Russia! Sexpests! Brexit! Mugabe! And that's just the past 6 hours I've been writing this damn thing. Web Curios may take a week off but the world certainly doesn't, as evidenced by the absolute tsunami of links about to engulf you.
I am tired, you are tired, we are ALL tired. As we limp towards the end of 2017, I can't be the only one whose general sense of 'well, that was the year that was' reflection that used to accompany the the imminence of December has been replaced by a sense of trepidation and a very real fear about how much worse it's all going to get in 2018.
God, it's good to have me back, isn't it?
Anyway, with no further ado let us smear ourselves with clunkily metaphorical honey, stretch ourselves out in the infoforest and await the ravening maws of the WEBSPAFF BEARS (no, I know that doesn't work at all, but seriously, I have been typing for literally hours and I am somewhat enervated) - THIS, AS EVER, IS WEB CURIOS!
By Jake Wood Evans
LET’S START THINGS OFF WITH THE LATEST IMPERICA MIX!
THE SECTION WHICH PROMISES TO RUSH THROUGH ALL THE STUFF ABOUT FACEBOOK, ETC, AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE AND GET TO THE ‘GOOD’ BITS WITH A MINIMUM OF PAIN AND FUSS AND WHINGING:
(NB - there is no discussion anywhere in Curios this week of the Christmas advert season, largely because it would not be possible for me to give less of a fcuk about it).
- Another Tweak To Newsfeed: You know what? THEY’RE BRINGING BACK ORGANIC REACH! Ahahahahaha only kidding, this is another ‘we’re tweaking Newsfeed to make sure YOU see more stuff YOU care about!’ update, which, as per, promises to prioritise content from those people you like, love and hatestalk whilst keeping the chaff out of your eyeline. The main notable update here is a degrading of ‘person you know commented or liked on article link or content X’, meaning baiting people into commenting on stuff for REACH isn’t going to fly so well any more. Facebook is usually pretty circumspect about how these updates fcuk brands, so it’s interesting to see the coda to this post read: “The impact of these changes on your page’s distribution will vary considerably depending on the composition of your audience and your posting activity. In some cases, post reach and referral traffic could potentially decline.” So, er BUY MORE ADS, YEAH?
- The Facebook Creator App: JUST LAUNCHED, this, on iOS only (Android ‘coming soon’); this is an app which offers a suite of tools (video editing, etc etc) designed specifically to assist people who CREATE on the Facebook platform. So expect to see slightly shinier and more impressive but just as moronic videos coming to your feed SOON - Kelco, in the unlikely event you’re reading this, GET ON IT, SON #YKTA.
- Embed Messenger On 3rd Party Sites: So this is a COMING SOON thing, and there’s actually not that much official news about it out there (that links to a Tweet, which is useless but there was NOTHING ELSE) other than this Marketing Week piece, but the upshot is that FB is going to allow brands to embed Messenger onto their sites to provide a SEAMLESS MULTI-PLATFORM CUSTOMER SERVICE EXPERIENCE or somesuch horror. It’s a good and useful idea, obviously, but does nothing to dampen the realisation that all that we’re going to see over the course of the next decade is the inexorable, grinding march towards Facebook’s total ubiquity (oh, ok, fine, and Google and Amazon too).
- Ads in Facebook Messenger Now Available to More Advertisers: Sponsored Messages - that is, the ability to send in-Messenger ads to users who’ve previously interacted with your Page on Messenger - are now being made available to ‘wider range’ of advertisers. Which is lovely.
- Send Money In Messenger: Launched in the UK the other week - I’ve not used it yet, despite having had cause to, as the person I needed to send money to isn’t on Facebook; Paul, I admire your stance but you really messed with my ‘reasearch’ there, fyi - this is a peer-to-peer payments mechanism for individual users to transfer money between each other. Were I the sort of person who sells drugs on the internet, which I am most definitely not, I would look at this and think ‘hm, there’s probably some reasonably useful functionality here which I could exploit’.
- Auto-split Testing Coming to FB: Really useful features, these - coming, er, ‘soon’ to Ad Manager is the ability to run parallel creatives and optimise ad buy based on which is performing better - to quote, ““When setting up a split test, you can choose to isolate a specific creative variable or test multiple creative variables. For example, you can test short videos vs. longer videos, compare headlines and calls to action and learn whether animations perform better than static images. As you continue to experiment and learn, creative split testing can help you identify best practices specific to your business to improve long-term campaign performance.” Which is useful.
- FB Launching Auto-Optimizing Ad Spend: The one good thing about Facebook’s continuing mission to turn every single person on the planet into an advertiser - PROMOTE YOUR CONTENT! - is that it will hopefully put an end to the parasitism of the media buyers. In this announcement, Facebook hammers another nail into the increasingly porcupine-like coffin of the ad-buying industry; rolling out ‘soon’, this new feature will basically let users allocate total spend to an ad set; Facebook will automatically direct funds from your budget to the best-performing ad units within a set. Useful and helpful and really bad news if your job involves managing someone else’s ad spend.
