Quitting Twitter

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[I’m quitting Twitter but I’m launching a newsletter in its place. Subscribe above! I’ll plan to cross-post my emails to this blog when it makes sense, which it does for the one below]

Why we’re here

Twitter’s problems with harassment go way back, but in the past few weeks, it’s made some decisions that have forced me to reconsider my relationship with the platform. First, this cryptic message from Seth Rogen about Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey:

While outsiders may perceive Twitter’s verification system as impartial, it’s not. Twitter only verifies people who have reached a specific notoriety level or who hold specific jobs (e.g. journalist, actor, etc.). Verified users get features that unverified users don’t. While Twitter claims verification isn’t an endorsement, in the past, it has removed verification as a means of punishing bad actors.

The fact that Dorsey did not seem to care about verifying white supremacists, even when one of the most popular users of his platform was chiding him about it, was a red flag to me.

Then, the Info Wars wars.

If you don’t know, Info Wars is a despicable media organization whose main claim to fame these days is that they propagated a conspiracy theory about how the Sandy Hook massacre was staged. This has brought untold misery upon the already-suffering families of this senseless tragedy.

Last Monday, every major tech platform took steps to remove Info Wars content. Every platform, that is, except Twitter. In a series of tweets, Dorsey defended his decisionmaking:

The next day, Dorsey appeared on Hannity to further explain why Alex Jones hadn’t been banned. Dorsey’s justifications were soon revealed to be complete nonsense and hypocrisy.

I don’t know why this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, but maybe it solidified the notion for me that Dorsey just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get the extremely basic notion that banning Jones would be far more effective than relying on journalists to rebut his remarks. He doesn’t get that it’s a reasonable position to want your platform to be free of toxicity, and to take steps to make that happen. He doesn’t get that sometimes you need to make a moral choice.

To me, Twitter’s inability to ban Alex Jones was a litmus test. Aja Romano puts it really well in her article at Vox discussing it:

Jones represents what is perhaps the clearest opportunity to draw a moral line that Twitter will ever have. Forget the Nazis for a second; Alex Jones is a man who has seen his followers harass the parents of dead 6-year-olds and continued to egg them on, using the completely fabricated claim that these parents’ grief is just an act. There is nothing redeemable here; there’s no useful idea, no political concept worth debating — there’s only a lie told purely in order to spread harm, confusion, disorder, and pain. Jones is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Twitter’s choice to defend his place on its site, however, signifies everything about what Twitter is choosing to be.

I couldn’t get these words out of my head after I read them: “There is nothing redeemable here; there’s no useful idea, no political concept worth debating.” If Twitter can’t draw the line at Alex Jones, it has no line.

Why quit?

When writer Lindy West quit Twitter, she wrote a piece for The Guardian explaining why. The whole thing is worth reading, but two points stuck out to me. The first is that by using Twitter, we are essentially helping it to generate value and revenue:

Twitter, for the past five years, has been a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out. I write jokes there for free. I post political commentary for free. I answer questions for free. I teach feminism 101 for free. Off Twitter, these are all things by which I make my living – in fact, they comprise the totality of my income. But on Twitter, I do them pro bono and, in return, I am micromanaged in real time by strangers; neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit; and men enjoy unfettered, direct access to my brain so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.

The second is that we wouldn’t be willing to accept this behavior from any other organization. Why should we do so with Twitter?

I’m pretty sure “ushered in kleptocracy” would be a dealbreaker for any other company that wanted my business. If my gynecologist regularly hosted neo-Nazi rallies in the exam room, I would find someone else to swab my cervix. If I found out my favourite coffee shop was even remotely complicit in the third world war, I would – bare minimum – switch coffee shops; I might give up coffee altogether.

Twitter has added so much to my life. It’s allowed me to have a career. It’s introduced me to tons of amazing people, many of whom have become my collaborators. I used to love the platform and enjoy using it. But until its leaders demonstrate the willingness to make incredibly basic moral choices like banning Alex Jones, you won’t find my work on there.

I realize it’s a privilege to not “need” to use Twitter, so I don’t begrudge anyone whatever decisions they make. Everyone has a different place to draw their own line, and people often do so in different ways with different social platforms. I don’t judge anyone on this matter. Just want to explain my position on it.

