I had a whole thing ready to go in my head last night about TWO WEEKS TO GO and all that jazz, but a) I was quite stoned and so it was almost certainly awful; and b) the news this morning was so horrific that I don't really feel in the mood for making funnies about how banjaxed everything is.
This is Web Curios, please be nice to each other.
By Michael Baratz Koren
LET'S KICK OFF WITH THE ANNUAL NPR SELECTION OF THE BEST NEW MUSIC FROM SXSW!
THE SECTION WHICH HAS NOTHING PARTICULARLY PITHY TO SAY ABOUT THE STATE OF THE S*C**L M*D** ECOSYSTEM THIS WEEK BUT WHICH WOULD JUST LIKE TO GENTLY POINT OUT THAT FACEBOOK'S OWN RULES ON WHAT YOU ARE AND ARE NOT ALLOWED TO POST ON THE PLATFORM CLEARLY STATE THAT 'IMAGES OF REAL NUDE ADULTS INCLUDING VISIBLE ANUS AND/OR FULLY NUDE BUTTOCKS' ARE NOT ALLOWED, 'UNLESS PHOTOSHOPPED ON A PUBLIC FIGURE; THIS SEEMINGLY MEANS THAT YOU CAN FLOOD FACEBOOK WITH IMAGES OF THE CURRENT GOVERNMENT WITH THEIR MOUTHS REPLACED BY A GAPING, DISTENDED ANUS WITH NO FEAR OF REPRISAL, SO, WELL, FILL YOUR METAPHORICAL BOOTS!
- Facebook Replacing 'Relevance Score' With 3 New Metrics!: It's coming! In April! No, sorry, this is too boring for me to waste time rewriting - you can have the bare bones and that's it: "The new metrics are quality ranking, engagement rate ranking and conversion rate ranking. The quality ranking metric will measure an ad's perceived quality compared to ads competing for the same target audience. The engagement rate metric will work the same way, showing an ad's expected engagement rate compared to ads competing for the same audience. The conversion rate ranking shows an ad's expected conversion rates when compared to ads with the same optimization goals and audience. As with the previous relevance score, these new metrics are not factored into an ad's performance in the auction, but instead provide insights into how changes to creative assets, audience targeting or post-click experience may impact ad performance." Happy? No, of course you aren't, it's 2019.
- Insta to Now Allow Sponsorship of Influencer Posts: Insta is launching 'branded content ads', which will let ad buyers put spent behind the posts of influencers they're collaborating with. Which is, on the one hand, a nice way of being able to add a boost to your organic marketing efforts but which on the other is a nice new way to make you pay twice for a single activation. One might wonder why, if you need to pay to promote the post, you're bothering throwing money at the shiny-haired 'influencer' in the first place, but, well, fuckit, it's only you're client's money, and they're getting you to handle this because they don't have the faintest idea what's going on so you can probably piss their money up the wall with impunity because, well, this is all a waste of time, isn't it?
- Twitter Launches News Camera: Gosh, that sounds grandiose, doesn't it? A NEWS CAMERA! The reality is much more prosaic, though - it just means that the Twitter app's been updated so as to immediately open the camera when you swipe right within in, inviting people to immediately share live images and video into the feed, as part of Twitter's ONGOING BRAND TRUTH about being the medium of the RIGHT NOW (or somesuch wank - you can, I am sure, come up with your own startlingly-banal agency strap-concept here). There's not a huge amount for brands or agencies here, though it's worth pointing out that as this is a new feature that Twitter's trying to push there's every possibility that posts from the Live Camera view will get a small algoboost over the next few weeks and that you'll be able to get decent numbers in the short term simply by streaming any old tat. THIS IS THE FUTURE OF HUMAN COMMUNICATION! There's a marginally better explanation of the featureset here, should you desire it, but, honestly, it's very dull.
- Periscope Clamping Down on Spam: Although you won't be able to stream stuff that features FAKE HEARTS and stuff like that. Not that you do that.
- Snap Becomes Layar (Or A N Other AR App From 10 Years Ago): Fine, it's not quite that clear cut, but Snap has launched a new feature which brings it another step closer to being the technological AR layer underpinning all consumer-facing augmented reality stuff; this is the sort of thing I was convinced Snap already did, but apparently didn't. You can now add Snap codes to a pack or poster which users can scan to see an AR 'experience' - in the same way as you've always been able to with other platforms, frankly, but this is another piece in Snap's increasingly powerful AR toolkit that brands can harness. They launched this at SXSW with Game of Thrones and Pokemon activations, because one can never underestimate the tedious homogeneity of mass-market popular culture.
- Pinterest's Ad Platform Expands to 4 More European Countries: I'm not telling you which ones, you can click the link just like I had to (oh, fine, it's Germany, Austria, Spain and Italy).
- Twitter Launches Business Podcast: It's a podcast! All about using Twitter! For BUSINESS! I confess to not having listened to any of this, but I imagine it's aimed at small businesses and contains the STARTLING REVELATION that Twitter thinks that succeeding on the platform is combination of GREAT CONTENT and PAYING FOR ADS! Saved you a listen there, lads.
- Mighty Jungle: After the 'portfolio website as Google Sheet' from a few weeks back, we now have 'agency website as Google Slides'! This is really nicely done and, honestly, makes me think I probably ought to suggest this to all clients from now on and save myself the headache of project managing website builds and all the idiot questions they entail ('can we have more animation on the homepage? And can we make sure that there's a really prominent blogs section that will never get updated because all our staff have the natural prose style of 4Chan commenters? Thanks!').