- Better Video Insights for FB: Look, I can’t be bothered - I’ve had to do 700 words on Facebook already and it’s only 7:21, so you can understand my reticence. Here: “[this update] will give publishers and creators more information about the top Pages that are re-sharing their videos. Available to all Pages globally, Highlighted Shares showcases the top five Pages that have re-shared a video, ranked by views. The video publisher will also be able to see associated insights from re-sharers, like post engagement and average watch time.” Exciting, isn’t it? No, no it’s not.
- Better International Targeting Tools: A few tweaks to existing features rather than wholesale updates, the interesting ones here are multi-country lookalike audiences, letting advertisers create lookalike audiences across multiple territories, and the ability to target users in cities - or combinations of cities across territories - above a certain size, making it much easier to do a lazy blanket FB campaign at ‘urban dwellers’ in any country on Earth.
- Updates To Travel Ads on FB: I don’t care.
- Some Update To Ads On Instant Articles: I don’t care.
- Instagram Lets You Upload Older Photos To Stories: Useful for those trapped in the Sisyphean grind of DAILY VIDEO CONTENT CREATION, but, again, I don’t care.
- Insta Trialling Letting Users Follow Hashtags: Still only a theoretical feature at the time of writing, this is, as far as I can tell, actually a potentially useful feature for brands and the sort of thing that if you’re an agency you can probably parlay into a few grand’s speculative ‘hashtag research’ work in advance of its rollout. For normal people, though, I imagine it’ll just be a way of getting all those thirsty pics into your feed with a little less hassle.
- Instagram Expands Branded Content Tool: You remember that Insta feature they introduced a few months back whereby selected ‘influencers’ were able to tag brands in their posts so as to officially denote that they were being paid to shill? Well it’s being expanded to MORE INFLUENCERS! You may notice from my tone that I don’t care about this either.
- Twitter Promote Goes LIVE!: So this is the thing they announced in August which lets Twitter users pay $99 a month to promote ‘some’ of their Tweets - it’s now live in the UK, but I direct you to my assessment of it from when it was launched which I reckon is still pretty much accurate: "Twitter's ability to ignore repeated requests for change from its users on issues like harrassment whilst simultaneously continuing to iterate other bits of the platform in ways which literally noone requested or wanted is quite impressive, really. Witness this, a new ad product which, er, LITERALLY NOONE DESIRES, which will let users pay a flat rate of $99 a month (yes, US-only at the moment) to promote...er...some of their posts (you don't get to choose which) to EITHER a rough geographical area OR an even rougher 'interest group'. Interest categories, beautifully, include 'Life Stages' and 'Hobbies and Interests'. I WOULD LIKE TO TARGET PEOPLE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN HOBBIES, TWITTER. NO, ALL HOBBIES ARE LARGELY THE SAME, THAT'S FINE, THANKS, HERE'S $1200 PER ANNUM. I mean, really, this is SO POINTLESS, especially given that promoting individual Tweets takes about 5 minutes and lets you at least do targeting by geography AND multiple interest categories. Rubbish." So there.
- Longer Twitter Usernames: Oh, and 280 characters, obvs, but you know that already. Anyway, the moment for brands to be able to do something fun and interesting and praiseworthy with the long name thing has probably passed, but completeness demands I include this one. So here it is.
- Twitter Testing OFFICIAL ‘Thread’-type Functionality: Testing, but still. WHO WANTS THIS? No, me neither.
- Snpachat Launches Tracking Pixel: Watching industry analysts tear poor old Snap a new one these past few weeks has been a bit dispiriting; give it a chance, eh lads? The numbers weren’t great the other week, and the proposed ‘redesign’ allegedly coming down the line doesn’t smack of a product that quite knows what it is, but still. One of the other announcements Snap made in the wake of the quarterlies was that it is going to introduce a Snap Pixel to allow for better conversion tracking and, eventually, remarketing. Just a brief reminder that this was exactly the sort of tech that lovely Evan Spiegel described as ‘creepy’ and ‘really annoying’ in an interview in 2015. Oh Evan!
- Snapchat Rolls Out Audience Manager 2.0: Basically better self-serve ad buying tools on Snap, which is useful. The filter bidding based on demographic data in particular is a useful addition, imho.
- Travel Oregon: The first of several links which I am late to as a result of having the temerity to take a day off last week and which as a result some or all of you may have seen in Whatley’s RIVAL Friday newsletter (if you’re in the market for another one, his is shorter and less angry, much like James himself). Anyway, this is a website for Travel Oregon designed to promote the hipster state to outsiders, and all built in the style of fanously brutal survivalist sim Oregon Trail. Really nicely done, and, whilst niche, the hipster retroism of the site and the game it references is probably a pretty decent fit for the sort of coffee-obsessive dullards who might want to visit.
- Gift Gucci: I’m throwing this in at the end here because it is perhaps my FAVOURITE piece of overblown retail webwork of the year. Click it, go on. LOOK IT IS RENDERED ENTIRELY IN HAND-PAINTED ART! LOOK AT THE POINTLESS ANIMATIONS! Seriously, this is SO luxe that it’s aimed at people who have the luxury of being able to do their online shopping on a platform which makes it near impossible to work out what it is that you might in fact be being sold. Everything on here takes you through to a shopping portal on the actual Gucci website, but if you can tell what all the pictures actually refer to then you’re a savvier shopper than I am. Please, can someone take it to the next logical level and commission a website where the UI is sculpted entirely from several tonnes of carrara marble? Great!
By Julie Cockburn
">NEXT UP, MUSICALLY-SPEAKING, HAVE AN EXCELLENT HOUSE MIX BY JOE MUGGS!
THE SECTION WHICH IS CURRENTLY WORKING ON A WEBSITE AND WHICH AS SUCH WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SAY THANKS TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHO EVERY WEEK MAKE THE STUFF THAT GOES IN CURIOS BECAUSE, WELL, FCUK ME, IT’S NO FUN IS IT, PT.1?
- How Generative Music Works: This is a lovely piece of webwork, and a really nice example of one way in which you can simply and coherently explain quite complex topics and make them FUN. This site takes you through a series of steps, with interactive examples, of what generative music is and how it works (you know, music produced by rules or sets of rules, the sort of thing Steve Reich and Brian Eno were pioneers at); the way it moves is, fine, a bit Prezi-ish, but the way it explains everything to you is lovely and is probably worth ripping off imho.
- Flotogram: I found this a couple of weeks ago and got SO excited; Flotogram is an AR photo app which, when you take a photo with it, places the photo in virtual space, locking it to its location in AR. Which makes little sense when I write it out, I realise, but which will make PERFECT sense when you click the link and watch the video. Aside from anything else, the first music video made using this is going to be wonderful - I think the creative applications here are really quite exciting.
- One Shared House: There was a Tweet that did the rounds this week as part of the regular set of screams about how awful everything is now (yes, I know, I am part of that cacophony, I am SORRY) which featured some startup or another boasting that they were ‘disrupting’ the housing market by inventing the concept of ‘shared living’; or, er, having housemates, as everyone has understood it for years. Anyway, this is sort of pertinent to that (why did I need to write all that? Jesus, it added nothing and was not particularly interesting and, Christ, look, I’m doing it again, STOP IT MATT!) - it’s a survey (but an interesting and really nicely-designed one) which asks you a bunch of questions about the sort of commune-type existence you’d be willing to put up with. It’s worth doing it - takes about 4 minutes, max - as the bit where you get to see other people’s results is genuinely fascinating.
- All Voices: This is yet to launch, but you can sign up to be notified when it does. It’s a really interesting idea - effectively a whistleblowing mechanic, much the same as the sort of ‘dead drop’ mechanisms employed by publishers in the past few years - which will work as follows: “With AllVoices anyone can anonymously report instances of harassment, discrimination, or bias (either witnessed or experienced firsthand) directly to their CEO and company board. AllVoices aggregates the reports by company and delivers the data to the CEO and board without any personally identifiable information.” Obviously this will stand and fall based on whether companies sign up to it, but it seems like a smart and sensible potential (partial) solution to the problem of dealing with people being objectionable penises in the workplace.
- Drip: Patreon, by Kickstarter. I mean, that’s basically it - it’s a new Kickstarter platform which works on the Patreon model - rather than a creator seeking a specific level of funding for a specific project, they can instead set up a regular program of payments from fans and supporters to keep them in ramen while they churn out the hentai. I mention the anime bongo only as there’s been a recent furore on Patreon about it effectively clamping down on adult content; will be interesting to see whether Kickstarter exploits that by making itself more filth-friendly. Anyway, if you’re of the opinion that your blog is worth paying for (AHAHAHAHA) then this might be of use (although if any of you are willing to pay a quid a month for this, please do let me know).
- The York Mediale 2018: What is York Mediale? “York Mediale is a unique festival bringing together leading digital artists from around the world. The biennial event will present a 10-day citywide celebration of exhibitions, installations, performances, workshops and more. Underpinned by year-round activity, the festival will support York’s growing cultural presence and nurture the next generation of talent. It will intrigue, inspire and challenge perceptions for everyone.” Great! This is the website for the festival, which seemingly just features a bunch of silly-yet-pleasing webtoys. Click around and see what happens! I love this - frivolous and pointless and fun.
- M-operator: You want a whole bunch of minimalist, free audio to download and use as you wish? You do? GREAT!
- Trump in One Word: Yes, fine, it’s about THAT MAN, but bear with me. I really like this idea and think it could probably be happily reapplied to something less awful; the site invites users to submit a single word that they thing best describes Donald Trump; it then shows you how many other people chose the same descriptor, and shows you the other words people have picked and how common they are. It blocks swears, but some creative spelling gets around that - if nothing else, this is an excellent chance to play your own game of Pointle...OH MY GOD LET’S MAKE A UNIVERSAL ONLINE GAME OF POINTLESS WITH THIS COME ON SOMEONE. Please, it would be GREAT. Anyway, scroll to the bottom and see all the words that only one person has so far used - it’s fascinating.
- Google Advanced Protection: Seeing as we’re ALL now being hacked by Russia, it would appear (and I know this isn’t an original observation, but “RUSSIA HACKED THE BREXIT VOTE!” is sort of a disingenuous position to take when you then look back over the previous year’s Eurohate-stoking tabloid headlines, but wevs), some of you might find this useful; Google’s launching its own SUPER PROTECTION, aimed at journalists, politicians and the like, which is an upgrade on its standard 2FA security protocols. You have to buy an encryption key - and at the moment it autosuggests buying from Amazon US, meaning it may not be rolled out to the UK yet - but then Google takes you through the steps needed to keep yourself safe from phishing attacks and the rest. Worth a look if you’re paranoid, especially if you have reason to be.
- The Aberdeen Bestiary: OLD MANUSCRIPT! “The Aberdeen Bestiary (Aberdeen University Library MS 24) is considered to be one of the best examples of its type due to its lavish and costly illuminations. The manuscript, written and illuminated in England around 1200, is of added interest since it contains notes, sketches and other evidence of the way it was designed and executed.” - this is a BRAND NEW website, presenting each page of the manuscript in hi-res, zoomable glory. Obviously it’s all in Latin, meaning your ability to understand this probably correlates pretty closely to the cost of your secondary education, but the pictures, oh my! If, like me, you’re a connoisseur of crap animals in historical art (I love me a crap lion, in particular), this is golden.
- The World Wealth and Income Database: Another in the occasional series of ‘websites which present stuff which is pretty dry and academic but whose interface and UX I find pleasing and which I therefore present here for your delight and amusement’. Lots of info here about world income inequality, which is about as cheering as you’d expect, but isn’t it nicely put together?
- Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017: This year’s shortlist of photos of animals looking really, really silly. My girlfriend, who spends a frankly preposterous amount of time staring at animal stuff on the web, tells me that not all of these are brand new; I am presuming that you, though, spend less time gazing rapt at shark and cat videos and so will be ENRAPTURED by the derpy critters on display. A special shout out to the clumsy owl, who were I the sort of dreadful person who said stuff like this I would probably call my ‘spirit animal’ (no, Christ, even writing that brings me out in hives).
- Craigslist Mirrors: An Instagram account which showcases images used by sellers on Craigslist who are selling mirrors, So, er, lots of photos of mirrors. There’s a weird art to a lot of these, seriously.
- Princeton and Slavery: This is fascinating, I think. US Ivy League University, Princeton, has (like other institutions of its ilk), a, er, problematic history when it comes to slavery; this site is its attempt to explain and own that history, Bringing together historical documents around slave auctions and the like held on its campus, alongside timelines and visualisations of events, and stories which explain the deep way in which Princeton was to an extent built on slavery, this is an impressive and comprehensive account of a difficult subject. Kudos to them for doing this; I can see this becoming a sort of blueprint for this stuff in the next few years.
- Aesthoplasm: Gorgeous black and white line-drawn gifs, a Twitter feed thereof.
- Mui: I have no interest AT ALL in smart home, IoT type stuff, at least not so that I would ever bother with it at home (though I was impressed by a friend who said that their house is set up so that if they say ‘Alexa: Showtime!’ the lights dim, Netflix comes on, the surround sound gets activated and a special behind-the-telly light rig kicks in giving cinema-style lowlights - this is possibly the most MAN thing I have ever heard, but is quite wonderfully geeky), but this almost makes it appealing. I’m unclear as to whether it’s a proof-of-concept or available, but anyway. Mui is a wooden interface bar for your home - it’s a simple design in...er...some wood or another, which acts as a minimalist way of displaying information through small embedded LEDs, and which also features motion sensors to enable gestural interface, meaning you can use it to change the lights, the temperature, and all the other things that you might want to do. It is BEAUTIFUL and very slick, but won’t prevent you being locked out of your house because the WiFi’s broken.
- Puzzles To Print: Do you have a nana? This is her new favourite website - MILLIONS of crosswords and wordsearches and stuff, all presented here in printable form. Seriously, spend the afternoon rinsing your employer’s A4 stock by printing out everything on this, and then get it nicely bound and give it to your gran at Christmas; your inheritance will be IN THE BAG, mate.
- 01Ghibli23: You will, of course, be aware of Studio Ghibli, animation house of anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki and creators of Spirited Away, Totoro and other classics of the genre. This is an Instagram account dedicated to recreating meals from Ghibli’s animes and posting photos of the resulting dishes - I am an absolute SUCKER for ‘food based on fictional food’ projects, and this is no exception.
- All Of The World’s Vinyl Shops: I have a feeling I have included this back in the H+K days - I know I occasionally mention this, but it staggers me even now that this...thing that you are reading started life as a weekly blog on the website of an international communications agency; what were they thinking? - but certainly not in the Imperica days; this is a map of ALL OF THE VINYL SHOPS IN THE WORLD. Well, maybe not all, but a goodly chunk; cratediggers, here’s how you can get your fix whilst on holiday.