And hey, it’s possible Twitter could reverse course tomorrow and I’ll be back on there. But until that happens, you’ll find me on Facebook, on Instagram, on TinyLetter, on YouTube, and here on my blog. Just not on Twitter.

Monetizing your disdain

In The New York Times, Taffy Brodesser-Akner has a great profile of Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s extremely even-handed and as revealing about the writer as the subject. This portion caught my eye.

A gynecologist and obstetrician in San Francisco named Jen Gunter, who also writes a column on reproductive health for The Times, has criticized Goop in about 30 blog posts on her website since 2015. A post she wrote last May — an open letter that she signed on behalf of “Science” — generated more than 800,000 page views. She was angry about all the bad advice she had seen from Goop in the last few years. She was angry that her own patients were worried they’d given themselves breast cancer by wearing underwire bras, thanks to an article by an osteopath who cited a much-debunked book published in 1995. Gunter cited many of Goop’s greatest hits: “Tampons are not vaginal death sticks, vegetables with lectins are not killing us, vaginas don’t need steaming, Epstein Barr virus (E.B.V.) does not cause every thyroid disease and for [expletive] sake no one needs to know their latex farmer; what they need to know is that the only thing between them and H.I.V. or gonorrhea is a few millimeters of latex, so glove that [expletive] up.”

But something strange happened. Each of these pronouncements set off a series of blog posts and articles and tweets that linked directly to the site, driving up traffic. At Harvard, G.P. called these moments “cultural firestorms.” “I can monetize those eyeballs,” she told the students. Goop had learned to do a special kind of dark art: to corral the vitriol of the internet and the ever-present shall we call it cultural ambivalence about G.P. herself and turn them into cash. It’s never clickbait, she told the class. “It’s a cultural firestorm when it’s about a woman’s vagina.” The room was silent. She then cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “VAGINA! VAGINA! VAGINA!” as if she were yodeling.

It reminded me of this piece by Matt Singer about why you shouldn’t share bad articles:

Look, I get it. When someone writes something bad it pisses me off too. And my first instinct is to share it with a “Can you believe someone was paid to write this junk?” tweet. In an ideal world, sharing and decrying these pieces would have their intended effect. Alas, we do not live in an ideal world. When we share a piece of stupidity or racism on social media hundreds of times, and people click on it hundreds of thousands of times, we’ve given the writer exactly what they wanted (or, at the very least, have in no way punished them for doing something bad). The old truism about how there’s no such thing as bad publicity? That’s never been truer than in on the internet circa 2018.

Like I said, I’ve been just as guilty of this as anyone. But I’m trying, Ringo; I’m trying real hard to be a shepherd. Instead of amplifying the bad, I’m sharing the good. They’re not always the sexiest articles, and they rarely get shared far enough to make a positive impact on their traffic (some other time we’ll have to talk about how retweets and likes have become psychological currency, and another incentive to share bad articles). But at least I’m not helping spread the crap in the world. Instead of treating these articles like spoiled milk, we should look at them like a fire: The quickest way of stopping one is by depriving it of oxygen.

People derive great pleasure from sharing and denouncing bad articles but, in a very tangible and financial way, the people behind those bad articles benefit from having them shared. Next time you want to get angry at something, just think about not talking about it. Ironically, it’s the best way to send a message.

‘Every Frame a Painting’ comes to an end

Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos, writing about the end of their wildly popular YouTube series Every Frame a Painting:

Everyone who works in filmmaking knows the triangle: Faster, Cheaper, Better. Pick two. A film can be made fast and cheap, but it won’t be good. Or you can make it fast and good, but it won’t be cheap. Or it can be cheap and good, but it won’t happen fast.

Every Frame a Painting was made after we came home from our day jobs and paid our bills. That kept it cheap. We also tried really hard to make it good. Which ultimately meant we had to sacrifice “fast.”The big danger for future video essayists is that large websites have started moving away from the written word and towards video, which is completely unsustainable. Video is just too expensive and time-consuming to make.

