Web Curios 05/10/18
Were I a different type of writer, making an unsuccessful pitch for a scriptwriting gig on a mid-level Radio 4 topical comedy show, I’d probably open by making some poorly structured and slightly hackneyed gag about October’s arrival, noticing a chill in the air, and OH LOOK IT’S THE COLD WAR AGAIN.
Thankfully for all of you, I am not that sort of writer - it could reasonably be argued that I am in fact no sort of writer, but frankly it’s Friday, the sun is shining and I am in an EXCELLENT mood and so I am going to argue no such thing and I would be grateful if you could refrain from doing so as well.
Instead, sit ba...no, actually, fcuk that, this stuff DEMANDS your attention. LEAN FORWARD, get even closer to the screen, so close you can see the imperfections in the glass and the very warp and weft of the pixels, so close your entire field of vision is a blurry mess of graphically rendered ones and zeros - PAY MY LINKS THE ATTENTION THEY DESERVE. This is your Friday soma, your personal panacea, your bathysphere to the very deepest parts of the painfully filthy and polluted infocean that is the web - this, as ever, is Web Curios.
By Marta Blue
THE SECTION WHICH HALF-EXPECTS INSTAGRAM TO LAUNCH A ‘POKE’ FEATURE IN THE NOT-TOO-DISTANT FUTURE:
- Insta Launches Profile QR Codes: Except they’re not technically QR codes - still, they work in exactly the same way as the Snapchat feature they’re ‘inspired’ by, so we’re going to call them QR codes. All Insta accounts will now be associated with a scannable-in-app image which can be used as a shortcut for profile discovery and following (JUST LIKE ON SNAPCHATzzzzzzzzzzz), meaning you can now expect them to start cropping up on stickers and being slapped over surfaces left right and centre, as well as starting to appear on packaging, etc. Frankly I’m surprised this has taken so long. The other update buried within this is less interesting to brands, and is US-only in any case, but is generally indicative of the Facebookisation (yes, fine, I’m sorry) of Instagram - it will allow users to specify the University that users are at or are going to in order to ‘foster a sense of community and friendship’ between students, and, by allowing users to access a list of all those other users also at their educational institution, some inevitable thirst-stalking. Small issue here - there’s no suggestion that you’ll need to provide any sort of proof whatsoever that you are in fact an alumnus of any particular College, which, well, makes it a pretty decent tool for creeping on students, no? Am I just scaremongering? What do YOU think?
- Facebook Launches Premiereres and Polls for Video: This is useful, particularly if you work in entertainment - Premiere is a content unit which...oh, here you go: “You can schedule a Premiere a week in advance. This creates a post about an upcoming video and a place you can point fans to. They can express interest, interact with each other, request an event reminder, and share with others all before the video premieres. The announcement post then seamlessly turns into the Premiere at the time of its debut, and then into a regular on-demand video when the Premiere ends” Which should all be fairly self-explanatory and obvious in terms of the benefits, so I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining them to you. Other new things announced in this update is the rollout of Polls as a Live Video feature to all - LIVE INTERACTIVE FEEDBACK, KIDS! - as well as the introduction of ‘Top Fan’ badges for Pages, through which a Page’s most engaged fans can be identified and...er...given a virtual badge that marks them down as an obsessive with far too much time on their hands. Great!
- Facebook Messenger Offers ‘Personas’ For Bots: This is...weird, and under-explained, but you will now be able to develop Messenger bots which can switch between ‘personas’ mid-chat; that is, they can ‘hand over’ the customer service experience between different ‘personalities’ within a single interaction. So, for example, you might start chatting to a generic customer service bot, which mid-interaction might hand you over to a named bot which is still a bot as you move to another part of the consumer journey. This is, now I think about it, actually very smart indeed, though Christ alone knows what the takeup will be given we’ve all decided that bots are a very 2016 solution. There are a few more updates in here, including better WordPress integration, but I’ve just persuaded myself that none of you care about this meaning I no longer do either.
- Some Marketplace Updates: No brand relevance whatsoever, or at least not that I can see, but FB Marketplace will now use ‘AI’ to identify what type of tat you’re flogging from the photo you upload and to categorise and tag it for you appropriately, thereby saving precious seconds from the experience and freeing you up to...er...do more of whatever people who flog stuff on Facebook Marketplace do
- Better Anti-Bullying On Facebook: These are all good features, and are being introduced not before time - specifically, the ability to hide and delete multiple comments from your Facebook posts is useful, and the fact that they are investigating the ability to apply a degree of automoderation and filtering to comments on one’s posts seems sensible. This doesn’t, however, mean that you ought to go back to posting long, divisive screeds about Brexit - yes, I mean YOU.
- Adverts Coming to WhatsApp on iOS: Ok, FINE, this is just speculation, but it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise. Reports suggest that these ads will be added to the ‘Stories’ function of WhatsApp (you know, the Status thing that noone you know actually uses), drawing targeting data either from anonymised conversation info or from your linked Facebook profile. Tell you what, targeting by emoji on WhatsApp could be honestly brilliant - you could absolutely clean up by targeting Fiat 500-type brands at anyone who overindexes on the cry/laugh emoji, for one.
