53 minutes reading time (10657 words)

Web Curios 24/05/19

Web Curios 24/05/19
Oh God, it's going to happen, isn't it? IT'S FINALLY GOING TO HAPPEN!
Hello again, by the way! I am reliably informed that everything really is now fixed with Imperica - thankyou, as ever, for your forebearance and patience as we once again cobbled the website back together again with sticks and sellotape and that weird gluelike substance that gets simply everywhere. How have you been?  
We meet again at yet another of those odd junctures in British history - I say 'odd', but that implies that we've not been here many, many times before - at which the fate of the nation, or at least a measure of its fate, rests once again in the hands of a small cabal of well-heeled middle-aged, privately-educated white people, otherwise known as 'the fcuking Tories'. CAN WE ALL PLEASE STOP LETTING THIS HAPPEN PLEASE?
Anyway, everything is a mess but at least the Sun's shining and at least none of us are Theresa May (unless one of you is, in which case let me say a rousing Web Curios ''FCUK OFF!'
to our departing Prime Minister) - this may well be a record Curios in terms of length and girth, if not quality (like you expect that). so settle back on the soft, golden infosands and let the waves of webspaff lap gently at your toes - this, as ever, is Web Curios. It's lovely to see you again. 


By Shardcore



  • Facebook Ad Targeting Will Get A Bit Less Good: Sorry, that was a massively clickbaity headline, but I’ve been off for a while and thought you’d need something EXCITING to entice you back. The slightly hyperbolic headline here refers to Facebook’s enticingly-imminent ‘forget my history’ feature, which will enable users to scrub the information FB has on them about their off-Facebook activity; which, in turn, will mean that it won’t be possible to target said users with ads based on information which FB has collected on them off-site. So, for example, your cookie-based targeting will be a bit fcuked - or at least it would be if any real people actually bother to use the ‘forget me’ button, but, in all likelihood, they won’t, as Facebook’s almost certainly going to bury this feature down some sort of UX oubliette and noone really cares about privacy anymore anyway (that’s *so* 2018). Basically, as you were.
  • Facebook Makes People Movement Data Available To Health Orgs: This is, in general, A Good Thing - Facebook’s making a load of data it has on population density and movement available to various health organisations, to help them better study the spread of infectious diseases with a view to eventually being able to predict and limit their spread. If you’re involved in medical or academic research this is worth a read; if you’re not, though, you can still enjoy the absolute *chef’s kiss* irony of Facebook using data to attempt to stop the spread of disease whilst blithely ignoring the fact that it’s the wildfire spread of antivaxx rubbish on its own platform that has been a major contributing factor in the resurgence of a variety of diseases in Europe and beyond (and right on cue, mumps is up! Measles is up!) Thanks, Facebook!
  • Facebook Enables Eventbrite Ticket Sales: Or at least it does for users in the US. Or at least those users which are also small-to-medium-sized businesses. “The new Eventbrite-powered Ticketing on Facebook feature enables all Facebook pages in the U.S. to select Create Tickets during the process of setting up events, at which point they can add the options of free or paid tickets, which will be displayed prominently on the event page.” Is that you? No, it’s not, is it? I don’t think my North American SME readership is particularly well-developed. Still, it’ll come to Europe eventually and I’ll be able to bask in the knowledge that you knew about it early; such are the small satisfactions in my life.
  • Facebook Offers Additional Tweaks to Newsfeed: Facebook has effectively broken its ‘Newsfeed’ product, messing up the algorithm to the point where the only content served seems to come from Groups or Ads or a strangely persistent selection of people whose doughy, middle-aged faces keep showing up no matter how often you tell the platform that, really, you and Susan were never friends. Now it’s attempting to unfcuk it a bit, via the medium of SURVEYS! The platform will start asking users who their closest friends are, so as to know whose content one ought to be seeing more of (only a cynic would suggest there might be other potential uses that they could put this information to) - there’s no obvious implication for Pages here other than the continuing futility of bothering with Facebook in the first place for anything other than advertising.
  • Instagram Revamps ‘Explore’ Tab: It now includes ‘Stories’ as suggestions - “Instagram will personalize which Stories you see on Explore by showing accounts similar to ones you do Like and Follow”, the post explains, whilst also going on to note that IGTV and Insta Shopping will also get a prominence boost in the section. More interestingly, the piece also includes a surprisingly transparent account from Insta about the metrics that impact a Story’s likelihood of being algorithmically-boosted into the Explore tab - nothing hugely surprising, but the mention of aesthetic consistency is interesting in terms of rewarding ‘creators’ who have a ‘thing’ they stick to. Oh, and the depreciation of content containing TOO MANY WORDS is too depressing for me to dwell on, so I shan’t. The ability to boost your Story to ‘Explore’ will inevitably become a type of ad unit, right?
  • Twitter Offering Better Public Health Information: Absolutely no brand implications here at all, but I’m nothing if not a pathetic completist when it comes to the news bits. “We recently launched a new tool so when someone searches for certain keywords associated with vaccines, a prompt will direct individuals to a credible public health resource”, Twitter’s announcement happily burbles. GREAT! This applies in the US, UK, Brazil and a few other territories; there’s an interesting wider question here about which other public interest areas ought to see similar treatment which I am reasonably confident in predicting will not have anything resembling a neat and tidy answer.
  • LinkedIn Improves Recruiting Tools: This is literally ONLY of interest if you use LinkedIn as a hiring tool. Do you? DO YOU? I’m sorry.
  • Google Announces New Ad Formats: Discovery ads! Gallery ads! New inventory for showcase shopping ads! Do you care about any of these things? Do you? DO YOU? Again, I’m sorry.
  • Google Revises Mobile Search Design: A small one, this, but Google mobile search will now show ads in search with a black-highlighted ‘Ad’ label, and will now show website favicons in search, which is a decent enough reason to get yourself a visually appealing one if you’ve not already.
  • YouTube Adds Static Image Adverts: What could be more natural on the world’s largest video platform than posting an ad that’s nothing but a static image? NOTHING! I don’t understand this at all, but Google seem to know what they’re doing with this digital advertising lark and so I’ll respectfully concede that there may be something in this.
  • Podcast Episodes Will Now Show In Google Search: This is a rather big deal, I think - the main issue with podcasts as a content format is audience acquisition, so making them searchable is a huge boost to discoverability. It also means that you might want to think a little harder about what you title individual podcast episodes, meaning SEO is coming and we can now look forward to a flurry of audio files called things like “What time is the Europa League Final and where can I stream it?” and suchlike.
  • Spotify is Testing a Stories-type Format: This is OLD news now, but in case you missed it 10 days ago then, well, here it is! They’re testing a Stories-type format! It’s not out yet! Details are sketchy, but it’s interesting for artists and labels alike.
  • Twis: I have no idea if this is any good or not, but the idea is clever and useful - Twis is a tool that you can plug into your Insta profile so as to easily be able to run contests based on follower engagement; it will pick winners for you from Insta comments and mentions, based on eligibility criteria you suggest, which I can imagine being wholly useful if you’re running an easy-to-enter competition and don’t want to wade through 100,000 entries trying to weed out the morons who couldn’t even spell the hashtag properly.
  • Heritage Travel: This...this doesn’t feel well thought-through. Airbnb has partnered with in-no-way-creepy DNA-testing people 23andMe in the US to offer ‘heritage travel’ - that is, DNA tourism, where you can get your ancestry analysed and then use Airbnb to take some sort of GENETIC PILGRIMAGE TO THE LAND OF YOUR FOREFATHERS. “On 23andMe, once a customer receives their ancestry reports, they will be able to click through to their ancestral populations and find Airbnb Homes and Experiences in their native countries. For example, if a 23andMe customer has Southern Italian ancestry, they might be able to find a trullo in Puglia as a home base to explore their heritage. Or someone with Mexican roots could find an experience in Mexico City to learn ancient techniques of natural dye as part of their heritage vacation.” Why do I feel so...icky about this? There’s just something hugely tone deaf about the ‘ooh, go and explore the OLD COUNTRY’ tone of the whole thing; given current debates and tensions around ideas of identity and appropriation, this just doesn’t feel hugely timely, is all. Am I being a twat about this? Maybe I’m being a twat about this.
  • Care While You Can: This is a lovely piece of work by Pink Ribbon, the German arm of the global anti-breast cancer movement; the simple ‘insight’ here is that self-checking for anomalies is a simple step that can save many women’s lives, and the execution is a range of shower products that explicitly encourage that behaviour through strong behavioural cues on the packaging. Simple, but really smart.
  • Sensorium: A DIGITAL CONFERENCE! IN BRATISLAVA! Actually this looks rather interesting, and I think Imperica editor Paul is involved with it in some way, so if you fancy enjoying a bit of digital wankery in a less-typical setting that the now oh-so-played-out environs of, say, Austin, give this a go: “The lovely Danube-banked city of Bratislava plays host once again to Sensorium, Slovakia‘s biggest festival of digital art and culture, in early June. Held at the Pisztory Palace in the city centre, the festival will host the usual luminaries of digital arts and culture but also, for the first time, have a public programme to be held across the city’s public spaces.This year, the theme is The Augmented Mind, which the festival describes as “a lens to explore ways artists, designers and technologists work with the notion of augmentation as a creative principle“.

nick walker 1

By Nick Walker



  • Google Poem Portraits: This is rather nice, in a vaguely sort of artsy way; Google’s poem portrait toy asks you to input any word of your choosing which will then be contorted into a fragment of poetic verse by an AI (limited detail onto what sort, mind) trained on ‘20million verses of 19th Century poetry’ - you can add your personalised couplet to an image of your own face for a bit of pseudo-profundity, but the real joy is clicking through to the next section where you can browse the total work that’s been generated through the project so far, which is by turns nonsensical and accidentally profound, poetic and tone-deaf, and which I feel would benefit of being spoken allowed by a text-to-speech bot as part of an infinitely-looping art installation somewhere (there is a reason why I’m not an artist, isn’t there?).
  • Playdate: The geek internet was abuzz with this yesterday - Playdate is a newly-announced handheld console which is set to be released in 2020 and which is being backed by a bunch of well-regarded indie games designers and which will, at launch, receive a new game each week to a total of 12 titles, with the likelihood that there will be a full developer ecosystem opened up after that point. Tech specs are limited, although the console will have a slightly baffling hand-crank built into it which will apparently be integral to the gameplay of some of the initial titles, and frankly it’s hard to know what to make of this - on the one hand, the designers are all talented people and the kit looks cute and the unit cost of $149 isn’t punitive; on the other, there’s a dearth of practical details and it could easily end up being a self-indulgent series of industry in-jokes that then sort-of fizzles. Still, let’s presume it’s going to be ACE - you can sign up to the mailing list to keep updated should you so desire.
  • Rivet: If you have small kids of reading age, this is WONDERFUL. Sadly not available at present in the UK - but, er, there are workarounds should you care to look - Rivet (a byproduct of Google, fwiw) offers 2,000 free books within the app, all presented as interactive experiences which take children through the stories word-by-word, offering help with pronunciation and spelling, and bringing a degree of interactivity and play to the experience of learning to read. I suppose one could perhaps rather sniffily consider that this is another example of parenting being outsourced to the machines, but frankly I have every sympathy with a parent who might not want to read the fcuking Gruffalo again and instead might just want to leave it to the smartphone. This is live for users in the US, Canada, India, Nigeria and a few other places and, honestly, is SUCH a great idea.
  • XNOR AI: This is very techy and will be of no interest to most of you, but it’s quite the resource - basically it’s a bunch of deep-learning models available to download, which you can then use for whatever AI-related tomfoolery you desire. “With AI2GO, you can build smart edge devices that have the ability to detect left behind objects in cars, classify in-stock food in a refrigerator, or can detect when a person is at the front door” - or a whole host of FAR more interesting and sinister applications, limited only by your imagination! There are various versions of the models available to download depending on what sort of kit you’ll be running it on, and they are adding more all the time - it already supports Raspberry Pi, Linux and MacOS, so that should be most of you nerds covered. Honestly, if you want to play with some AI this is an excellent, if not-exactly-for-beginners, resource.
  • The KMart Tapes: This is a quite wonderful piece of found art - is it art? IS IT ART? - which is basically pure vaporwave; a former KMart employee found a bunch of the old cassette tapes on which the chain recorded its in-store musical selections, and has gifted them to the internet archive for us all to enjoy in perpetuity; if you’ve been a fan of the general resurgence in interest in lo-fi hiphop and that whole ‘songs as though heard being played on really shonky old hifi equipment from the next room’ audio aesthetic then WOW will you enjoy this. The tapes are a mix of muzak and instrumental versions of pop hits of the day - ‘the day’, in this case, meaning the late 80s/early 90s - interspersed with the odd advert; the fact that this is all digitised off the original, slightly stretched and warped, analogue tapes means that everything here just sounds wonderfully like all your old memories of replaying a loved cassette in your walkman for the 3millionth time even though the sound quality’s all stretched-out beyond repair (WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU ARE TOO YOUNG TO RECALL THIS SPECIFIC AUDITORY SENSATION?!?). Wonderful, and great sampling fodder too, should that be your thing.
  • The Atlas of Urban Expansion: A brilliant resource compiling urban data on some of the world’s greatest cities. “As of 2010, the world contained 4,231 cities with 100,000 or more people.The Atlas of Urban Expansion collects and analyzes data on the quantity and quality of urban expansion in a stratified global sample of 200 cities.” Fascinating, and an excellent resource if, er, you need to know loads of stuff about cities.
  • Cangaroo: This...this is a joke, isn’t it? Except the founder’s been doing the rounds this week and presenting it as something totally real, so frankly I don’t know WHAT to think any more. Cangaroo is the latest in the slew of ridesharing startups seeking to DISRUPT URBAN TRANSPORTATION MODELS via the medium of a fleet of...uh...pogo sticks! Yes, that’s right, rather than riding or scooting like some sort of NORMIE LOSER you can instead burn calories, tone your thighs and risk small cranial trauma as you hippety-your way through whichever centre of hipster urbanity you happen to inhabit. The pricing seemingly runs at 30c a minute which seems VERY pricey given the likely movement speed, and there’s something in there about being charged a 1Euro a minute short-term parking fee, which frankly sounds like it will force you to keep hopping at all times to avoid racking up indolence penalties...nah, that’s it, this is DEFINITELY a joke. Although they do list London as one of the first four cities they are planning to expand to, so when I am taken out by some bearded child huffing on a balloon next time I’m in Haggerston I’ll be sure to laugh wryly at my lack of prescience.
  • The Map of Polish Composers: A beautiful piece of webwork, celebrating the life and works of some of Poland’s most celebrated composers. You can browse the artists by time, the musical style they operated in, or the geographical area they were from, and each composer’s entry presents their biography and an analysis of their musical output, placing them in the overall musical canon and offering a selection of pieces to listen to which offer a representative picture of their works. SImple, minimal and really nicely-made, this is an object-lesson in how to make a clean, educative resource online.
  • The Toilet Study: Nicked from last week’s B3ta (thanks Rob!), this is an interesting little project examining and analysing the difference in the sort of graffiti one sees in male and female bathrooms (someone once told me they once read the line “I cry silently while you are sleeping” in a female toilet, which is lovely and poetic but equally will put you on something of a downer when you pop in for a quick wee inbetween pints of lady petrol) and using that to make a few points about the differing degree of emotional support and sensitivity men and women tend to display towards themselves and each other. You may not be surprised to learn that men are seemingly obsessed with their penises - WHODATHUNKIT, EH? This is by one Scott Kelly, who I get the impression is an ad person at W+K - I reckon this could totally be coopted for the right brand, and Scott seems potentially open to the idea of doing more with it, so, er, maybe drop him a line if you’d like to do something with all this toiletdata.
  • The Stanford Doggo Project: Long-term readers (THANKYOU FOR NOT ABANDONING ME) will know of my peculiar and long-standing obsession with Sony’s Aibo robot dog range; this, whilst not as cute as Aibo, is somewhat more attainable. Doggo is an open-source project by Stanford University, whereby anyone can download, 3d print and run their own working robot dog - YOUR OWN ROBOT DOG! And not just any robot dog, but a DOGGO, which, er, looks like some sort of slightly terrifying Boston Dynamics-type dystopian kill machine, and which the blurb unreassuringly states ‘can jump higher than any existing quadroped robot in the world’. Is...is this good? Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that this is very much at the ‘hard’ end of the amateur robotics spectrum, but if you’re the sort of person who dismisses RC cars as a hobby for being ‘too easy’ this might well be up your street. Just don’t come crying to me when the army of doggos rises up to claim the streets.
  • Href: Do you think Web Curios contains a lot (some might say TOO MANY, but they are WRONG) of links? Do you? HA! You have seen NOTHING - I don’t want to explain this too much as discovery and bafflement is part of the fun, but I would very much like to encourage you to have a wonder through the seemingly-infinite pages of Href and see where you end up. I promise you, this is a wonderful rabbithole.
  • RedPen: Potentially really useful collaborative design feedback tool, letting users annotate directly onto designs to share feedback. Useful if you don’t think you can have another conversation with an idiot client who just wants you to ‘make it *pop* more, you know?’.
  • Photo Requests From Solitary: “Photo Requests from Solitary (PRFS) is a participatory project that invites men and women held in long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons to request a photograph of anything at all, real or imagined, and then finds a volunteer to make the image. The astonishing range of requests, taken together, provide an archive of the hopes, memories, and interests of people who live in extreme isolation.” This has just RUINED me - honestly, it’s 8:29am and I am a snotty mess having just clicked through a few of these requests and the resulting submissions; click the questions to see the original written request from each inmate, and then navigate left or right to see the images that have to date been submitted against each one. You can submit your own photos if you want, but the real draw for me here is the range and poignancy of questions (and the odd creepily specific one which you sort of hope don’t have odd stories behind them). Beautiful and sad.
  • The Development and Construction of London: A Flickr set of photos depicting some of the frankly insane construction work that London’s seen over the past few years. There are 4000 images in here - I know it doesn’t sound interesting, fine, but as a record of the development of London from AN Other European capital in the early 90s to its status as one of the 5 or 6 superplaygrounds for the global rich here in 2019 (Rihanna, you are the ultimate example of HNW gentrification, congratulations!) it’s unparalleled.
  • Raw Materials: More Londonism here, this time focusing on the Lea Valley and in particular the industrial heritage of the area which, prior to the 2012 games, was a somewhat unloved and run-down relic of the city’s 19thC industrial past. “Raw Materials is an ongoing research project led by the Nunnery Gallery at Bow Arts. We are exploring the industrial heritage of the River Lea through a series of materials. We began with wood, continued with textiles and are exploring plastics in 2019” - it’s oddly reminiscent of that project from a couple of years ago in which Amsterdam documented all the objects dredged from the Amstel as part of a regeneration project, and used them to tell a history of the city, and is a lovely example of digital archaeology and psychogeography and all those sorts of things.
  • The Vaporwave Font: Wingdings, but for hipsters! No, really, that is exactly what this is; it’s ridiculous and basically unreadable, which makes it PERFECT for your next pre-hypebeast-drop announcement (do those words make sense? I have literally no idea, you know).
  • The Colour Dot Font: It’s a font! It’s made of coloured dots, like some sort of Damien Hirst spot painting! It also renders everything unreadable, but VERY PRETTY!
  • More Amazing Fake Faces: The latest in the seemingly-weekly cavalcade in jaw-dropping advances in fake video tech, this demonstrates how researchers have been able to create pretty incredible moving videos of a subject based on just a few fixed images of them - I won’t bore you with the technical details, mainly because I don’t understand them AT ALL, but basically it’s moving towards a point whereby you’ll be able to effectively create a face-puppet of anyone based on nothing more than a few photos, meaning the barrier to entry for the creation of convincing deepfakes will drop another inch or two. The Mona Lisa example at the end here is possibly the most impressive, just because of the sheer uncanniness of the resulting footage.
  • Rendering Eye: A digital art project presenting a selection of the strange, melty buildings as rendered by Apple Maps. The description of the work is rather lovely, and worth reading in full - here’s an extract: “The fact that Apple is currently working on improving the database of its renderings already heralds the end of the special quality of these images: soon the streams of data will have expanded many times over again; the algorithms will have been refined and the visualizations of reality so perfected that these cartographic images will turn into simulated immediacy, and thereby become artlessly mimetic. At that point the 3D renderings will no longer produce a picture, but rather a flat image that will be indistinguishable from a photograph – a photograph which, for its part, will no longer be distinguishable from a rendered image. In light of this anticipated development, the screen shots presented on this website are already a memory of a future past, when computer-generated cityscapes were still “picturesque.””
  • Fair Work: On the one hand, this is A Good Thing; on the other, it is faintly depressing that a) it needs to exist; and that b) it’s been cobbled together by a University. Fair Work is a small code plugin that companies can use when posting jobs for Amazon’s Mechanical Turk pieceworkers, which will seek to ensure that they are paid a fair wage for their labour rather than the $0.001-per-unit (or whatever it is) going rate. “Fair Work adds a question to the bottom of your HIT asking the workers to self-report how long the task took them. Reports are then combined to estimate the effective rate for your tasks. Workers are auto-bonused to bring the payment up to a minimum wage of $15/hr. Roughly 75% of AMT workers are in the U.S., so paying a reasonable minimum wage — over federal minimum wage — is the right thing to do as researchers to demonstrate that we take the high road.” Try not to think too hard about the likely number of times this is ever going to get used.
  • The Training Commission: This is a really interesting idea - episodic fiction, delivered via a newsletter format. “The Training Commission is a speculative fiction email newsletter about the compromises and consequences of using technology to reckon with collective trauma. Several years after a period of civil unrest and digital blackouts in the United States, a truth and reconciliation process has led to a major restructuring of the federal government, major tech companies, and the criminal justice system.” It’s an interesting combination of two current trends - newsletters and scifi - with an interesting nod to the Dickensian past of novels delivered in piecemeal fashion; I do wonder whether there’s something in the idea of almost workshopping a novel live to an audience like this.
  • The Drone Racing Dataset: This is rather cool - a whole bunch of data from racing drones, comprising video footage, gyroscopic information and all that jazz, which you can download and use to train your own systems in navigation and image recognition and all that sort of thing. This made me think of the sort of potential exponential leaps in machine vision and autonavigation that could be possible once we start getting data like this at scale to play with.
  • Smol Robots: An utterly charming Twitter account which posts a succession of drawings of SMOL ROBOTS, being all cute. These are lovely, and you can commission your VERY OWN smol robot for a small fee, which would be a lovely present were anyone thinking that they might want to give me a gift or something (NO PRESSURE).

By Julien Pacaud



  • 507 Movements: You may not think that a website compiling illustrations of 507 mechanical movements, some of them animated - yes, that’s right, ANIMATED! - would be of particular interest but BOY would you be wrong. Fine, ‘interest’ is a relative term, and these are, fine, mostly small animations of gears and suchlike, but there’s something slightly soothing about the whole thing when taken as a whole.
  • Neave: The website of digital designer Paul Neave, this is a glorious collection of small webtoys designed to showcase his skill and basically be a bit fun to play with. These are all great, so click around and see which one you like best - I might have featured one or two on here before, on reflection, but I don’t think I’ve seen them presented as an ensemble before.
  • Omni: An EXCELLENT musical website which lets you switch between a selection of different musical scales to explore how different ones sound and why. You can play around with the synths, apply effects, record your own loops, and mix and match sounds from across a variety of different scales to pleasing effect. Or at least it would be pleasing were I to have any musical talent; as it is, whatever I do sounds like a chimp with a Bontempi, but you may be more successful.
  • What The Herp?: Do you want to help train the machines to better-identify reptiles and amphibians? YES YOU DO! What the Herp? is a project which is seeking to train a machine learning model to be able to recognise as many herpetic species as possible; users can help by submitting their own images of said animals, by going through training sets isolating the relevant areas of each photo for the machine to scan, that sort of thing - I can’t promise you fame or riches in return for your assistance, but there are probably one or two people who’d find spending a few minutes each day playing ‘spot the terrapin’ (not a euphemism, I promise) a soothing endeavour.
  • Tone Sketch: Thanks Ben for sending me this, a pleasing little tap-to-play synthtoy, where the location and duration of your tap determines the tone generated. Combine this with the Omni thing a couple of links back for some truly hideous-sounding compositions!
  • Pokey The Penguin Generator: Is ‘Pokey the Penguin’ a famous webcomic? I have literally no idea, but this ‘hit the button to randomly generate a strip and some dialogue’ toy throws out some really quite unsettling stuff; there’s something about the scratchy aesthetic and the tonally...odd nature of the copy, coupled with the all-caps of the dialogue which makes the whole thing feel quite off, if you know what I mean. It’s weirdly reminiscent in feel to Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, or at least it is to me.
  • Lemgth Groups: There’s an article waaaay down there in the longreads all about new cultural trends in Facebook Groups, but at no point does it reference the very, very odd ecosystem of Lemgth groups, seemingly numbering in the hundreds and which all have at their heart a largely incomprehensible (to a normie like me, at least) memey gag about repudiating the use of the letter ‘n’. No, I don’t know what any of this means either, but it’s a nice microcosmic example of how the weird web exists everywhere, even on Facebook if you know where to look.
  • Tona: Are YOU a gym-bunny? Do YOU note down your calorie intake and your reps and your protein and your evacuations in the hope of bettering yourself and eking out a few additional hours on this earth? Well this could be right up your street, in that case - Tona isn’t the first gymtracking app I’ve seen, but the featureset seems reasonably comprehensive and the community side of it appears nicely realised. I can’t really say much beyond this as I last went to a gym in 1999 and was so traumatised by the experience that I’ve vowed never to do so again, but the less terminally-unathletic may find something to enjoy here.
  • Emojishot: Charades, but with emoji! This is a genuinely great idea for a game, dammit - this app lets you play with strangers or friends, and is as simple as you’d imagine insofar as you’re presented with a clue that you then have to present to your partner via the medium of emoji, which you can array however you like to convey the intended meaning. The degree of creativity you can deploy here is vast, and there’s definitely something you can steal here as a lazy engagement-baity regular strand of social content for whichever dreadful, soulless brand you’re currently forced to shill for.
  • Fluid Simulation: Lovely-if-pointless webtoy - tap, click and drag to create gorgeous multicoloured waves flowing across your screen; you can change the settings to modify the speed of flow the viscosity of the simulated fluid and the colours generated, and the overall effect is wonderfully soothing. I reckon if you put this on a tablet or phone and showed it to your cat it would be MESMERISED; see, it’s NOT pointless after all.
  • Airline Logos: A brilliant collection of old US airline logos from the Golden Age of air travel, when seemingly any be-toupeed cigar-chomper could set up a vanity fleet and take to the skies. Special shout out to the now-sadly-defunct Commuteair, who appear to have a very early version of Jimbo (of ‘and the Jetset’ fame) as their mascot.
  • Crowd Control: This is REALLY interesting - crowd control is a piece of software which you plug into Twitch, and which lets streamers play a selection of games (currently limited to ten or so, but including Dark Souls, Pokemon, Mario, etc, so reasonably big names) with the twist that their audience can, via the medium of simple interactions, modify the parameters of the game as the streamer plays it, creating challenges or gifting rewards for good performance. “With the Crowd Control Twitch Extension installed and activated, your viewers will see the Crowd Control icon over your video feed. The Extension will enable your audience to purchase coins and send effects, while you're playing live! The list of items and effects your viewers can purchase varies from game to game, and you can set individual prices for each effect to customize your streaming experience to the needs of you and your audience.” This is SUCH an interesting concept - even if this isn’t the thing that makes it mainstream, there is obviously a future in this degree of interactivity within gaming.
  • Under Lucky Stars: If I’m honest this really isn’t my thing at all, but some of YOU might like it and, as you know, I do EVERYTHING for you (hahahaha do I fcuk, this is ALL FOR ME). Under Lucky Stars is a service which lets you create imaginary star maps composed of HAPPY AND SIGNIFICANT LIFE MOMENTS; the idea being that you make some sort of insufferably twee ‘all the places we have kissed’-type list, and they will turn it into a star map, all annotated with your sick-making reminiscences. Oh, fine, I’m just being grumpy - it’s just all a touch on the twee side for me, but it will go beautifully with your ‘Live Laugh Love’ embroidered cushions and the ‘Keep Calm and Make Tea’ poster in your kitchen.
  • My Mechanics: Who wouldn’t want a YouTube channel dedicated solely to videos of old, rusted mechanical equipment being restored to a shiny state of cleanliness? NO FCUKER, THAT’S WHO! These have millions of views, proving, once again, that there really is nowt so queer as folk.
  • The Safe Project:I imagine that the majority of you reading this, at least on the day of publication, are doing so in an office, most of you in London, looking out over a series of unprepossessing rooftops or, if you’re ESPECIALLY lucky, a maddening vista of cranes creating yet more high-rise carbuncles for the HNW diaspora to covet and then abandon on a whim. Why not remove yourself from the late-capitalist hellscape for a moment and escape to the rainforest of Borneo instead, courtesy of the Safe Project, which presents field recordings of native fauna and general ambient sounds for you to enjoy. Why not spend the rest of the day imagining that you’re swinging from the lianas with a troupe of gibbons rather than yet again having to deal with the tedious, interminable and fundamentally pointless demands of your job?
  • The Pittsburgh Time Capsule: The second project with a super long-term timeframe of recent weeks, this is an excellent project in the city of Pittsburgh, inviting local residents to record messages from and about the city to be revealed to its residents in 2120: “I will be collecting messages from the public that will be stored in two time capsules (one entrusted to the Mayor’s Office of Pittsburgh and the other with The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust). Anyone is welcome to leave any message they feel would be important for an audience to hear in the year 2120. You can talk about the weather, the government, the speed limit on Bigelow Blvd., or whatever the future needs to hear.” I think this is a superb idea, and a large part of me thinks that it’s the sort of thing that would be a genuinely good idea to do as a formalised thing every 10 years in all major urban centres. What would YOU record for someone 100 years hence? Personally I think I’d attempt to deliver my message entirely in painfully ‘of the now’ jargon to render it entirely incomprehensible to future listeners, but I appreciate that I am prick and you might have a different, better perspective.
  • Puaki: This is a beautiful photo project, working with Maori in New Zealand to record and document their tattoos, or tā moko. “In Māori culture, it is believed everyone has a tā moko under the skin, just waiting to be revealed. The problem is, when photographs of tā moko were originally taken in the 1850s, the tattoos barely showed up at all. The wet-plate photographic method used by European settlers served to erase this cultural marker - and as the years went by, this proved true in real life, too. The ancient art of tā moko was increasingly suppressed as Māori were assimilated into the colonial world. In his new project, photographer Michael Bradley has re-claimed the near-obsolete wet-plate photographic technique as an original and striking way of showing the resurgence of the art form of tā moko.” These are SUCH powerful images.
  • Free to Use Cats: A truly kilometric collection of cat images, made available for free use by the US Library of Congress. You want a HUGE selection of cats for use to train a GAN? You want to create some sort of throwback meme generator? You want to just spend a good couple of hours looking at old images of cats from the ages? YOU’RE WELCOME!
  • Policy Highlights: This is a brilliant idea, and the sort of thing that one of you really ought to steal for one of your clients NOW. A Chrome Extension which, when activated on a page of Ts&Cs, analyses the text and highlights the most significant elements so that people can quickly and easily get a clearer picture of exactly what percentage of their souls they’re signing away in exchange for, I don’t know, a funny AR filter. I think a localised version of this for specific sectors would be SUPER useful, and is the sort of thing that a consumer-facing legal firm could do decently out of. Anyone fancy giving me a finder’s fee on this one? No? You fcuking ingrates.
  • Islandeering: To be honest I was in two minds as to whether bother including this, but the weather’s lovely this morning and I feel unusually optimistic about the prospect of us maybe getting some Summer this year; Islandeering is a guide to all the many islands of the British Isles, offering you a whole bunch of potentially useful information should you decide that what you really want to do this year is eschew the Canary Islands in favour of a couple of initially-promising-but-fundamentally-damp weeks traipsing around Orkney.
  • Bard Wars: Quotes from Shakespeare, combines with stills from Star Wars. Much like Shakespeare, it seems, Star Wars will NEVER DIE.
  • Quinn: Are you bored of the standard bongo on offer via your usual outlets? Do you wish for something a bit different, a bit more cerebral, a bit less, well, visual? LUCKY OLD YOU! Quinn is a new bongoplatform, the gimmick being that it’s ALL text and audio - you can listen or read to your heart’s content, but there’s no flesh on display anywhere on the site. I can’t say I’ve spent a lot of time with this, but I’ve got one on in the background now and I can’t say I find this slightly mannered young man telling me he wants to ‘nibble on my clit’ is really doing anything for me - your mileage, of course, may very. Why not spend the rest of the afternoon listening to this whilst at work and see if it improves the experience for you at all?
  • Monster Match: This is a clever game, designed to teach you a little bit about how algorithms work, specifically within the context of dating apps; it’s based on the actual algorithm of one of the popular platforms, but instead of swiping through real people the game swaps these out for monsters. You create a profile and then start to do the classic ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ dating app dance; after a while, the game will start to point out to you how your choices are affecting the new monsters you’re being shown - and how that can start to reconfirm and reinforce unconscious biases, and how one might work to be aware of those. Really nicely done, and more fun than you might think.
  • Ancient Greek Punishments: Chess: The latest in Pippin Barr’s superb series of gag-games based on ancient Greek punishments applies the lessons of the myths of Sisyphus, Tantalus and the rest to the rules of chess, making the game impossible to play but in a variety of really fun ways. As ever, these are really, really smart - each is a perfect gag in its own right.
  • And I Made Sure To Hold Your Head Sideways: Finally this week, this is a really beautiful lightly-interactive short story, about the author taking care of a friend one night when said friend was very drunk. The interaction is limited to pressing and holding one direction on eavh panel of the story, but the way the art works with the text - and the way the particular nature of the interface works - is so PERFECTLY reminiscent of that feeling of being so drunk you can’t really work out which direction the floor is in that you will end up feeling slightly woozy yourself. This is just charming, honestly, and sad, and lovely, and the music’s lovely too. Play it.

By Maria Rivans


  • The World’s Worst Records: Not in fact a Tumblr! Still, fcuk questions of taxonomy, this is just GREAT - a collection of writings about some of the worst music you will ever hear, complete with audiofiles so that you too can experience the horror. A wonderful repository of music which, rightly, has been left to languish in obscurity and which you will enjoy slightly more than you would like to admit.
  • Medical Records Casebooks: Also not in fact a Tumblr! “In the decades around 1600, the astrologers Simon Forman and Richard Napier produced one of the largest surviving sets of medical records in history. The Casebooks Project, a team of scholars at the University of Cambridge, has transformed this paper archive into a digital archive. This site is a supplement to the main Casebooks website.”
  • Dracula Live: AN ACTUAL, BRAND-NEW TUMBLR! I thought I would never again see the day. This is a rather cool project, posting the diary entries that comprise Bram Stoker’s Dracula on the days they appear; the novel opens in May, and so this has only been going for 3 weeks; as a way of experiencing the slow burn of the story this is excellent, though you do sort of feel it needs an RSS feed or similar to work properly.



  • Unbound Babes: Unbound is, as far as I can tell, a queer-positive sex shop and this is their Insta feed - SO MANY SUPERB MEMES ABOUT WANKING!
  • Duracell: This is honestly AMAZING. Someone at P&G obviously decided that Duracell HAD to be on Instagram, but then was evidently unable to answer any of the followup questions as to why (actually, having worked with P&G quite a lot there’s no evidence to suggest that ‘why?’ would ever have come up) - as such, the feed is populated with one of the oddest and most WTF-ish selections of imagery I’ve ever seen on a brand account; videos of batteries being presented in boxes in the style of engagement rings? CHECK! A photo of some batteries being held in a hand inexplicably attired in a 70s-style suede driving glove? CHECK! A series of pictures featuringly a bafflingly-anthropomorphised smoke alarm going about its daily business? CHECK CHECK CHECK!!! Social media for brands is, in the main, utterly stupid and pointless and this is the perfect example as to why. Still, keeps a load of us in jobs, so, well, fcuk it!
  • Hirotoshi Ito: The Insta feed of a Japanese sculptor who does weird things with rocks, like giving them really disturbing teeth. SO wonderfully weird and not a little creepy.
  • NeonTalk: An excellent feed of 80s and 90s aesthetic shots for you. Thanks to Dora for the tip.
  • Stowaway Toys: VERY cute handmade felt toys from Russia. SO SMOL!
  • Kevin Lustgarten: Amazing optical illusions and digital trickery here - every single one of these is superb.
  • DJs You Can Eat: Food/DJ puns. It’s not clever or even particularly funny, but I confess to crying with laughter at Erol Alpen.


  • Epistemological Fragmentation: Or, more digestibly, how various actors are exploiting the web to fundamentally undermine our collective sense of what ‘is’, and to sow division. This is the transcript of a recent talk given by Danah Boyd and it is so, so good - here’s a flavour, but if you have any interest in society and politics and the web and the Culture Wars then this really is a must-read: “The goal is no longer just to go straight to the news media. It’s to first create a world of content and then to push the term through to the news media at the right time so that people search for that term and receive specific content. Terms like caravan, incel, crisis actor. By exploiting the data void, or the lack of viable information, media manipulators can help fragment knowledge and seed doubt.”
  • The Dark Forest Theory of the Internet: If you’re familiar with the scifi series ‘The Three-Body Problem’ by Liu Cixin then you’ll be aware of the ‘Dark Forest’ theory that underpins it; in case you’re not, though, it can basically be described as the belief that the endlessly self-preserving nature of life, and the basic tenets of game theory, mean that it makes most sense for a species in the galaxy to hide itself, to avoid exposure to other species who would, at the point of discovering another, have to destroy it for reasons of long-term self defence. This essay takes that idea and applies it to the changing nature of online life, suggesting that there’s increasing benefit to hiving oneself off from wider communities so as to protect oneself from the quotidian aggression of the wider web, and questions whether there’s a moral question around whether it’s in fact the right thing to do. Interesting and not a little troubling.
  • LinkedIn is the New Craigsist: Or, ‘Why LinkedIn is RIPE FOR DISRUPTION’. An interesting look at LinkedIn’s characteristics as a business and why they mean that it presents gaps in the market for competitors looking to offer a more personalised recruitment tool for niche industries. You don’t need to be interested in LinkedIn (trust me, I’m certainly not) to find this an interesting read - there’s a lot of stuff in here about general business/market stuff which is worth a read if you’re into BUSINESS and all that sort of thing.
  • Going Critical: Look, this is not by any stretch of the imagination an easy read, and to be honest I wouldn’t bother with all the words unless you’re REALLY interested in network effects and interactions; that said, as an example of interactive essay writing, this is SUPERB, peppered with interactive diagrams and toys that help illustrate the weight concepts set out in clear and helpful fashion, even for intellectual lightweights like me (I, er, still don’t really get it, though).
  • Quantum Computing for the Very Curious: Er, yes, this is ANOTHER massive, hard, technical piece, but I promise you it’s the gentlest way you’re ever likely to be taught about the general concepts behind tomorrow’s biggest computing buzzphrase. Again, I confess to having lost track of what the fcuk this all means about halfway through, but the first half was genuinely interesting and not too difficult to understand - you’ll need far more maths and physics at your disposal than I have to get all the later bits, though, so be warned.
  • Meet Your New Favourite YouTuber: Only joking! It’s another terrifying avatar of the horrors of modernity, this one in the shape of a profanity-spewing 14 year old girl called Soph, whose videos feature her opining trollishly on Islam and all sorts of other hot-button issues that the algorithm loves. It’s quite incredible really that we’re at a stage whereby people are creating entire personas based on the diktats of software that NOONE REALLY TOTALLY UNDERSTANDS; more than that, though, this is a frightening vision of a future in which we just let all our kids self-educate through YouTube vids. What’s the worst that can happen? Oh, yes, this.
  • Finding Ctrl: A collection of essays about ‘The Future Internet’, commissioned and compiled by NESTA. “Essays, short stories, poetry and artworks from over 30 contributors from 15 countries and five continents. Each contributor has a unique background, as most were selected via an open call for submissions held last autumn. As such, the book collects both established and emerging voices, all reflecting on the same crucial questions: where did we come from, but more importantly, where do we go next?” I confess to not having read all of them - there is a LOT here - but the ones I have are really rather interesting; this is worth a dive into, imho.
  • A Deep Dive into Snapchat’s Gender Swap Filter: This is VERY technical, but it’s also a very interesting breakdown of how the thing actually works - if you’re interested in AR development or the practical possibilities of the tech, even in terms of just commissioning stuff, this is worth a look, if only to stop you from being the sort of person who pitches stuff that is literally technically impossible and then has to explain to the client why it’s so sh1t (YES YOU - DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT, I KNOW YOUR SORT).
  • On Trans Inclusive Design: A really interesting essay exploring how simple, small decisions in UI design can make a huge difference for trans people’s sense of acceptance and inclusion. As per usual, whilst this is obviously specifically about trans people and trans issues, the general principles - to whit, try and think about people who maybe aren’t exactly like you when designing systems - are sound and worth repeating, and an excellent illustration of the point made by Jay on Twitter the other day re design being very much something that needs focus in terms of ethics. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, this is an excellent companion essay on how much design we see currently ignores basic principles of user-friendly design.
  • Minecraft Earth: Presenting the latest Pokemon Go upgrade, this is a decent overview of how the yet-to-be-released Minecraft Earth AR game will work - it sounds SO ambitious, and I love the idea of collaborative worldbuilding in AR spaces and the possibility for persistent structures overlaid of real life. If this works in any way as promised it is going to be HUGE.
  • The Teen MCU: I felt a bit embarrassed not to have heard of entertainment business Brat on first reading this piece, til I then remembered I am a childless man of nearly 40 and any knowledge I might have of what teenagers are into isn’t anything at all I ought to be proud of. I don’t think, though, that this is particularly big in the UK (though feel free to correct me if it is), but in the US it’s a seemingly big deal - a YouTube-only creator of original teen-focused fictional episodic video, spread across multiple franchises all inhabiting a persistently-linked US-set fictional universe. The ambition here is fascinating and hugely impressive; it’ll be interesting to see whether it persists, but I can definitely see the MCU model being used across different types of programming over the coming decades.
  • Can We Live Longer But Stay Younger?: A great article looking at the science of keeping us young - or at the very least the science of letting us get old less painfully then we tend to at present. As we move towards an era in which we’ll all be expected to live til we’re 150 (dear God no, please), this piece profiles various lines of enquiry into how we can prevent ourselves from losing our minds and wearing out our knees. It’s fascinating to hear the range of responses to the questions around long-term quality of life; as with so much of this stuff, I have a sneaking suspicion that answers will be linked pretty fcuking closely to one’s level of disposable income. Welcome to the future, in which we’ll all live til we’re 200, but in which some of us will spend 170 of those crying!
  • The Last Immortals: Almost a companion piece to the above, which looks at the social divides that could (read: will) arise between generations faced with radically different expectations of quality and duration of life. How will we cope with seeing a generation of children who we know will have existences that vastly outstrip our own in terms of duration and comfort? I don’t know, but my personal guess is ‘not very well’ - I for one cannot WAIT for the Age Wars to join the Culture Wars as a neverending battle!
  • What Are Facebook Tag Groups?: I have been saying this for YEARS now and finally the rest of the world is catching up with me (yes, I know, but I so RARELY get anything like this right) - the future is Groups! Or, in fact, the present - this piece looks at the phenomenon of Facebook ‘Tag’ Groups, loose collectives of strangers coalescing around a particular meme or throwaway line, which develop into small, old-school-internet-style chatroomy environments, and which are a nice reminder of the fact that Facebook can still occasionally be subverted by humans to create an almost-pleasant online experience.
  • Taylor Mac: A profile of Taylor Mac, one of the most remarkable artists at work today and whose “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” (or at least the 4-hour section of it I saw last year) is one of the most stunning pieces of music/dance/performance of the 21st Century (I promise you, this is only slightly hyperbolic). This man is incredible and if you ever, ever get the chance to see him then you absolutely must.
  • Why Books Don’t Work: Not novels - heaven forfend, those work perfectly well thankyou very much - but non-fiction or instructional books; effectively tiomes designed to impart knowledge to the reader. This very long but really interestingly-argued essay by Andy Matuschak posits that textbooks are in fact not fit for purpose when it comes to teaching, based on the way that people are most likely to learn, and posits some design tweaks to the process of transmitting information via text which tie into some of the elements visible in the Complex Systems essay up there, but which equally ought broadly to be of interest to anyone who’s involved in teaching or communication.
  • Why I (Still) Love Tech: A love letter to tech as we old people remember it, back when it was the preserve of the outside and where it fostered communities and it was weird and odd and niche and hopeful and not to blame for everything being awful. This is a really superb piece of writing, nostalgic but honest, pragmatic and responsible, which acknowledges how much of a mess all the techbros have made and offers some small, tech-positive hopes for the future based in increased diversity and openness. If you’re a 90s webhead this will all read so true.
  • Tea Channels and YouTube Feuds: IS JAMES CHARLES STILL CANCELLED?! Honestly, it’s SO hard to keep up and I really don’t care. Whether you care or not, though, chances are you heard about The Beef - this article looks at the YouTube ‘tea’ channels that exist to pore over and fuel said beefs, and make themselves a tidy living on the side - this is SO NOW and so strangely then as well; gossip circles made 21C, and with the added glaze of kayfabe which is seemingly the secret sauce which we apply to literally everything in the here and now (I am 100% serious, by the way - if we could nominate a word of the decade for the 10s, I would absolutely pick kayfabe).
  • Japanese Mascot School: Being a mascot in Japan is a big deal - this article looks at the people inside the suits, how they train , what they learn and how they do it. This cannot fail to make you feel better, and I like to imagine that one of you will be overcome by a mad desire to change your life and run off to stand inside a plush hotdog with arms or something.
  • The Extras of Game of Thrones: It’s over - ARE YOU SATISFIED? Or are you instead one of the million wankers who decided that they are owed an entertainment that is exactly what they want and anything else is AWFUL? If you are, can I please direct you to the door marked ‘fcuk off’ and politely ask that you unsubscribe from my newsletter? THANKS! Anyway, this is the story of Game of Thrones as told by the poor buggers who played extras - I’ve never seen the show, but this is a great read regardless.
  • The Night The Lights Went Out: Another evbocative account of what it’s like to suffer, and recover from, a serious brain injury. This is very funny - Drew Magary is an excellent writer - but it made me feel very squeamish at times, and maybe isn’t best advised for anyone rendered uncomfortable by occasional thoughts as to how really we’re all just meat and gristle and hatred when you come down to it.
  • Bitch: On reclaiming a word. This is beautiful, poetic writing - so, so good.
  • The Man Who Wouldn’t Die: An incredible true story of one man’s attempt to defraud insurers before he died of AIDS. Except he didn’t die, and he kept on not dying, and eventually...no, actually, just read the piece. This is a great story about a crook who you really are rooting for throughout, and feels like a film in waiting; I’d be amazed if this doesn’t get optioned.
  • An Education: Finally this week, I have no idea why Lynn Barber;s original essay on cropped up again this week, but I am so glad it did - if you’ve never read it before, then you are in for an absolute treat. This account of Barber’s relationship with a much older man when she was just a teenager is astonishing - poised, clear, sharp, and controlled, and reading it again in 2019 renders some elements of the story (spoken and unspoken) all the more shocking. Ordinarily I tell you to enjoy these with tea, but I’d have something stronger with this one; it’s SUPERB and you all ought to read it.

By Pedro Reyes


First up, this is a link to a Tweet as I don’t think this is up on YouTube anywhere yet - this is Chika, performing on Jimmy Kimmel the other day, and I can’t stress enough what an incredible performance this is. The flow, the lyrics, the composure when you consider it’s her first big telly moment...this woman is SO talented

I loved Pulp - His’n’Hers is the best album of the Britpop era, don’t @ me - and I love Jarvis, and I love this, his latest track called “Must I Evolve?” which is such a great pop-rock song and grows on you like an absolute bastard:

This is just a great rock song. It’s by TV Party, it’s called ‘Strange Noises’, and the melodies have something a bit Springsteen about them to my mind and generally it’s ace is my summary:

Another poppy/rocky number, this is The Regrettes with Dress Up, and I am sucker for anything with these 50s-style harmonies on the chorus:

This is by Dope Lemon, it’s called ‘Hey You’, and it sounds almost exactly like being me and being very stoned in the Summer of 1996:

My note for this simply says “TWEE AS FCUK” - I personally think that is no bad thing. The song is called ‘Die’, and it’s by Stella Donnelly:


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