The end of an era. Every Frame a Painting was one of the gold standards for video essay channels, being both influential and widely viewed. But there’s something to be said about holding close to one’s principles and going out on top.

This farewell essay brings to light exactly how unsustainable and nonsensical all this media industry talk of “pivoting to video” is. Video production and video editing are costly, time-consuming affairs. User acquisition in today’s saturated environment is intensely challenging. And that’s not even getting to the monetization piece yet! Every Frame a Painting couldn’t figure out a way to make it work that satisfied their creative goals, even with robust Patreon campaign. What hope do people who aren’t insanely talented have?

The other troubling issue this essay highlights is how challenging it is to even make video essays for YouTube these days. Zhou had to reverse engineer the Content ID algorithm, then alter footage (or only show extremely brief clips of it) to avoid getting his work taken down and blocked. As someone who’s had their work taken down due to spurious copyright claims, I know firsthand that publishing video essays on Youtube can be a frustrating experience that privileges the copyright holder in nearly all circumstances.

Basically, it’s hard out there for a video essayist these days.

How do you say sorry online?

Christopher Mele at The New York Times is doing a good job chronicling the foibles of the digital age. This week, he wrote up an insightful piece on how to give someone condolences online. Short answer? Don’t let that be where your sympathies end:

April Masini, who writes about relationships and etiquette for her website Ask April, said in an email that offering sympathy via social media can fall short. Many people post comments primarily to be seen publicly expressing condolences, she said, and comforting the bereaved becomes a secondary goal.

If you do leave a message on a grieving person’s Facebook profile, be sure to follow up with a phone call, or maybe a note or card in the mail, experts said. You want your condolences to be personal and direct, so taking time to treat the grieving party to coffee or to send them a personal note means more than a quick “I’m sorry for your loss” via Facebook message or text.

Also, only offer condolences on social media if the person has posted the death and personally publicized it, said Michelle P. Maidenberg, the president and clinical director of Westchester Group Works, a group therapy center in Harrison, N.Y. The last thing you want is to force your grieving friend into an unwanted public conversation about the death.

Inside SoundCloud’s implosion

Ryan Mac at Buzzfeed has a detailed story on how SoundCloud found itself in its current situation:

Today, SoundCloud appears stuck in no man’s land, according to former executives and employees. Though the company found validation with the major labels and launched a me-too subscription music service, former employees and music industry executives argue it bungled a great opportunity by losing sight of what made it unique: serving as a listening platform for non-label controlled content. Jake Udell, the CEO and founder of TH3RD BRAIN, a management company that represents artists like Gallant and Grace VanderWaal, said that SoundCloud used to be the first place he’d go to post music of his up-and-coming acts.

“Back then I would have to fight the labels to have songs on SoundCloud,” he said. “Now it’s not even part of the conversation.”

My takeaways from this story:

  • If you are a small scrappy startup going up against entrenched players (as SoundCloud was, going up against not only the music labels but also Apple Music and Spotify), your expectations and timeline for success need to be correctly calibrated and your execution needs to be flawless.
  • At a startup as small as SoundCloud, one person in power has the capability to do a tremendous amount of damage to the company and its workforce.
  • An absentee CEO can absolutely destroy morale.

What’s the point of life if the universe will one day end?

In David Lowery’s recent film, A Ghost Story, one of the characters goes on an extended soliloquy about the nature of humanity and how one could easily interpret the whole of human existence as a pointless of exercise. One day, everything as we know it will be gone — even, most likely, the universe. So what’s the point of it all? A24 released a short excerpt of the speech on YouTube above. (You can also watch my Periscope review of the film).

This week, the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt released a new video that tackles this very issue.

From the video:

If the universe ends in heat death, every humiliation you suffer in life will be forgotten. Every mistake will not matter in the end. Every bad thing will be voided. If our life is all we get to experience, then it’s the only thing that matters. If the universe has no principles, the only principles relevant are the ones we decide on. If the universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what its purpose is.

Humans will most certainly cease to exist at some point. But before we do, we get to explore ourselves and the world around us. We get to experience feelings. We get to experience food, books, sunrises, and being with each other. The fact that we’re able to think about these things is already kind of incredible.

Obviously, there’s no one answer for this eternal question, but I appreciate them taking a shot at it.