- The Future of Snap: Well, sort-of. Last month Evan Spiegel wrote a memo to Snap staff about the company’s roadmap for the next few years; inevitably it leaked. This TechCrunch writeup summarises it neatly, and highlights some of the main takeaways - the ones I found most interesting were the increased focused on Snapchat as a peer-to-peer messaging service rather than a ‘social network’ per se (Spiegel suggests he feels it’s been miscategorised as such, which feels about right), and the suggestion that they’re going to keep cracking on with commissioning original content for Discover which, well, is good news for production companies and media brands but, as someone who has tried for professional reasons to ‘engage’ with Discover content, is fcuking miserable for anyone who has to watch it. I’m still personally convinced that Snap will be an AR/tech layer rather than a standalone platform in 5 years, but then again I’m just a no-mark webmong so on reflection perhaps just ignore me.
- Updates To Twitter Security/Integrity Stuff: A few reasonably minor updates to Twitter policy - the most interesting ones are those relating to what defines a fake account, which definition has been updated to accounts using stolen or stock images as their avatars, or misleading info in their bios. Slightly confused as to what the exact parameters of this are going to be, but I’m sure Twitter’s enforcement of stuff like this (and it’s equally ambiguous ‘spreading of hacked materials’ red flag too, come to think of it) will be consistent and utterly clear!
- Some New YouTube Ad Stuff: I’m sorry, I can’t be bothered to write this up, it’s tedious and not universally rolled out yet. Here you go: “YouTube is expanding the ways advertisers can connect with their audience, thanks to an expansion to its TrueView in-stream ad format that will now push viewers to take actions when viewing ads beyond just a click. The company was already testing extensions that let advertisers add location elements or forms to their ads — to get viewers to sign up for a service or learn more via email. Chili’s tested this to grow its loyalty program sign-ups, for example. Now, YouTube will add more extensions that let advertisers push other actions, like app downloads, travel booking or buying movie tickets.” Happy? No, I didn’t think so.
- Google Piloting Game Streaming Through Chrome: Absolutely no connection to advermarketingpr here at all, aside from the obvious videogames angle, but it’s stunningly impressive. Google is trialing the ability to play a streamed version of the new Assassin’s Creed game through Chrome - that is, the idea is that you will eventually be able to play a bunch of AAA titles through your browser, which is MENTAL. The prototype/test is only available to a limited number of users in the US, so you’d have to VPN your way to it if you’re elsewhere, but it might be interesting to see how / if it works.
- Shift Strategies: You know the old Brian Eno creative technique Oblique Strategies - those cards designed to break you out of creative ruts and break your thought patterns to help you have better ideas? Of course you do! You’re all advermarketingprcunts! Based on that principle, Shift Strategies is a series of talks from conferences and events over the past few years, each of which can either be drawn at random or explored at one’s leisure, with the idea being that each has the opportunity to take your thinking in a lateral direction and break you out of a creative rut. Potentially useful, and, regardless, there are some genuinely interesting presentations in here.
- Brand Makes Self Aware Joke: Irony, brands and Twitter, in a one-minute video. Funny and then really not very funny at all.
THE SECTION WHICH WAS TRYING TO WORK OUT WHETHER IT WOULD PREFER THE RUSSIANS OR THE CHINESE TO BE HACKING US BEFORE IT REALISED THAT LIKE FCUK IS IT A BINARY CHOICE, PT.1:
- The Hall of Rarities and Curiosities: Were I being absolutely taxonomically exact I would have featured this above, as technically it’s a piece of promo for some pharma company, but it’s too odd to waste in the section about s*c**l m*d** which I know noone really likes reading at all. The Hall of Rarities and Curiosities is a riff on Hieronymous Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ in which, er, you can explore different types of VD through the medium of a navigable 3d landscape! I have literally no idea AT ALL how this got signed off, but I would like to shake the person who pitched this warmly by the hand in appreciation. Also ALL THE POINTS for the fact that the url for the section about gonorrhoea has the slug #clap.
- AR Lyrics: Whilst it’s good that there’s been a spate of AR fun apps this year, designed to help us all pimp our Stories and live the best creative lives we can (CAN WE STOP CALLING THE MERE ACT OF TAKING A PHOTO AND CALLING IT A ‘STORY’ CREATIVITY, PLEASE?), I do slightly look forward to the time when they will all be baked into one suite of tools rather than requiring 300 separate pieces of software to activate (see, this is how monopolies happen - we will them into existence with our (fine, my) appalling laziness). Anyway, this is a silly/fun toy which works by identifying any music that’s playing while the app is open and then superimposing the lyrics to said music onto whatever’s in shot, with you the user able to move it around so it’s hilariously coming out of, I don’t know, your sleeping gran, or a dog’s bottom or something. The potential to create really, really mean stuff with this is huge, but hopefully you’re thinking less cruelly than I am. You’re better than me, aren’t you? Please be better.
- Inrupt: So this very much scratches at the limits of my ability to understand / explain stuff, for which apologies in advance - you may have heard this week that Tim ‘Father Of The Web, Progenitor Of All Our Modern Sorrows’ Berners-Lee has invented a NEW TYPE OF INTERNET; this is it. Inrupt is the first iteration of the decentralised web, a concept Berners-Lee has been discussing for a few years now and which is built on a platform called ‘Solid’ - “With Solid you have unprecedented control of your data. Create, manage and secure your own personal online data store (POD). You decide who accesses it.” What this effectively means is that rather than handing over data to third parties you instead keep it yourself and grant third parties access to it on a case-by-case basis; as far as I understand it, like a massive permissions list for the whole of the web. Which makes total sense from a user point of view - imagine if rather than having to hand over 9 pieces of information (plus the rest, what with trackers etc) each time you went to a website you were simply presented with a list of on/off sliders in a sidebar with a series of data requests from the website which you could choose to accede to entirely, partially or not at all. To be clear, I’m not 100% certain that that’s how this would work, it’s just what I’ve managed to cobble together from the frankly less-than-crystal-clear online materials available. This is a slightly more serious exploration of the platform/tech, though I can’t guarantee you’ll be any less confused after reading this. Sorry. It’s very early, though.