- Bail Bloc:This is a brilliant idea and the sort of thing which charities ought to jump on. “When you download the app, a small part of your computer's unused processing power is redirected toward mining a popular cryptocurrency called Monero, which is secure, private, and untraceable. At the end of every month, we exchange the Monero for US dollars and donate the earnings to the Bronx Freedom Fundand through them, a new nation-wide initiative, The Bail Project. 100% of the currency your computer generates is used by the Bronx Freedom Fund to post bail for low-income people detained in New York effective immediately. Beginning in January 2018, funds will be routed to The Bail Project, which will over the next five years post bail for people detained in more than three dozen cities nation-wide.” Obviously will ruin your laptop’s battery and do chronic things to its energy consumption, but it’s all for a good cause; seriously, this is HUGELY replicable, it’s worth thinking on.
- Micd: This is a REALLY interesting idea. Micd is an app which lets anyone basically commentate on sport (or in fact anything, but it’s aimed at sports fans) and then let other people listen to the stream of their commentary; listeners can ask questions, interact with the show, participate in polls, etc, while up to 5 people can broadcast simultaneously through the app for that ‘Steve Wright Zoo Radio’ feel (wow, that dates me). I can see this being potentially huge for esports and the like, but if you’re a kid who wants to be a sports commentator then this is equally a great tool with which to practice and build an audience. Clever and (I think) has a lot of potential as an idea.
- The Illustrated Good Manners Guide: First published in 1855, this is a MINE of etiquette advice and still pretty relevant: “We have seen persons, quite estimable in some respects, putting on the eccentricity of ugliness; and acting with brusquerie and even brutality to get credit for frankness and honesty. But in these cases people seek to turn some deficit of temper into merit”. WELL QUITE.
- Emoji Star Trek: This ought to be in the videos section really, but it’s here more as an illustration of a fun thing you can do with an iPhone X; this is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, or at least 5 minutes of it, with Khan replaced by an animated emoji reading his lines. Which is sort of funny, and really impressive in terms of the mimicking of facial expressions - particularly when you realise that this was achieved simply by pointing the iPhone’s camera at the film playing on a screen. You realise what this means? You can literally point your iPhone at ANYONE on TV, record the audio and VWALLAH! They are a talking poo! I mean, I am sure that there are other applications for this, but this is going to make politicians’ lives even more hellish than before, isn’t it?
- GoFleye: A company making SAFE DRONES - the gimmick with these is that they are designed so as to keep all the spinning bits encased in a mesh cage, meaning they are safe for use in crowded or urban areas (I say ‘safe’ - whilst they won’t cut your face with their blades, I still wouldn’t want one to fall on me from a height. Still, if you’re looking for a kid-and-animal-friendly drone this could be of interest.
By Andrea Kowch
NEXT UP, ANOTHER SUPERB LOFI HIPHOP MIX BY THE INCREASINGLY PROLIFIC AKIRA THE DON!
THE SECTION WHICH IS CURRENTLY WORKING ON A WEBSITE AND WHICH AS SUCH WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SAY THANKS TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHO EVERY WEEK MAKE THE STUFF THAT GOES IN CURIOS BECAUSE, WELL, FCUK ME, IT’S NO FUN IS IT, PT.2?
- Makeapp: An app which applies a filter to photos to ‘remove makeup’, the only reason for the existence of which I can imagine is to allow men to see the ‘real woman’ behind photos on Tinder and the like, which is such a profoundly depressing thought that I am going to have to stop writing and do a bit of a sad for a moment.
- Twittris: The most interesting use of the 280-character limit I’ve so far seen, someone has built a Twitter bot which lets you (sort of) play Tetris with it. Tweet it with your instruction (move left, more right, rotate) and it will show you the state of the board after your move; it’s basically like “Twitch Plays Tetris” but on Twitter, and it’s SUCH a clever/silly/pointless little hack.
- Photos Of People Expressing Surprise At Screens: An absolute stock photography GOLDMINE, this. WHAT ARE THEY ALL LOOKING AT?!
- Beacon Relief: An initiative presenting prints by artists from around the world, all available for sale, with some of the proceeds going to disaster relief funds. Anyone can submit a design, and the prints ship internationally - they’re priced around $35, which is pretty reasonable (though obviously shipping to the UK will absolutely screw that), and some of the art is lovely; if you’re looking for a nice, ethical gift for someone or indeed yourself, this is perhaps a nice place to look.
- Diet Prada: If you’re into fashion you are probably all over this already; new to me this week, Diet Prada is an Insta account which points out the, ah, liberal inspiration, fashion houses occasionally take from past collections or shoots. I know it’s hardly news, but man the level of thievery here is impressive. GENIUS STEALS, eh kids?
- Blackout: Misaki Nakano is a graphic designer and web developer from Japan; this site is a showcase for some of his work, and features a few music visualisation tools which he’s built. The style here is lovely, not least the watercolouring of the landing page; give the man/woman/other some work, they are very talented.
- Blackwater: Seeing as you’re all enjoying Blue Planet II - did I mention I did an infinitesimally small amount of work on the social media stuff around it? Like, literally ONE THING? I DID! Basically it’s all down to me - here are some photos of OCEAN CRITTERS, taken at night. Stunning.
- Speechboard: This is really clever; Speechboard is yet to launch, but it will, so it claims, offer the ability to edit audio (they say podcasts because it’s 2017 and they need a defined market, but it could in fact be anything) simply by editing it as a document - so you could edit a podcast simply by cutting words out of its transcript. The example they have on the homepage is a bit janky, but the theory behond this is impressive and the applications vast - worth keeping an eye on, I think.
- Enhance Images: You know how on CSI they are MAGICALLY able to turn a 10dpi photo into a 300dpi photo using...er...some sort of software, and how anyone who works anywhere near digital always scoffs and says something annoying at that point about how, actually, that’s not really how digital photos and the manipulation thereof works, and the person who has to listen to them sighs a little and dies inside? Yes, yes you do. Anyway, this is a browser-based service which lets you do that very thing, using ,machine learning to determine what the photos is of and to sharpen it using MAGIC THINKING. Works surprisingly well on the few images I’ve tried, but will not enable you to magically zoom in 300x to any image to read what’s on people’s phones or the like. Sorry.
- Story Speaker: Part of Google’s suite of Voice Experiments, hacks playing with voice recognition in fun ways, this is SO impressive; you basically write a branching narrative, choose your own adventure-style story into a GDoc and this will turn it into a narrated interactive story which you can play through your Google Home speakers. As a fundamentally broken and empty shell of a human being I am never going to know the warm joy of having children, but I imagine that if you’re the sort of doting parent who writes stories for their kids then this is a whole WORLD of excitement and opportunity.
- ReScam: You’ll have seen this, I think - it’s been everywhere this past fortnight, and rightly so. ReScam is an AI that you can sic on spam emailers to get them embroiled in an endless 419-baiting loop of ridiculousness as payback for attempting to screw people over. It’s rather smart, using machine learning to develop rudimentary conversational ability in order to improve its ability to fool scam artists; I would like someone to develop a variant on this which targets software salespeople, whose tenacity is becoming frankly terrifying.
- Gamepee: FEMALE READERS OF CURIOS! Let me let you in on a MALE SECRET! Did you know that one of the oddities of being alive in 2017 is that there are occasionally rudimentary videogames installed in pub urinals, games that one can play by directing the stream of one’s urine in a particular direction? IS TRUE FACT! Anyway, this is the website of a company that makes those things - I am mainly including this because I think we should all agree to include one slide in every single pitch from now on which simply says ‘P1ss Activation’ and is about getting people to urinate over the potential client’s brand. DO IT DO IT DO IT.
- Amazon Lumberyard: I’m including this not because I think any actual game devs read this but instead because it illustrates another of the ways in which Amazon is, very smartly, LOCKING DOWN THE FUTURE. Lumberyard is a new game engine - that is, the code on which videogames are built which let you build gameworlds, do physics, that sort of thing - which Amazon owns and is making available to developers for ‘free’; they will have to pay for AWS hosting, fine, but otherwise the codebase is available for nothing. Factor in the integration with streaming service Twitch and you can see how Amazon is slowly and carefully building a setup where they own videogames too. Which is nice for Jeff, the Pillsbury-obsessed madman.
- The Museum of Online Museums: There is SO MUCH GOLD in here. I mean, look, without this I would never have learned of the existence of TOASTER CENTRAL. Fill your boots, kids.
- Music Mouse: This is superb; a little synthtoy which responds to the movements of your mouse across an X/Y axis and which, on its default setting, produces incredibly good modern classical-style piano sounds in the style of
- The Great Diary Project: “The Great Diary Project was launched in 2007 by two diary devotees, Dr Irving Finkel and Dr Polly North. The project rescues, archives and makes publicly available a growing collection of more than 7,500 diaries.” No YOU’RE a voyeur!
- Mitte: This week’s ‘wow, people really will back any old rubbish on Kickstarter’ entry is this - Mitte is a system which has raised over $200k to date so that people can have a little box in their house into which they can pour tap water. The box will, when fitted with MINERALISING CAPSULES, add trace mineral elements to said water, turning it into MINERAL WATER! The projected retail price of this box? 429 Euros. 429 euros, for a box to put tap water in; additional mineral capsules are priced at...oh, look, they don’t say! THIS IS FCUKING IDIOTIC TAP WATER ALREADY CONTAINS MINERALS! THIS IS NOT GOING TO IMPROVE YOUR ‘MENTAL COGNITION’ EVEN IF YOU BUY THE SPECIALLY BRANDED MINERAL CAPSULES! If you have backed this, I hate you and wish you nothing but ill. Oh, and of COURSE it’s connected to the fcuking web. Christ.
- Drake on Cake: Drake lyrics, on cakes. WHAT OF IT?
- The Charlatans: Another one Whatley got to first, damn him (the internet IS a race, it turns out), this is a GREAT site (mobile only) for 90s indie darlings The Charlatans (and I am listening to this as I type and it is GREAT) which presents users with a faux-phone homescreen when they log on and lets them navigate the band’s back catalogue, stream tracks, watch videos and generally wallow in retro-fandom. It’s a really clever piece of design, take a look.