In short: in the grand scheme of the universe, our time on earth is but a blink of an eye. We might as well enjoy it and try to help others enjoy it while we can.

For more ruminations on making the most of life, see Wait But Why’s post on Life in Weeks.

“What if writing, full stop, isn’t a job anymore?”

Bryan Curtis over at The Ringer has some thoughtful reflections on last week’s MTV craziness:

Let’s imagine a pivot to video is genuine rather than just a scheme to give everyone a pink slip. Other than Vice and a few other shops, there’s almost no model for what a good web video job would be. Last week, Vanity Fair unveiled a profile of Serena Williams with beautiful photos from Annie Leibovitz and a story from Buzz Bissinger. But as The Awl’s Silvia Killingsworth wrote, a video that accompanied the article was just a collage of Leibovitz photos and pull quotes from the article. The article’s sentences were labored over; the pictures were composed; the video was an afterthought.

Some of this may just be timing. A decade ago, if a web publication said it was “pivoting to podcasting,” the news would have been greeted like the End Times. Now, getting tapped for a podcast is like earning a journalistic merit badge. In a few cases, writers have realized they could both write and pod. In others, writers realized that if a zippy conversation about the news of the week consumed the time they’d have otherwise spent crafting a memorable piece, well, that’s the price of success. It’s a lot easier to have the zippy conversation.

The culling of online publications will likely continue as viable business models for video sort themselves out. In the meantime, let the good times roll.

The importance of being phished

One of my favorite podcasts is Reply All, a podcast about the internet. They recently produced an episode explaining how easy it is to get phished and how devious modern phishing techniques can be. It’s a fun episode, and teaches us the following things:

  • You don’t need to be stupid to be phished. In this episode, several extremely skeptical professionals are phished successfully. A successful phishing can sometimes be more of a testament to the skill of the phisher than the gullibility of the phishee.
  • If an email looks even slightly weird, triple check all aspects about it.
  • If you find that you need to re-enter your two-factor authentication more times than usual, make sure the URL in your browser is correct.
  • Don’t phish your coworkers, even as an educational experiment. It can only end in heartbreak and recriminations.

The human cost of conspiracy theories

Hadley Freeman, writing for The Guardian, about Leonard Pozner, a father who lost his son Noah in the Sandy Hook massacre:

Pozner says that, if he hadn’t lost Noah, he might well have believed the pizzagate conspiracy: “I would not have been as immediately dismissive of it, that’s for sure. History books will refer to this period as a time of mass delusion. We weren’t prepared for the internet. We thought the internet would bring all these wonderful things, such as research, medicine, science, an accelerated society of good. But all we did was hold up a mirror to society and we saw how angry, sick and hateful humans can be.”

So what can we do, I ask, now that more of us are realising we can’t just ignore these people?

“It’s too late, and things have gone too far. The whole Amazon is on fire. When I was dealing with these people in 2014 and 15, you could utilise their stories and turn them around. I don’t know if you can even do that now,” he says. “Lawmakers don’t know how to deal with this. Police don’t know how to police the internet, they haven’t been trained, they just tell you to turn off the computer. And people who do police the internet, they are looking for credit card scams worth millions of dollars. For 4Chan trolls, this is their playground.”

He pauses for a moment: “I used to be able to change the channel when stories about these kinds of people were on. I now don’t have the luxury to do that, and when I lost Noah, I woke up and realised that people who spread these stories are more interested in propagating fear than getting at the truth. And the human cost of that is phenomenal.”

I can’t imagine the horror of losing a child, but the idea that Pozner is is now taunted for it and accused of “faking it” is even further beyond comprehension.

The memes of Trump’s presidency (so far)

Kaitlyn Tiffany has written up an indispensable guide for The Verge:

In The New Republic, two weeks after the inauguration, Jeet Heer outlined the broader case for making jokes about the Trump administration: “Jokes, even political jokes, aren’t about persuasion, but rather psychological comfort in the face of difficult or painful situations.”

 100 days into Trump’s presidency, it looks like he’s right. We’ve already got enough memorable, pervasive memes to fill the world’s scariest children’s book. Each one was born from something horrible — cruel or grossly stupid — and each one was a tiny, dumb, tasteless victory against despair.

 

Facebook organic reach continues to plunge

Facebook has publicly stated that organic reach on its pages for businesses and publications will decline as time goes on. For many large publishers, organic reach has been approaching 1% for a long time (that is, the number of people who see a post from a Facebook page on their personal News Feed is 1% of the people who Like that page).

Now comes a new report from Kurt Gessler at the Chicago Tribune that illustrates just how far organic reach has dropped:

Starting in January of this year, we at the Chicago Tribune started to anecdotally see a fairly significant change in our post reach.

We weren’t seeing a huge difference in post consumption or daily average reach, but we were just seeing more misses than hits. At the Tribune, we have a fairly stable and predictable audience. We had around a half million fans at the end of March and have seen slow but steady growth in the last year. Most Facebook posts fell into the 25,000 to 50,000 reach range — with a few big successes and few spectacular failures each day, usually based on the quality of the content or the quality and creativity of the share.

But starting earlier this year, we started to see far more misses. And not reaches in the low 20,000’s but 4,000 reach or 6,000 reach. Digital Editor Randi Shaffer was one of the first to notice […]

In December of 2016, we had only 8 posts with 10,000 reach or less. In January of 2017, that had grown to 80. In February, 159. And in March, a ridiculous 242 posts were seen by fewer than 10,000 people. And while late 2016 saw record lows in that lowest quartile, that 242 is far above any prior month in our dataset. And we were seeing a steady decrease in that 25,001 to 50,000 quartile. That had gone from 248 in January 2016 to 141 in March 2017.

What did this mean? In baseball terms, we were hitting far fewer doubles and we were striking out 1 every 3 times at the plate. Four months earlier, we struck out 1 of every 90 at-bats.

Gessler speculates on reasons for this change, the most plausible of which is Facebook’s algorithm. Usage of Facebook’s app as a whole could be declining, but it seems unlikely based on mobile usage statistics.

Either way, it’s a difficult time to rely on Facebook if you’re a publisher. According to a recent report from The Verge, Facebook’s Instant Articles experiment seems to not be panning out as they’d hoped, from a subscription/revenue perspective.

Media has always been a side interest for Facebook, and not essential to its core function. But I hope for the sake of a well-informed citizenry that they continue tweaking their algorithms to surface content, including news, that is relevant, interesting, and true for all users.

See also: Why Facebook’s tips for spotting fake news don’t really work very well.

Twitter changes default profile photo to person instead of egg

Harry McCracken, writing for Fast Company, describing how Twitter changed its default profile image to be a person instead of an egg:

A lot has changed since the Twitter egg debuted almost seven years ago. For one thing, the company’s design philosophy has evolved. Quirky is out; straightforward is in. Nowadays, “the playfulness of Twitter is in the content our users are creating, versus how much the brand steps forward in the UI,” says product designer Jen Cotton.

More significantly, the egg has taken on cultural associations that nobody could have anticipated in 2010. Rather than suggesting the promise of new life, it’s become universal shorthand for Twitter’s least desirable accounts: trolls (and bots) engaged in various forms of harassment and spam, created by people so eager to wreak anonymous havoc that they can’t be bothered to upload a portrait image […]

Starting today, however, the egg is history. Twitter is dumping the tarnished icon for a new default profile picture–a blobby silhouette of a person’s head and shoulders, intentionally designed to represent a human without being concrete about gender, race, or any other characteristic. Everyone who’s been an egg until now, whatever their rationale, will automatically switch over.

Twitter also has a blog post explaining how they arrived at the new profile image:

[P]eople have come to associate the circle head with masculinity, and because of this association, we felt that it was important to explore alternate head shapes. We reviewed many variations of our figure, altering both the head and shoulders to feel more inclusive to all genders. When the shoulders were wider, the image felt overly masculine, so we decreased the width of the shoulders and adjusted the height of the figure. As a result of these iterations, we ended with a more gender-balanced figure. We chose grays because they feel temporary, generic, and universal. With that, we included a higher contrast color combination to make this image accessible for those with visual impairments. Because of its coloring, the new profile photo also gives less prominence to accounts with a default profile photo.

It’s unfortunate that Twitter’s slowness to deal with its harassment problem has led to bizarre associations with Twitter Eggs. Maybe changing to the new default profile photo will prevent memes from sprouting up (“Twitter Default Person” just doesn’t have the same bite as “Twitter Egg”) but the same underlying issues will remain until Twitter does more to take on trolls.

Turns out, the internet can be used for good too

The other day, I re-blogged an article in The New Yorker about “how clickbait is killing criticism.” I was pretty skeptical of that piece, pointing out that in place of the old definition of “criticism” there’s now a whole new world of content out there that things like “clickbait” have enabled.

In a recent piece for The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo makes a similar point:

In the last few years, and with greater intensity in the last 12 months, people started paying for online content. They are doing so at an accelerating pace, and on a dependable, recurring schedule, often through subscriptions. And they’re paying for everything.

You’ve already heard about the rise of subscription-based media platforms — things like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Spotify and Apple Music. But people are also paying for smaller-audience and less-mainstream-friendly content. They are subscribing to podcasters, comedians, zany YouTube stars, novelists and comic book artists. They are even paying for news.

It’s difficult to overstate how big a deal this is. More than 20 years after it first caught mainstream attention and began to destroy everything about how we finance culture, the digital economy is finally beginning to coalesce around a sustainable way of supporting content. If subscriptions keep taking off, it won’t just mean that some of your favorite creators will survive the internet. It could also make for a profound shift in the way we find and support new cultural talent. It could lead to a wider variety of artists and art, and forge closer connections between the people who make art and those who enjoy it.

Some interesting stats on Patreon are also disclosed: $100 million has been paid towards artists thus far, and in 2016, there were 35 artists making more than $150K each.

The nightmare of the Peggy Couch from West Elm

I don’t usually blog about furniture here, but this post by Anna Hezel at The Awl about the Peggy Couch from West Elm really got to me:

Around when the throw pillows finally arrived, the couch began to disintegrate in small ways. We would scooch across a cushion at the wrong angle, and a button would pop off, leaving a fraying hole behind. We would lean back slightly too far, and all of the cushions would shift forward and over the edge of the couch in unison. As soon as one button had fallen off of our couch, it was like a spigot had been turned, allowing all of the other buttons to fall off, too. I emailed customer service and asked if this was normal. They sent me a button-repair kit, indicating that this probably happens a lot. The kit was backordered, so it arrived two full months later and contained a wooden dowel, two buttons, and some directions that didn’t make sense. One direction was to “Hold the cushion properly and make sure the pointed end of the stick is all the way through, until you can see both ends of the stick on each side of the cushion.” I tried in earnest to follow the directions, but the wooden dowel would not fit into the buttonholes, and the entire exercise left me with fewer buttons than I started with.

Every component of this story is nuts, from the fleet of disaffected Peggy purchasers out there trying to warn people against this couch to the awful repair kit that West Elm sends out for people having problems. Most importantly: West Elm says the couch is supposed to last 1-3 years with light use. That is an insultingly short period of time, and not a meaningful upgrade from, say, an IKEA couch. In fact, it may actually be worse despite being more expensive.

I have friends who have had bad experiences at West Elm. After reading this article and taking that into account, I can’t imagine wanting to shop there for any expensive furniture. Instead, if you really want something that’s a big improvement over Craigslist/IKEA, I’d recommend a store like Room and Board. IKEA’s high end has also improved significantly over the years, and may be worth investigating.

Update: The Peggy Couch has now apparently been removed from West Elm’s site:

The stupefying odds

A spectacular data visualization by The Pudding shows how difficult it is for a band to break out and make it big:

The vast majority of bands never do make it. Acts break up, give up or decide they have other things they want to do with their lives.

For every Chance the Rapper there are thousands of rappers that never play a show with more than a couple hundred people. For every Lake Street Dive, there are hundreds of promising bands that break up because they lost on their members.

To see the NYC concert trajectory of different bands, below you can search for any of the 3,000 bands that played a show in 2013, and at least one more show from 2014 to 2016. Perhaps some of them are on their way to making it, and it just hasn’t happened yet.

What the world could look like without Net Neutrality

Kevin Collier from Vocativ speculates on how Trump’s regime could change the internet as we know it:

To start, internet providers not burdened by net neutrality could begin by offering deals and exclusives for their content. Comcast, consistently rated one of the most hated companies in America, is owned by NBCUniversal. NBC owns streaming rights the Olympics through 2032. Without the FCC’s rules, NBC could choose to only allow Comcast subscribers unfettered access to the games. People who used Spectrum to get online, for instance, would maybe have to pay for a special Olympic pass. Or if NBCUniversal wanted to get really nasty, it could bar anyone but Comcast subscribers from viewing their Olympic stream, period, daring customers of other providers to switch to Comcast […]

Internet providers could also squeeze websites, instead of consumers directly. Verizon could start a bidding war for streaming video services, for instance. Since YouTube is owned by Google and has a lot more money than Vimeo, YouTube could pay Verizon for faster or even exclusive service. YouTube would have an effective monopoly on streaming video for Verizon companies.

The Twitter Resistance

Kaitlyn Tiffany, writing for The Verge about how official social media accounts are going “underground” in light of government suppression:

Three people who claim to be employees of the National Park Service’s Mount Rainier Park in Washington have taken up where the official NPS and EPA Twitter accounts have been forced to leave off. Last night, they tweeted dozens of times from the handle @AltNatParkSer, promoting climate change facts and the upcoming Scientists’ March on Washington, interspersing jokes like “Parks and Rekt” and “can’t wait for President Trump to call us FAKE NEWS.” The spirit of rebellion is catching: this account has amassed over 300,000 followers overnight, paired with thousands of messages of support from people on Twitter eager to see someone, anyone take a stand against Trump’s despotic new policies.

 

The Odyssey empire

Over at BackChannel, Jane Porter has an interesting story about Odyssey and how it entices college students to churn out thousands of pieces for almost no money:

“These types of networks have petered out because it is resource intensive to work with contributors,” says Claire Wardle, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

That’s where Odyssey believes it has developed a secret sauce with its Invisible Hand. Despite the ominous name, it’s a workflow tool that organizes stories by subject matter and content, ranking their newsworthiness, topic, and popularity. Stories that come in are ordered and organized from most relevant to least depending on a range of factors, and then funneled to the editor focused on the pertinent topic, such as sports or politics.

First, the algorithm feeds stories to community editors—locally based individuals who are not paid for their job—to be edited. Then they’re sent off to content strategists — the company’s name for its in-house editors, who are all responsible for managing 20 communities each comprised of around 12 to 25 writers. That means a content strategist is editing anywhere between 240 to 500 stories per week. The Invisible Hand is what keeps these editors from losing their minds, managing their workflow so they don’t waste time sifting through stories to determine what their priority should be.

Theoretically, Odyssey’s model provides a nifty way to scale content production. In reality, as the piece gets into, it’s a lot harder to make people contribute high-quality content in perpetuity unless you’re paying them handsomely.

The Vine archive

Sarah Perez writing for TechCrunch:

Twitter just can’t seem to let go of Vine. The company announced last fall it would close the video-sharing community site and its accompanying mobile applications, which it then did just days ago. But it also has taken several steps to ensure that the content created in Vine would not be lost, by offering tools to export videos, both online and in its app. Today, in another move to preserve Vine content, Twitter has launched an online archive of Vine videos — basically a static website containing all the posts made from 2013 through 2016.

The archive is live now and I dig the clean organization. Vine was an incredible place for light, fun, memorable creativity — often by people of color. I was really sad to hear the service would be shutting down, but glad to hear it’ll be preserved in some form.

Also, below is my favorite Vine of all time. Check it out and read the oral history of it.

 

The Amazing Hour

Over at The Atlantic, James Hamblin suggests having an “amazing hour” before bed, devoid of screentime, to aid in getting a good night’s sleep. Some ways to use that time might include:

  • Packing your lunch for the next day
  • Writing letters to friends/family/celebrities
  • Read a book/magazine
  • Staring at a fake plastic phone and pretend you’re looking at a real phone

I should try this. But I probably won’t.