Chump change: decrypting Bitcoin and Blockchain

Chump change: decrypting Bitcoin and Blockchain

At the 9th Berlin Biennale, artists Simon Denny and Linda Kantchev presented Blockchain Visionaries (2016), an exploration and celebration of the blockchain phenomena. Denny, a self-professed enthusiast described the blockchain as, "a great model for dreaming dreams and telling a diverse and divergent set of new (and not so new) stories about how the world might organize in the future". Similarly, in his New York show Blockchain Future States (2016) Denny set out to investigate ‘three financial companies at the forefront of Bitcoin’: Ethereum, 21 Inc. and Digital Asset. In the press release his gallery stated: "At a moment when public debate spotlights a global governance system that seems to ignore the needs of many of its participants, starkly contrasting visions for alternative political systems are emerging. What would a world look like where the collusion of an elite few would be rendered technically impossible? Can a truly inclusive global future exist?"

Whilst expressing a political vision familiar from any article on cryptocurrency, the bland inferences about a tech fix for ‘elite’ power read as a bromide. On closer inspection some of these assertions have a lineage that is far from emancipatory, however.

The art world is ardently advocating for Bitcoin and other blockchain technologies. For instance, it has recently been suggested that the blockchain might ensure a system by which artworks are provided with trustable provenance (‘a spreadsheet in the sky’); or used to enforce contractual obligations; or to establish a ledger so that artists are paid any royalties due. There is even a scheme to encourage small investors to acquire tiny portions of famous masterpieces – a form of fractional ownership that is clearly derived from the Bitcoin paradigm. Behind the digital dreaming much of this ‘utopianism’ appears as an effort to shore up value in the art market, which has been sagging ever since the 2008 crisis. None of this is particularly surprising given that art has long been a form of speculative investment, but this indicates how Bitcoin and blockchain boosterism regularly disguise baser imperatives (whether the boosters are themselves aware of it).

Read more (Mute)

Web Curios 27/10/17

I had to actually do some work yesterday - some ACTUAL THINKING - for the first time in what might actually have been months; it was hard, how do you people do it? This edition of Curios, then, is dedicated to YOU - whoever you are, whatever you do, I admire and appreciate your toil (this doesn't, of course, apply to the advermarketingpr drones - I know all about what you do, and you should feel ashamed) (as do I). 

It's also dedicated to all those of you who this week have succumbed to the first illnesses of the season and are reading this sat at home, surrounded by tissues, with red-rimmed eyes and an entirely unjustified sense of self-pity. DRINK YOUR CALPOL.

Anyway, another week of BAD MAN revelations this week culminated yesterday in what must be up there in the top 10 of 'wow, you really fcuked that up' non-apologies in the course of human history. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to check out Scoble's...extraordinary post, take a moment to read it and then marvel at exactly how intellectually deficient one would have to be to imagine that THAT is going to help you in any way. Leaving aside his status as a repellent lecher - one who, by all accounts, is being largely forgiven by the (male) upper echelons of the tech community for his excesses what with being a 'lovable rogue', so nice work, there, techbros, keep it up you awful self-optimising cancers, you - it's the language, the hubris, the sales pitch...seriously, it's amazing. Now let's sit back and see who other than cuddly Lord Rennard is going to be outed as a serial groper - FUN TIMES IN WESTMINSTER!

But we're not here to talk about any of that! We're here to delve deep into the freshly exhumed corpse of last week's web, burrowing through layers of faintly rotting epidermis, fat, flesh and muscle to the tasty, tasty marrow within. Come, my charming infomaggots, let's see if we can fatten up enough to make beautiful iridescent flies of ourselves - this, as ever, is WEB CURIOS!

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Is efficiency killing brands?

Is efficiency killing brands?

Digital marketing has unleashed an obsession with efficiency and short-termism, one that's trading long-term brand-building for short-term ROI. We've put the golden goose in a battery farm of scientific efficiency, and it's killing the brand, business growth and profit.

Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola and Motorola, for example, have raised the issue recently. This past summer, the world's largest advertiser, P&G, announced it had slashed digital budgets by $140 million, and yet, sales still went up. In July, Motorola CMO Jan Huckfeldt went on the record saying, "If you want to revive a brand and you really want to build a brand quickly, if you bank on social and digital, it's not going to work."

Read more (Ad Age)

VW gets its brands in a twist

VW gets its brands in a twist

It's common knowledge that Volkswagen Group likes to mix its brands up. Easily the largest car company in Europe, its brands including Skoda, Seat, Audi and of course VW dominate our roads. Now, however, this family of brands is in trouble

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‘Artwashing’ gentrification is a problem – but vilifying the artists involved is not the answer

‘Artwashing’ gentrification is a problem – but vilifying the artists involved is not the answer

The value of culture in regenerating cities has long been recognised. Sometimes this happens centrally, whether via the commissioning of high profile public artworks, or the rebranding of city areas as cultural quarters. But in many cities, culture led redevelopment occurs organically.

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Web Curios 20/10/17

It's...it's not been a nice week, has it? I mean, I always say this - if you were to do a wordcloud of these opening paragraphs I'm pretty sure that a series of variants on the theme of 'awful' and 'despair' would loom out at you - but it really does seem like the past seven days have been particularly shrill and awful. 

Or at least they have in my corner of the London 'Generic Media Wanker' bubble.  I hope yours has been nicer. The world certainly doesn't need another bloke spaffing out WORDS on power and gender and coercion - all I'll say is that I hope a certain London gallery owner and nightlife impresario with a TV and newspaper column sideline is feeling particularly scared at the moment. OOH A BLIND ITEM WHO COULD IT BE? Feel free to DM me your guesses, kids!

And on that lawyer-baiting note, let's get to it! We have links, we have words, we have 6+hours of me sitting at a keyboard in my kitchen drinking tea and developing RSI as I try and fail to spin them into some semblance of coherence - we have, in short, all of the ingredients required. Strap yourselves in, then, and bite HARD on the leather strap as I power up the machine and spin the dial all the way to eleven - FEEL THE WEB COURSING THROUGH YOUR SHUDDERING CARCASS! This, as ever, is the overwrought mess of angst, anger and £5 prose peddling 10p ideas that is WEB CURIOS!

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It's time to rethink the consumer journey

It's time to rethink the consumer journey

Customer journey mapping is a logical way to organize the elements of the consumer experience into a cohesive whole. It’s a framework that gives designers a way to better understand what users need.

But, in real life, people don’t follow logical paths. Technology, culture and basic human unpredictability mean that experience and service designers must assume that every customer journey will be unique, non-linear and fragmented. Therefore, if your narrative and benefits rely upon a linear interaction with all parts of an experience, it’s certain that the vast majority of customers/users will never experience most of them.

A simple journey with 4 steps in fact has 24 different possible paths. And this complexity is compounded dramatically for services or experiences that operate in multiple countries or regions or that need to serve multiple levels of user expertise. That means that for any substantial service or experience design project, it’s unrealistic to map all the possible paths.

Read more (Zeus Jones)

Rise Art Prize launches with £10k award

Rise Art Prize launches with £10k award

Online art marketplace Rise Art has launched an award for new artists and artworks, with a winner's prize of £10,000.

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Web Curios 13/10/17

Venice was GREAT. The Hirst exhibition is crazy, the Biennale is wonderful, the whole place is glorious. 

There, that was my holiday. It's the personal touches which make this blog / newsletter / mess, don't you find? Anyway, the glow of having been in a beautiful city consuming art quickly wore off on my return to the soul-sapping greyness of 'work', so don't expect this edition to be any less cynically beaten-down than it ordinarily is, OK? GOOD. 

I've got a whole afternoon of meetings today - I am SO important! - and probably ought to get dressed before attending them, so this is going to be a mercifully short introduction, all the better to introduce you to this week's murky soup of links and ephemera. Take up your spoon, hold your nose and DIVE IN - I can guarantee you a pleasingly chewy assortment of oddities in each mouthful, but be sure to chew carefully as much of this is a touch indigestible. SUCK DOWN MY WATERY WEB-BROTH! THIS IS WEB CURIOS!

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Two online magazines launch, covering contemporary art criticism

Two online magazines launch, covering contemporary art criticism

Two new digital magazines launched recently: one in the US, and one in the UK.

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Starships and tokens: a path to human self-actualization

Starships and tokens: a path to human self-actualization

Many humans don’t settle for just barely scraping by; they improve themselves towards self-actualization. Could we do the same at the level of civilization? Rather than merely avoiding disasters, let’s truly reach for the stars.

In this essay, I describe a decentralized system for humanity to collectively graph the steps towards self-actualization, from conquering malaria and a shared planetary database, to universal basic income and even asteroid mining. But vision is not enough. We need execution, and the resources to power it. There’s a new tool: the blockchain token launch. It’s a low-friction way for a community of aspirational thinkers to fund big ideas with big dollars, and to benefit from the success of those ideas. We start with a token launch for the map itself. That in turn propels token launches for the first steps of the map, which in turn propels the second steps, and so on.

Read more (BigchainDB)

Radical Networks: celebrating the free and open Internet

Radical Networks: celebrating the free and open Internet

The Radical Networks collective is launching its latest event next week in Brooklyn. 

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The craziest copyright cases

The craziest copyright cases

Image protection is active worldwide, yet still, every day, millions of cases of online unauthorized image uses occur. The cases selected here show just how versatile copyright infringements can be. In their own way, they are ground-breaking and have made headlines all over the world, raising new questions when it comes to copyright law.

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Max Hattler wins Supernova animation festival

Max Hattler wins Supernova animation festival

Digital artist and academic Max Hattler has won this year's Supernova Outdoor Digital Animation Festival with his work Divisional Articulations.

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Tester app exposes the privacy nightmare of iOS

Tester app exposes the privacy nightmare of iOS

Fastlane founder Felix Krause has made a point regarding an iOS security flaw, in something of a direct way. In producing the Detect.Location app and making it available through the App Store, he has exposed how easy it is to nab a user's images, their historical movements, and even the history of their iPhone ownership.

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'The body is a living archive': Wayne McGregor on turning his DNA into dance

In a shiny Airstream trailer, on the roof of his company’s new headquarters, Wayne McGregor looks across the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London. This is not your usual dance HQ. But McGregor isn’t what you’d expect from a choreographer. The resident brainbox of British dance is always questing for new territory. His work with ballet companies often attracts headlines – it’s a world new to extreme moves, music by Mark Ronson and the White Stripes, big ideas about the multiverse – but his own company is a research lab for innovation.

Now, the science geek is using his own DNA, and collaborating with scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, as the inspiration for a show called Autobiography. “If you’re looking for a document of my life with a narrative arc about me growing up in Stockport, you’ll be frustrated,” he grins. Instead, it’s Who Do You Think You Are? but with genes. The show began taking shape when McGregor wondered how artificial intelligence (AI) might animate his archive of 25 years’ working in dance. This led him to consider the body itself as “a living archive. Not as a nostalgia-fest but as an idea of speculative future. Each cell carries in it the whole blueprint of your life, basically.” Your genetic code tells the story of your past – and predicts possible stories of your future.

Read more (Guardian)

Are big brands dying?

Big brands pay the salaries and provide investment returns for many millions of people via pension funds.  So if anyone declares that big brands are dying they receive a great deal of attention.

There is quite a long history of such alarms, going back at least to 1993’s “Marlboro Friday”.  Recently, there have been claims that big/global brands are losing to small/local brands.  Theories have hastily been put forward why this might be, leading to marketing strategy recommendations.

But what is fact and what is fiction?  And what strategies make sense for big brands?  We report extensive new analyses along with the scientific research (published in peer-reviewed journals).

Read more (Ehrenberg-Bass)

Can cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin survive scrutiny from central banks?

Can cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin survive scrutiny from central banks?

The future of money looks very different in the world of cryptocurrencies. There is a growing consensus among businesses, investors and countries (Venezuela in particular) that these alternative forms of online money are going to dominate payments in the next decade. There may be agreement on the potential, but quite how regulators and central banks will respond is still up in the air.

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Nasty Women come to London

Nasty Women come to London

Nasty Women is a New York-founded art movement that intends to bring artists together in response to a gradual clawing back of women's rights in society. The movement has unquestionably spread quickly, starting only in January 2017 and now starting in London - at the Black and White building in Shoreditch. We talked about the exhibition and the wider Nasty Women movement with Calum Hall of online art platform Creative Debuts, who is supporting the show.

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Web Curios 29/9/17

One of the things that struck me in the midst of all the media coverage of international superstar bongo-peddler Hugh Hefner's demise was (aside from the man's uncanny resemblance to Touche Turtle) quite how miserable he looked in almost every photo taken of him in his dotage. It's almost as if he'd discovered that being entirely in the grip of adolescent appetites whilst simultaneously staring your ninth decade right in the face is a bit, well, dispiriting, and that he in fact knew his was a tawdry existence that didn't bear too much examination (especially not beneath a blacklight). 

BUT! We are not here to talk about that man! We are here to grudgingly wade through another selection of this week's CONTENT, cobbled together by artisans worldwide for your browsing pleasure. Curios is going to be off next week due to me being in Venice with my mum (restaurant tips gratefully received, seeing as you're here), so be extra sure to read EVERY SINGLE WORD in this week's edition; carry my voice with you in your mind's ear, listen to my dulcet tones while I'm away, let me burrow deep into your very meningea and deposit there the spores that may one day develop into full-blown web psychosis. We don't quite know what the long term effects of this insane level of data consumption will be on our pliable mammalian brains, so with that spirit of open-minded experimentation to the fore let's CRACK ON with the WEBSPAFF FIREHOSE that is WEB CURIOS!

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