- Hair Nah: I am, you may be aware, neither a woman nor a PoC; that said, I’m aware of the weird phenomenon that is white people seemingly thinking that it’s totally ok to touch black people’s (specifically women’s) hair without asking, in the same way that people seem to think it’s ok to touch pregnant women’s bellies (why is that?). Anyway, this is a nice little broswer game in which you get to SLAP AWAY the hands reaching for your weave - hugely satisfying, even as a white bloke.
- Sandcastles: Build some sandcastles. Needs Flash, but who cares when it’s this soothing (contains bonus shoreline noises for added zen).
- Insignificant Little Vermin: Last up in the miscellenia this week, this is an entry into the 2017 IF contest but is also an EXCELLENT update to the choose your own adventure genre; if you ever played Fighting Fantasy books this will be RIGHT up your street; an excellent way to pass 15 minutes.
By Ian Francis
FINALLY IN THE MIXES THIS WEEK, HAVE THIS PLAYLIST OF SOME OF THE BEST ALT/INDIE MUSIC OF THE YEAR BY DROWNEDINSOUND!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!
- Tumblr is DYING. Or at least so the dearth of exciting new ones would appear. I might have to switch this section out for Instagram accounts of the week. Did you know that the title for this - the ‘circus’ gag, I mean - was given to me by my little brother when he was alive? Clever kid, my brother. He died nearly two years ago - December 5th, to be precise - of a longstanding heart condition at the age of 21; just in case you’re reading this and fancy a bit of Christmas philanthropy, why not chuck a few quid at Great Ormond Street Hospital where he spent an awful lot of his very early life. You don’t have to, obviously, but in case you feel inclined, here’s a link. Thanks.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!
- The Proud Archivist: A few years ago, my friend Hector opened an venue on the canal in Haggerston here in London. I worked with him on the opening, and very much enjoyed seeing the venue get over its teething problems and become a success. Then his brothers basically set out to nick it and ruin his life. This is the story of what happened - it’s long, and convoluted, but if you could share it around it would be LOVELY, as poor Hector’s basically been bullied into penury by a criminal and I don’t think that’s ok. Seriously, read this, it’s MENTAL.
- All The Bad Comedy Men: Having added Louis CK to the list of ‘people whose work I liked whose work I can no longer in good conscience enjoy’, this piece is a miserable reminder of the prevalence of ‘troubling’ behaviour amongst male comedians, looking at Richard Pryor and others (David Cross? No!) whose unpleasantness has been overlooked because, well, y’know, they’re funny guys! Miserable, but what else would you expect? Oh, and one additional observation on this whole thing - who knew that ‘agressively w4nking at someone’ was a thing for SO MANY men? I mean, I had literally never even considered that as a thing someone might want to do - am I particularly vanilla here? Christ though.
- Obscure But Excellent Albums: A WONDERFUL Reddit thread in which users list their examples of “10/10 albums from obscure bands” - this is an absolute treasure trove of great recommendations which has led me to some excellent music this week, so check it out if you fancy a bit of a rummage through the obscure.
- The Year in Push Alerts: A look back at the 12 months since HE got elected, this is notable less for the content - it’s interesting, but nothing you might not have read elsewhere - and more for the design; watch as the year’s news is presented as a series of popup alerts, a design conceit which does a such a good job of showing the madness of The Year of the Donald, the breakneck pace of the mess of everything, that you’ll find yourself breaking out in a nervous sweat in sympathy.
- The Radioactive Boy Scout: The story of an American man who attempted to build an actual, working nuclear reactor in his back garden. No, really, that’s actually what he did. One of the 20th Century’s great eccentrics, you have to admire David Hahn - he was obviously a bit on the odd side, and his blatant disregard for the welfare of the DNA of his neighbours was a bit concerning, fine, but read this and tell me he’s not a hero: “Then, in a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Hahn posed as a high school science teacher, and “managed to engage the agency’s director of isotope production and distribution, Donald Erb, in a scientific discussion by mail,” Harper’s reported. “Erb offered David tips on isolating certain radioactive elements, provided a list of isotopes that can sustain a chain reaction, and imparted a piece of information that would soon prove to be vital to David’s plans: ‘Nothing produces neutrons … as well as beryllium’… David says the NRC also sent him pricing data and commercial sources for some of the radioactive wares he wanted to purchase, ostensibly for the benefit of his eager students.”” See?
- An Interview With Cambridge Analytica: Long, but worthwhile, transcript of a conversation between Mike Butcher of TechCrunch and the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, touching on elections, Russia, corruption, and Carol Cadwalladr. Won’t necessarily change your mind about any of this, and the guy comes across, weirdly, as a bit thick, but interesting to get their side of the story.
- Japan’s Fake Family Business: Thanks to the web and the fact that we now know everything about everyone and everywhere I’d sort of expected the ‘wow, isn’t Japan ODD?’ article to have died a death by now. NOPE! Japanese culture continues to baffle and fascinate and scare us in equal measure, as evidenced by this piece in the Atlantic which looks at businesses which provide a false family for people willing to pony up. Single but need a husband or wife to maintain face? No problem! Got a child who keeps asking about their dad, but don’t know who / where he is? Erm, rent a fake one! It’s the stories about the kids that are most upsetting here - this...this doesn’t really seem ok, when you’re lying to a child about the fact you’re their dad.
- The Baseball Catfish: An amazing tale of a teenage girl who posed as a middle-aged man for several years online to enable her to pursue her dream of writing about baseball. The kid in question maintained the charade in truly impressive fashion, inventing a family and talking about them in emails, even appearing on podcasts (did noone wonder about the voice though?), only to get unmasked when, well, things started to get weird (it is the web, after all). Truly odd, in classic catfish fashion.
- A Restaurant Ruined My Life: Everyone’s thought ‘oh, I could open a restaurant! I can cook! It would be so much fun!’. Read this and then think again - a pretty brutal telling of how a guy in Toronto thought it would be fun to open a place, and how so doing basically ruined his life. A very cautionary tale.
- What If China Makes First Contact?: A truly fascinating think piece, looking at Chinese culture and scifi and the idea that the nation with whom any alien life form makes first contact will potentially determine the future of our species in a pretty significant set of ways. This is all hung off the recent construction of the world’s largest satellite dish in remote China - the scale of the thing as described in the piece is another piece in the ‘we over here in the West really don’t matter that much any more, do we?’ jigsaw I’ve been mentally assembling this year.
- Being A Twitcher: Videogame streaming rather than birdwatching, but this is a really interesting look at the lives of various people who make a living streaming themselves playing games. I’ve linked to a similar writeup before, but this is more balanced, focusing on the increased professionalisation of the industry as well as just the slightly horrific and unhealthy workload it entails. I know it’s technically ‘just’ playing games, but this is HARD WORK. If you have teen kids who think it sounds like a reasonable career option, maybe make them read this and reconsider.
- Digital Ruins of Second Life: I know I seemingly include pieces about Second Life every 6 months or so, but I can’t help it - it’s fascinating to me. This is another lovely exploration of the people who call Second Life home; the way it’s become a safe space for so many people with disabilities and anxiety and the like is honestly heartwarming, and it also raises interesting questions about how improving technology is likely to lead us to reevaluate virtual worlds again as viable spaces for future interaction.
- At Home With Jon Jon: A profile of a man who is apparently the best surfer inthe world; notable mainly for the frankly hypnotically laid back quality of the profilee and indeed the prose, this is sort of the article equivalent of having a spliff in a hammock and then just gazing into space for 15 minutes (in the best possible way - it’s an excellent profile, promise).
- Decriminalisation: A Love Letter: This is a superb piece of writing, looking at the decriminalisation of drugs in Portugal in the 1990s, the attendant consequences, the ,mechanics...brilliantly put together, fantastic stories, fair and even handed...I mean, I like the idea of watching Christopher Biggins and Pam St Clement pulling a whitey as much as you do, but this is probably a more sensible and worthwhile addition to the drugs debate than that Gone To Pot show.
- Travels With My Daugher: A gorgeous and sad piece of writing, about a mother accompanying her daughter to pick up methadone as she attempts to come off heroin. The prose is beautiful - this is really such an excellent essay, though obviously a rather sad one.
- Harmonia: Last up in the longreads this week, please put aside your prejudices as I offer you a PIECE OF INTERACTIVE FICTION! Yes, I know, you don’t play ‘games’, but honestly, this is just superb. Wonderfully written and taking advantage of the medium in some genuinely novel and creative ways (I love the liner notes), this is a wonderful example of what you can do when you experiment with medium. Give it a go, please, I promise you’ll enjoy it.
By Michael Mapes
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
- This is a couple of months old, but I’d not seen it - I love this video SO MUCH. The track’s by Shamir, it’s called ‘90s Kids’ and YOU MAY FIND IT RELATABLE:
2) Next up, the new one from Pussy Riot. Are we worried that they are a covert Russian infliltration unit in the great culture wars? Ought we be? GOD I DON’T KNOW ANY MORE. Anyway, another excellent video and a particularly good tune, this - it’s called ‘Police State’:
3) This is ‘Blue Light’ by Kelela and it’s a great song but, mainly, I am mesmerised by her in this video. What an *incredible*-looking person:
4) This is called ‘Dig’ by Black Honey - the video’s a great little vignette of gangsters and molls, and I love the track; smokey and a bit loungey and a hell of a tune:
5) HIPHOP CORNER! This is ‘Scary Gary’ by Teardrop Estates and some others; the video, with the oilpaint animations, is lovely, but the track itself is just AWESOME plinky lofi excellence - seriously, give this one a listen:
6) Finally this week in the videos, this is GFOTY with ‘Poison Tongue’ and I don’t know what to make of it AT ALL. It’s...well, it’s obviously awful, but amazingly so, and the full-on gabber weirdness meltdown is quite the thing. Also, weirdly catchy chorus. Enjoy! AND BYE, HAPPY FRIDAY, TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER, I LOVE YOU, BYE!: