By Helena Hauss
THE SECTION WHICH TODAY IS MOSTLY GLAD THAT IT DOESN’T WORK IN SOCIAL AT A PUBLISHER AND ISN’T HAVING TO EXPLAIN EXACTLY HOW PERHAPS ALL THAT ‘PIVOT TO VIDEO’ STUFF WAS, ON REFLECTION, POSSIBLY A BIT HASTY:
- Facebook To Deprioritise Publisher Content: I am so, so sorry. This is not unexpected - it’s been trailed in various more-or-less-cryptic ways for months - but it’s still a wonderful encapsulation of exactly how in thrall we all are to Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory to get our stuff out there. “Make video!”, Zuck told us all in 2016, “video is going to be HUGE on Facebook! Look, here’s some money to persuade you to sack all those writers and hire video editors instead!”. Now, though, it’s all about MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN PEOPLE - meaning, to quote the great Easter Island head that runs the world (that is, MZ), “you'll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media. And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard -- it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.” So what does this actually mean? Well, noone quite knows yet (but, er, BUY MORE ADS! Oh, and, er, sorry, video pivoters!), but it’s safe to say that content that leads to lots of people commenting on it and having discussions will do better than stuff that ‘just’ gets ‘Likes’, that videos won’t be prioritised so much in Newsfeed (video, you see, often leads to ‘passive consumption’ and that is BAD) and that you’ll see (even) less stuff from Pages on your feed in the main. You watch as every single publisher suddenly alters their staff contracts to make it a mandated requirement that everyone have a discussion on Facebook under every single thing their Page posts. You can read TechCrunch’s take on this here, but you won’t be short of others - this is BIG NEWS.
- Facebook Announces New Stuff on Music Rights: I’ll be honest with you - I really don’t understand what this is actually saying, it’s all in atrocious businesslegalese, but if you do stuff around music then it might be relevant to you. High quality ‘journalism’, right here!
- Facebook Testing Local News and Events Section: TESTING, so, you know, not actual news. Still, this chimes with the ‘meaningful interactions’ stuff - it seems that Zuckerberg’s announcement will also work to promote more local/community content, so this would dovetail with that. No word on when, or indeed whether, this will actually be a thing, but one to bear in mind .
- Facebook Scraps AI Messenger Assistant ‘M’: You remember how we were all going to eventually have a smart chatbot assistant that would be able to book flights and cabs and order food, all through Facebook? Yeah, well we’re not going to have one after all. Sorry. Whether this is a function of the fact that the problem of creating a viable AI assistant was too intractable, or whether they’re simply pivoting to voice, this is a bit of a blow for people predicting the RISE OF THE CHATBOT.
- Some Updates To Twitter’s DMs for Business: Basically these are just some tweaks like read receipts, typing indicators a la Messenger, etc. Nothing huge, but if you use Twitter for customers service these are all sensible, helpful updates.
- Google Assistant Comes To More Devices, Launches ‘Actions’: The main thing that’s important to note here is that, as of the now, Google’s Voice Assistant now lets anyone build ‘Actions’ for it, much like the ‘Recipes’ which you can build for Alexa. Obviously subject to approvals, etc, but if you’re thinking of making stuff for voice then now bear in mind that you should consider Google as well as Amazon’s device.
- Snapchat Considering Making Stories Embeddable: Allegedly. No idea whether or not this is true, but it would seem like a reasonably good idea what with the platform’s notorious issues with user growth and general discoverability.
- You Can Now By Animated Snapchat Filters: Like the ordinary ones, but, er, ANIMATED! If you’re a brand with several hundred thousand quid to throw at Snapchat, THIS is what you can spend them on. OK, fine, I am guessing at the pricepoint, but they’re never shy about shaking you down for cash. Still, how can you put a price on the ability to create an animated version of your BRAND VALUES for users to interact with as they document their own PERSONAL LIVED BRAND STORY? Well, quite.
- Snapchat Usage Data: This is interesting - a whole bunch of allegedly ‘secret’ info from Snapchat about how users actually use the platform, containing data on the number of messages sent over time, Stories usage, etc etc. The main takeaway from this, should you want me to spoonfeed you rather than drawing your own conclusions you whelps, is that (SURPRISE!) people use Snapchat as a messaging app far more than they do to consume stories, etc; it’s a peer to peer network rather than a broadcast one. But, er, don’t stop making content for Snapchat, brands! Please! Will be interesting to see whether the recent - inevitably unpopular - app update impacts this in any way (except, er, we won’t see as the data’s all confidential).
