HI EVERYONE! An extra special HELLO to any of you who are reading this for the first time, having taken the ill-advised decision to sign up to this as a result to me telling you to at the end of a lecture!
It's been...well, it's been another week, frankly, and that's the best I can say about it. I know that reusing stuff you previously wrote elsewhere is a really rubbish thing to do, and it's even worse if the 'elsewhere' is Twitter, but I honestly don't have better words to describe my feelings about Christmas advert season so I'm just going to go with what I wrote yesterday, to whit: the species-level cognitive dissonance required to live in a timeline where we both rail against the climate crisis AND annually celebrate ads from companies whose sole raison d'etre is to get us to buy more stuff we don't need at massive cost to the planet is *dizzying*. MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, OUR CEASELESS DESIRE FOR MORE STUFF, SHIPPED ALL OVER THE WORLD TO ARRIVE CONVENIENTLY AND HAPPILY ON OUR DOORSTEPS WHENEVER WE WANT IT, IS PART OF THE FCUKING PROBLEM HERE AND THE SORT OF THING WE MIGHT WANT TO PERHAPS LOOK AT ADDRESSING.
Oh dear, and I'd largely managed to keep the rage in check whilst writing this week's edition. Hey ho! I'm off to attempt to calm myself down via the medium of a long, long lunch; if I were you, I might consider some valium or some ethanol or some skag. Or maybe just take a deep, deep draught of the digital laudanum that is Web Curios - thick, bitter and not a little soporific, and guaranteed to provide at least a small degree of comfort or distraction, at least until the awful things manage to claw their way through the fug.
I am Matt; this is Web Curios; don't let it get you down, whatever you do.
By Ted Pim
LET’S KICK OFF THIS WEEK’S MIXES WITH THIS SUPER-ECLECTIC SELECTION BY NICK WALKER WHICH HE COMPILED ESPECIALLY FOR *YOU*!
THE SECTION WHICH IS QUITE GLAD THAT IT’S WRITING THIS BEFORE THE PUBLICATION OF TWITTER’S ‘HOW THE WHOLE BAN ON POLITICAL ADS IS GOING TO ACTUALLY WORK’ GUIDELINES LATER TODAY AS THE THOUGHT OF TRYING TO MAKE SENSE OF THAT BASED ON A CURSORY 5-MINUTE READING AT 6AM ELICITED ACTUAL HORROR ON WAKING THIS MORNING:
- Facebook Pay: Another expansion to the Facebook ecosystem with the announcement of Facebook Pay, which, in the US at least, will roll out in the coming weeks and provide a single, seamless payment experience across the Facebook app ecosystem (or at least across FB and Messenger - Whatsapp and Instagram integration is a bit down the line), integrating either a users debit or credit or their PayPal account. The best bit? YES THAT’S RIGHT KIDS IT’S ANOTHER FCUKING AD TARGETING DATAPOINT! The small print acknowledges that, whilst specific information about your card and bank account won’t be available to advertisers (I mean, you’d sort of hope that would be the case - not really sure that this is the reassuring news you were hoping for, Mark), you will see ads based on the stuff you buy! The example given in the announcement is the banal, benign ‘buy a baseball bat on marketplace and you might see an ad for a baseball glove’, but the announcement is interestingly light on exactly how this will expand the portfolio of options available to advertisers; actual purchase information is hugely valuable stuff, and Facebook being able to let you target ads at ‘people who’ve recently bought product category ‘X’’ would be no small deal. Another potential way to target people with EXCITING BRAND-RELATED MESSAGING? Truly, it is a blessed day to be alive!
- Messenger Updates for Brands: I find it moderately hard to get excited about - well, anything at all, frankly (such a ball of anhedonic ennui here!), but specifically Messenger updates. Still, if you’re more able to feign enthusiasm for tweaks to chat interfaces, then perhaps this suite of announcements (relating to ‘Click to Message’ in-app ads, automated conversational openers for brands to implement, and a small quality-of-life update which makes it easier to track which message in a conversation a business is referring to) will make you momentarily joyful.
- Instagram Continues Testing Like Removal: First in the US and now globally, it seems that the platform’s doubling-down on the idea that hiding ‘Like’ counts is the thing that’ll magically make using Instagram better and healthier for everyone. It’s being tested with a ‘small’ proportion of global users, and is definitely still not definitively going to be implemented across the whole app, but, well, it’s seemingly only a matter of time. Cue ANOTHER raft of ill-thought-out thinkpieces about what this will mean for the influencers (WON’T SOMEBODY THINK ABOUT THE INFLUENCERS?!?) - frankly I’d be more worried about what it will mean for agencies. I mean, how are they supposed to pull together spurious, ill-considered lists of suggested influencer partners for their clients without the ability to scan for like numbers? Anyway, this is still a test, so everyone can keep the grifty merrygoround going for at least a little bit longer yet.
- Instagram Reels: Or, Facebook Does TikiTok! In Brazil! Reels is, let’s be clear, a total rinse of the Chinese sensation, offering users the ability to “make 15-second video clips set to music and share them as Stories, with the potential to go viral on a new Top Reels section of Explore. Just like TikTok, users can soundtrack their Reels with a huge catalog of music, or borrow the audio from anyone else’s video to create a remix of their meme or joke.” Sound familiar? It’ll be interesting to see how this experiment goes; regardless, consider this another step in the inexorable march towards all of human experience being communicated via the medium of vaguely-sassy viral dance moves by 2025.
- Twitter Set To Roll Out Changes To RT Mechanics: Or at least that’s what this article says; I’ve not seen any other evidence of this, but apparently it’s a-coming. Basically it’ll start giving people the option to RT with an emoji, thereby, the platform homes, limiting people’s desire to use the quote-RT as a mechanism to ‘dunk’ on people, as they term it (or, in British English, to sh1t all over them and their STUPID opinions with a withering put-down or a simple ‘look at this cnut, let’s all make their life a living hell for the next 24h or so’). No brand implications here other than the opportunity to make some sort of extremely-online joke about the changes for approximately 730 likes when they eventually hit.
- Twitter and Deepfakes: Who should decide what Twitter’s policy on deepfakes is? Jack Dorsey? Twitter’s legal team? Their ethics counc...HA! THEY DON’T HAVE AN ETHICS COUNCIL! No, the decision rests with us, dear Twitter users, who this week have been asked to fill in a survey to offer our opinions on the measures Twitter ought to take to attempt to guard against the spread of false information in the shape of faked audio or video. My pointless snarking aside, this obviously isn’t a terrible idea at all - I mean, why not ask the users? - and the general principle they seem to be leaning towards (that of flagging and clearly marking such material as being contested or downright faked rather than removing it) seems like a sensible one.
- Bank With Google!: I suppose when you’ve won advertising you might, like Alexander, get to weeping at the thought that there are no more kingdoms left to conquer; unless you’re Google, of course, in which case you would simply look over at an adjacent kingdom like, say, banking, and think ‘yeah, OK, I’ll have that too’. This is the announcement that Google’s going to be joining Apple and launching its own bank; called ‘Cache’ (at least right now), details are reasonably scarce, but, as with Facebook, the big draw for Google (aside from world domination) is the sweet, sweet flow of consumer data available to the people who hold the purse strings. Nothing really to see or do here at the moment, certainly for those outside the US, but don’t expect Google’s encroachment into new products and services, ostensibly far removed from its tech origins, to stop at this.
- Snap Launches Specs v3: This really didn’t generate much news at all - unsurprising, perhaps, as it’s an iterative update rather than anything truly ‘new’, but also a reflection of the fact that there’s still no real mainstream demand for smart glasses at the moment. Still, this long-ish review of the product is quite interesting in terms of the directions in which the tech might develop; the lines from Spiegel about the slow change in usage patterns of phone cameras, and the way this has changed our relationship with photography slowly-but-inexorably over time, are genuinely interesting. Oh, these glasses also look a little less like something you might get free in a Christmas cracker, should that sort of thing matter to you.
- WordPress Adds Recurrent Payment Options: You can basically run a Patreon-equivalent monthly fan subscription service directly through WordPress should you so desire. Might be useful, might not.
- Strategy Is Your Words: This has done the rounds of the STRATEGIST NEWSLETTER ECOSYSTEM (I am officially declaring this a thing, whether you like it or not), and whilst I don’t know Mark Pollard at all, and whilst I have never knowingly read a business book in my life, much less one on ‘strategy’ (a word that, honestly, I hate SO much it makes me slightly angry every time I type it), lots of people whose opinions I respect have spoken about him and this book in glowing terms, and it’s funded on Kickstarter with just under three weeks to go and so, look, here. It might be really useful, and Pollard’s at pains to describe it as not in fact being a business book, so that’s good enough for me. It’s about the practice of doing ‘strategy’ (ugh) in agencyland, and seems, from what I can glean, to be quite sensible-sounding. Worth a look if, like me, you have a stupid, made-up job in which you think far too hard about largely meaningless, pointless things relating to brands.
- Remembrance Island: It was Remembrance Sunday last weekend, as I am sure you were all aware, and whilst England decided to basically go full Mark Francois by dressing a football mascot as a poppy and carpet-bombing the white cliffs of Dover with poppies from a WW2 bomber (of all the mad things to happen this year, that might be my favourite - the most Brexit thing EVER), the Canadians decided to...er...MAKE A MEMORIAL IN FORTNITE! To quote the release, they created “a custom Fortnite island featuring recreations of First World War trenches, D-Day beaches, a Canadian military cemetery, the well-known Vimy Ridge memorial cenotaph and more.” On the one hand, this is a genuinely bold way of educating a whole new generation about history (or at least it would be if any kids actually used this - it’s a custom Fortnite map, meaning players needed to actively opt-in using a specific code, meaning I would be willing to bet the actual number of kids reached with this is approximately nine); on the other, can you IMAGINE the Mail, Express and Telegraph’s reaction had this been done in the UK? Mark Francois would have EXPLODED. Or, possibly, done a livestream with Ninja. It’s really hard to tell here at the fag end of the second decade of the twentyfirst century.
NEXT UP, ENJOY THIS SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS OF GREAT SONGS YOU MAY NEVER HAVE HEARD OF BEFORE, WHICH INCLUDES THE FANTASTICALLY-NAMED ‘IT’S CHOADE MY DEAR’ BY ONE CONNAN MOCKASIN!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO APOLOGISE TO ANY GOLDSMITHS STUDENTS WHO STUPIDLY SIGNED UP THIS FOR WHAT YOU’RE CURRENTLY READING, PT.1:
- WikiTribune Social: A NEW SOCIAL NETWORK! FROM WIKIPEDIA! FOCUSED ON NEWS! Except you can’t try it out yet, sorry - instead, you can sign up to it and join the waitlist for it to start slowly letting people in; the idea, though, is that it’s a development of the existing WikiTribune platform, layering on a bunch of social features to the existing news-focused site. Exactly what these social features are going to be and how it’s going to work is unclear; what is clear is that the site is VERY KEEN to get you to pay for it. Which, frankly, seems reasonable enough, although I’d be a little more inclined to part company with cash if, in exchange, Jimmy Wales gave me some sort of minor inkling as to what I’m forking out for. The only sort of detail was provided in Wales’ interview with the FT, in reported that users will be able to participate in discussions in a news feed similar to Facebook. Will this break Twitter’s monopoly on newschat? Will it become the new home of slightly-angry, largely ill-informed political chat for the masses, like Facebook? No, I don’t think it will, but I’ll be more than happy to be proved wrong.
- The Big Tactical Voting Comparison: I was listening to the Moral Maze this week on Radio4, because that’s the sort of high-octane middle-aged life I lead when I’m not writing my fingers to bloody nubbins for you, and they were debating the morality of not voting; I have never before felt so strongly that we really, really need a ‘none of the above’ box on the ballot paper, to help properly gauge the level of popular disgust with the available options and to offer a way out for people who firmly believe they should vote but who really, really don’t want to back any of the current shower. Anyway, there’s been something of a kerfuffle about tactical voting recommendation sites over the past few weeks; this site offers an overview of four of them, so you can plug in whichever constituency you like and it’ll tell you how a selection people recommend you cast your vote to keep the Tories out.
- The Constituency Data Motherlode: If you’re of a wonk-y bent, this is a really good site, collecting a vast quantity of per-constituency information; demographics, voting records for the past three elections (General and Euro), that sort of thing. Detailed and very much for the political scientists, lobbyists and, well, politiconerds (not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things. Except for the lobbyists).
- The Amazon Chat Dataset: This is REALLY useful, or at least it is if you’re in the business of attempting to develop conversational interfaces or just if you want a massive corpus of natural-language conversations to mess around with. The corpus of conversations is taken from human-to-human interactions on Mechanical Turk, and is broken down by subject and conversation-type; the idea is that this can all be used to train conversational interfaces or neural nets to better-simulate natural chat. This is, obviously, HUGELY techy and of no practical use to most of you, but it’s also indicative of the sort of data sets that are increasingly just being thrown out there for researchers to mess with; I’m fascinated to see how this sort of thing accelerates the development of language interfaces over the next few years.
- Soundboard Games: That’s not what this website’s called, but, well, I have no idea at all how to describe it, and the url’s just confusing. Basically, as far as I can tell, this is a series of (delightful, beautifully-made) soundboard experiences - choose your card from the deck, click one of the robot icons that appear (I have no idea what the difference is between them, perhaps you will find out), and experience one of a series of unique little sound games; I played one in which I got to create music with an alien and a robot, and another in which I had to play a ‘Simon’-style music memory game in which the sounds are pig farts. It was great! This is rather lovely, and the art style’s very cute.
- Seuss Yourself: The site’s actually called ‘Your Ham Face’, and it’s a promo for the new ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ animated series which is apparently out soon/now; regardless, what it ACTUALLY is is a little webtoy that lets you create a Dr Seuss-style character to resemble yourself, much in the manner of the one that did the rounds a decade ago when the Simpson’s Movie came out and there was a brief flurry of everyone on Facebook having a jaundiced, cartoon avatar. I’ve had a bit of play around with this and am seemingly incapable of creating anything that doesn’t look like some sort of sinister, cartoonish sexual predator, but perhaps that’s more down to my questionable aesthetic choices than any inherent flaw in the tool itself.
- Minecraft Earth: Weirdly I’ve not seen this get any coverage at all this week, which seems strange given how much chat there was when it was announced earlier this year. Still, IT’S NOW HERE! I haven’t tried this, if you or your kids are Minecraft fanatics then I can’t imagine there’s any reason why you wouldn’t be into the mobile AR version - the scope and potential here is huge, and if there’s even a fraction of the enthusiasm for this that there is for the standard version then expect to see an AR universe of blocky ziggurats and, doubtless, crudely-constructed cocks to spring up in digital space in no time at all.
- Unmixer: Second week in a row that I’m featuring a very, very clever audio remixing toy; Unmixer is VERY smart indeed, letting you upload any audio file of your choice and then isolating the individual looping elements to let you easily cut, chop and remix tracks to your personal taste. Do this with multiple tracks and you can then do some really rather cool things by fiddling with the individual layers of each in unison; it’s far, far easier to understand if you stop reading my pitiful attempts to explain it and instead just have a go with their pre-uploaded example tracks - honestly, I just had a go and was bopping up and down in my kitchen chair turning loops on and off and basically imagining myself to be some sort of musical alchemist, so Christ alone knows what someone with any form of actual talent could make with it.
- The Goop Holiday Gift Guide: On the one hand, BUY LESS STUFF FOR FCUK’S SAKE OUR ETERNAL OBSESSION WITH CONSUMING THINGS IS WHAT IS FCUKING THE WORLD; on the other, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the now-traditional seasonal pastime of laughing (crying) at the insanity that is the Goop Christmas Gift Guide. This is obviously a smart, savvy piece of marketing by Goop; the insanity of much of the assorted goods is designed to make this go viral, and the online ridicule matters not one iota when there are people out there who’ll look at this and go “Hm, yes, actually the ormulu-and-ostrich-skin condom holder is exactly the stocking filler Charles deserves!”. Click through and find your favourite example of the insanity of late-stage capitalism, or let Chris McCrudden guide you through the highlights in his annual, highly-entertaining Twitter analysis of the best (worst) examples of excess. The $75k family photo album is an obvious highlight, but the marble edition of Connect Four for $1500 is my personal favourite ‘my god you really are a cnut, aren’t you?’ alarm.
- Droplabs EP01: You’ve got your incredible, high-fidelity headphones - what more could you want? Yes, EXACTLY - a pair of shoes that let you FEEL the music through the soles! An innovation literally no people have ever asked for, and yet one which is now HERE, and all for the low, low price of $550. Yes, that’s right, the fat end of five hundred quid for a pair of shoes which will, I guarantee, make the soles of your feet itch like buggery. The blurb suggests it will intensify your experience of music by making you feel like you’re at a gig or club, or make your gaming even more immersive by...er...what, making your feet vibrate slightly if you get shot in Fortnite? This feels very much like the sort of thing that was dreamed up in a PR or marketing brainstorm and which has become reality almost by accident.
- Nourished: Fair play to whoever’s doing the PR for these at the moment, this has been EVERYWHERE this week. Not that it makes me like it any more, but credit where it’s due and all that. Nourished is a new range of PERSONALISED VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS - you answer a series of questions about your lifestyle, health, etc, and the site will recommend a ‘personalised’ vitamin regime JUST FOR YOU; said vitamin regime is then 3d-printed into edible ‘stacks’; basically colourful hexagonal nutrient-packs that you...chew? Suck? Gnaw on? Anyway, these are supposed to provide a tailored, bespoke nutritional supplement boost to your diet, all created on demand for you for the low, low price of...£40 a month! Yes, that’s right kids, it’s SUPPLEMENTS AS A SERVICE! This is a very smart idea on some levels - it pairs appealing futuretech (3d printing! Exciting colourful spacefoodhexagons!) with a very ‘now’ business model and an even-more-now focus on the need for individual, personalised treatments based on the fact that we are all special and unique; except the way they determine the right ‘stack’ for you is via the medium of an online questionnaire, which, while it does offer a lot of potential combinations based on your choices, is actually quite a long way from a proper, bespoke treatment based on your actual physiology.
- Swimply: AIRBNB BUT FOR SWIMMING POOLS! I mean, that’s literally it - obviously based out of LA, Swimply lets anyone with a pool offer it up as a hangout destination, charging people to come along and use it for a set period of time. Which on the one hand sounds like a smart idea - why not make use of an asset that will be lying idle for a significant period of time during a normal week? - and on the other sounds like a recipe for horror. How likely do you think it is that the people dropping by to use your pool for a couple of hours will treat it with the care and respect you’d wish for? HA YOU NAIVE FOOL! Look, maybe I’m betraying my fundamental pessimism about human nature here, but I’d be amazed if you don’t find your pool slightly p1ssier than when you left it. That said, I have just spent three minutes looking at the LA listings and my God what I wouldn’t give for a go on some of those, p1ss be damned.
- Civic Signals: An interesting project, this, seeking to convene ‘urban planners, technologists, designers and community leaders — to tap into the wisdom of physical spaces and envision better digital ones.’ The project’s looking to launch in Spring next year, and is founded by Eli Pariser who you’ll remember as the person who coined the concept of the filter bubble all those many years ago; it’s unclear exactly what the outputs will be, but you can sign up for updates. The idea of a specific institution or research body to examine how to determine the acceptable parameters of civic interactions in digital space seems like a useful one,
- Smore: A new dating app! Which isn’t yet live in the UK! And may never get here! Still, it seems like it has a few interesting gimmicks which could see it gain a bit of traction; its particular gimmick is that it’s not a looks-focused network, instead providing users with information about a potential match without showing you their face. The more you demonstrate an interest in the person, the more physical detail will be revealed to you, with the idea being that you can develop a REAL BOND BASED ON INTERESTS rather than pure animal lust. Which is nice and all, but does sort of rather neglect the fact that physical attraction is quite an important component of dating and that without it all the shared interests in the world won’t make you want to let someone put things inside you.
- Video Game Console Logos: You want a very, very comprehensive collection of logos of old consoles? OH GOOD HERE IS THAT VERY THING!
- Misato Town: This website is all in Japanese and because of the way it’s build it only partially-translates with Google, so I have no real idea what is going on here - anyone able to tell me? I think it’s a website for Misato Town (I am SO CLEVER at reading urls!), but beyond that...nope! Still, regardless, it’s SO LOVELY - the way the parallax works to swoop you down and into the cartoon version of Misato is genuinely thrilling (yes, I need to get out more, fine), and it’s been a while since I’ve seen a site where this sort of thing works so well. As a bonus, the visual style is very cute indeed, and each of the elements as you zoom through is clickable and takes you to an article about some aspect of the town’s life, complete with some rather lovely photograhy. This is charming.
- The Github Archive Programme: We’ve seemingly now got the message that stuff online won’t last forever, that code degrades, that digital storage isn’t necessarily infinite, and that some things are perhaps worth taking care to preserve; to this end, Github’s announced its archive programme whereby it will take open source code and archive it in the Arctic Seed Vault in Svalbard for future generations (feels like a hopeful statement in 2019, frankly) to pore over and make use of. The whole thing feels weirdly hopeful, and made me more cheerful than I imagined the idea of burying computer code under a few hundred feet of permafrost would.
- The Uzbek Underground: These are a year or so old now (THE INTERNET IS NOT A RACE FFS) but they’re new to me and perhaps to you too; Amos Chapple visited Uzbekistan and took photos of the metro system in Tashkent. My GOD they went hard on the architecture; it rather puts Oval to shame, even with the book swap scheme and the pot plants.
By Peter Hoffman
NEXT, TRY THIS PLAYLIST OF CERTIFIED CONGOLESE BANGERS!
THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO APOLOGISE TO ANY GOLDSMITHS STUDENTS WHO STUPIDLY SIGNED UP THIS FOR WHAT YOU’RE CURRENTLY READING, PT.2:
- The Most Incredible Comicbook Art Auction: Fine, that’s my assessment rather than an objective one, but none of you come here for objectivity, you come here for ME (you don’t, you come for the links, the words are an unwelcome distraction, I know this and there’s really no need for you to tell me, I promise)! This is taking place in the US and closes in just over a week, and if you’re interested in owning some original Golden Era DC comic art then MY GOD will you be into this - of course, to do that you’ll also need to be willing to drop $300k (at least), but that’s obviously a small price to pay for the original inking of memetic classic ‘Batman slapping Robin’. There are quite a few things under $100 too, so if you know anyone who really wants a Rob Liefeld original (this is a bit of snark that I can’t imagine more than three of you will get, but still) then fill their boots.
- Smol Glass Spiders: Just in case you know anyone whose life would be made marginally better through the acquisition of a smol, hand-blown glass spider. These are weirdly cute, even for a moderate arachnophobe like me, and are really, really (almost suspiciously) cheap; possibly down to the fact that they ship from Ukraine, or possibly because this is all a massive scam. Still, there are plenty of positive reviews, so if you know someone who’d like a vitrine arachnid then this might be the place to get them one.
- US Jingles: There’s a pleasing lack of information or context to this site; it’s just a map of the US that you can click on, state-by-state, to select where you want your jingles to come from; the site with then present you with a seemingly-infinite selection of local adverts from the state you selected, complete with their jingles. You may not think this will be of interest to you, and then you will stumble across something like the Furniture Loft Pennsylvania jingle and your life will be forever transformed.
- Steinunn Hardardottir: Thankyou SO MUCH Dan for sending me this - one of the best (in a certain sense) artist websites I’ve seen in an age, this is the website of Steinunn Hardardottir and her solo musical project ‘Airplane and Spaceship’. MAN is there a strong aesthetic here - the musical style’s described as ‘electronic horror music with a space twist’, but that doesn’t even begin to get to the bottom of quite how marvellous the whole site is. Fun, silly, eye-bleedingly ugly, and even featuring a playable web game to distract you with, this is just charming. Also, as our friend Charlotte put it, the music sounds like the Clangers doing electro, which should be the only endorsement you need to turn it on and turn it up loud.
- The Most Beautiful Shots of the Decade: This is a lovely list, and an unusual twist on the ‘XX of the decade’ roundups. Film experts One Perfect Shot here collect their pick of the best 100 individual shots from the past 10 years of film and television; there are some beautifully-composed images here, but there’s also a series of very clear themes and visual tropes that become apparent as you scroll. Keen students of the Blue/Taupe trend in cinema will be pleased to see that it’s not gone anywhere in the past 10 years.
- Make Your Own Great Bear: Not a massive ursine mammal, sadly; this instead refers to the artwork The Great Bear, which you might not know by name but probably recognise. In it, Simon Patterson took the London tube map as designed by Harry Beck and replaced the station names with artists, musicians, footballers, etc, with each line representing a different category of thing. Terrence Eden decided that he wanted to make his own version; this documents the steps he took to do so, pulling Wikidata to populate the map using some very neat coding. All the necessary bits and pieces required to make this are up on Github, so those of you who like fiddling with data and wrangling code can make your very own version out of whatever Wikipedian datasets you like; this is the sort of thing that would make a WONDERFUL custom gift for a particular type of person.
- The Archaeology of Taste: Oh I love this project! Exploring the way in which food impacts memory and the way in which we recall tastes and flavours and experience, this website collects a series of interviews with a variety of subjects, identified only by their name and age, about their relationship with food, their memories of it, the events and people and places that they associate with specific flavours and dishes...if you’ve ever sat and read Elizabeth David for the writing not the recipes, or enjoy Nigel Slater’s almost pornographic delight in describing his meals, then you will absolutely adore this. Simple, small, often slightly banal personal food histories - I could honestly read this all day.
- The Food Timeline: Literally that - a timeline of foodstuffs, when they were first made (or in some cases invented/marketed), from prehistory to the now. Very, very ugly indeed, but contains a lot of seemingly well-researched information on the history of human nourishment and cuisine.
- The Areo Browser: Would YOU like to explore 3d models of the surface of Mars, right here in your browser? Would you? WOULD YOU? Good, thank Christ for that. The Areo Browser presents a variety of ‘slices’ of Martian landscape which you can zoom and rotate, each presented topographically so you can get a feel for the terrain. I don’t think we’re ever quite as amazed by this stuff as we ought to be - look, ffs, you can examine the surface of an ACTUAL OTHER PLANET while you sit earning money in your pointless white-collar job! Even if you think modernity is awful and frightening (and if you don’t, please, please share your drugs with me) this is still pretty amazing.
- Jackets: The Smithsonian archive is always great, but I stumbled across this very particular slice of its archive this week and it made me oddly happy so I thought I’d share. This is a collection of ALL THE JACKETS in the archive, and despite having all the style and elan of corduroy I was transfixed by the tailoring here; there are some seriously natty threads, not least the Miles Davis-worn number you see right at the top of the page; I like to think at least one of you will look at that and go YES MATE and make it your signature fashion statement for 2020, so please don’t let me down.
- Procedural Generation: An excellent subReddit in which programmers share examples of their procedural generation work, mainly used in the context of world creation in game development but also stuff around faces, character models and the like. There’s loads of really interesting work in here, and it’s a decent primer on exactly what you can achieve with procgen (and by extension what you can’t).
- The World According To Sound: A PODCAST! THAT I HAVEN’T LISTENED TO! However, I feel reasonably confident recommending it as a) it sounds really interesting, being as it is a series in which each episode contains “a neat little story about an evocative, unusual sound rendered in intense aural detail”; and b) each episode lasts around 90s, meaning it’s a welcome respite from the endless, self-indulgent procession of flabby, unedited ‘two mates who find each other HILARIOUS’ audiodumps cluttering up the lower reaches of Spotify.
- Dogs Playing Poker: You are, of course, aware of the SEMINAL artwork by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge in which a bunch of REALLY GOOD BOYS play a hand or two of Texas Hold’Em; this website lets you create a version of that painting with each of the possible 6.6 quadrillion combinations of playing cards on display. One the one hand, this is probably quite an impressive bit of coding; on the other, WHY?!?!? That said, if you know anyone whose life has been determined (ideally negatively) by a specific hand of cards, this could be the PERFECT thing to remind them of it (honestly, now I think about it, if I knew anyone who’d lost big on the cards then a version of this featuring their losing hand would be SUCH a good rinse).
- Leaf Origami: The Twitter feed of a very talented and, I am guessing, slightly obsessional Japanese person named Inori who makes origami shapes out of leaves (I’m sure they do other things, just that that’s what’s on their Twitter feed). These are gorgeous, and would make rather wonderful animations I think.
- The Fall of the Berlin Wall in Pictures: Exactly that. I might have mentioned it here before, but the fall of the Berlin Wall can literally be attributed to poor comms planning; at the press conference at which the plans to lift restrictions on free passage between East and West were being announced, the official briefing the press was asked exactly when these changes would take place; having not been given a line on this (BAD COMMS PLANNING, SEE?) they blustered and eventually spluttered out “Er, now?” and the rest, as they say, is history. My God, that was ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE there, I’m almost impressed with myself.
- Just Tell Me How You Feel: A small, gently-interactive narrative game, telling a short story about communication through poetry. Very smol and very lovely.
By Joanne Nam
LAST UP IN THIS WEEK’S MIXES, HERE’S AN AWESOME CRATEDIGGING SESSION BY MR THING!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- The Hawkeye Initiative: Old-but-good Tumblr which draws attention to the frankly mental way in which women were drawn in comics for most of the 90s by redrawing male characters in the same back-breaking poses.
- Awesome People Hanging Out Together: Literally that - look! Famouses hanging out!
- Really Bad Blackout Poems: These are very, very good. Find your own favourite and then perhaps consider a career in which you use a similar technique to become a famous Instapoet!
- Wormcore: Not a single Tumblr, but instead a tag I discovered this week. Did you know that there was whole weird subcommunity on Tumblr posting worm-related content (fortunately non-sexual worm-related content, though this is Tumblr and I’m not making any promises here as to what you might find if you dig deep enough)? If no, then welcome to another Web Curios-curated learning experience! If yes, WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Akin Kollective: The Insta feed of the artistic practice of former adland person Enni Kukka (who I know in real life but who hasn’t paid me for this OH SO VALUABLE Web Curios endorsement, honest); Enni’s practice is all about using art to increase or facilitate empathy, and she’s got some interesting projects in progress, not least her “Be A Cnut” boardgame which I am very eager to have a play with. Interesting ideas.
- Nord Korea: Not in fact North Korea; I honestly have no idea who takes these photos or where they are taken, but I LOVE the aesthetic here (which, were I to describe it, I’d probably call ‘weird stuff in Central Asia’).
- Baller Busters: This got a reasonably amount of press this week - it’s a feed which exists to call out and expose people on the ‘gram who are presenting themselves as influencers or SUCCESSFUL HUSTLERS MAKING BANK (sorry, I won’t talk like that ever again) but who are in fact either broke, delusional or actively grifting. I’m a bit conflicted about this; on the one hand, there’s something undeniably satisfying about seeing these people get called out, but on the other there’s something a bit mean and hatemobish about it. See what you think. Mind you, as a means of surfacing some truly MENTAL ‘influencer’ types, it’s second-to-none.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- Politics is for Power, Not Consumption: An excellent essay, timely for those of us in the UK, which posits that the increased level of political discourse that we’ve seen in the past decade, fueled by the web and social platforms and, of course, the increasing madness of the political landscape worldwide, is having a serious and negative impact on people’s willingness to actually engage with politics on a meaningful level; that we are confusing talking about politics with actually doing politics. This rings horribly true; I highly recommend you read the whole thing, but this quote gives you a flavour of the argument: “If you feel unfulfilled, melancholy, paralyzed by the sadness of the news and depth of our political problems, there is an alternative: actually doing politics. Citizens who want to empower their political values would be better off if they spent less time consuming politics as at-home amateurs and instead fell in line to help strengthen organizations and leaders. Rather than kibitzing with their social media friends, they could adopt some of the spirit of the party regulars, counting votes and building interpersonal relationships in their neighborhoods.”
- 2029 Predictions: It’s refreshing to be able to include a predictions list at the end of a year which is doing something more interesting than looking ahead to next year (let me fill this year’s set in for you, while you’re here: AR (again), VR (again), games-as-important-media-vertical, personalisation (again), small groups rather than big networks (again), slowness and disconnection (again)...can we stop now? Good!). This is a really interesting, wide-ranging and smart series of predictions for 2029, based on things that happened in 2019; so, for example, this covers the idea that Geotagging will become a social faux-pas in the future as it becomes ever more important for people to have unique experiences and not expose areas of natural beauty to further human degradation by telling people they exist, or the slightly less interesting claim that Travis Scott will be the Kanye of the next decade (really?). Whatever you’re interested in, there will be something in this that speaks to you - and for those of you whose jobs involve a degree of futuregazing and trend forecasting, this is probably professionally useful as well as fascinating.
- The NYT Does The Internet: A special edition of the NYT Magazine focusing on THE INTERNET and WHAT IT’S TURNED INTO and stuff; there’s a lot of content linked from the homepage, and the two or three pieces I’ve read (on the increasing dominance of the Chinese internet and a few other topics) have been good, but I’m slightly grumpy about the way it’s presented which makes the whole thing annoying to navigate and basically isn’t quite as cool-looking as it thinks it is.
- YouTube Tries Livestreaming (Again): Ostensibly about YouTube’s latest efforts to get gamers to take it seriously as a viable streaming platform, this is also a really good overview of the current streaming ecosystem and how the different players (Twitch, Mixer, YT in the main) are each approaching the market. The description of Twitch as effectively positioning itself as ‘the future of telly’ or thereabouts seems like a smart take; the company’s clearly attempting to expand its appeal beyond the core audience who are there for the Minecraft tutorials, whereas YouTube seems to be doubling down specifically on gaming to tie in with the imminent launch of Stadia. There’s a LOT of money here, meaning we can expect to see quite a lot of interesting jockeying for position - it’s also worth noting that the big players I named here are, behind the brands, Google, Amazon and Microsoft. YOU CAN’T ESCAPE BIG TECH HOWEVER HARD YOU TRY!
- An Oral History of Limewire: Aged 20 and living in Washington DC and working (I say ‘working’ - I was of no value WHATSOEVER!) at the BBC there, I was, at least for the first few weeks, quite lonely and a bit scared (and VERY COLD - man, DC in January is bleak) but there was a iMac in the apartment and onto it I downloaded Limewire and for those first few days I was able to create a soundtrack for my new home and make it feel a little less distant. Limewire, for the children or non-pirates amongst you (like non-pirates even exist anymore), was basically Napster on steroids (gah! Ok, so Napster was the first mainstream peer-to-peer filesharing network which basically introduced the concept of free, infinite music to a generation and was the first small step towards the streaming economy we have today - got it, kids?) and you could get ANYTHING on it, from music to computer programmes to an AWFUL lot of bongo; this is a really interesting look back at its genesis and impact, and, as with much of the web at the time, how noone involved made anywhere near as much out of it as you somehow feel they ought.
- The Emoji Changelog: I don’t know how many of you are in the market for an exhaustive exploration of all the changes which have been implemented in the latest Unicode update to the empoji set, but I promise you it’s more interesting than you’d think.
- The Emoji Popularity Dataset: And, specifically, what it means in terms of what emoji Unicode should make more of. If you recall last week’s explainer on how to submit emoji proposals to the Unicode Consortium, this is a useful companion piece - seriously, all brands should take a look at this stuff and work out what emoji they can usefully propose. This piece outlines the most- and least-used emoji types, and explores some of the potential reasons as to why the rankings are as they are; basically, WE DON’T NEED ANY MORE FLAGS.
- Videogame Class War: Another in the occasional series of ‘when videogames create great stories’ pieces, this is about Fallout76, which I’ve featured here before. A recent update to the game allowed certain players to pay a (reasonably punchy) annual fee to access in-game perks; this has created a strange sort of class divide in the game, where players with the premium subscriptions were initially ostracised by the non-paying community and have since leaned into this hard by setting themselves up as a de facto aristocracy within the game. Which is sort of weird but lightly benign, until you start to read about the rather unpleasant undertones which seem to be creeping in. ‘Games as social petri dishes’ is something I will never get tired of reading about; I do think as this stuff becomes more and more mainstream there’s some hugely interesting socio/psychological research paths just waiting to be investigated.
- Remembering Halo 2: I never played Halo, shooters not being my thing, but its marketing campaign is the stuff of legend - huge, multilayered, fiendishly clever and responsible for ensuring that every single fcuking meeting in any sort of creative communications agency for about 7 years had, by law, to include at least one person passionately advocating for TRANSMEDIA (a term that still causes slight PTSD-style twitching in many of us who worked through that era). This is a hugely comprehensive look back at the game, its design, its launch and the marketing - if the phrase ‘I Love Bees’ means nothing to you and you work in advermarketingpr, you really do owe it to yourself to read this and catch up. But, please, let TRANSMEDIA rest in peace in its lonely, unloved grave.
- The Anatomy of a TikTok Hit: Pithcfor dissects the particular aural qualities that seem to characterise the current wave of viral TikTok soundtrack bangers - to whit, distorted bass, BIG dramatic tone-or-pitch shifts, and anything that affords the opportunity for some sort of big twist or visual reveal-type moment with a big aural cue. If you’re looking for a blueprint to viral success then, well, there’s no such thing, but you might be able to pick up a few general pointers here.
- Real Life Superheroes: Many, many years ago, in the mid-00s when I had just started working and was eking out my days as a lobbyist (a very, very junior and ineffectual lobbyist) and had JUST discovered the one, beautiful truth about modern work (to whit, unfettered, high-speed internet access and a whole web’s worth of stuff to read - I did NO work at all, it was amazing), I remember reading a spate of pieces about the burgeoning ‘real life superhero’ movement in the US, where odd little men who called themselves things like ‘Tovian’ and wore armour made out of old styrofoam packing materials and scavenged kevlar. There was a brief revival of interest in the story about 5 years ago, but then nothing until this piece, which follows a group of caped do-gooders around the streets of San Diego for an evening. I love these stories, mainly for the insight you get into the sort of people who think wearing a colander on one’s head and patrolling the streets helping put drunk people into the recovery position is a good idea.
- Messing With Google Maps: Apparently there’s a ‘thing’ in the States where kids are uploading odd, upsetting or just strange photos to their school’s listing on Google maps; is this a thing here too? Regardless, I would like ALL of you to spend this afternoon thinking of the perfect cursed image to upload to your place of work’s entry on GMaps - then DO IT. Go on, make the web marginally more interesting than it was yesterday and cause The Man (or, more accurately, the poor, confused people in marketing) some minor conniption.
- Suzy Batisz’s Empire of Odour: In further proof that there’s money in poo, meet Suzy Batisz, the inventor of ‘Poo Pourri’ - you know, that spray that’s designed to prevent the smell of faecal matter from invading your nostrils post-defecation. This is one of those great profiles which presents its subject in an ostensibly perfectly-flattering light, but in so doing allows them to demonstrate JUST enough crazy to communicate exactly how clenched-teeth crazy they really are. The segue from ‘I sell stuff that helps you forget that you are a machine for turning food into sh1t’ to ‘this is a wellness and self-help movement’ is quite, quite special. Never underestimate the hubris of the middle-aged white millionaire, eh?
- The 100 Best, Worst and Weirdest Things On The Web Since 2010: On the one hand, it really would be a terrible shame if all the things we sought to remember and lionise and preserve from the thick, coruscating, lumpy stream of online culture were the memes; on the other, MAN this is a cultural rollercoaster. It’s a US site doing the listing (The AV Club), so your mileage will vary a bit, but so many of these are global web phenomena that your hit rate should be reasonably high. There’s a whole afternoon of workplace ‘OH MY GOD DO YOU REMEMBER’ memechat here if you’re in the mood; personally I’m just glad to have been reminded of the dog driving stick.
- Finding The Real Diceman: You may well have seen this as it was in the Guardian last weekend; if not, though, it’s a great read. For those not familiar, the Diceman (not, thankfully, Andrew Dice Clay on this occasion) was a hugely popular late-60s novel about a man who decided to let his life be governed by the whims of fate; the identity of its author, and the extent to which some or all of it was autobiographical, were much-debated; the author of this article tried to find the truth. It’s a great, mysterious read, and has motivated me to pick up a copy of the author’s new essay collection.
- The Magic of Generating New Ideas: By a mathematician, but hugely interesting (and potentially useful) for anyone. I love this anecdote about legendary mathematician Paul Erdos: “Erdős was a person of extremes, and he also fuelled his ideas through a don’t-try-this-at-home technique: he used stimulants such as Ritalin and Benzedrine for much of his career. At one point, a friend, worried about Erdős’s health, challenged him to go off the drugs for a month, and Erdős agreed, but when the experiment was over he said that, on the whole, mathematics had been set back by his weeks of relative indolence.” I mean, way to back yourself there Paul.
- Margaret Atwood: Atwood, interviewed for the Paris Review in 1990 as part of their ‘The Art of Fiction’ series in which writers discuss their work and their practice. I confess to finding Atwood an author whose interviews I enjoy reading more than their novels; this is a really wonderful conversation which takes you from the business of writing to sex to critics to commercialising one’s art and to all sorts of other places besides.
- The Humanoid Stain: A brilliant, wide-ranging, discursive, fascinating essay by legendary writer Barbare Ehrenreich, about cave paintings and what they tell us about the way we see ourselves as a species; and, subsequently, what that tells us about who we are. Honestly SO smart and so erudite, I guarantee this will add at least one IQ point to your total and is a cracking piece of writing to book.
- The Feminist: Finally this week, one of the best short stories I’ve read in years and one which, if there were any justice in the world, would receive the same sort of buzz as Cat Person did. It won’t, but you should read it anyway and tell all your friends to read it to - The Feminist is a very funny, very sad, very horrible story about one man’s lonliness and the steps he takes to try and find romantic, emotional, sexual connections with women. Its author, Tony Tulathimutte, is very much part of a current cool literary scene at the moment; I confess to not loving his (very funny) debut novel, but this absolutely blew me away. I promise, it’s really, really good.
By Lara Verheijden & Mark Stadman (link a bit NSFW)
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- It was only a matter of time before someone used a GAN to make a music video with all the weird melty faces; it’s a shame it’s not a better song or more interesting video, really. Can someone do this...better, please?
- Apologies if you’ve all seen this - it does have 9million views, which is about 9million more than the stuff I usually post here, but nearly all the comments are in Spanish which makes me think it’s not quite crossed over to anglotube yet. Anyway, this is Rosalia with ‘A Palé’; there’s a LOT going on in here, none of which I have any idea about. My favourite comment on this simply reads “Some artists make you question your sexuality; Rosalia makes me question if I even speak Spanish”. Awesome video too:
- This is that very now combination of intensely emotional and sort-of-miserable lyrics with glacial production, as though you’re listening to something slightly too shiny on a comedown (or at least that’s what it feels like to me). I really like it - it’s called ‘Baby Little Tween’, and it’s by Okay Kaya:
- I LOVE THIS SONG. 100-odd seconds of pop-punkish perfection, this is ‘Tiny Planets’ by Remember Sports. SO GOOD:
- UK (I think) HIPHOP CORNER! Last up this week, here’s a genuinely standout track by Biig Piig - honestly, I love this immoderately and it made me feel a bit like when I first heard Cantona by Loyle Carner or Here by Alessia Cara, in that this person ought to become VERY famous. See what you think (if you don’t like this you’re a nonce) - the song’s called ‘Roses and Gold’ OH HANG ON WE HAVE COME TO THE END THAT WAS UNEXPECTED BUT NOW THAT WE’RE HERE LET ME WISH YOU A HEARTFELT AND SINCERE ‘HAPPY FRIDAY’ OR ‘HAPPY WHENEVER’ REALLY AND LET ME WISH YOU THE VERY BEST OF LUCK IN LIFE AND LOVE UNTIL WE NEXT MEET BECAUSE PLEASE REMEMBER, ALWAYS, THAT I LOVE AND CARE FOR YOU ALMOST AS I DO THE INTERNET SO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE AND HAVE FUN AND I’LL SEE YOU NEXT WEEK TAKE CARE BYE BYE BYE!