Escaping Twitter’s self-consciousness machine

On how the experience of using Twitter is transformed by removing all metrics from the interface.

The article makes a good point about why platforms like Twitter place so much emphasis on numbers:

The type of person who tends to be a high-level coder at a top tech firm… usually got great grades, attended a premier university, and now competes for bragging rights by trying to log the longest hours of anyone at the office. These people thrive in numbers-focussed environments. Perhaps it’s predestined that their world view would infect the user interfaces they create.

It is tempting to think our obsession with metrics is part of human nature. But is it just a trait of a particular type of person?


Reclaiming my blog as my thought space

Dries Buytaert on reclaiming his blog. It’s just the latest of many blog posts I have read recently from people keen to share more personal content on their own websites.

My blog is primarily read by technology professionals — from Drupal users and developers, to industry analysts and technology leaders — and in my mind, they do not read my blog to learn about a wider range of topics. I’m conflicted because I would like my l blog to reflect both my personal and professional interests.

This is a struggle I well recognise. When Twitter was born, those more personal snippets moved to social media. Bloggers felt the need to become more professional and write more polished, fully-fleshed articles.

But Twitter (and other social media services) no longer fill that gap the way they used to. The most viable answer is to go back to the good old days of more personal blogging.


My original iPod is a time capsule from 2002

What happened when one person started up his iPod for the first time in 15 years.

…I also came across music and artists which made me wonder what on earth I was thinking of when I loaded their tracks into iTunes. If I could talk to my 2002 self, I would sit him down and explain that Limp Bizkit’s album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water is an abomination and not at all funny (my London music buddies and I thought it was hilarious at the time)…

…looking back through the playlists on my first and oldest iPod I was struck by the fact that some of the music from 2001 and 2002 seemed far more dated than some of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s.

I certainly have a memory of music from 2001/2002. In fact, because of my age, it is precisely when a lot of my favourite music was released. But I do wonder what I would discover if I found my iTunes library from that period, warts and all?


How liberals amped up a Parkland shooting conspiracy theory

Conspiracy theorists purported that young anti-gun activists are crisis actors. It turns out that those outraged about the theory did more to promote it that the theorists themselves.

Frank Luntz… tweeted in protest of the Gateway Pundit story, becoming one of four non-right-wing amplifiers of the story with verified accounts… The other three are the New York Times’ Nick Confessore, MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin, and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton. Each of them quote-tweeted the Gateway Pundit story to denounce it, but in doing so gave it more amplification.

This is what I meant when I said don’t feed the trolls.

There is a class of professional conversationalists who have realised how this works and have taken advantage. These people express outrageous and offensive opinions specifically because it is a super-efficient way for them to get the publicity they need.

A dangerous man became US president because he understood this, and millions of his opponents didn’t.

The next time someone says controversial, ask yourself why, rise above it, deny them the publicity and move on.


A few notes on daily blogging

A striking article, partly because I find it slightly eerie that the author chose to start blogging daily on 1 October, the same day I started blogging again.

I haven’t quite managed to blog on a daily basis. Although I do publish something at least once a day, I tend to write multiple posts at a time and schedule them for future publication.

(As an example, I’m writing this on Wednesday 28 February, in the expectation that I will publish it on Tuesday 6 March.)

As a result, I’m not sure I have benefited yet from resuming my regular blogging. Perhaps I will endeavour to carve out some time each day to write something.


If Google wanted to get found in Google

If you ever have to say you’re simple, you’re not. Because if you were truly simple then you wouldn’t have to waste time telling people you are. You’d just be simple. Only those with complexity syndrome feel the need to explain that they are simple. The more you have to write about how to use your product or service, the more you have failed as a designer.


Inside Facebook’s hellish two years — and Mark Zuckerberg’s struggle to fix it all

A very lengthy, but entertaining and informative, read about how everything went wrong for Facebook in the past two years, and why it is a mess of their own making.

While Facebook grappled internally with what it was becoming—a company that dominated media but didn’t want to be a media company—Donald Trump’s presidential campaign staff faced no such confusion. To them Facebook’s use was obvious. Twitter was a tool for communicating directly with supporters and yelling at the media. Facebook was the way to run the most effective direct-­marketing political operation in history.


It’s the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech

You may think you’ve read it all from people complaining that the likes of Facebook are threatening free speech. But this is a genuinely smart, thought-provoking article on the wide-ranging ways society need to rethink its approach towards freedom of speech.

We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges us on them.

I have thought before that we need to start thinking about ‘eating your digital greens’. Which means being wary of processed content (processed through an algorithm, that is), and ensuring you seek out a balanced diet of content from different sources and perspectives.


Google memory loss

This is interesting. It appears as though Google is losing older documents (such as 10-year-old blog posts) from its index.

I’m in two minds about this.

On the one hand, Google has long been something other than a mere web search engine, and rightly so. They want to get you relevant answers to your query. And old blog posts will rarely be the answers to many people’s queries.

But on the other hand, someone ought to be indexing the web. And if Google can’t (or don’t want to), who can?

My men­tal mod­el of the Web is as a per­ma­nen­t, long-lived store of humanity’s in­tel­lec­tu­al her­itage. For this to be use­ful, it needs to be in­dexed, just like a li­brary. Google ap­par­ent­ly doesn’t share that view.


​Mosaic’s birthday: 25 years of the modern web

It feels like the world wide web has had more 25th birthdays than I’ve had hot dinners.

This article marks the 25th anniversary of the Mosaic web browser. You may not have heard for it, and I certainly never used it — it was before my time.

But Mosaic was one of the first graphical browsers, and one of the first to enable people to view images within pages. The makers of Mosaic went on to create Netscape Navigator, which in turn became the basis for Firefox.


Why you should check email less often, and how to do it

Why do we check our email on average 18 times a hour, when most of us don’t receive anything like that many emails? Tim Harford suggests ways we can decrease our addiction to checking our email, and explains how checking it frequently makes our habit worse.

The psychologist BF Skinner once found himself running out of food pellets for one of his projects, which like many of his experiments involved rats pushing levers to receive rewards. To eke out his supply of pellets, Skinner restricted their release: rats would get no more than one pellet a minute, no matter how often they tapped the lever. Rather than discouraging the rats, this intermittent reinforcement soon had them hooked. These days, we’re the rats, the computer is our Skinner Box, and email is our intermittently released food pellet.


Web trend map 2018

iA reflects on the spirit of the web that has been lost.

There seems to be a weak undercurrent of old and young bloggers like us that feel sentimental or curious and want to bring back blogging. Blogging won’t save the world. But, hell, after two weeks now, we can confirm: it feels great to be back on the blogging line.

If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic.


Virgin Media have sent an email suggesting ‘safe’ passwords for people to use.

"As an example, ‘Password’ is weak and easy to break. But ‘v!rGiNM3d1A1’ or ‘Z89_!3b2aa43’ are much harder for hackers to crack."

…They’re not much harder any more. 🤦‍♂️


Cars found trapped in Edinburgh’s ‘robot car park’ 15 years on

This news story has blown my mind in so many ways.

Firstly, that in 2001 we had the technology to use robots to store cars in a car park.

Secondly, that someone thought to give it a try in Edinburgh.

Thirdly, that this building has existed in a very central location in my city for 15 years and I had no idea about it.

Fourthly, that this prominent location has remained unused for 13 years.

The ‘abandoned’ cars are just the icing on the cake. This is Wall-E territory (although it turns out they were in fact owned by the car park and used as test cars).


Fears of the IndieWeb

I am toying with the idea of embracing the IndieWeb community and adding some IndieWeb features to this website.

This article from Michael Singletary pinpoints one of potential flaws of the IndieWeb, and a reason I have been reluctant to join it.

…I’m worried about the long-term survivability of this as a whole. With Known, specifically, I noticed that many of the plugins required for syndication and backfeeding are either maintained by extremely small groups of people that do not update them frequently (the Twitter plugin, for example), or others that require non-monetary motivation to keep up their service (like, for example). While it is great to see community-driven projects and services like these, I worry about waking up one morning to find that my content no longer syndicates or talks to other services.


AI don’t kill people, people do

Reflections on whether technological advances will ‘take our jobs’.

…[I]n Western societies, technical advancement has allowed many of us to extricate ourselves from physical, dangerous and demeaning forms of work, and to create careers that are fulfilling beyond renumeration: creatively, intellectually, socially… “job satisfaction”.

Historically, technological advances haven’t meant humans losing jobs. But it has meant we have taken on increasingly complex and interesting jobs. Perhaps the future will bring us further job satisfaction.

That’s not a bad place to be at all. A reminder that we should be grateful for the luxury we have in being able to pursue a good career in the first place, rather than slaving away to make ends meet.

See also: Why you shouldn’t follow your passion


People and tooling

On the increasingly complex nature of design and development.

The way we build for the web right now feels problematic in so many ways. Instead of welcoming everyone from our teams with their various skills, we create layers of complexity that shut many out.

I sense this is deliberate, albeit in a subtly unconscious way. There is a culture among some in technology that seeks to belittle and exclude those who find complicated things intimidating. So development has grown in complexity over time, probably needlessly so.


If you’re still shying away from using technology to improve customer experience – you’re doomed

Some observations from Paul Taylor on digital experience in Myanmar, where internet usage has skyrocketed recently.

For three weeks I’ve not dealt with any paper, any spreadsheets, and very few emails. I’ve negotiated seven hotels, seven flights, taxi’s and boat trips through a mix of apps, increasingly powered by automation and artificial intelligence.

In some respects coming home seems like arriving in the third world, rather than coming from it.

It reminds me of stories about smartphone usage in China, which is totally different to the west.

Westerners try to use their phones like tiny PCs. But because many people in developing countries didn’t have widespread access to PC, they don’t have those mental models. As such, they take fuller advantage of the capabilities of modern mobile devices.


Crash: how computers are setting us up for disaster

The headline is slightly over-the-top. But this is nevertheless a fascinating long read on the paradox of automation — how our reliance on computers leaves us incompetent to act when we are needed the most.

First, automatic systems accommodate incompetence by being easy to operate and by automatically correcting mistakes. Because of this, an inexpert operator can function for a long time before his lack of skill becomes apparent – his incompetence is a hidden weakness that can persist almost indefinitely. Second, even if operators are expert, automatic systems erode their skills by removing the need for practice. Third, automatic systems tend to fail either in unusual situations or in ways that produce unusual situations, requiring a particularly skilful response.

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Kickstarted: iA Writer for Windows – iA

I am a fan of iA Writer, a writing application designed to help you focus. The only problem is that it is not available for Windows.

I have the Android version installed on my phone. But I don’t know about you — I don’t tend do my writing on my phone. Meanwhile, those fancy Mac users have had a desktop application for a while.

On my Windows machines I have had to make do with using Sublime Text with some Markdown packages installed. Which kind of does the trick, but is not as slick

Finally, a Windows version of iA Writer is coming, and you can back it on Kickstarter. I am looking forward to it and the promised web version.


There is so much positivity in the digital world of media

As ever, Thomas Baekdal is brilliant and insightful on where traditional media companies are getting it so wrong. He compares the consistently negative focus of news outlets to successful YouTubers, all of whom are filled with “excitement and positivity”.

[I]t makes traditional journalists appear reactive, while digital natives appear proactive…

You can’t just be negative. You also have to give your readers hope and invite them to join you on a journey into a better future.


Language in web teams

Content designer Sarah Richards shares an amusing story of a technique she has used to help people from different disciplines and backgrounds who have been talking at cross-purposes.

We are meant to be content and communication experts. But we often see people putting little effort into how they communicate internally, or even within their own teams.


diamond geezer on why companies are installing badly designed phoneboxes

I can’t say I’ve noticed new phoneboxes popping up, but maybe things are different in Edinburgh. Nevertheless, I found this blog post by diamond geezer fascinating.

BT’s new InLink sounds especially awful:

All the action takes place on the thin side farthest from the road, where no separate receiver is apparent. Instead there’s a socket for a headphone jack, provided by the user to cut costs, and a loudspeaker at waist height which’ll broadcast across the pavement…

Most striking is the big red button which if pressed immediately dials 999, an innovation surely far too tempting for passing fingers, which must have emergency switchboards cursing.

So why in this day and age would new phoneboxes be emerging? The answer is depressingly familiar.


Legends of the ancient web

Maciej Cegłowski considers the parallels between the early decades of radio, and the web. He notes how radio became a crucial propaganda tool for the fascists of the 1930s.

In less than four decades, radio had completed the journey from fledgeling technology, to nerdy hobby, to big business, to potent political weapon.

It’s a great history lesson. Read on to find the silver lining in his talk.


Accessibility according to actual people with disabilities

We often hear about the theory of accessibility in design. But we know that the reality can often be different.

So it’s great to see such a comprehensive run-down of actual digital accessibility complaints from people with disabilities.

The article ends with a sage point:

Basically everything that people with disabilities comment on are things that annoy everyone, so fixing these issues makes your interface better for all users!


Triple Meltdown: How so many researchers found a 20-year-old chip flaw at the same time

In transpires that Meltdown and Spectre, the two major security bugs recently announced in processors, were discovered by several researchers who all had the same idea at a similar time. This is despite the flaws having existed for decades.

Something happens in the community and it leads people to think, let’s look over here. And then they do. And it definitely occurs way more often than chance.

This fascinating article also considers how long intelligence agencies may have known about this and other computer security issues.


Tech has a diversity problem — so this designer went to Kentucky

I am interested in how, despite the (theoretical) potential of technology improvements to make remote working easier, technology jobs still seem to cluster in particular areas.

Design firms and technology firms are heavily concentrated in cities on the west and east coasts, particularly in San Francisco, LA, and New York, limiting job opportunities to those who have the resources to move to, and live in, such expensive metropolises. And with so many designers living in urban centers, few have the perspective that comes from living in rural areas.

This can be viewed as yet another of the tech industry’s diversity problems.

Automattic, the company that runs, has all of its employees working remotely. Automattic’s John Maeda is trying to engage young people “that fall outside the normal Silicon Valley culture”.


The significance of the Twitter archive at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has now stopped preserving all public tweets. In the words of Dan Cohen in this article, “The Twitter archive may not be the record of our humanity that we wanted, but it’s the record we have.”

I am amused at the idea of future historians having a highly detailed record of everything on Twitter up to the year Donald Trump got elected, and the year before Brexit is due to happen. What a cliffhanger.

See also: Future historians probably won’t understand our internet, and that’s OK


Predictions for digital and social marketing in 2018

Gary Andrews with some thoughts on what we might see in the coming year in the digital and marketing worlds.

There are lots of astute points here, not least on the hot potato of the moment: relationship between the tech giants and publishers.

One phrase that has been bandied around a lot towards the end of 2017 has been from publishers proclaiming their “pivot to readers”. At a basic level, this is the publisher’s way of saying we’ll no longer be beholden to platforms like Facebook and Google and will concentrate on building our own brand through focusing on our core readership instead.


‘You can’t see the join!’ — Recovering Morecambe and Wise

A late Christmas present from the BBC Research & Development blog. Three fascinating articles about an attempt to recover a long-lost 1968 Morecambe and Wise episode from a rotting roll of film discovered in the vaults of a Nigerian broadcaster.

It involves some pretty advanced tech development work – a ‘diseased’ film, a trip to Nigeria, dentistry, lasers, X-ray tomography, algorithms and some goo…


The great emoji debate

The Economist considers whether the Unicode consortium is wasting its time trying to standardise emoji when it could be focusing on “more scholarly matters” such as adding characters from ancient scripts.

Given the popularity — almost the ubiquity — of emoji in modern-day popular culture, I would argue that standardising this form of communication is much more important than trying to digitise seldom-used or dead scripts. Even if that means standardising a frowning pile of poo.


Future historians probably won’t understand our internet, and that’s OK

Future historians probably won't understand our internet, and that's OK The internet once promised to offer archivists an unprecedented opportunity to record and track our era. But with social media silos offering "pervasive, unique, personalized, non-repeatable" experiences, it is proving increasingly difficult to preserve our internet. Every major social-networking service uses opaque algorithms to shape…

Read full article — Future historians probably won’t understand our internet, and that’s OK

Talking to Léonie Watson about computer vision and blindness

Talking to Léonie Watson about computer vision and blindness Peter Gasston interviewed Léonie Watson, an accessibility consultant who is blind. In this extract, they discuss computer vision -- technologies that can extract information from photos and videos using machine learning. It sounds like massively promising technology. I was sitting in a hotel having breakfast not…

Read full article — Talking to Léonie Watson about computer vision and blindness