- IRL Glasses: You’ve all read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, right? You all remember the JuJanta Peril Sensitive Sunglasses that Zaphod wears in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, glasses designed so that at the slightest hint of danger turn entirely black, thereby blocking your view of any threats and so calming you right down? No? WHY DO YOU NOT REMEMBER THE SAME USELESS TRIVIA AS I DO? FFS. Anyway, this is a Kickstarter which is fully funded with a month to go, and which does a slightly similar thing - except for ‘peril’ read ‘screens’ (except those are obviously synonyms amiritekids?). These sunglasses are polarized in such a manner that screens seen through them will appear as simple, black surfaces - meaning you’ll be spared the rolling news tickers and the talking heads and the video ads and oh god now I type it all out it feels SO BLISSFULLY UTOPIAN. I’m in the market for a pair of sunglasses, as it happens (I managed to forget I was wearing them on holiday and lost them by diving off a boat with them still on my face, which is why I had never previously and will never again spend more than £20 on a pair), so if you see me next year stumbling blindly around Currys then you’ll know why.
- Engineered Arts: I’ stumbled across this company’s website this week and got lost for about 15 minutes in the INCREDIBLE photos and videos of the different robots they make - based in Cornwall (which, and I know this is patronising and I am sorry, made me SO HAPPY - one doesn’t, in the main, associate the proud nation of Cernow with cutting-edge robotics), Engineered Arts make a variety of different automata, from their ‘RoboSapien’ which is designed for interaction and performance, to their ‘Mesmer’ range, which are more on the lifelike/humanoid end of the design spectrum. Honestly, having seen these I now want to commission one - can we do a whipround? I want to do some sort of allegorical modern web Prometheus thing with a robot eagle representing the internet eating all our emotional viscera every day. This...this may be the worst idea I have ever committed to digital paper, sorry.
- A Thread Of Odd Tumblr Posts: I will never stop finding these occasional wrapups of Tumblr culture oddities funny. Honestly, I just did a proper cry-laugh when opening the link - if you want to be pseudy about it (and I do, dear reader, I always do!) then these serve as quite a nice primer to the register (you know, detached/ironic/sincere/absurd) that is the prevailing tonal trend on the written web right now.
- Bad Books For Bad People: This is so, so up my street - a podcast which, each episode, takes a ‘bad’ book and deconstructs it to within an inch of its life. What sort of books do they do? Cult, pulp, alt and outsider, in the main - basically this gives you an excellent way of learning about the sort of novels that would get you some perturbed looks were you to try and read them on the tube. You may scoff - you may think Londoners are a cosmopolitan bunch and wouldn’t bat an eyelid, and based on the number of people I’ve seen quite openly watching porn of a morning, you may be right - but I challenge any of you to read a paperback copy of “Ass Goblins of Auschwitz” on the District Line and not get a few raised eyebrows.
- Lowtech’s Solar Website: A gimmick, but a lovely gimmick. Low Tech Magazine, as the name suggests, is a publication dedicated to challenging the prevailing wisdom of tech solutionism - in their words, “Low-tech Magazine questions the belief in technological progress, and highlights the potential of past knowledge and technologies for designing a sustainable society.” Anyway, they’ve just relaunched their website and, per their philosophy, made it solar powered which is SUCH a neat idea and, I imagine, VERY stealable for the right brand. IN FACT - hang on, this is a good one - you could do this next Summer for the right icecream/booze brand; set up a website which will only be live when the temperature hits X degrees, or it’s banked Y hours of continuous sun, and get the website to throw out a new time-limited discount code each time it goes live. DO IT.
- Virus Explorer: A website where you can look at and explore the shapes and characteristics of various viruses. WHAT COULD BE MORE FUN THAN LOOKING AT VIRUSES? Ebola, I have discovered, is an ugly and frightening and MASSIVE thing, and made me feel...unpleasant when looking at it. ENJOY!
- Basis: Basis is an app designed to connect its users with...well, it’s quite hard to work out exactly what the people it offers do, but let’s try. It’s not therapy - these people are not trained counsellors, they’re not medical professionals, they’re not religious leaders - so perhaps it’s more...life coaching? Anyway, the idea is that if you’re struggling with something personal or professional, you can use the Basis app to get put in touch with someone who’ll, er, talk to you for 45 minutes for $35. Anyone can apply to be a ‘specialist’ (SPECIALIST IN WHAT??), and training is all delivered through a bunch of online modules and then some person-to-person assessment over Skype, and then you too could earn...what, about $8 an hour for listening to some stranger bore on about their middle-class problems for 45 minutes? That sounds TERRIBLE. Factor in the fact that one of the people behind this is ex-Goldman and ex-Uber and this all stinks terribly of ‘former evil techbro has crisis of conscience but still, fundamentally, no actual soul to speak of’.
- Old School Rave Flyers From North America: Literally that! It’s quite interesting to contrast the style of these with that which was prevalent in Europe around the same time (it feels like we were a lot slicker by the time 2000 rolled around, whereas these still very much have an early/mid-90s vibe to them imho), but this also serves as a pretty decent repository of oldschool design tropes.
- Relike: You know, writing a newsletter is hard (it’s not hard) and time-consuming (it is, however, definitely time consuming) and if there were a way of automating the process somewhat it would potentially make things a whole lot easier (you think this could be automated?). Enter ‘Relike’, a service which takes links you post to Facebook and rolls them up into a newsletter format - if you use Facebook as a sort of ‘hey, here’s an interesting thing I found which you might be interested in!’ repository (I know literally one person who does this - hi Ed! - but there may be others) then this could be useful to you. Otherwise, though, you could THRILL your friends and family by sending them a weekly roundup of all your Facebook posts as a newsletter ‘just to make sure you don’t miss anything!’. Actually, this is a SPECTACULAR troll and I think you ought to do it. Go on.
- Traveler: On the one hand, this is a not-terrible idea; a laptop designed purely for writing, and which features no ‘distractions’ - no browser, no apps, no email, just the ability to sync with Dropbox and a few other cloud services for storage, meaning that in theory you can just sit and WRITE. On the other hand, they want to sell this for $600, which seems like a fcuk of a lot of cash for something which can also be achieved by, I don’t know, turning off your fcuking WiFi, or buying an electronic typewriter for £50. OR, and I know that this is a radical idea but bear with me, exercising some fcuking self-control you weak, pathetic, webjunky (pottle? I have NO IDEA what you mean).
- Artup: A bit like The Dots, this, insofar as I can tell, Artup is a site which seeks to act as an online directory of people in the arts (models, photographers, designers and stylists, in the main, so perhaps more fashion) and enable them to host portfolios, personal details and work history to create a sort of LinkedIn for the ‘cool’ crowd. No word on whether it will create its own Gary Vee, but one can but hope.
- One Room With A View: Are YOU into films? Would YOU like a whole website dedicated to essays and features about films? OH GOOD! This is US-focused, but seems to have a bit more breadth in terms of its interests and perspective than is perhaps found on more mainstream film sites.
- Wolfenoot: There’s a bit of a gap between Bonfire Night and Christmas, isn’t there? Wouldn’t it be good if there were another celebration sandwiched inbetween the two, ideally a celebration of, er, wolves and meat. WELL NOW THERE IS! Adorably, Wolfenoot is an idea conceived by a kid in New Zealand and whose parent posted the following on Twitter: “My son has invented a holiday called Wolfenoot. It is when the Spirit of the Wolf brings and hides small gifts around the house for everyone. People who have, have had, or are kind to dogs get better gifts than anyone else. You eat roast meat (because wolves eat meat) and cake decorated like a full moon. A holiday to the spirit of wolves that celebrates people who are kind to dogs? I can 100% get behind this. So we will be celebrating Wolfenoot. It’s on the 23rd November if anyone else is moved to celebrate it.” People, it turns out, very much were motivated to join in, and so Wolfenoot now has its own (small) website, an FAQ, and, quite probably, at least one brand trying to work out how it can coopt a harmless and wholesome piece of internet whimsy for short-term kudos and commercial gain. Maybe that could be your brand? Please, please don’t make it your brand. Web Curios will, if it remembers, be celebrating Wolfenoot in suitable fashion, seeing as it falls on a Friday.
THE SECTION WHICH WAS TRYING TO WORK OUT WHETHER IT WOULD PREFER THE RUSSIANS OR THE CHINESE TO BE HACKING US BEFORE IT REALISED THAT LIKE FCUK IS IT A BINARY CHOICE, PT.2:
- Soundprint: This is an excellent app idea; Soundprint’s aim is to help map places that have particularly good - and bad - acoustics, to help those who are hard of hearing avoid spots where they’ll struggle to...er...hear. Especially useful for restaurants, not least in London where the past 10 years’ trend for distressed brickwork and hard surfaces means that the ambient soundscape of most eateries is often ‘industrial hellscape as imagined by Lou Reed’.
- Flipd: Apps designed to stop you being distracted by your phone are not a new thing; Flipd’s gimmick is that it doesn’t (necessarily) lock you out of your device, or stop you from using your phone, it just asks that you do - you set yourself downtime goals per day, which the app tracks in the background, rewarding (or chastising) you with messages and badges and stuff the better you do at meeting your self-imposed targets. Which, you know, might well be a useful thing for you; the testimanials on the site are a touch heartrending, though, not least the one from a kid who’s quoted as saying ‘Flipd gives me permission not to be on my phone’ which is SO bleak I think I might have to move on from this entry before I get the absolute miseryfear.
- No Context Mugen: A Twitter feed which posts gifs from random videogame fighting platform Mugen (for those of you unaware, “M.U.G.E.N is a freeware 2D fighting game engine designed by Elecbyte. Content is created by the community, and thousands of fighters, both original and from popular fiction, have been created”, and it’s what Saltybet (remember that? Christ) was built on) - so if you want to occasionally see a clip of a gigantic Tiger Woods face facing off against Chun Li then, well, this is for you.
- The Kid Should See This: This is a GREAT site, full of cool videos of interesting stuff aimed at children of all ages. From science to space to food to nature to history, there are over 4,000 videos here and they’ve all been curated by an actual person, meaning there should in theory be no YouTube-style oddities in the follow-on content. Honestly, if you have kids of 6+ and they’re curious and not totally fcuked by a steady diet of Jonny Jonny Yes Papa then this could be PERFECT for them.
- Instalist: Long-term readers will be aware I have something of a...problem with the creep of curated travel experiences online, and the increasing homogenisation of the travel experience that has resulted (EVERYONE MUST GET THIS ONE ICONIC SHOT FOR THE GRAM! EVERYONE MUST DRINK THIS ONE ICONIC COCKTAIL FOR THE GRAM!) - Instalist is basically the apogee of this trend, and my note for it simply read ‘cuntyholidays’. This site promises to help you ‘discover the most Instagrammable places around the world’, which, well, is HORRID, isn’t it? Let’s reduce the magical discoveries one can make through travel to a series of photo opportunities whose only value is contained in the temporary endorphin hit I’ll get from the resulting likes! NO LET US NOT. There’s GOT to be a backlash to this whole thing which you can leverage if you’re an advermarketingprdrone, now?