- Martech List: This is SO useful (h/t Vikki Chowney for spotting it); this is a brilliant list of marketing tools, categorised by type (social monitoring, social analytics, selling, etc), sharing features, pricing info, etc, which functions as a genuinely useful first stop for assessing what might be useful from the seemingly infinite sea of identikit digital software services currently available to advermarketingpr drones like us. It won’t make any of this less stupid and pointless, but it might make it slightly less painful.
- Confercal: As far as I can tell, this is a REALLY useful listing site for conferences and events in marketing and tech worldwide. Take a look, it might be helpful.
- The Brand Film Festival: Would YOU like to go to a festival of branded content? To sit, rapt and wide-eyed at hundreds of corporate videos? To dive headlong into the river of brand, to immerse yourself in it, to frolic in the spumey flow of CORPORATE TRUTHS? No, of course you wouldn’t, it sounds like a truly hideous experience - that said, if you make VIDEO CONTENT and want some sort of professional validation then you could probably do worse to submit your work to this, as you might win some sort of shiny perspex with which to validate your output. FYI, they are currently accepting nominations for judges - if you’d like to nominate me, I am pretty sure I could bring a REFRESHING NEW PERSPECTIVE to the whole affair.
- Last Year In Bongo: Yes, I know that this is a whole load of data about what people like to masturbate over, but it’s technically a (very good) piece of marketing by Pornhub and so it deserves its place in the ‘serious’ section. They are so, so good at this by now - here’s their annual country-by-country breakdown of what exactly we all like to watch when we bring ourselves to a lonely, tearful climax (just me with the tears? oh). You will doubtless find your own area of interest, but personally speaking I was most intrigued (read: saddened) to find that last year’s spike in searches for bongo featuring giant women was apparently a blip rather than a broader thing. Oddly for something that’s all about masturbation, there’s something sort of sweet about this (or maybe that’s just me) - I think the general Rule 34-ness of it all makes it so abstract as to be largely nonsexual. Oh, and if you can without getting sacked, I recommend you checking out fidget spinner bongo at least once - it’s basically a bunch of videos of people balancing the things on their glans, which not only can I not imagine being anyone’s erotic thing at all, but also begs the question WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT AND FILM IT AND PUT IT ONLINE?
- The Best Japanese Adverts of 2017: Finally this week, take 15 minutes out of your working day and watch these. Call it research, call it creative inspiration, but PLEASE make the time - these are just superb, odd, funny, bizarre, inexplicable...can we just all agree that all ad agencies in the UK are going to start taking notes from these? Great! There are so, so many wonderful ones in here, and some very sinister things too - what I particularly like is the occasional Western actor appearing, gamely mugging along; I like to imagine that they all have minimal Japanese are are, as I am, utterly baffled at what’s going on.
THE SECTION WHICH CAN’T BELIEVE THAT THE PRESIDENT OF THE US HAS BASICALLY SLAGGED OFF VAUXHALL, THE CHIEF, PT.1:
- The Loneliness Project: No, wait, come back, this is good! The Loneliness Project presents a series of short confessional vignettes from anonymous contributors about their experience of loneliness; when, where, how they have felt alone, and what it means to them. Weirdly not as depressing as it ought to be - honest, it really isn’t - and perhaps a nice, contemplative site if you’d like a semi-comforting reminder that everyone feels like this sometimes, and it’s ok. Maybe.
- HQ: I linked to HQ when it launched last year, but it’s just been launched in the UK so I feel justified in reposting it. For those of you who unaccountably don’t remember my SPARKLING PROSE from last time, HQ is a quiz app which twice a day presents a gameshow format whereby anyone with the app can drop in (at 3pm and 9pm) and see the host asking a series of questions - anyone who gets all the questions right wins that show’s cash prize. The prizes aren’t huge, but this is INSANELY fun and is basically the future of entertainment (I think). I’d bet money on a really unpleasant twist on pretty much exactly this being featured in Black Mirror’s next season. Seriously, though, try this if you haven’t already, it is rather excellent.
- Ripple: We all hate LinkedIn, and yet we still use it (see also Facebook, Twitter, Insta...hang on, there’s a theme here…); but for HOW MUCH LONGER? Here comes Ripple, designed by three of the guys behind Tinder (who interestingly look almost exactly how I’d imagine three of the guys who founded Tinder to look like) to attempt to DISRUPT the appalling, dead-eyed world of professional networking, with its Tinder-style swiping interface designed to do for the world of work what it did for the world of chirpsing (to whit: to reduce participants to two-dimensional ciphers existing only in the context of your own experience and largely undeserving of care and empathy). There are some neat UX/UI gimmicks - the ‘connect through taking a photo of someone’ facial recognition tech is clever - but I simply don’t care enough about ‘connecting and growing my professional network’ to investigate much further.
- Message 2028: A time capsule site - type in your message to your future self, wait a decade and then see what appallingly trite crap you chose to fire into the future! I’m being unfair, obviously - this is as much a sort of art project as it is a ‘message to future you’ toy, as messages (should users allow it) will be publicly displayed from January 1 2028. Go on, write something - ideally something cryptic about where the treasure is hidden to spark some sort of mad goldrush a decade hence. Ooh, actually, that’s a GREAT idea - there’s a really quite involved fiction you could build here using messages from different named accounts which all allude to something bigger...basically you could create a massive future ARG. So, er, do it! Do it now!
- Robomarts: Part of the annual display of ‘stuff that may or may not ever come to market’ from CES, Robomart is an electric van which is basically designed to, er, ferry small quantities of asparagus around upscale neighbourhoods, as far as I can tell. The idea is that these electric vehicles will be able to be ordered to arrive at your home, much like an Uber, and you, the shopper, will wander up to the display, pick out your produce and take it home, charged automatically for what you’ve picked out. What I love about this is how laughably utopian it is - OBVIOUSLY the produce will all be fresh and beautiful and won’t end up being sullied by the dirty fingers of previous shoppers! OBVIOUSLY the vehicles will be shiny and beautiful and clean and large enough not to run out of stuff every 5 minutes! The concept art and blurb basically seems to be selling this as ‘the farmer’s market which comes straight to your door!’, and, you know, credit to them on nailing their target demographic here, but the reality is far more likely to be a Sinclair C5 wheezing up to your front door with a couple of sprouting potatoes rolling about in the footwell.
- Memento Memorials: I’ve said for years that when I die I want a bench in Vauxhall Gardens, ideally one with a plaque with my name and the legend “He hated it here” (preferably facing the crap model village, in case anyone reading this fancies being executor of my will); failing that, though, I wouldn’t mind one of these bespoke memorial urns. Memento Memorials create crafted urns for people’s ashes in a wide range of designs, some of which are genuinely wonderful (the ones for fans of The Big Lebowski are brilliant, for example). Obviously, though, this is, er, all about death, so, you know, all caveats apply.
- Don’t Be Numb: A nice website by the International Red Cross, asking users questions about their thoughts and feelings about what behaviours can ever be justified in a conflict; what’s interesting is how the site presents you with how your responses compare to those from people surveyed in varying locations around the world, and how this demonstrates how relative attitudes to certain questions are (particularly depending, unsurprisingly, on how close to an actual warzone respondents were); and which, conversely, are universal.
- Permanent Redirect: A slightly clever-clever art project which presents an online work whose url changes every time someone views it. The link here takes you to its original incarnation - if you want to see the artwork in question, you have to go through all the redirects to get to the most recent mirror, at which point the work will move to a whole new url. Or, alternatively, you can just use Google and see one of the screencaps people have posted online to save you the trouble, as it’s really not worth the hassle tbh. DEFINITELY something you can do with this, though, in terms of hidden messages and HYPEBUILDING and stuff like that, should you so fancy.
- Lysa: Lysa is a chatbot, currently in beta, designed to act as a health and diet ‘coach’; you tell Lysa what you’re eating, ask it questions about diet and calorie stuff, get advice on what and when you should consume, that sort of thing. It’s UK-based and built in conjunction with nutritionists and stuff, so might not be total crap - I’m slightly sceptical as to what this gains from being a chat interface rather than, say, a standard app, but perhaps one of you can try it out and explain it to me.
- All The Royal Warrants: A map featuring all the businesses which have the right to claim that they operate ‘by Royal appointment’, perfect should you want to spend the time between now and the latest set of nuptials by purchasing only products which have been endorsed by The Firm. Not sure whether they’ve gotten rid of Rigby and Pellar yet, but there are some very odd things on here; there’s a scaffolder in Swindon, ffs, who apparently gets to put the crest on their van, for example. Although “I AM USING THE QUEEN’S SCAFFOLDERS!” is such a beautifully crap piece of boasting I’m almost tempted to hire them for something.
- Soundstretcher: Do YOU have a sound? Would YOU like to manipulate that sound to stretch it by 20 times, or to speed it up by a factor of 70? GREAT! This is, as far as I can tell, mainly of use to people who want to create a really effective horror movie soundtrack from the comfort of their own desk; you can probably have some fun by downloading it and using it to make appalling, broken sounded choruses of legions of the damned calling out your colleagues’ names from the bowels of hell. Or, er, something like that.
- Mondo Mascots: A superb Twitter account (for which thanks Josh) which presents weird Japanese mascots - for example, “Fukkachan, the leek-antlered mascot of Fukaya City”. Why is Fukkachan leek-antlered? I have literally no idea, and to be honest I’d prefer not to know if that’s ok with you.
- The Great Ape Dictionary: This is lovely. I had no idea that St Andrew’s University was a hotbed of ape research, but this site does a good job explaining what it is that they do in terms of their work on decoding great ape gestural communication (which sounds like a GREAT job - yeah, ok, obviously it’s still A Job and therefore a bit crap, but answering ‘What did you do at work today?” with “Well, I had a chat with a bonobo about whether it prefers bananas to peanuts and how much it likes my hat” really does beat the everliving crap out of “Wrote a ‘deck’ about brand strategy for a payday lender and refreshed Reddit incessantly”). They are running an experiment that they need YOUR help with, to work out how good we are compared to apes at ‘kin-based facial recognition’ - go on, see if you can tell which of the chimps are related, it’s for a good cause.
- Mario AI: This is live at the time of writing, but apologies if you’re seeing this in the future and the link’s dead (or, a more distressing possibility, if the AI in question has gained sentience and has enslaved us all) - it’s a livestream of an AI teaching itself to play the first level of Super Mario Bros from first principles, and it’s honestly fascinating to watch as it gets incrementally better and better. It’s also, I have to confess, sort-of pleasing to see it fail over and over again, in a slight “Ha! YOU ARE STILL NOT THE BOSS OF ME, MACHINE!” way, although the fact that it is still learning whereas I am on the slow, entropic decline towards being wormfood and am frankly only getting more stupid should possibly pause my glee somewhat.
- Deckard’s VR Apartment: Would you like a free download of a 3d model of Deckard’s apartment from Blade Runner to wander around? Would you like to be able to do that whilst wearing a VR headset? GREAT! The detail here is fantastic; I do think that there’s going to be a breakout THING (don’t ask me for specifics, please) which nails the ‘VR in a contained environment’ mechanic, as there is so much you could potentially do with actually reasonably ‘small’ but detailed virtual worlds.
- Choose Your Own Adventure Maps: I’ve featured something a bit like this before, but this is a wonderful collection of ‘plot maps’ of Choose Your Own Adventure books - when I say ‘plot maps’, they’re visualisations of the ways in which the narratives branch and loop and intersect, which aren’t just interesting as pieces of dataviz but are also a really fascinating way of annotating a story, particularly a complex one; if you’re involved in telly, theatre, games or anything between those points with the word ‘interactive’ in it, this is potentially really interesting stuff.
- Find Your Art Selfie: The Google Arts & Culture App is not new, but it got updated just before Christmas to include the magical ability to upload a photo of yourself and have it throw back a bunch of portraits from art history which look JUST LIKE YOU. Feel free to make 2018 the year in which rather that posting pictures of your contoured duckface to Insta you instead replace them with a series of portraits of the Duchess of Devonshire (or whoever it is you’re told you resemble, I hope they’re attractive).
- Book Towns: Wonderful site that collects details and information about ‘Book Towns’ around the world - that is, towns which have a particularly high proportion of second-hand or antiquarian bookshops - and tells you where they are and how to get there and what is going on. There is quite a large part of me which would quite happily make this the basis for every single holiday I ever take again, which suggests that I will largely be holidaying alone until the point where I am crushed to death by my ever-growing book collection.
- Accent Guesser: Simultaneously a silly gimmick website which asks you to talk at it and then tries to guess whether you’re a yank or a brit, and a training device to train the machines to mimick us. You decide! Currently it’s pretty dreadful - I am WELL anglo and yet it was pretty ambivalent about my status - but give it a month or so and you’ll doubtless be presented with the resulting text-to-voice bot which will be able to switch between flawless Texan and crystal RP at the flick of a switch; give it two years and all customer service phonebots will be centrally written and localised with accent synthesisation. So it goes.
- The Photos Of 1968: It’s an oddity of the UK that, for all our fetishisation of the SWINGING 60s and the neverending appetite of the country’s media to exhume all the cultural relics of the age AGAIN (we never, ever need another celebration featuring miniskirts, Mary Quant and the fcuking Mini, ok?), we never actually had the same significant popular uprising and rebellion that was seen in many other parts of the world in 68. This is a selection of 50 photos which tell the story (or ‘a’ story) of 1968 across the world; many you will recognise, but they’re still awesome and a nice reminder that things were pretty colossal and jagged back then too and everyone survived. Well, not everyone, but you know what I mean. Maybe it’s all going to be ok!
- 24h London: An app which helps you find stuff to do in Late Night London - the recommendations may or may not be good, but if you want something which might make it marginally less likely that you’ll end up in one of those weird Spanish basement boozeholes in Soho at 4am drinking warm Estrella and doing derisory bumps off a key while you talk at a mid-level marketing executive about the novel you both in your hearts know neither of you will ever write then this might be of use.
THE SECTION WHICH CAN’T BELIEVE THAT THE PRESIDENT OF THE US HAS BASICALLY SLAGGED OFF VAUXHALL, THE CHIEF, PT.2:
- The Erased Rauschenberg: Do YOU remember the Million Dollar Homepage? OF COURSE YOU DO! This is that, but for ART! Artist Nikolas Bentel has bought an actual Rauschenberg canvas and is auctioning off space on it to anyone who would like their logo painted over it, with the eventual aim that the original painting will be covered in logos thereby obscuring the original work and, probably, making sort of grand statement about the commercialisation of the market unto the bargain. The cost of the ad space is just under $100 per square inch, so if anyone would like to club together with me to get the Imperica logo spaffed onto canvas for just under a grand then do let me know.
- 15 Second Horror Films: These are BRILLIANT. Apparently the 15-Second Horror Film competition is run by the people at Troma (home of The Toxic Avenger and Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, which is comfortably the worst film I have ever seen in my life) - this is the reel of this year’s winners and WOW are they good. Seriously impressive, and as a genre limitation it’s resulted in some really excellent work; the second one made me properly wince.
- The Train Driver’s View: Do you want a channel dedicated to presented train journeys through beautiful scenery in full, in HD? You may not think you do, but I promise you that this will make your life BETTER. Seriously, put this on the telly, whack on something piano-based and minimalist and a chunky sweater and ENJOY.
- Hot Kenobi: Nothing to do with sexy Star Wars, but instead an Instagram account featuring posed action figures doing...stuff. If you want to see toy action figures from Star Wars and the Avengers and the like all posed into action shots or just generally goofing around, this will amuse you; if you don’t, ONWARDS!
- The Eggshibit: Amazing this hasn’t been done already, frankly, but this is an Insta account which presents photos of fried eggs as art - the white’s obviously easily manipulated, so whoever runs this is basically using albumen as a drawing tool. Inevitably coming to an ad campaign near YOU in 3, 2, 1....
- Will It Casserole?: It’s winter, which means we all wax lyrical about how much we LOVE slow cooking whilst in fact just spending even more time than usual ordering carb-heavy takeaways and stagnating in sweatpants. If you DO fancy broadening your culinary horizons, check out this series of articles which test whether or not certain particular meals - not traditionally cooked as a stew - will function when casseroled. Obviously this is very, very silly, but as far as dumb food shows go it’s a reasonably entertaining one, and at least one of you will be motivated to create the steak dinner casserole for better or worse.
- Skiin: Smart underwear. This is ‘smart’ underwear. It’s marketed as being a general life tracking assistant, especially to help you monitor your sleep, but it is, let’s be clear, smart underwear. You want pants that tell the cloud the ph composition of your nightsweats? Good-oh! Fine, that’s a slight exaggeration, but the question ‘why exactly would I want my pants to be connected to the web?’ remains steadfastly unanswered. Beautifully, one of the undergarments’ features is apparently a ‘knitted strain gauge’ which is ostensibly designed to track breathing patterns but which I really hope is also being used to provide men with a morning graph of their nightly erectile performance while asleep. NOONE NEEDS INTERNET CONNECTED PANTS FFS.
- Dunk on Trump: Satisfying for approximately three minutes.
- Howard Lee: Howard Lee is a photorealistic painter - think Chuck Close for a comparison - whose Insta feed is a BRILLIANT collection of images and videos which show off the very trompe l’oeil effect of his work. This stuff is AMAZING.
- Artgasm: Over the past few years I’ve featured countless executions by brands involving them taking some data from somewhere and turning said data into something arty - whether it be Strava creating gorgeous maps from their users’ preferred routes, to jewellery whose design is predicated by interpretations of users’ social media data, we’ve seen so much (take a moment here to lapse into comfortable reminiscence with me here). Now, though, we can call the trend done - there is no way in hell we can top Artgasm, a project being presented at CES this year whereby data is collected from smart vibrators and used to create unique artworks. It’s by teledildonics peddlers Lioness, and the outputs are actually really rather cool; I reckon they could do rather well out of offering this as a service with prints, etc, for sale, although perhaps I’m slightly overestimating the number of people who’d want to adorn their walls with a canvas derived from a particularly good wank.
- Mr Lucas 1927: This is SO WONDERFUL. Exuse the copy & paste, but the description given by the project’s curator is perfect and so I’ll leave it here, but whatever you do PLEASE click this and read and subscribe to the updates, for it’s such a wonderful piece of social history: “Mr Lucas has been buying sex since the 1950s. An unremarkable man, he led a rather remarkable life. Born in 1927, he grew up in Clacton-on-Sea (no, really) and lived a quiet unassuming life as a civil servant in the department of trade and industry (I think he did something with roads, but that’ll become clearer as we go on). But, by dint of his sexuality, he also lived a very active life in the sleazy streets of 1960s Soho. That is, when he wasn't cottaging. Or paying Guardsmen for sex. Or pining for a normal life, settled in a relationship with his beloved Norman.
Three years ago, he died. There were just three of us at his funeral: myself, his legal guardian and the devious downstairs neighbour, attending only to feed her keen need to get her hands on the flat upstairs. Mr Lucas – never George – left me a bit of cash in his will, but more importantly, he left me his diaries. Oh god, his diaries. Millions upon millions of words. Everything detailed: his moods, movements (including those of his bowel) and the details of the rent-boys he bought - and the places where he went. It's a fascinating historical record; a pyscho-sexual guide to the gay scene, or what there was of it, in 1960s/70s/80s London. A guide to the homosexual underworld. 'Dilly boys, guardsmen and lots and lots and lots of unrequited lust (not everyone was tempted by the lure of Mr Lucas's money). So what to do with the diaries? There are simply too many of them for one person to read. I thought of starting a pervert's reading club, but - and thank you Stephen Foley and Rohit Jaggi for your ideas, which I'm gleefully stealing - the best plan is to pick a year. One year in the life of a lonely homosexual. One year in the life of a solitary civil servant. One year of paying for sex and bitching about friends in downbeat Soho bars. And this morning I plucked 1972 from the pile…” Amazing, wonderful, sad, human history, this HAS to be made into a film.
- Nootrodog: Do you have a dog? Do you worry, sometimes, as you’re walking it or patting it or trying to ignore the smell of its bowels, that it’s perhaps not quite fulfilling all of its canine potential, and that maybe it’s perhaps, well, lagging a bit, intellectually? Has your dog’s artistic or literary output been, well, a bit sub par of late? FEAR NOT! Get it on a course of Nootrodog - the Nootropics solution for dogs! Yes, that’s right, you can now buy SMART DRUGS for your pet - drugs designed to enhance neural performance, “increase your dog’s memory, promote mental clarity and strengthen overall cognitive health.” No more will Alan the Mastiff be mocked by other, more intellectually agile dogs - no, he’ll laugh at them wryly whilst doing the Guardian cryptic in minutes. WHAT THE ACTUAL FCUK THOUGH? I know dog people (oh, and cat people - let me tell you about the cat people…) are mental, yes, but would you be so mental that you would drop $300+ a year on clever pills for an animal that, let’s remember, often eats its own vomit? I’m just not all that sure that the maximal intellectual threshold that can be attained is that elevated, is all I’m saying, although I’ll obviously be forced to eat my words in two years’ time when Netflix commissions the first dog-penned series.
- Legalfling: Sexual contracts, ON THE BLOCKCHAIN! Yes, for it is the law that everything must be on the blockchain, so it came to pass that an app was developed which allows two people to enter into a defined, contractual agreement, recorded ON THE BLOCKCHAIN, which explicitly agrees consent, claims no knowledge of transmittable diseases, etc etc. Which, let’s be clear, is a depressing idea but not an awful one; it doesn’t, though, need the blockchain (it really doesn’t). The execution is flawed - it doesn’t allow for either party changing their mind post-signing, for example - and this sort of thing was pioneered by early-aughts webhorror Tucker Max back in the day, but this sort of thing is going to become a de facto part of hookups before too long I think, possibly built into something like Tinder.
- The Buzzfeed Trivia Motherlode: All of the Buzzfeed UK Trivia quizzes that now-ex Buzzfeeder Robin Edds has ever written. These are GREAT (and infuriating) and will absolutely take you the rest of the day to plough through.
- Rabbit: I can’t stress enough how...odd this is. Rabbit is a browser...game(?) in which you move the titular rabbit around a slightly abstract, slightly nightmareish, very confusing world, popping down rabbitholes and through doors and trying to find...well, I won’t spoil it for you, but give this a go, it’s properly weird and oddly atmospheric, despite the slightly garbage aesthetic.
- Surviv.io: Finally this week, the best timesink I expect to find all year. Surviv.io is a top-down browser game in which you’re dumped into an environment with a bunch of other players and have to try and make it to the end as the last person standing. Find guns, find ammo, hide, kill - it is BRILLIANT, simple, and fun, and there’s always a game happening. Seriously, find yourself a computer whose screen can’t be seen by your boss and switch this on for the afternoon, it’s ACE.
By Peng Wei
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Carly Raevolution Jepson: A largely inexplicable mashup of Communist tropes and Carly Rae Jepson fandom.
- Sunday Magazine: Probably not a Tumblr! Still, though, this is a lovely project - each Sunday, this page will present an article from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from exactly 100 years in the past; fascinating.
- The Timelines of Slang: I have featured a couple of these on Curios before, I think, but this Tumblr collects all the various timelines of slang words for various things - breasts, paying for sex, masturbation, etc - pulled together by Jonathon Green. If you don’t appreciate a website that lets you learn that the phrase ‘to milk oneself’ was first used as a euphemism for the sin of Onan in 1610 then, well, I don’t care for you.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- Doki Doki Literature Club: This is a somewhat unusual recommendation for Curios, but bear with me. Doki Doki Literature Club is a ‘game’ which you need to download - it’s free, though, or at least ‘pay what you want’ - and which takes the form of a Japanese-style visual novel, whereby a story plays out in front of you with text and images and occasional light interaction in the form of dialogue choices. To warn you, it’s typically Japanese cute and is set in a school and does feature stereotypically-styled anime schoolgirl characters (but, thankfully, not like that) - if you can get past that, though, it is honestly the scariest thing I have experienced in AGES. Seriously, it’s absolutely horrifying at points - I literally had my hand over my face for several minutes at one point. Which, I appreciate, perhaps isn’t the best recommendation, but this is an honestly superb piece of storytelling and does really interesting things with form and mechanics as you play through. If you’ve never tried a visual novel before, and if you can deal with the horror thing, do give this a go.
- I Started The Media Men List: Moira Donegan is the woman who last year started the viral ‘Shitty Media Men’ spreadsheet, calling out unacceptable behaviour by men in the US entertainment industry, which quickly went viral and became one of the defining stories of the first phase of the #metoo movement. In light of Harpers apparently threatening to out her, she scooped them by writing this which is an account of why she created the list, why she shared it, why it was important, and what it’s been like being somewhere near the heart of this whole horrorshow. Brave, strong writing.
- A Vintage Michael Wolff Burn: Regardless of your feelings about the Wolff book - necessary expose or crappy journalism, etc - you will probably enjoy this wonderful piece of schadenfreude from 2011, when Wolff was unceremoniously canned from his role as editor of Adweek. It’s fair to say that the author of the piece is...not a fan. There is some serious and high-quality shade being thrown all over the shop in here, and it’s a joyfully triumphal smackdown - we don’t see enough intensely, childishly bitter journalism tbh.
- Bitcoin Cloud Mining: This is a slightly techy but still largely accessible account of buying into Bitcoin cloud mining, how it works and what some of the potential implications could be - the piece’s author is a PR not a journalist and it sort of shows here (ooh, get me!), but it’s a really interesting look at some of the wider games at play around the current bitcoin bubble and a slightly chilling reminder of the fact that, as with most stuff like this, it’s people who are already really rich who are most likely to get even richer as a result of the mechanics at play.
- Bitcoin Games For Dummies: This week’s other Bitcoin piece, in which Tristan Cross talks about his own Bitcoin investment and how it’s basically ruined his life by trapping him in a neverending cycle of price checking and hope and fear where he can NEVER CASH OUT. I was in the pub on Wednesday evening with Fat Bob and there were a group of...er…’hard-drinking types’ in there, all of them comfortably over 50, discussing Bitcoin and their investments in it, which didn’t give me huge confidence in this not being a bubble. “It’s the fcuking algorithm, innit?” said one. Yes mate. Yes it is.
- Philosophy and Planning: An IMPERICA ORIGINAL now, as Friend of Curios Roberto Estreitinho writes about what lessons we can and should take from philosophy when thinking about social media, marketing, planning and the like. Roberto is a very clever man and writes an excellent weekly newsletter called Salmon Theory in which he discusses stuff at the intersection of philosophy and advermarketingpr each week; if this interests you, you could do worse than sign up here.
- Days Among The Dreadnoks: A short, personal essay on The Hairpin about the author’s memories of her childhood toys, and her childhood, and nostalgia and family and and and. I am a sucker for stuff like this, fine, but it’s a really well-constructed piece of short, elegiac writing.
- Shipping Explained: A truly excellent explainer for normies and the old (not that I would ever place YOU in either category!) as to what ‘shipping’ is, how it works, how it’s distinct from slash fiction, and how fandoms work in 2018. Hugely interesting jsut as a piece of cultural anthropology, but even moreso if you deal with any entertainment properties and want to understand why so many of your fans want to see your characters get naked and bone.
- Learning To Love Lagos: Fascinating portrayal of Chinese workers in Nigeria, Huawei employees working in the company’s African operation, and how they’re engaging with African culture; and how it’s engaging with them. It’s a far more sympathetic and nuanced piece compared to the ‘China is buying Africa wholesale’ narrative you often see (I mean, China sort of is buying Africa wholesale, but it’s a bit more complex than that), and made me think quite a lot about how the rest of this century is going to me influenced and characterised by relationships of power and influence that will be completely alien and unrelated to those that saw us clamber to the top of the global power pile over the course of the past 3-4 centuries.
- Instagays, Unfiltered: Ah, the gays of Instagram! The thirst traps, the muscles, the TINY, TINY PANTS! I am always slightly jealous of my male gay friends’ ability to bond with their partners over their mutual appreciation of a nicely sculpted torso on Insta - this piece interviews several prominent Instagays about the semiotics of gaystagram, and proves to be surprisingly revealing about the whys and downsides of being a thirsted after man-god. In TINY, TINY PANTS.
- Generating Inspirational Quotes with Markov Chains: Basically an explanation of how Markov chains work, and how they can be used to create autogenerating copy from a corpus. A bit technical, fine, but if you’re going to spend your time this year bandying about terms like ‘AI’ and ‘Machine Learning’ then you could probably do with knowing some stuff about how at least the basic things work.
- The Strange Brands In Your Instagram Feed: A fascinating guide to the new retail economy, describing how easy it is to set up a shop without ever needing to have any stock or a physical presence or indeed selling anything anyone might conceivably want to buy. One of the most revealing things you can read right now about how modern logistics and tech have affected markets.
- I, Tonya: An early contender for ‘Best Profile of 2018’, this interview with / profile of Tonya Harding, in the news due to the film adaptation of her life but, you’ll recall, originally famous for her (disputed) role in the attack on her ice skating rival Nancy Kerrigan back in the 90s, is a wonderful piece of writing. The best profiles paint pictures of their subjects as complex, rounded, flawed individuals, and this has that in spades - Harding’s an incredible, semi-Walter Mitty figure with an obviously fluid relationship with facts and a very clear idea of her own personal truth, but (the fabulously-named) Taffy Brodessor-Akner makes you feel not insignificant sympathy for her. Superb.
- Enough: A collection of shorts rather than a single piece, “Enough is a Rumpus series devoted to creating a dedicated space for essays, poetry, fiction, comics, and artwork by women and non-binary people that engage with rape culture, sexual assault, and domestic violence.” So, cheery stuff! If you can get over the bleakness of the subject matter there are at least three standout pieces of writing in here, the one by Susannah Nevison being my personal favourite.
- Child Bride: I got to the end of this and saw it was written by the guy who wrote ‘Big Fish’, which explained the fable-like nature of its telling. This, by Daniel Wallace, is all about an accepted family truth that he subsequently discovered may, or may not, have been somewhat….embellished by his mother. Or was it? And why? Another brilliant piece of writing in a week replete with them, I enjoyed this immensely.
- Why I Went To Japan: The author, a black gay man, talks of his experience visiting Japan and how otherness functions when one is always, has always been other, wherever one has ever been. Such a beautiful piece about personal identity, both given and constructed, and travel and belonging and and and. Glorious.
- Batali’s Cinnamon Buns: Disgraced US chef Mario Batali issued an apology over Christmas online for being a repeat-harasser. In a move that can only be characterised as a PR misstep, he also included a recipe for cinnamon buns with his apology (a spoonful of sugar/helps misogyny go down); this piece sees Geraldine DeReuter making the recipe and getting RIGHTEOUSLY angry as she does so. This is blisteringly good and you must ALL read it, it’s spectacularly great.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
- First up, Nina Conti in Therapy (thanks to Shardcore for the tip). I am immoderately in love with Nina Conti; this series of YouTube shorts, in which she has therapy sessions to discuss her relationship to Monkey, her puppet, is absolutely superb - funny and sad and, as the series goes on, increasingly really quite upsetting. There are six episodes and I highly recommend you watch them all.
5) UK...er...SOMETHING CORNER! I am sure that were I cool I could tell you what genre this was; seeing as I’m not, though, I’m going to coin my own. This is...POUNDLANDWAVE! I can’t quite describe this - I think it’s getting radio play now, which is mental - but it’s a bit like if White Town had come out in 2018, but instead of being a proto-anarchist Jyoti Mishra had instead been a bit of a sensitive sadlad with the beginnings of career in London Media. This should be terrible, but isn’t - expect to see this bloke being lauded by the Guardian by the end of the month. Say hello to Jimothy Lacoste; this is called ‘Future Bae’ (AND BYE I LOVE YOU BYE THANKS FOR READING BYE!):