- Time To Play Fair: You may have heard that Spotify is really upset with Apple at the moment for a variety of frankly tedious antitrust reasons that I can't be bothered to explain but which you can learn more about if you click the link - this is the campaign site, aimed both at the public and regulators, which takes you through all the reasons Spotify are livid and Apple are baddies. I'm including it in the main as it's a nice example of corporate comms and, also, a STAGGERINGLY ballsy move; pretty sure Spotify's money will run out before Apple's here, but, regardless, nice site.
- Questions In The Sky: This is LOVELY by Air France - I presume aimed at parents about to get on a plane with small kids, this site presents a small 'game' where you navigate a plane through the skies in a top-down view, passing through numbered clouds each of which presents a question about plane travel ("how does it stay in the air?", "why can't I open the doors?", "will we all inevitably die if the engines fail?", that sort of thing) answered by an Air France crewperson. Were I unfortunate enough to have to travel with a small child, this is EXACTLY the sort of thing I would try and distract them with while I got six pints deep at 'Spoons pre-flight.
- Thisables: I keep on seeing excellent work by IKEA at the moment, and this is no exception; Thisables is a small site for IKEA in Israel (I think) which presents 3d-printable add-ons for IKEA furniture (and, I think, furniture in general), designed to make it easier to use and better to interact with for people with physical disabilities. Simple, smart and a great idea, this is excellent.
By Ilya Nodia
NEXT, WHY NOT TRY THIS PLAYLIST OF CONTEMPORARY MIDDLE-EASTERN TRACKS FROM ALL OVER THE REGION?
THE SECTION WHICH HONESTLY THINKS THAT IF YOU WORK FOR THE DAILY MAIL OR THE SUN AND YOU DON'T TELL YOUR EMPLOYERS THAT THEY ARE SCUM FOR POSTING THAT VIDEO ON THEIR HOMEPAGE TODAY THAT YOU TOO ARE SCUM AND OUGHT TO BE FCUKING ASHAMED OF YOURSELF YOU CRAVEN SH1TBAG, PT.1:
- The Gendered Project: An excellent library of gendered words, designed to draw attention to the many ways in which language reinforces and perpetuates gender roles and stereotypes. Not hugely shiny, fine, but if you're in any way interested in language or linguistics then this is fascinating. To quote the project's creator, "Early in 2017, during a discussion with my friends, I used the word fcukboy to describe a man I had dealt with. I wondered out loud why it took so long for a word that so aptly describes a common type of man to be used in popular culture. I thought of the myriad words that exist to derogatorily describe or shame sexually liberated women (as a social category) and the dearth of such equivalent words for men (as a social category). I decided to try and create something that would allow us to explore what the English language tells us about men, women and those who do not fit in those binaries." If you love words, you'll love this.
- TwoTone: Thanks Josh for pointing me at this - this is a totally pointless (at least for most of you - fine, there may be one person reading this who has a decent reason to turn spreadsheets into songs, but if that's the case I would like you to get in touch with me and tell me WHY) tool which lets up upload a table of numerical data in Excel or CSV form and which will then translate said data table into music, based on the numerical values contained therein. Have you ever wanted to know what sort of cacophonous mess your corporate accounts would sound like if rendered in the musical style of a Bontempi organ? No, of course you haven't. Christ, no imagination, you lot. I just plugged in a bunch of numbers about the state of the European technology industry and let me tell you it sounded GREAT.
- Data Gif Maker: One of several Google projects in here this week, this first is DATA GIF MAKER which, as the name might have indicated, lets you make gifs! From data! That's a bit grandiose - you basically choose from three types of visualisation, input your numbers and it then lets you export a small gif showing said numbers. There's not a lot of flexibility here, but if you want to create a nice, primary coloured visual showing, I don't know, how much better this year's sales figures are compared to last year's, then this might make your otherwise tedious existence momentarily more exciting.
- Imagenet Roulette: Fun with image recognition! Upload any photo to this site and it will attempt to analyse it, recognising visible faces and assessing them based on its base dataset - "ImageNet Roulette uses a neural network trained on the "people" categories from the ImageNet dataset to classify pictures of people. It's meant to be a peek into how artificial intelligence systems classify people, and a warning about how quickly AI becomes horrible when the assumptions built into it aren't continually and exhaustively questioned." This is GREAT, if rather horrible - I just chucked in a photo of the Chelsea squad from last year, and the software has chosen to label all of them with words like 'cheat' and 'dissembler', which suggests that the underlying software is, well, possibly quite accurate actually. I suggest that you try it with a group shot of your last corporate social event and then circulate the results - there's nothing guaranteed to engender a pleasant workplace spirit like a photo in which a nameless piece of software calls you all stupid based on what it thinks of your faces.
- AI Art Online: A gallery collecting a bunch of AI (not, really, AI)-generated artworks, of the GAN-ish variety. Curated by Luba Elliot, who also writes an excellent occasional newsletter about this sort of thing which is worth a sub if you're interested in computer-generated artworks.
- Bolo: This isn't available in the UK - I think it's India-only - but you can get round it with a VPN if you're interested; Bolo is an app by Google designed specifically to help young children learn to read in both English and Hindi. The idea itself isn't novel - apps designed to help with early-stage education are not a staggeringly innovative idea, after all - but it's interesting that this is Google's first step into this space. One would imagine that in time it will roll out parallel apps for all major languages, as part of its goal to bake it and its services into all corners of human life from as early as possible a time. I know, I know, this is horribly cynical of me - poor Google, just trying to teach the children to read, and doing it for FREE! - but I can't help but think that someone somewhere over there has also spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time doing research into the long-term effects of positive, logo-led brand associations from infant-stage adoption.
- In Her Kitchen: I ADORE these photos. In Her Kitchen is a photo series which presents grandmothers from around the world, in their kitchen, surrounded by ingredients, and in parallel shows a photo of the finished dish made using said materials. Obviously this is riffing off the canonical Italian concept of the nonna - the stereotype of a slightly wizened woman of 80+ with forearms like hams who, when dressed in black, can carry seventeen times her own bodyweight in fresh fruit and vegetables - but it features women from all over the globe. The photos are lovely, not least the differing spread of foods being prepared; these will make you want to call your gran.
- Inaeent: Laura C Hewitt makes pottery, roughly inspired by typeset letters and weird mechanics, and it is great - slightly weird, slightly creepy, a tiny bit bodyhorror and all oddly eldritch (to my mind, at least); the plates and cups with the spiralling, clustered letters and numbers are wonderfully unsettling and a little bit like the sort of vessels you would drink very strong black tea from were you going very quietly insane (yes, I know that that's a very specific description, but trust me when I say it is true).
- Squad: Squad is an app which does one simple thing - through it, users can share a live feed of their phonescreen with their friend, so that you can both experience the same view simultaneously. There are SO many obvious use-cases for this, and it's quite interesting doing some reading across socials to see what people have been using it for since it launched last month - Tinder is a perfect example, with this being used to enable friends to discuss whether to swipe left or right on a bunch of matches. Obviously there's obviously a huge parallel use case in terms of bullying - watch while I pretend to like this person I'm messaging before pulling a rapid and cruel reveal for the benefit of my watching audience! - but let's for a moment pretend that people are actually nice and won't in fact do that sort of thing. No idea if this will ever get any significant traction, but this is a very interesting idea imho.
- Adventurous: This is a brilliant idea and, I think, a dreadful business - though if someone could explain to me how it would be possible to do this without losing millions then I'd be hugely grateful. Adventurous is a service available in San Francisco, which puts on incredible-sounding immersive theatrical /experiential...things for kids and their families. Combining live performance and AR layered over real-world locations, this sounds incredibly involved and the sort of thing that has to be run at a loss unless they're charging $1k a pop or it's actually incredibly shonkily done. Regardless, it's the sort of thing that I would jump at the chance to try - should any of you be in San Francisco (I think at least one of you is) can you try it out and let me know? Thanks. (by the way, additional thanks to all of you who do occasionally answer when I ask these questions in Curios - it's honestly really appreciated).
- Tune: The comments and the horror getting you down online? Well why not install this Chrome extension, which works to tune out (DO YOU SEE?) all the bad stuff from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and others? You can continue to browse the web without seeing any of the UGLY stuff and instead skipping through your online existence like a digital Fotherington-Tomas, pretending that everything is fine and that the web isn't in fact a hate-filled morass of awful! I'm conflicted about this - on the one hand, it's right and proper that one ought to be able to shield oneself from some of the more egregiously awful hatestupidity spouted online; on the other, I do sort of think that just sticking one's digital fingers in one's digital ears or putting some sort of ersatz digital blindfold on isn't perhaps addressing the baseline issues underpinning all of the egregiously awful hatestupidity.
- Six: Billing itself as 'Instagram, but for hotels!' which, honestly, sounds like the most boring thing in the history of tedium, but wevs, Six is an app which promises to match YOU, discerning traveler who wants somewhere boutique and cool and stylish to visit, ideally somewhere with a massively Instagrammable bathroom and statement wall, with your perfect hotel. There is, OBVIOUSLY, some sort of pseudo-AI (not AI) bullsh1t involved in here, whereby the app will ANALYSE YOUR STYLE PREFERENCES and recommend hotels based on its unique understanding of who you are and what you believe and suchlike, and you can book through it too; this is, personally, about as far away from my interest as it's possible to be without being Top Gear, but some of you might find this of interest (and given its likely target market there might be some advermarketingpr hookup you could engender with some of your clients, potentially).
- Trash Plastic: This is a GREAT site, and an odd throwback to the old days of the web where people did stuff like blog. Sophe Tait is a Londoner who at the tail end of 2017 decided to reduce her and her household's plastic usage by 80%; over a year on, she's put together this website as a practical guide for anyone else who might fancy using a bit less plastic in their lives. This is full of actually useful tips that are achievable even if you're not the sort of person who's going to recycle egg cartons to make 'pleasing artisanal planters' or suchlike wankery - honestly, I am so charmed by this site (and if you're a brand who's looking to do a bit of homely greenwashing them there's an obviously sponsorship/partnership opportunity here should you wish to exploit it).
- Accessibility Insights: Automatic accessibility testing for websites. Useful and might hopefully go some way towards ensuring that developers don't forget all about accessibility when undertaking site builds (actually that's unfair - it's not just the devs, it's the clients too; when was the last time anyone you work with bothered to even mention accessibility testing? Or, er, is it just that I work exclusively with bastards who don't care? Oh God, it's that, isn't it?).
- Lookout: Oh WOW, this is magic. New from Google, and only available on Pixel devices in the US, this is very much a glimpse of the future - Lookout is an app designed for the visually impaired, and which works to identify objects seen by the camera. Users point their phone at stuff, and the app recognises what's there and tells them - brilliantly, there's a degree of discernment built in, meaning that it won't attempt to list everything in its field of vision but instead limit itself to describing those things it deems significant (car, road, wall, mushroom cloud, etc etc). Not only that, but it has text-recognition capabilities, meaning you can point it at a sign or page and it will read the text there displayed. Honestly astonishing tech, and one of those moments where I forget how weirdly creepy Google is and just feel a sort of gentle affection for our unaccountable tech overlords (is this...Stockholm Syndrome?).
- Sumerian: Another day, another step in MechaBezos' inexorable progress towards being at the heart of EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD. Sumerian is a new suite of tools developed by Amazon and newly available to developers who want to make VR, AR or 3d experiences - it contains modelling, animation and scripting tools, is compatible with all the major VR viewers from HTC to Oculus, and you can even design stuff in-browser. All very impressive stuff, and useful if you're interested in playing around in this space, but between this and the videogame development platform that they released last year(ish) it's additional proof that there is literally no area of futurebusiness that Amazon's not interested in getting a foothold in.
- Nedl: It's pronounced 'Needle', and apparently has some sort of funny character over the 'e', but I'm typing on an anglo keyboard and, honestly, I can't be fcuked to look up how to type it. Anyway, Nedl is a service which lets you search for anything by keyword and which promises to throw up live radio streams which are talking about that very thing from all around the world. It's a download and I've not played with it that much - personally I'm not convinced as to why you would EVER need this, but you may be able to come up with a usecase.
- Firefox Send: Do you want a filetransfer service but for some reason not like WeTransfer? Well have Firefox Send, then, which is seemingly EXACTLY the same but, well, made by Firefox.
- Comixify: Do you remember a few years ago when there was a brief vogue for apps which took your photos and applied cool visual effects to them? Prisma, stuff like that, which got old quite quickly when we all realised that EVERYIONE could use them and that it made all our photos look exactly the same? Well this is like that, except it works on videos - plug in a YT url and it will (eventually) spit it out all retouched and tweaked, with a variety of effects including one that looks a bit like rotoscoping. No practical application that I can think of, other than to show people who work in low-level post-production gigs that their professional days are numbered too.
- Pi Music: It was 'Pi Day' yesterday on the American internet, a day which we can never really get excited about because to us right-thinking folk it's nothing more than a continual reminder of how appallingly wrong those on the other side of the atlantic get their dating conventions, and I think this was released to mark it - why not have a listen to Shepherd's Pi, a piece of music generated by the first billion digits of pi and which lasts for a continuous 999,999 years. Here's an idea - why not make this the closing track at your funeral, and leave instructions that noone can leave the service til the music stops? You won't be there to see it, fine, but that's got to be worth a hollow deathbed chuckle.
By Alexander Reben
NEXT, HAVE THIS GORGEOUS AND SOOTHING STRINGS-BASED PLAYLIST TO RELAX YOU THROUGH THE COMING LINKS!
THE SECTION WHICH HONESTLY THINKS THAT IF YOU WORK FOR THE DAILY MAIL OR THE SUN AND YOU DON'T TELL YOUR EMPLOYERS THAT THEY ARE SCUM FOR POSTING THAT VIDEO ON THEIR HOMEPAGE TODAY THAT YOU TOO ARE SCUM AND OUGHT TO BE FCUKING ASHAMED OF YOURSELF YOU CRAVEN SH1TBAG, PT.1:
- The Sewing and Embroidery Warehouse: The web, as you are doubtless all aware, turned 30 this week - by way of small tribute, I'm here including this EXCELLENT example of early websitework, which is not only an excellent resource if you're into sewing and embroidery but which also contains a salutary reminder of why you really need to make sure your html is up to scratch. Scroll and you'll get what I mean.
- How Random Can You Be?: Turns out it's REALLY HARD to be random. This site asks you to simply hit left and right on your keypad, with no pattern whatsoever; it will try and predict which you'll hit next. Each time it gets it right, you 'lose' virtual money; each time it doesn't, you 'win' virtual money - the site keeps track of your performance, and you will very quickly realise that it's a lot harder than you think it would be to act unpredictably. I am sure there is some very, very smart maths behind this but I am screwed if I can understand it- still, it's sort of bafflingly cool.
- The Book of Kells, Online: Trinity College in Dublin have scanned and put online the whole Book of Kells, the legendary illuminated manuscript considered to be one of the finest extant examples of medieval religious texts; it's wonderful to be able to examine these close-up.
- Genderless Voice: I think this was launched last week for International Women's Day - regardless, it's SUCH a good idea and I'm slightly surprised it didn't get more pickup. Q is the world's first genderless voice, designed for use in text-to-speech of home voice assistant software, and which you can try out on the site. There's something initially very disconcerting about the way it shifts its pitch to maintain its genderless state, but you quickly stop noticing it - it's interesting quite how fast one can just accept the fact that there are no strong gendered signals either way, and not consider it at all weird. Take from that what you will.
- YSplit: Based on the number of apps that currently exist to help young people split bills and payments, you'd think that the greatest threat facing this generation is their absolute base-level inabiliy to do simple maths. Still, this seems like quite a smart idea - multiple parties link their accounts to a card, which can be used to pay for joint purchases (meals, cinema tickets, 35million nitrous ampules, that type of thing) with all users being charged an equal split of the cost as soon as payment is processed. Sort-of useful sounding, but, equally, just do some mental arithmetic ffs.
- Travel Scams: A slightly crap website collecting reports of travel scams perpetrated on naive tourists across the world. This is useful solely as a means of marvelling at the sort of stuff people get taken in by - mate, look, if you need someone on a website to tell you that the Central European men on Tower Bridge doing the cup and ball game for £20 are perhaps not entirely legit (yes, DESPITE the fact that you just saw someone win £100! I KNOW!) then I've got some magic beans that you simply must see.
- Bell Labs in the 60s & 70s: Excellent vintage photos of people working with computers. You may not think you want to click this link, but I promise you that one of the people featured in this set - which, by the way, contains a lot of pleasing evidence that tech and IT work was in fact pretty diverse - features absolutely the greatest facial hair you will see all day.
- Woof3d: A mod for classic 3d shooter Wolfenstein3d in which instead of shooting the game's famous Nazi dogs you can instead pet them. Let's assume for the purposes of this writeup that the mod also de-Nazifies them, so you're not in fact telling a bunch of fascist attack pups that they're good boys.
- Hansard at Huddersfield: This is the second time I've featured an improved search function for Hansard in here - this is a new project by the University of Huddersfield, which has built a far nicer search and visualisation front-end over the standard corpus of recorded parliamentary business; you can track mentions of different terms over time, see who used them and see the exact snippets of speech in which they were used. Obviously the most immediately interesting thing to do is to check for swears - 'cnut' has been used a couple of times in recent years, but I was surprised to see that 'twat' has had such a high number of runouts.
- Sri Lankan Minefields: "Allison Joyce, a photographer with Getty Images, recently spent time with some of the Tamil women, many of them widows and survivors of the war, who work for the HALO Trust, one of the NGOs trying to clear one of the largest minefields in the world. Said Joyce: "Forty-four percent of HALO's staff working in the minefields are female, of which 62 percent are the primary breadwinners of their family, and 37 percent have had relatives who were injured, killed, or went missing during the civil war. As of January 31, 2019, HALO Sri Lanka has cleared 309,354 mines and unexploded ordnance in Sri Lanka."" These are wonderful shots.
- Avataaaaars: A nice, simple tool to generate 2d avatars for websites; you can choose skintone, hair length, eye colour, size and shape, and a whole bunch of other variables to create a really wide variety of faces. Particularly laudable is the fact that there's no 'gender' binary here - you can create any type of look you want through the individual constituent elements, but they're never labeled as 'male' or 'female' which I personally think is rather a nice touch.
- Tayl: 'Turn articles into audio' is not a new service, but Tayl is the first I've seen that will roll a whole bunch of them into your own personal podcast; the idea being that you could, say, plug all of the longreads from Curios into it and then listen to them as one long audio file (which would probably last about 3 days - on reflection, that's perhaps not a viable solution to the whole 'there's too much fcuking stuff in your newsletter, Matt' issue).
- The Celebrity Wiki Quiz: Guess the famous, based on the sections in their Wikipedia entry. This is surprisingly fun, and a really nice, simple hack of Wikipedia's format. It's American, so there are some that might be impossible for anglos unless you have a weird and encyclopaedic knowledge of US talkshow hosts, but there's enough proper global famouses on here to make it worth a play.
- Movie Premieres Unlimited: A Twitter feed sharing some GREAT red carpet photography from film premieres in the (mainly) 90s. If you ever want a quick illustration of the differential standards applied to men and women in Hollywood, just look at some of the stuff the men get away with wearing. I mean, really.
- Traduora: A translation platform for teams. I'm really sorry, there's literally nothing I can think of to make this less dull. Let's...let's move on.
- Hexagons: Do YOU have a longstanding need for a piece of software that will let you make hexagonal map-type things, of the sort you might use in tabletop wargaming if you're that sort of person? No, you probably don't, but nonetheless I present you with this site which lets you do that very thing, because I am CERTAIN that there will come a point in the future where at least one of you will desperately require such a thing and your life (professional or personal) will be SAVED thanks to me and Web Curios and my continued inability to prune this weekly mess of stuff like this, which is neither particularly interesting or particularly webby but is just, well, here. Still, if any of you do tabletop roleplaying this might be vaguely useful (clutching at straws rather here).
- Time Is Ltd: Well this is horrid. Time is Ltd is a workplace productivity tool designed to let bosses see EXACTLY what their staff are up to and quantify it for professional productivity gain. Plug it into your workplace IT and it will start tracking who opens emails from whom, which teams have most meetings, which people accept the most meeting invites...this sounds genuinely horrible and the sort of thing which would make your every workplace moment a surveilled hell so, er, don't use it!
- Offensive Adult Party Game: Know anyone who thinks that Cards Against Humanity is the ne plus ultra of party funtime? Send them this instead and see if they get the joke.
- Pluto: Insurance FOR YOUNG PEOPLE! I am sure that this is a great company with a genuinely innovative business model, but equally I am sure that we're hopefully reaching the bottom of the barrel when it comes to business models that can literally be summed up as "X for people who don't like X". Ticks all the Genzennial (sorry) stereotype boxes - personalised rewards? CHECK! Some light acknowledgement of the fact that this stuff is really boring and noone wants to have to think about it? CHECK! If you're a feckless child who can't be trusted with GROWNUP financial services products, perhaps this is for you!
- Tagging Monarchs: This might be the best thing I've learned all week. Did you know that there is a worldwide programme track butterflies by TAGGING THEM WITH TINY STICKERS?!?! This is honestly one of the cutest - and, if I'm honest, most wonderfully futile - human endeavours I've heard of in years. Seriously, even if you don't want to read about the programme, just tick the link - I promise you the picture of the butterfly will make you feel slightly better.
- Logoland: This is an interesting service - Logoland will do you a logo, based on some basic information about your brand, for a flat-rate fee of $1500. Which, if you consider what branding agencies charge, seems like a genuinely reasonable price for a properly-designed piece of work by an actual human that you own and can use wherever you like.
- Co-parenter: As THE CHILD OF A BROKEN HOME (put away your hankies; the emotional damage mainly manifests itself in my shoddy treatment of others, I'm fine!) I can totally appreciate the fact that dealing with shared parenting can be a difficult and stressful thing; I do, though, despair slightly at the need for this app whose tagline is, seemingly with a straight face, "Save money. Stay out of court.Make better decisions for your kids." Maybe...maybe reorder those priorities? Anyway, if you can't arrange a pickup time with your ex without threatening them with some sort of creative form of significant physical violence then maybe this will be of servic.
- Where on Google Earth is Carmen Sandiego?: Finally this week, a GREAT game on Google Earth, resurrecting the world-famous Carmen Sandiego franchise from the 80s/90s - hang on, you don't know Carmen Sandiego? You never read the books or saw the series of played the game about the time travelling, globe-trotting, kickass female criminal Carmen Sandiego? WELL CORRECT THAT RIGHT NOW! This is genuinely great - loads of fun, lightly educational and a brilliant excuse to just mess around on Google Earth for the rest of the day because, as I'm at pains to remind you every week, if you work in advermarketingpr then your job is largely pointless and you should probably stop doing it!
By Seo Wonmi
LAST MIX OF THE WEEK IS NOT IN FACT A MIX BUT A FULL ALBUM OF GLITCHY BREAKS BY JABRU - THIS IS EXCELLENT!
THE CIRCUS OF TUMBLRS!:
- Yideo Games: A series of posts on this particular Tumblr all about how to be Jewish in videogames - specifically, a lot of ridiculously-detailed enquiries into which Pokemon are kosher and whether Pacman sits Shiva after devouring those ghosts and that sort of thing. To be honest I am linking this mainly as the stupidity of the title made me laugh, but if you're Jewish I imagine this is pretty funny (NB the blog's authors are Jewish, fyi, so am reasonably confident linking to this presuming it's all above board and well-intentioned).
- Art From The Future: Actually it's all from the past, but there's a really nice aesthetic to this collection of assorted old photos and bits of design and illustration.
THE TROUGH OF (INSTA) FEEDS!:
- Uhlectronics: Handmade DIY synths, in case you're interested in that sort of thing.
- A Map A Day: Daily cartographical curios.
LONG THINGS WHICH ARE LONG!:
- The Decline of Local Media: It's not a massively trenchant observation to suggest that local media is a bit fcuked. This looks at the state of the local media ecosystem in the US but all the stuff it says is pertinent to the UK as well, particularly in light of this week's news about Global shuttering loads of its local stations; the main thing that strikes me about this debate is the way in which the lack of any local-level news does very real and very bad things to the sense of identity and place that a town or area can have; without observation and reporting on a community, does that community really exist? Well, yes, of course it does, fine, but I do think there's a crisis of identity in small communities that can in some small way be attributed to this phenomenon.
- The Whatsapp Wild West: This is a great look at exactly how Whatsapp is being manipulated by politicians and criminals in India - I've been saying for a year or so now that the upcoming Indian elections are going to be a new high water mark in terms of 'dodgy stuff being done using digital means', and this does an excellent job of explaining how that might work. Honestly, you think that stuff on Facebook is bad, you just have a read of this. The coordinated use of Whatsapp groups as daily propaganda sources using tightly mobilised teams of activists to seed it is hugely powerful - even with the inbuilt limits on forwarding that Whatsapp's imposed, you don't need to be a mathematician to see the potential network effect here.
- Uber for X: An interesting piece analysing the fortunes of 105 companies that have at some point been described in the media as being 'a bit like Uber, but for X' - it does a wonderful job of explaining exactly why they've perhaps been a dreadful, dreadful thing for people and sectors overall: "all of these companies have brought hundreds of thousands of people into new work arrangements that are more than a gig but less than a job. They've rearranged the way people get basic tasks done, and they've wired those in local industries—handymen, house cleaners, dog walkers, dry cleaners—into the tech- and capital-rich global economy. These people are now submitting to a new middleman, who they know controls the customer relationship and will eventually have to take a big cut, as Uber drivers would be happy to tell them."
- Another TikTok Explainer: I know, I know, you KNOW what TikTok is and how it works and stuff. FINE. This, though, is more interesting than that - it spends quite a lot of time talking about how the app is designed to present you with STUFF straight away, and how that draws you in in a way that's sort of sui generis: "when you open the app: the first thing you see isn't a feed of your friends, but a page called "For You." It's an algorithmic feed based on videos you've interacted with, or even just watched. It never runs out of material. It is not, unless you train it to be, full of people you know, or things you've explicitly told it you want to see. It's full of things that you seem to have demonstrated you want to watch, no matter what you actually say you want to watch."
- Foursquare's Still Here: And it's VERY CREEPY. Apparently they're going big at SXSW again (did I mention that ONCE AGAIN noone's seen fit to pay me to go to Austin and Tweet tediously about how much I love barbecue? IT'S NOT FAIR) with a 'fun' little map that shows realtime data about where actual people are in Austin at any given time, which is a STAGGERINGLY creepy thing and, to my mind, massively tin-eared when you think about current consumer sentiment around privacy. Or maybe 4sq just know what lots of us sort of deep-down assume - that people don't actually give two fcuks about privacy when it really boils down to it. I do love the quote from the co-founder here, though: "We're not sure if it's the responsible thing or not to have a view like this in the phone yet". Good to see those small ethical qualms and quandaries aren't causing you pause, there, dude!
- Pay Attention: This is unsettling, and made me think quite a lot. The article's by a lecturer in law who writes abut giving her students an assignment to pick a person on the subway and see how much information they could glean about them simply by looking at them and listening into their conversation. The number of examples she gives of people being able to quickly determine people's name, employer, place of work and suchlike from a couple of minutes' careful observation were not a little unsettling, and made me think a lot more about what I'm giving away.
- Meet Lindsay Ellis: This is a great profile of Lindsay Ellis, who does very in-depth and academic film critiques on YouTube which also happen to be funny and generally hugely entertaining (and I say this as someone with literally no interest in cinema as a medium). It's about her, obviously, but also more broadly about the way YouTube and other platforms have opened up space for critical voices that wouldn't necessarily have found a place, and equally about the frankly insane demands that both YT and the rabid fandoms place on creators.
- On Music and the Industry: I don't quite know how to title this - it is the transcript of a talk by Mat Dryhurst and it is VERY LONG and a bit rambling, but contains some really interesting thinking and observations about music and the associated industries, along with the blurring of subcultural boundaries, the disappearance of the concept of the 'underground' and the new breed of popstars who are not just musicians but also sort-of large-scale culture-processing units: "Another cold-light-of-day re-reading of the surge of poptimism in the press over the past decade is to see it as the bargaining stage of grief over the seemingly inexorable charge of bot-like popular figures who hoover up ideas from the margins and deploy significant resources to capture a moment with music fortified from any potentially critical angle one might level at it. Pop stars are better understood as monarchic CEO's of content production studios atop a feudal, trickle up, creative economy."
- Hudson Yards: This is a great piece of journalism, not only as a criticism of the latest upscale urban planning waste of space being inflicted on New York in the shape of Hudson Yards, but also as a piece of longform web design. I know we don't get excited by Snowfall-y stuff any more, but I think this is really nicely made. Also gets bonus points for its sneeringly dismissive reference to Thomas Hetherwick as 'billionaire whisperer'.
- How Creativity Became a Capitalist Buzzword: I'm back working with an agency which does consumery stuff again for the first time in a while, and it's interesting to be reminded of the breathless need for IDEAS and CREATIVE which seemingly never ends, despite the fact that 90% of the IDEAS and CREATIVE are generated purely to satisfy the whims of clients who need to spaff away some excess budget (re 'spaff', does Boris read Web Curios, by the way? HELLO BORIS!), and 90% of those will never go anywhere. When did we all become so obsessed with creativity? This is a good look at how late-stage capitalism learned that it could coopt this magical buzzword to fool us into thinking our pointless, silly jobs are in some way noble and fulfilling.
- An Alternate History of Sexuality in Club Culture: A truly heroic recap of club culture from the early 70s to now, spanning both sides of the Atlantic and becoming more globetrotting as it goes on. This is genuinely fascinating, whether you're a student of club culture or otherwise; so much of modern visual /aural culture stems from this stuff, and queerness has been central to the concept of clubbing since time immemorial (is it still? Maybe, following the heteronormative mainstreamisation - yes, yes that's what I said - of the scene in the late-90s/early-00s). Made me want to go and dance to techno, which isn't something I've thought since I broke my foot clubbing with Fat Bob in Amsterdam a few years back.
- Notes on Peach: Peach - you remember! It was a BRAND NEW AND EXCITING social network we all tried out for about 24h a couple of years ago before realising that it, like all the others, was never going to topple Zuckerberg's Big Blue Misery Factory and its spinoff products! - still has a small but dedicated community using it; this piece explains what it is about the platform that makes it so appealing for this group, which are exactly the same reasons that it never really went mainstream. I very much enjoy these peeks inside small communities of which I will never be apart - this makes me hopeful that we'll eventually all end up using the web through small things like Peach, returning us to a slightly more fragmented society of small groups rather than the miserypanopticon we're all currently stuck in every time we turn on our phones or computers.
- How Discord Went Mainstream: If you're not a gamer - not just a player of games, but a gamer - you might not know about Discord; it's a bit like Slack, basically, except marginally less annoying, and it's THE platform of choice for Twitch streamers, gaming YouTubers and gaming communities to congregate on. This piece gives a reasonable overview of how it works and why it's so popular - there are lots of features here that make it a really useful platform for community engagement, should you be in the market for one.
- Meet Andrew Yang: This man is not going to win the US election in 2020, but, as a snapshot of how weird politics is right now, this piece is worth reading. Andrew Yang is a middle-aged entrepreneur-type, who's currently on track to get enough individual donors to qualify him for a place on the initial Primary debate stage. How? He went on Joe Rogan's podcast, talked about his idea for Universal Basic Income, and the shitposters have done the rest. It's quite incredible that this guy's gaining political legitimacy off the back of a bunch of kids on the Chans and Reddit deciding that he'll help them to keep playing videogames in relative comfort (yes, yes, I know, I am OLD), and equally astonishing that political systems haven't been adapted to take into account the sort of dogpiling that these online communities are so adept at. Let's see how far Yang goes, and whether he at any point does anything about the fact that he's probably being funded by a lot of people with a lot of very, very unpleasant views.
- Meet Lil Pump: This profile of Soundcloud rapper Lil Pump is one of the funniest things I read all week, whilst at the same time being a slightly sad picture of a little kid in a very grown-up world. You can't shake the feeling that there are an awful lot of people making an awful lot of money out of this kid and that when he wakes up from the lean binge there might not be an awful lot left. Still, I imagine he's having what to lots of people looks like a lot of fun in the meantime.
- The Moral Clarity of Slaughterhouse 5: I love Vonnegut, and I love Slaughterhouse 5, and this piece is excellent on exactly why it's such a wonderful novel. I say 'so it goes' to myself on an almost daily basis, and it's possibly the most comforting phrase I know.
- New York: This is from 1960, it's written by Gay Talese and it's a truly beautiful piece of writing, taking you on a tour of the city throughout the day, introducing you to characters major and minor in a series of unconnected vignettes which produce a wonderful picture of the city as a whole. Every single bit of this is marvellous; if you've ever been to New York, or even if you've only ever seen it in film, this is glorious.
- The Most Expensive Gay Bongo Movie Ever: There is a LOT in this story - robbery, a life on the run, drugs, bongo, bathhouses and, in the end, quite a lot of low-key tragedy. George Bosque stole $1.75million from the security van he was driving - this is his story, and that of CENTURIANS [sic] OF ROME, the blockbuster gay bongo movie he decided to finance with part of the proceeds of his crime. This is quite incredible; you can almost taste all the cocaine through your monitor as you look at the accompanying photos.
- A Road Trip Through Racism: In 1964, a Florida newspaper sent a black reporter to cover his experiences of discrimination in a newly-desegregated South. That reporter was Samuel Adams, "a St. Petersburg Times race reporter who spent two weeks traveling the South with his wife Elenora just months after the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. Adams documented the 4,300-mile journey in a seven-part series, "Highways to Hope." This is quite fascinating, and deeply uncomfortable to read - 55 years really isn't a very long time at all. Adams' dignity throughout the experiences he describes - many of which are miserable to read about - is remarkable.
- The Embryo in the Hallway: Thanks Katie for sending me this - a beautiful (if slightly hard to read, for me at least) essay about being pregnant and knowing that there's a chance your child will be born with a serious defect: "As we learned too late, my husband and I have genetic mutations that, when combined, cause disease. This means there's a one-in-two chance of us having a baby who's a healthy carrier, like we are, and a one-in-four chance of a baby with neither of our mutations. The other one-in-four chance is what happened the first time I was pregnant. The other one-in-four chance is my son." Not easy, but very good.
- Sophia Hanson Wants to Believe: On female robots and sex and gender and how current issues with the way we treat and have treated women will perhaps be carried into the future through the machines we make and the values we project onto them. The gender politics of robotics is a fascinating area of critical thinking I confess to not having given much thought to (male privilege, innit), but this made me start.
- Creative Differences: I don't think I've ever typed "A brilliant short piece of fiction about sponsored content" before, but, well, there's a first time for everything. This is really very, very good indeed - you don't need to work in advermarketingpr to enjoy this, though you may feel it resonates slightly more if you do.
- Colour and Light: New fiction by Sally Rooney in the New Yorker - that should be enough to get you to read to be honest, but if you're not familiar with Rooney's writing then read this, enjoy the masterful way she does dialogue and spare prose, and then go and read her novels. This is wonderful, and along with the piece above is a pretty good way to waste half an hour in the office whilst doing stuff that could look from a distance like, you know, work-related research.
By Jenny Morgan
AND NOW, MOVING PICTURES AND SOUNDS!:
- Amanda Palmer is...a divisive figure, it's fair to say; still, regardless of your thoughts on the person, this is a devastating song and video. It's called 'Voicemail for Jill' and it's about abortion and I'm not ashamed to say that this made me properly bawl at a couple of points. Christ, it just set me off again now it's playing in a separate tab. You have been warned:
2) This, by contrast, is about as unemotional as it gets - spare, bleepy, angular and with a video that's like a GAN trying to imagine cathedrals in pencil; I LOVE THIS. It's by Max Cooper and it's called 'Emptyset':
3) To be honest, the band's name means I would possibly have included this even if the song was tripe, but fortunately it isn't and so I don't feel like I'm compromising my high editorial standards here. This is the fabulously-named Tropical Fcuk Storm with 'The Planet of Straw Men', and it's sort of atonally brilliant:
4) This is the new song and video from the new album by QUEEN OF WEIRD DIGIMUSIC Holly Herndon, and per the rest of her stuff this is both ACE and pretty much at the Venn Diagram intersection of all the sort of stuff that Curios is interested in. It's called 'Eternal':
5) HIPHOP CORNER! This is new by Snips and it's called 'The Product' and it features spoken word poet William Stone, and it's generally ace, not least because of all the extreme old school cool featured throughout the video:
6) MORE HIPHOP CORNER! This is Ho9909 (or, er, Horror, if you want to write it in a way that people can actually read) with Mega City Nine and it's pretty horrible and unsettling and that's sort of where I feel like leaving you today so BYE BYE BYE I LOVE YOU DON'T BE SCARED IT'S ONLY A SONG AND IT'S ALL GOING TO BE OK AND IT'S THE WEEKEND AND WE'RE HALFWAY THROUGH MARCH ALREADY AND THAT MEANS IT'S NEARLY LONG EVENINGS AND SUNSHINE AGAIN AND MAYBE THEY'LL SORT ALL THIS BREXIT STUFF OUT NEXT WEEK SO PLEASE DON'T FRET IT WILL ALL BE FINE I LOVE YOU HAPPY FRIDAY I LOVE YOU BYE!: