerberg spent most of his presentation laying out a long-term vision for all the areas in which Facebook wanted to innovate. This year couldn’t have been more different: there was no vision, just the wholesale adoption of Snap’s, plus a whole bunch of tech demos that never bothered to tell a story of why they actually mattered for Facebook’s users. It will work, at least for a while, but make no mistake, Facebook is the only winner.

Ben paragona la situazione fra Snapchat e Facebook — in cui una innova e l’altra copia senza ritegno — alla situazione fra Apple e Microsoft di anni fa. Snapchat si è definita, nei documenti presentati per la quotazione in borsa, una camera company — intendendo la fotocamera dello smartphone non solo come uno strumento per scattare fotografie, ma come un nuovo input di partenza. Un nuovo cursore:

In the way that the flashing cursor became the starting point for most products on desktop computers, we believe that the camera screen will be the starting point for most products on smartphones. This is because images created by smartphone cameras contain more context and richer information than other forms of input like text entered on a keyboard. This means that we are willing to take risks in an attempt to create innovative and different camera products that are better able to reflect and improve our life experiences.

Zuckerberg, durante il keynote d’apertura della conferenza di settimana scorsa (F8), ha praticamente ripetuto l’obiettivo che Snapchat si è data. La visione di Facebook è copiare Snapchat, e fino ad ora lo ha fatto bene (se non altro in — di Messenger non parliamo che è meglio) e con successo.

Ma non c’è altro. Non c’è una visione. C’erano, al contrario, un sacco di demo di prodotti inesistenti e futuristici.

New York Times:

In Mr. Zuckerberg’s telling, there are few boundaries for how this technology would evolve. He said he envisioned a world in which people can eventually point smartphone cameras at a bowl of cereal and have an app create tiny sharks swimming in the bowl of milk.

Fra visioni di delfini che nuotano nel latte, e videoconferenze con avatar che fluttuano, il futuro secondo Mark è scemo.