- The Conversation Project: A project which seeks to help people have better - in fact, any - conversations about death and end of life care, which can only be A Good Thing; I’m increasingly of the opinion that, along with a standard Will, it would be a good idea to normalise the practise of setting out how you’d want to be dealt with in the event of dementia or debilitating illness, etc - I’m off to write my ‘send me to Switzerland’ notes now.
- Space Opera Cover Maker: A website that lets you generate your very own cover for an imagine Space Opera novel - sadly it doesn’t give you the opportunity to add a title and author, but feel free to imagine your very own grandiose combinations. The aesthetic of these is absolutely spot on; if you remember the heyday of this sort of design, it will be weirdly nostalgic.
- Mere: Another app which is seemingly designed to suck literally ALL of the joy from the experience of travelling and which acts to reduce the pleasure of mooching around a city to a series of nagging tasks which you MUST complete - GREAT! Mere presents a series of lists of stuff to do in a variety of cities around Europe (pleasingly it’s a more esoteric selection than usual - no London, but if you ever want to get to know Suzal then MAN does this have you covered), each downloadable as an app - the gimmick here is that all these things are presented as a ‘to do’ list, which you can tick off as you go. HOW JOYLESS. “How was your holiday?” “I COMPLETED SEVEN LISTS OF THINGS TO DO IT WAS GREAT”. No. Please, no.
- Labo + LEGO: You remember Nintendo Labo, right? It’s the cardboard+software stuff for the Nintendo Switch that turns the console into a maker-type toy, letting you do all sorts of fun craft-type things with the machine. This video’s an exploration of some of the ways you can integrate the kit with LEGO - it does a far better job of explaining what the point of Labo is than my clunky prose does, and if you don’t look at this and want to play with it then you are a stronger and more mature person than I am.
- Indigenous Lands: A Paraguayan project, all in Spanish, which is working to map the claims of indigenous peoples to the country’s forests; the idea is that this serves both as a tool for companies and the government to help them act with sensitivity to the territorial claims of various tribes, but also for said indigenous peoples to make legal claims against anyone attempting to fcuk them. A wonderful example of a clever civic use of simple tech - you can read a proper account of the project here, if you so desire.
- The Dog Show: Some EXCELLENT pictures of dogs. Literally nothing else to say here, but, you know, DOGS.
- The Underwater Photography Awards 2018: Scuba Magazine’s annual celebration of excellent underwater photography returns for 2018 and WOW these are some handsome fish.
- Bad Unreleased Videogames: “Post screenshots or gifs of the bad unreleased videogames that are sitting on your hard drive”, write Twitter user @moshboy, and boy did people oblige. Some of the ideas contained in these gifs are AMAZING and could happily be spun out into actual games imho.
- Eyes: A collection of animated gifs of pencil drawings of eyes. These are rather beautiful and a touch hypnotic.
- The Harvard World Map of History: This is ACE; Harvard’s World History curriculum is supported by this interactive map, which visualises much of the material covered in the course; there’s a wealth of stuff that you can do on this, layering over historical or economic information for comparative investigation; the best bit as far as I’m concerned is the infolayer showing the extent of ancient empires - I for one had no idea that the Abbasid Caliphate was so big (or, if I’m being entirely honest, what the fcuk the Abbasid Caliphate even was - oh, it was the Islamic Golden Age, how ignorant of me).
- Juggalos: I don’t normally feature documentary shorts in this section, but this video’s on Nowness in their proprietary player and I can’t seem to find a way to embed it. Anyway, this is by filmmaker Joshua Gordon and it’s an honestly BEAUTIFUL portrait of the Gathering of the Juggalos, the Faygo-soaked annual jamboree in which ICP fans get together and, well, do weird stuff together. The way this is shot is gorgeous, and I like the fact it eschews the ‘hey, look at these povvo oddities!’ tone that much coverage of the Gathering tends to attract. Seriously, give this a go - it’s 8 minutes or so, and it’s so, so nicely done.
- Sexy Aircraft: And now to one of Web Curios occasional “look! Here’s an example of Rule 42 you might not be aware of but which now I’ve introduced you to it you’ll never be able to unsee!” offerings - welcome to the world of SEXY AIRCRAFT, in which artists (actually, in the main, it’s one artist - I absolutely salute the indefatigable creative impulse that has driven Mr Sache to produce such a...prodigious quantity of cartoon drawings of thicc F22 fighters, but slightly worry that there might me limited room for much else) draw anthropomorphised versions of planes, but, er, SEXY PLANES. Look, I can’t really describe this in more detail - you’re just going to have to click. These are all broadly cheesecake, so not hugely NSFW, but then again it’s probably worth you taking a moment to think about what the reaction would be were you to be caught looking at a drawing of a Learjet but with outsized breasts and a Minaj-esque posterior. If you want the REAL filth then there’s this forum, but, honestly, think long and hard before you enter. As ever, let me assure you that THIS STUFF FINDS ME.
- Joey Bada$$: I’ve looked at this four or five times now and I can’t work out whether it’s a work of genius or the natural and ridiculous end to the idea of ‘The Snowfall’ as a longform content delivery system. This is a (from what I can tell with my imperfect French) very well-thought-through profile of / interview with US rapper Joey Bada$$, covering his rise, his status in the current pantheon of US hiphop, his thoughts on a range of issues, not least political ones, but all packaged in one of the more...over-the-top examples of the multi-parallax superscroll longform journalism trend I’ve ever seen. We have multiple videos, we have things coming in from the left and the right, we have some frankly comical animation...it’s both good and sort of terrible, and I love it. You really can’t fault the content, though - this is DENSELY packed.
- Cunto: Not quite sure whether my failing to bowdlerise the name of this website will mean that 60% of you don’t get the newsletter this week due to swearfilters - mind you, I never censor ‘prick’ which perhaps mean that most of you NEVER get this. Hang on, AM I TYPING INTO THE VOID? Let’s not think about it. Anyway, Cunto is a site which is all about, er, people its owners don’t like very much. It’s mean-spirited, yes, but it’s occasionally very, very funny, and most of the targets are sort-of fair game (though I feel somewhat sorry for Ainsley Harriot, the memeiest of all the TV chefs).
- Transgalactica: A nice idea, this - a fun little story game which presents some actually quite deep/serious points about trans identity via the medium of a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure-style branching narrative game based around tuning into different radio signals, listening to the broadcasts, and then finding new ones to move the story forward. I really like this format, and the storytelling here is really nicely done.
- La Maupin: Would you like to play a slightly camp, slightly cheesy, utterly wonderful visual novel based on the life and times of 17th Century swordswoman and opera singer Julie D’Augbigny, otherwise known as La Maupin? YES YOU WOULD. This is silly, but also lots of fun and an excellent way to while away 20 minutes this afternoon with some good story.
- The IF 2018 Entries: Finally this week, all the entries in the 2018 interactuve fiction contest, which as per every year offers you over 70 different stories presented as IF, whether in Twine or other engines, and offering a dazzling array of different styles, themes, settings...I’ve obviously not played/read them all, but I can happily guarantee that there will be something here for everyone; personally I would recommend ‘Birmingham IV’, but try a random one and see how you like it.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS (THANKS WILSON FOR THE TITLE, LET’S SEE IF IT STICKS):
- Anatolia Folky: The Insta feed of a Turkish (I think) artist whose work is a kind of weird collage of 50s-style visuals, folk tropes and an overweening sense of The Bad Thing. Excellent, and very much up my aesthetic street.
- Aleia: Whilst Insta’s long been known as a place for good animal content, the creatures in question have in the main tended towards either the traditionally cute or the VERY ODD; bucking this trend is this feed, which presents snails, arranged in small dioramas. If you don’t like the video of the snail hitting the tiny pinata then, well, SHAME.
- Combophoto: The feed of designer/photoshopper Stephen Mcmennamy, who shops together disparate things to pleasing/surreal effect. Exactly the same sort of aesthetic as something I featured last week with the caption “the sort of aesthetic you don’t see so much of any more”, which suggests that I know nothing about anything and that I was simply not looking in the right places.
- Same Pic Of Plunger: Every day, the same picture of a plunger. Why? IT’S A TREND AMONGST THE CHILDREN, Here’s an article ‘explaining’ it, though it probably won’t really ‘explain’ anything at all.
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Philipp Wichtl: Lovely gif animations. Lovely, lovely gif animations.
- Unhelpful Tarot: LET IT GUIDE YOUR LIFE.
- Hypergeography: WOW. This is some sort of infinitely-scrolling tiled artwork all done in classic CG-Tumblr style and it is GREAT. I could look at this for hours, maybe you can too.
- Muenchenkotzt: So this is German and therefore I have NO IDEA what is actually going on here, but as far as I can tell it’s just a collection of pictures of the aftermaths of nights out left on the streets of...Munich? Full of photos of what the Koreans charmingly term ‘Ramen Flowers’ (thanks Saz, you teach me so much!) - that is, pavement vomit. LOOK, I JUST SHOW YOU THE TUMBLRS THAT I FIND EACH WEEK, OK?
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Best Books of the 21C (So Far): You may agree, you may disagree, and the titles on this list (selected by Vulture so, as per, US-centric) do skew Western and in particular American as one might expect, but as a primer to literary trends over the past couple of decades it’s a fascinating one. If nothing else it’s a convenient reminder of some modern classics you might have missed, or things you might want to reappraise with the distance of time.
- Anatomy of AI: This was published while I was on holiday and so is a bit old, but WOW it’s fascinating (and long, and a bit complicated); this is a detailed exploration of how the Amazon Echo works, and how it’s built, and what it means from the point of view of industry and society and culture and...Christ, this is dizzying in scope, and not always an easy read (density rather than subject matter), and you will feel a LOT smarter once you’re done with it (you might want to approach it in chunks, though, this is Curios-length content).
- How We Know Kavanaugh Is Lying: I didn’t mention it last week, in the main as it all felt so fcuking awful and exhausting, and it still is awful and exhausting, so feel free to skip the next few if you feel like you’ve done enough reading on this latest skirmish in the culture wars; still, this is a truly forensic takedown of Kavanaugh’s testimony, from textual analysis to rhetorical deconstruction and everything inbetween, and it’s fascinating (and depressing) to note as you read it how superficial a reading his testimony was given by so much of the media (even that critical of his nomination). Not one person has come out of this better off than they went in, which is sort of the opposite of what you want from anything involving the judiciary.
- All The Rage: Rebecca Solnit writes about female rage as a justifiable and necessary emotion, not just now but always, and how it can, or could, be harnessed, specifically in the context of literature but of course also in the context of 2018 (and 2016, and 2017, and in fact all the other years). She’s an excellent writer, this is an excellent piece, but, again, I would totally understand if you were just a bit knackered with all the rage.
- No I Will Not Debate You: Laurie Pennie on excellent form here, on why it was wrong for the Economist to offer Bannon a speaking platform, and why in general the argument that ‘no, you have to debate these people to unmask the idiocy of their argument!’ isn’t always (or, she contends, ever) the right approach. Interesting for a variety of reasons, not least the fact - which Pennie to her credit alludes to - that she herself hasn’t always been that choosy about her subjects or the company she keeps (O HAI MILO); Pennie’s line that there’s a significant difference between making someone the subject of journalistic enquiry where the author is always editorially in control and giving them a platform where they are presented as being equivalent to others, though I don’t feel she totally deals with her own potential complicity in some of this stuff. Still, she is always an excellent and entertaining writer and this piece is no exception.
- Living Rent Free In Your Head: On why that phrase is the perfect encapsulation of the horror of the web, and by extension the now. A good piece which very much feels like it’s true, although it loses points for not referencing the original musical jumping off point for the form of words.
- A Penthouse Made for Instagram: It’s HARD being an influencer; aside from the constant hustling for brand dollar and the creeping realisation that your completely surface-level interpretation and presentation of the miracle of existence is turning you two-dimensional, into a pouting, tanned, sculpted version of Flat Stanley, you also have to worry about how to frame your life in the best, most appealing way. Enter the Instagram Penthouse, a new initiative in NYC which offers an apartment for influencers to use, for a fee, for shoots - complete with SO STYLISH kitchen and bedroom and bathroom, it offers a perfectly-grammable backdrop for whatever tat you’re flogging this week. Horrible, inevitable, and, as Jay smartly pointed out, exactly the thing you ought to point to next time some idiot says something about the ‘authenticity’ of the Instagram experience.
- The End of Snap and Tesla: A bit more business-y then I usually go here, but I found this interesting as a snapshot of where the author thinks both companies are going to end up in the next few years (spoiler: not where they are now). I am not a business analyst (this shocked me as much as it will doubtless shock you, I promise), but this seems like reasonably sensible thinking on both companies.
- Uganda’s Social Media Tax: You may recall reading about Ugandan President Musveni’s plan to clamp down on the deleterious effects of social media on national productivity by instituting a national tax on its use (and that was DEFINITELY the rationale behind it, and certainly not to disincentivise people from using social platforms to mobilise opposition to his regime, oh no siree); this is a fascinating look at how the system is working in practice, how it’s changing social media use - and social patterns in general - in the country, and how people are working to get around it. Fascinating, and reminded me how pathetically little information I consume about African countries and how they work in the 21st Century; will try and see about including more diverse stuff in here, so please do share any good sources you know of.
- An Arachnophobes Guide to Spiders: This is honestly great - a truly comprehensive guide to spiders, both in general and particular species, which is accompanied by really friendly cartoon illustrations of unthreatening arachnids, meaning that even if you’re like me and a massive, screaming arachnophobe you can learn about the fascinating creatures. Do not, though, whatever you do, accidentally click on the ‘see what they REALLY look like’ links, unless you want to curse yourself with ‘interesting’, many-legged nightmares.
- Escaping Capitalism: A really interesting essay by Umair Haque, which asks the simple question “if the point of capitalism is to escape capitalism, what is the point of capitalism?”; the central argument being that, presuming that the goal of a capitalist society is to accumulate assets to eventually be able to attain the greatest degree possible of freedom from labour or at the very least the constraints of the capitalist model, in which case one might argue that it’s a weird system whose raison d’etre is to escape from itself. The whole piece is fascinating, if not quite as intellectually robust as Haque perhaps makes out, but the bit that struck me was the comments - this is published on Medium, the most techbro of ALL the pub,ishing platforms and beloved of the VC and tech communities, and as such perhaps I oughtn’t be surprised at the reaction, but the comments...you’d think Haque had posted the text of Das Kapital along with a hentai cartoon of him fellating Uncle Joe Stalin judging by the frothy rage below the line. You want evidence of the fact that the Culture Wars are ubiquitous and cross all sorts of boundaries of topic and education, this is it.
- Look How Fcuked Italian Politics Is: Not, I concede, the official title of the article, but it’s a reasonable precis. If you’re not totally au fait with the special and oh-so-Italian manner in which the country is currently attempting to fcuk itself with knives then this is an excellent primer - there are so, so many ‘hang on, no, that can’t be true’ elements in this, but my favourite is probably the former Big Brother contestant who’s currently Salvini’s official spokesperson. JUST IMAGINE CAMP MARCO BEING THERESA MAY’S ATTACK DOG (this is a reference to Big Brother Season 5 which I expect literally NOONE to get).
- Feminism In China: Interesting LRB article by Sheng Yun, looking at issues of female identity and feminism in China in 2018; there’s lots of fascinating stuff here, from the ‘the future is female’ optimism of the opening paragraphs, to the comparison with the significantly more retrograde attitudes towards women and marriage that still maintain.
- Automated On The Road: I love the project described in this essay - taking an AI (not an AI) on the road to write a ‘novel’ based on a road trip, with sensors feeding data to the central ‘intelligence’ (not an intelligence) which then uses it as the basis to churn out copy based on several corpuses of work stored in its memory. The fragments of text presented throughout the piece are at best half-sensical, but the recurring theme of ‘the painter’ which the machine keeps throwing out is a genuinely interesting one, and there’s a lot of fascinating theory here about where you might be able to take this sort of generative writing in the future. Give it five years and this sort of thing will produce stuff that’s at least as readable as Cut-Up era Burroughs.
- Raised By YouTube: Chu Chu Media is an Indian company responsible for a LOT of kid-focused content on YouTube - not the crazy weird algo-generated stuff featuring Barbie drinking paint thinner but the more wholesome nursery rhyme compilation things (and, of course, Jonny Jonny Hey Papa) - which has grown from small, almost accidental beginnings to become a legitimate media juggernaut. This is a sympathetic profile of the company and its founders, but one which also asks some interesting questions about the lack of pedagogical scrutiny applied to content aimed at kids and which they are consuming lots of from a very young age.
- Jon Urschel Goes Pro: A profile of former NFL athlete Jon Urschel who’s unusual insofar as that as well as being good enough at American Football to play at the top level, he’s also a preturnaturally gifted mathematician. You don’t need to care about sport or American Football to enjoy this - the most interesting thing about this is the assertion that Urschel would never have been identified as a maths prodigy where it not for his footballing excellence, and that the reasons for this might be the same reasons why we often have trouble spotting the gifted amongst the merely good.
- The Andrew WK Conspiracy: You may know Andrew WK as the hard-rocking, hard-partying, weirdly feelgood positive jock guy from Twitter; you probably don’t know about the INTENSELY weird conspiracy theory that surrounds him. Who is Andrew WK? Is his life really his? Does he even exist? And what does that mean, anyway? This is LONG and a bit knotty, but really very, very interesting. But also really, really odd.
- Carbon Ideologies: I saw the BBC documentary about how we’re fcuking the oceans with plastics this week and MAN was that depressing; then I read this, and had to go and have a bit of a lie down before realising that, well, we’re all going to die anyway so perhaps it doesn’t matter (it does matter). This is a review of two books on climate change - the two volumes of Carbon Ideologies set out where we are now in terms of climate change, and where we’re heading, and it’s no real spoiler to suggest that the answer to both those is a) a bad place; and b) a worse place. It’s worth reading the whole review, but the entire tone can be summed up with this cheery passage: “The global hunger for pastries grows more ravenous each year. Whatever Good Samaritan savings we can make by improving infrastructure or bicycling to work will be dwarfed by the billions who will leap onto the grid in the coming decades. About a third of the human population cooks meals over biomass—wood, charcoal, farm scraps, and animal dung. Nearly 1 billion people have no access to electricity. It will not take all of India’s adopting “the American way of life” to trigger gargantuan increases in global emissions. India’s ascending to the Namibian way of life will be enough.”
- Social Media and the NBA: Really interesting look at the effect that social media use amongst players has had on the NBA, the positive and the negative. Particularly interesting when you think about the degree to which brilliant social media usage helped drive popular love for the England team this Summer.
- Teens Are Nostalgic For 2015: Yes, yes, I know, you’re immediate reaction to this is to say “THAT IS THREE YEARS AGO THAT IS NOT NOSTALGIA” and you would be right and correct, but, well, they’re kids, just allow it, ok? Anyway, this is all about an Instagram ‘trend’ whereby kids are posting collage reminiscences of how much better things were three whole years ago when Trump was just some bloke on telly, and social media wasn’t yet undermining EVERYTHING WE HAVE EVER HELD DEAR. I...don’t understand anything any more.
- Meet Luvo: Two wonderful stories of triumph against adversity, this profiles South African long jumper Luvo Manyonga, who has battled meth addiction to become a champion, and the Irishman who helped him when he was at rock bottom. Per the NFL/maths story a few links up, you don’t need to care about athletics to be moved by this; it’s a really well-written piece of journalism.
- A Deep Dive into Homes Under The Hammer: I keep telling myself to stop linking to Golby, not least because you’ve ALL read it already and the bastard never links to Curios so FCUK HIM, but then he keeps on writing stuff like this and I can’t not feature it. This is about Homes Under The Hammer and is very funny, but it’s also about the very, very fcuked nature of capitalism and how deeply wrong it is that flipping houses is presented as anything other than, frankly, a bit of a sh1tty way to make a living. So good, as per, the git.
- The Targeting and Killing of a Helmand Operative: Astonishingly good writing, about being a drone operator stationed in Afghanistan. Everything in this is perfect - the writing, the voices, the pacing and the details; honestly, this is a must-click, I promise you.
- The Movie Assassin: So is this, though - Sarah Miller is a fabulous writer, and this piece, about her early career as a film reviewer and her hatred of The English Patient, and compromise and power and pride and self-esteem, is one of the best things I’ve read in a while. Brilliant.
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!
2) Next, this is called ‘Little Death’ (IT MEANS ORGASM YOU KNOW) and it’s by The Beths, and the lyric about “you make me feel three glasses deep” is such a wonderful evocation of that feeling that I can’t help but recommend it unreservedly. I love this very much:
6) This is by Art School Girlfriend, it’s called ‘Distance’, and it’s the best slice of skittery pop you’ll hear all week, with an added bonus of vocals that have a touch of the Annie Lennox about them (in the best possible way):
9) Last up this week, this is a short stop-motion animation documentary all about going through your dead dad’s bongo collection (it’s not really about that) - this is lovely, and so well made, I think you will enjoy it. BYE EVERYONE THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK BYE BYE BYE THANKS FOR READING THIS FAR IF INDEED YOU DID, AND FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO DO THE WEIRD THING AND READ CURIOS BACK TO FRONT THEN, WELL, HELLO! I HOPE YOU ALL HAVE LOVELY WEEKENDS AND THAT ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE AND I WILL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK I LOVE YOU TAKE CARE I LOVE YOU BYE: