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kottke.org posts about Twitter

Gmorning, Gnight!, a book of affirmations from Lin-Manuel Miranda

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2018

Gmorning Gnight

On Twitter, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda often begins and ends his days by posting affirmations for his fans & readers. Stuff like:

Good night. Your mind is yours alone and you decide who and what gets in. Draw the curtains. Make yourself at home.

Good morning. Do NOT get stuck in the comments section of life today. Make, do, create the things. Let others tussle it out. Vamos!

Gnight. Don’t forget to look up your work & let real life in. It makes your work better.

Good morning. You are perfectly cast in your life. I can’t imagine anyone but you in the role. Go play.

Miranda has collaborated with illustrator Jonny Sun on a collection of this inspirational tweets called Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You. It’s out in October, but you can pre-order it now. It doesn’t fit the theme but I hope they found a way to fit this all-time Hall of Fame tweet in there.

Twitter history walk threads

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Apr 30, 2018

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk

One of my favourite Twitter thread style or topic in recent months has been the “history walk.” People picking something they want to see, usually a ruin or forgotten place, documenting their walk there and the things they discover. Admittedly, I don’t have that many examples but the few I have seen are fantastic enough to make the form a favourite.

First one, from just this past weekend, has Paul Cooper setting out in the Norfolk countryside in search of the ruins of the church of St Mary’s, which “local folklore claims as the resting place of the Somerton Witch.” I’m including a few pictures below but read the whole thread, packed with historical tidbits.

(The first picture above is of Neolithic mines, which dot the landscape like lunar craters. The deepest could be as much as 60ft deep.)

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk 4

Paul Cooper Norfolk church walk 5

If you’re a history buff, you should also check out Paul’s whole feed, he does these regular long threads on various historical topics.

Second example, also in the English country side, is this one by @gawanmac:

I saw this on an OS map and couldn’t not investigate. A place of worship symbol in the middle of bloody nowhere on the edge of a wood. It was a foggy, atmospheric day up on the North Downs, so I decided to walk three sides of a square through the wood to reach it.

gawanmac North Downs church walk 1

gawanmac North Downs church walk 2

gawanmac North Downs church walk 3

gawanmac North Downs church walk 4

Your personality, according to IBM Watson

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2018

Watson is IBM’s AI platform. This afternoon I tried out IBM Watson’s Personality Insights Demo. The service “derives insights about personality characteristics from social media, enterprise data, or other digital communications”. Watson looked at my Twitter account and painted a personality portrait of me:

You are shrewd, inner-directed and can be perceived as indirect.

You are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. You are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much. And you are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them.

Experiences that give a sense of discovery hold some appeal to you.

You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and taking pleasure in life. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment.

Initial observations:

- Watson doesn’t use Oxford commas?

- Shrewd? I’m not sure I’ve ever been described using that word before. Inner-directed though…that’s pretty much right.

- Perceived as indirect? No idea where this comes from. Maybe I’ve learned to be more diplomatic & guarded in what I say and how I say it, but mostly I struggle with being too direct.

- “You are generally serious and do not joke much”… I think I’m both generally serious and joke a lot.

- “You prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment”… I don’t understand what this means. Does this mean volunteering? Or that I prefer more intellectual activities than mindless entertainment? (And that last statement isn’t even true.)

Watson also guessed that I “like musical movies” (in general, no), “have experience playing music” (definite no), and am unlikely to “prefer style when buying clothes” (siiiick burn but not exactly wrong). You can try it yourself here. (via @buzz)

Update: Ariel Isaac fed Watson the text for Trump’s 2018 State of the Union address and well, it didn’t do so well:

Trump Personality

Trump is empathetic, self-controlled, and makes decisions with little regard for how he show off his talents? My dear Watson, are you feeling ok? But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t like rap music…

Ask Dr. Time: Orality and Literacy from Homer to Twitter

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 05, 2018

DOCTOR TIME.png

Dr. Time is a nickname some friends gave me within the last couple of years. Its origin is silly, as nicknames’ often are: “Tim” autocorrects to “Time,” so hasty typing in a private Slack turns into a pseudo-persona. I also like that it’s a slant rhyme on Doctor Doom, my favorite supervillain. And in case you haven’t noticed, I have a pretty strong interest in time.

When Jason and I started talking about different ways we could collaborate on the site, the wildest was his suggestion that I write an advice column called “Ask Dr. Time.” I laughed out loud. The proposition was absurd. I don’t want to wade into the disaster that is my life, but the idea that anyone would ask me for personal advice, and that I would be foolish enough to give it, was laughable. Let’s just say I’ve made some poor choices and had some sad circumstances, and leave it at that.

One of those poor choices, however, was spending a lot of time studying philosophy, literature, mathematics, history, and metaphysics. Jason eventually got me to see that “Ask Dr. Time” didn’t have to be an advice column in a conventional sense. What if readers had problems that didn’t require common sense or finely honed interpersonal skills, but an ability to make sense of abstruse reasoning? What if they didn’t need a fancy Watson but an armchair Wittgenstein? What if kottke.org hosted the first metaphysical advice columnist? That proposition is still absurd, but it’s absurd in an interesting way. And “absurd in an interesting way” is what Dr. Time is all about. Not practical solutions, but philosophical entanglements and disentanglings. That I could do.

So on Fridays, from time to time. Dr. Time is going to appear, to answer reader questions that admit of no answer — sometimes here on Kottke.org, and sometimes at the Kottke newsletter I write, Noticing. For this particular entry, the blog seemed more appropriate — and besides, the newsletter was full.

athletics ancient greece.jpg

Our first question actually comes from Jason, who, like many of us, is enjoying Emily Wilson’s magnificent contemporary translation of Homer’s The Odyssey.

Jason was struck by this passage in the introduction, on the oral roots and possible oral composition of the Homeric epics:

The state of Homeric scholarship changed radically and permanently in the early 1930s, when a young American classicist named Milman Parry traveled to the then-Yugoslavia with recording equipment and began to study the living oral tradition of illiterate and semiliterate Serbo-Croat bards, who told poetic folk tales about the mythical and semihistorical events of the Serbian past. Parry died at the age of thirty-three from an accidental gunshot, and research was further interrupted by the Second World War. But Parry’s student Albert Lord continued his work on Homer, and published his findings in 1960, under the title The Singer of Tales. Lord and Parry proved definitively that the Homeric poems show the mark of oral composition.

The “Parry-Lord hypothesis” was that oral poetry, from every culture where it exists, has certain distinctive features, and that we can see these features in the Homeric poems—specifically, in the use of formulae, which enable the oral poet to compose at the speed of speech. A writer can pause for as long as she or he wants, to ponder the most fitting adjective for a particular scene; she can also go back and change it afterwards, on further reflection—as in the famous anecdote about Oscar Wilde, who labored all morning to add a comma, and worked all afternoon taking it out. Oral performers do not use commas, and do not have the luxury of time to ponder their choice of words. They need to be able to maintain fluency, and formulaic features make this possible.

Subsequent studies, building on the work of Parry and Lord, have shown that there are marked differences in the ways that oral and literate cultures think about memory, originality, and repetition. In highly literate cultures, there is a tendency to dismiss repetitive or formulaic discourse as cliche; we think of it as boring or lazy writing. In primarily oral cultures, repetition tends to be much more highly valued. Repeated phrases, stories, or tropes can be preserved to some extent over many generations without the use of writing, allowing people in an oral culture to remember their own past. In Greek mythology, Memory (Mnemosyne) is said to be the mother of the Muses, because poetry, music, and storytelling are all imagined as modes by which people remember the times before they were born.

Wilson goes on to consider the implications of the poem’s origins in orality for trying to figure out if there really was an historical Homer, a single author of the great poems — and if so, whether and how we could tell. She also rightly gives some of the Homeric critics a shot in the ribs for their assumptions about oral cultures, which tended not to be drawn from very many historical sources: if Parry had visited with Somali bards rather than singers from the Balkans, he may have come away with very different conclusions.

Orality, even primary orality, before any writing whatsoever, exists in rich and wide varieties. And Homeric orality was probably not so primary as all that: it’s exciting and accessible to us exactly because it’s on that seam between a dominant oral culture and an emerging written one.

heyyyyyy.jpg

Jason’s question is a little bit different. Since I don’t quite remember what he originally asked, I’ll do a very oral-to-literate thing and paraphrase. What do we make of digital media forms like Twitter that are highly interactive and speechlike? Is this a kind of return to orality? Is there a little bit of the Homeric world in our smartphones, where we both “chat” with our mouths and our thumbs?

The answer to this last question is Yes — but in a different way from how it might first appear. We’re a little Homeric because we’re also on the cusp of multiple media regimes, making a great transformation of great civilizations. However, with some exceptions, we’re not especially oral. We’re exceedingly literate. We’re making written language and literacy do things even our grandparents, raised in the age of industrial print, wouldn’t quite recognize.

I used the phrase “primary orality” earlier, and it’s one I borrow from Walter Ong. Ong was a Jesuit priest and influential scholar of language and literature. He was very much in this Milman Parry tradition of thinking about the relationship of orality and literacy to forms of thought and shared culture. You can draw a line from Parry to Eric Havelock, who wrote the influential Preface to Plato, and to communications scholars Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan, and from there to Ong, Hugh Kenner, Northrop Frye, and a number of the more dominant media thinkers of the twentieth century in the English language.

What Ong helped conceptualize and popularize, especially in his book Orality and Literacy, was that in cultures with no tradition of literacy, orality had a fundamentally different character from those where literacy was dominant. It’s different again in cultures where literacy is known but scarce.

For instance, we tend to associate writing with official culture. We ask for papers, and papers are official. An official record has an official written form that unofficial forms of writing or any form of speech are considered less proper. Literacy and paper are also widespread enough that we expect everyone to have some paper.

A nonliterate culture, for obvious reasons, doesn’t work that way. You need an entirely different system of conventions to differentiate formal from informal, permanent from ephemeral — those concepts might not have even hold the same relationships to each other. One of those conventions, so common that it even exists outside the species, is song. And the songs we attribute to Homer are, for us, who exist in their shadow, the best songs ever written.

In the Romantic version of the Parry-Lord thesis, the oral world of Homer is a lost paradise, and our post-literate one, a fallen world of lesser creatures. This probably borrows too much from how Homeric poets feigned to feel about themselves relative to the Mycenaean civilizations that preceded them, and how the classical Greeks appeared to feel about Homer. It’s all representation of lost paradises all the way down.

Ong dodges more of this nostalgia than he’s usually given credit for, but there’s still an element of it, one that he sometimes seems to regret. (Regret for Nostalgia would make a good biography title for Ong.) In his case, it’s conflated with a methodological problem — how do we talk about primary orality (the orality of cultures with no knowledge of writing) in a culture that’s saturated with writing, whose entire intellectual edifice is premised on writing? In fact, oral culture never goes away: it persists in its own logic and suborns the existence of writing to its own ends.

Ong’s great example is classical and medieval rhetoric, which used books, book-based scholarly culture, and book-based modes of training to elevate oral argument to exquisite sophistication. You might also look at hip-hop, which seamlessly blends freestyle vocals, dance, graffiti, and turntable manipulation to create new forms of recording and improvisation. It’s never an either-or, but a constant restructuring.

1280px-Graffiti_i_baggård_i_århus_2c.jpg

So, as to the original question: are Twitter and texting new forms of orality? I have a simple answer and a complex one, but they’re both really the same.

The first answer is so lucid and common-sense, you can hardly believe that it’s coming from Dr. Time: if it’s written, it ain’t oral. Orality requires speech, or song, or sound. Writing is visual. If it’s visual and only visual, it’s not oral.

The only form of genuine speech that’s genuinely visual and not auditory is sign language. And sign language is speech-like in pretty much every way imaginable: it’s ephemeral, it’s interactive, there’s no record, the signs are fluid. But even most sign language is at least in part chirographic, i.e., dependent on writing and written symbols. At least, the sign languages we use today: although our spoken/vocal languages are pretty chirographic too.

Writing, especially writing in a hyperliterate society, involves a transformation of the sensorium that privileges vision at the expense of hearing, and privileges reading (especially alphabetic reading) over other forms of visual interpretation and experience. It makes it possible to take in huge troves of information in a limited amount of time. We can read teleprompters and ticker-tape, street signs and medicine bottles, tweets and texts. We can read things without even being aware we’re reading them. We read language on the move all day long: social media is not all that different.

Now, for a more complicated explanation of that same idea, we go back to Father Ong himself. For Ong, there’s a primary orality and a secondary orality. The primary orality, we’ve covered; secondary orality is a little more complicated. It’s not just the oral culture of people who’ve got lots of experience with writing, but of people who’ve developed technologies that allow them to create new forms of oral communication that are enabled by writing.

The great media forms of secondary orality are the movies, television, radio, and the telephone. All of these are oral, but they’re also modern media, which means the media reshapes it in its own image: they squeeze your toothpaste through its tube. But they’re also transformative forms of media in a world that’s dominated by writing and print, because they make it possible to get information in new ways, according to new conventions, and along different sensory channels.

Walter_Ong.JPG

Walter Ong died in 2003, so he never got to see social media at its full flower, but he definitely was able to see where electronic communications was headed. Even in the 1990s, people were beginning to wonder whether interactive chats on computers fell under Ong’s heading of “secondary orality.” He gave an interview where he tried to explain how he saw things — as far as I know, relatively few people have paid attention to it (and the original online source has sadly linkrotted away)1:

“When I first used the term ‘secondary orality,’ I was thinking of the kind of orality you get on radio and television, where oral performance produces effects somewhat like those of ‘primary orality,’ the orality using the unprocessed human voice, particularly in addressing groups, but where the creation of orality is of a new sort. Orality here is produced by technology. Radio and television are ‘secondary’ in the sense that they are technologically powered, demanding the use of writing and other technologies in designing and manufacturing the machines which reproduce voice. They are thus unlike primary orality, which uses no tools or technology at all. Radio and television provide technologized orality. This is what I originally referred to by the term ‘secondary orality.’

I have also heard the term ‘secondary orality’ lately applied by some to other sorts of electronic verbalization which are really not oral at all—to the Internet and similar computerized creations for text. There is a reason for this usage of the term. In nontechnologized oral interchange, as we have noted earlier, there is no perceptible interval between the utterance of the speaker and the hearer’s reception of what is uttered. Oral communication is all immediate, in the present. Writing, chirographic or typed, on the other hand, comes out of the past. Even if you write a memo to yourself, when you refer to it, it’s a memo which you wrote a few minutes ago, or maybe two weeks ago. But on a computer network, the recipient can receive what is communicated with no such interval. Although it is not exactly the same as oral communication, the network message from one person to another or others is very rapid and can in effect be in the present. Computerized communication can thus suggest the immediate experience of direct sound. I believe that is why computerized verbalization has been assimilated to secondary ‘orality,’ even when it comes not in oral-aural format but through the eye, and thus is not directly oral at all. Here textualized verbal exchange registers psychologically as having the temporal immediacy of oral exchange. To handle [page break] such technologizing of the textualized word, I have tried occasionally to introduce the term ‘secondary literacy.’ We are not considering here the production of sounded words on the computer, which of course are even more readily assimilated to ‘secondary orality’” (80-81).

So tweets and text messages aren’t oral. They’re secondarily literate. Wait, that sounds horrible! How’s this: they’re artifacts and examples of secondary literacy. They’re what literacy looks like after television, the telephone, and the application of computing technologies to those communication forms. Just as orality isn’t the same after you’ve introduced writing, and manuscript isn’t the same after you’ve produced print, literacy isn’t the same once you have networked orality. In this sense, Twitter is the necessary byproduct of television.

Now, where this gets really complicated is with stuff like Siri and Alexa, and other AI-driven, natural-language computing interfaces. This is almost a tertiary orality, voice after texting, and certainly voice after interactive search. I’d be inclined to lump it in with secondary orality in that broader sense of technologically-mediated orality. But it really does depend how transformative you think client- and cloud-side computing, up to and including AI, really are. I’m inclined to say that they are, and that Alexa is doing something pretty different from what the radio did in the 1920s and 30s.

But we have to remember that we’re always much more able to make fine distinctions about technology deployed in our own lifetime, rather than what develops over epochs of human culture. Compared to that collision of oral and literate cultures in the Eastern Mediterranean that gave us poetry, philosophy, drama, and rhetoric in the classical period, or the nexus of troubadours, scholastics, printers, scientific meddlers and explorers that gave us the Renaissance, our own collision of multiple media cultures is probably quite small.

But it is genuinely transformative, and it is ours. And some days it’s as charming to think about all the ways in which our heirs will find us completely unintelligible as it is to imagine the complex legacy we’re bequeathing them.

  1. Thank the Internet Archive for the save! See also here.

The People’s History of Tattooine

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 29, 2017

tusken raiders.jpeg

On May 17, 2014, a Saturday morning, a bunch of very bored, very geeky dads on Twitter spontaneously created something weird and fun. Jacob Harris kicked it off, I helped get it going, others joined in. Dan Sinker called it The People’s History of Tattooine, and that name has stuck.

Since Storify has announced that it’s shutting down, I’ve been looking for a permanent home for the People’s History. A lot of the tweets have been deleted, and threads have been broken. I also wanted something without the Twitter-y cruft, but that still preserved the back-and-forth, so I decided to format it kinda like a teleplay. Jason suggested posting it here at Kottke.org. I can’t think of a better home for it.

THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF TATTOOINE

starring
(in order of appearance)

JACOB HARRIS
TIM CARMODY
FRANCIS HWANG
AZIZ GILANI
JAMES SCHIRMER
SKOTT KLEBE
DAN SINKER
SCOTT KLEIN
ANIL DASH
TED HAN
MICHAEL DONOHOE
MIKE MONTEIRO
and
DARTH
(not pictured)

JACOB HARRIS
What if Mos Eisley wasn’t really that wretched and it was just Obi Wan being racist again?

TIM CARMODY
What do you mean, “these blaster marks are too precise to be made by Sand People?” Who talks like that?

JACOB HARRIS
also Sand People is not the preferred nomenclature.

TIM CARMODY
They have a rich cultural history that’s led them to survive and thrive under spectacularly awful conditions.

JACOB HARRIS
Mos Eisley may not look like much but it’s a a bedroom community with decent schools and affordable housing.

TIM CARMODY
You can just imagine Obi-Wan after years of being a Jedi on Coruscant being stuck in this place and just getting madder and madder.

JACOB HARRIS
yeah nobody cares that the blue milk is so much more artisanal on Coruscant

TIM CARMODY
Obi-Wan only goes to Mos Eisley once every three months to get drunk and he basically becomes like Byron.

JACOB HARRIS
so he clings to things like lightsabers and ancient Jedi religion…

“I’m just saying you can’t trust a man what plays in a cantina band. Not you, Figrin D’ith. You’re one of the good ones!”

I also imagine Tosche Station as some sort of affluent suburban mall where Luke just goes to loiter when bored.

TIM CARMODY
That’s totally true about dudes in cantina bands though

JACOB HARRIS
you don’t get to be Max Rebo overnight. Playing in the cantina is like their version of the Beatles in Hamburg, Tim.

TIM CARMODY
Luke is such a little shit. Imagine Lucas’s direction: “Mark, just reach out and grab the bartender by the sleeve.”

JACOB HARRIS
All I’m saying is that for a place he allegedly hates, Obi Wan sure knows exactly where the best cantina is. Maybe what Obi Wan really hates is himself for having a good time and enjoying the cantina scene

TIM CARMODY
he goes home with one of Jabba’s six-boobed dancers and hates himself for it

JACOB HARRIS
that Obi Wan thinks his little “put the hood over my head and make strange noises” is what scares Sand People is racist too. Maybe they just run because they don’t want to deal with the racist old man who gets violent and complains more will come back

FRANCIS HWANG
You can’t be mad at Obi Wan. That’s just how all the Jedi talked back then.

JACOB HARRIS
“more civilized time?” Check your privilege, Obi Wan

FRANCIS HWANG
“When I was growing up we called the Sand People ‘savage’, but we didn’t mean anything by it… The Sand People used to know their place until those Imperial carpetbaggers came here and started putting ideas in their heads.”

AZIZ GILANI
The ‘sand people’ were really just desert nomads emancipating the massive slave population. #Perspective

JACOB HARRIS
the Tusken People. “Raiders” presumes some malevolent intent. They are trying to preserve the desert habitat and Luke wants to race through it in his speeder. The Tusken are just trying to keep parts of Tatooine wild and undeveloped by heavy industry.

JAMES SCHIRMER
One could argue calling them “Tuskens” is little better than “Raiders.” See: http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Fort_Tusken …

JACOB HARRIS
they use it to rob the slur of its power

SKOTT KLEBE
Belatedly realizing that in a crime scene distinguished by precise blaster marks, Storm Troopers are your last suspects. I mean, based on the rest of the movie, should say “These blaster marks are too precise to be made by Storm Troopers.” But who’s right there pawning the guilt off on the Empire? And who used to be a renowned Jedi marksman himself? Obi-wan!

Connect the dots, people! It was Obi-Wan from the beginning!

Face it - Obi-Wan killed Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru in order to let Luke to sell his speeder for funds to leave the planet.

ELON GREEN
A small part of me wishes I understood this.

JACOB HARRIS
it’s a pretty obscure film

DAN SINKER
The People’s History of Tattoine that Jacob Harris and Tim Carmody wrote this morning is an essential document.

JACOB HARRIS
all I’m saying is that I don’t blame the Tusken People for steering clear of the racist, violent and armed old man

DAN SINKER
“he’s making those noises again, honey bring the kids inside.”

JACOB HARRIS
and the Greater Mos Eisley Business Improvement District doesn’t care about the rantings of a separatist hermit

SCOTT KLEIN
Actually they’re so offended by being called “sand people” that they beat up any outsider who wanders by.

DAN SINKER
think of the number of letters he wrote in to the Tattoine Times-Call

SKOTT KLEBE
But traveling in a straight line to conceal their numbers? That’s just plain deceptive.

DAN SINKER
THAT’S JUST HOW THEY *WALK* MAN.

JACOB HARRIS
it’s a nature preserve, Scott, and Luke just thinks he can drive his speeder through it. Like anybody forgets what Luke and his friends did to native womp rat populations at Beggars Canyon Park

SKOTT KLEBE
but how can you trust people who walk like that? They must be up to all kinds of stuff. Tricky walking, ew.

JACOB HARRIS
they’re only concealing their numbers if you have trouble telling them apart

SKOTT KLEBE
If they wanted us to be able to tell them apart, they shouldn’t conceal their faces. Their fault, not mine.

JACOB HARRIS
maybe those are their faces, Skott. Sheesh!

DAN SINKER
Jesus old man, aren’t you late for a pancake breakfast at the Jedi Knights Lodge?

SKOTT KLEBE
is it racist that I don’t think skin can be made out of canvas and metal?

DAN SINKER
Not *All* Jedi.

SKOTT KLEBE
if liking Jedi “no hands” pancakes is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

SCOTT KLEIN
And let’s face it, there’s good reason for them to distrust Skywalkers.

JACOB HARRIS
Child of known felon hanging out with a violent separatist and disturbing the peace of their home

DAN SINKER
it’s not like it was generations ago. The kid’s *dad* was The One Who Killed. Didn’t even change his name.

JACOB HARRIS
so it might seem extreme to knock Luke out and vandalize his annoying speeder, but they’d had enough.

SCOTT KLEIN
If c3po hadn’t fallen off that ledge he’d have translated Tusken. “You’re scaring us! We mean you no harm!”

TIM CARMODY
Luke and Obi-Wan don’t even stand up for their droids, man. Tattooine is so fucking racist.

JACOB HARRIS
no, it’s very diverse. Which is why Obi Wan hates it.

TIM CARMODY
That bartender is no prize either, is all I’m saying. And they let Threepio get kicked out like it’s nothing

SKOTT KLEBE
Now you’re just forcing your affluent Coruscantist cultural standards on them.

TIM CARMODY
My freedom is bound up with everyone’s freedom, whether they’re Jedis or Tuscans or droids or Hutts.

SKOTT KLEBE
You’re hurting the revolution with this talk.

TIM CARMODY
You can have your species-ist *Rebellion*; I’m talking about real revolution.

DAN SINKER
“Used to be that every kind of creature turned out for the podrace. Now we just keep to our own.”

JACOB HARRIS
the Tusken who scares Luke when he’s using his binoculars is just an old man with a walking stick

TIM CARMODY
Mos Eisley hasn’t been the same since the Spaceport Riots in ‘67. Then they built Tosche Station and…

DAN SINKER
can you blame them for rioting? I mean Anakin did come in and “slaughtered them like animals.” His words, man

ANIL DASH
You’re all talking small potatoes. Big story is Palpatine’s equity in Sienar Systems.

TIM CARMODY
Your “Big Story” of the military-imperial complex lets you ignore what’s right in your FACE

ANIL DASH
the economic system is predicated on turning a man born into slavery against persons of sand. NOT ALLDERAAN!

DAN SINKER
YOU GUYS this is the exact thing those crazy old wizards want us to do: fight against each other.

SCOTT KLEIN
I hear they recruited child soldiers to blow up a gov’t building on Endor.

DAN SINKER
don’t even get me started on what they did to the Hothian ice caps.

JACOB HARRIS
you’re walking single-file to avoid damaging gundark nests and some jerk in a speeder races in… of course you’re going to knock him and out and vandalize his speeder to warn him and friends

TED HAN
Hey the Jedi have a multi-generational history of child labor & gambling on children.

MICHAEL DONOHOE
Not fair - Jedi provided shelter, regular meals, education, social mobility

MIKE MONTEIRO
Say what you will about the Empire, but supply ships arrived on time.

TIM CARMODY
You can do a lot of things on time if you don’t even care about your own clones.

MIKE MONTEIRO
The clones knew what they were signing up for.

DAN SINKER
The Rebellion: they get their *one* Mon Calamari general to sell the world on a plan that was *clearly* a trap

TIM CARMODY
I think Akbar, Calrissian, and Mon Mothma were set up to take the fall, frankly.

DAN SINKER
let’s give the drug runner a medal, but have the Wookie that does everything stand around with the Droids.

TIM CARMODY
I was wondering when we’d get here. The clearest evidence racism isn’t just hearts & minds, but institutional. Offstage, R2 shouts “THIS IS SOME BULLSHIT,” and they just turn and laugh right in his face.

JACOB HARRIS
maybe Chewbacca didn’t want to take their bullshit medal. He doesn’t need their approval

DAN SINKER
meanwhile, Da Mayor is all, “Wookie, always do the right thing.”

ANIL DASH
Given the Mon Calamari tendency to treat Bothans as disposable, it’s no wonder why Akbar got to be the token.

TIM CARMODY
Another way the original trilogy is superior to prequels: its characters seem racist, rather than its author.

ANIL DASH
imagine an Ep 1 that was about Palpatine manipulating tensions between Amidala and the Gungans.

JACOB HARRIS
I think Lucas thinks he’s making a deep statement about racism using droids

ANIL DASH
except he never touches it again and they are never liberated. So.

TIM CARMODY
Droids in the OT are almost exactly slaves. Socially, they are treated precisely as slaves were treated. Especially classical slavery (Rome, etc.), the parallels are astonishing.

SKOTT KLEBE
Jawas drive Tuskens away from sustainable agriculture by creating a market for captured droids.

MICHAEL DONOHOE
agreed - attempts to disrupt Jawas crowdsourced droid marketplace point to old ways of thinking

ANIL DASH
and what do we know about environmental impact of extractive factory farming like water evaporation?

MIKE MONTEIRO
Fair. But what about the evaporation farmers? We need to teach that whole sector new job skills.

ANIL DASH
last time someone “disrupted” that sector, we ended up with a bunch of astromechs nobody can repair.

MIKE MONTEIRO
Because the Trade Federation was funding anything they could flip to the Empire. Remember Droidr?

ANIL DASH
well, if you make anything original, they’ll just rip it off on Kamino. In the new R2 units, they can only project holograms you buy from Industrial Automaton.

JACOB HARRIS
can we get back to the Rebellion exploiting native population as soldiers on Endor?

TIM CARMODY
First they totally underestimate them. Then they trick them. Then they send them to die.

JACOB HARRIS
in Clone Wars all Jedi are automatically Generals despite no experience. Clones die.

MIKE MONTEIRO
How did OUR moisture get under THEIR sand?

JACOB HARRIS
highest rank a clone could get was Commander. No wonder they fragged Jedi in the end

ANIL DASH
ORDER 66 WAS AN INSIDE JOB

JACOB HARRIS
Order 66 wasn’t brainwashing, it was the chickens coming home to roost

ANIL DASH
what are the odds the same guy survives Order 66 and *both* Death Stars exploding?

MIKE MONTEIRO
If @darth was awake we’d be looking at a gif of Admiral Akbar reading My Pet Goat right now

ANIL DASH
@darth WAKE UP GREEPLE

MIKE MONTEIRO
Follow the galactic credits. Who was awarded the Death Star contracts? Twice.

SKOTT KLEBE
how deep does the rabbit hole go?

SKOTT KLEBE
here I always thought Kenobi was playin cool, not recognizing R2 and C3PO in Ep 4. Now seems more likely R2 and C3PO were just two of the millions he’d betrayed in his life, and who can keep track?

JACOB HARRIS
“hello there friend” and “I don’t recall owning a droid” are subtle threats to R2 to shut up

SKOTT KLEBE
“And we are friends, right? You wouldn’t want _not_ to be friends, would you?”

MIKE MONTEIRO
Follow the death sticks and you get a death stick case, but follow the galactic credits…

TIM CARMODY
Never forget that the movies aren’t historical documents, but propaganda 1000s years later. If all this is IN legends Republic/Jedi use to justify Rebellion, imagine what’s left OUT.

Twitter has become “a pretty hate machine”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2017

Mike Monteiro wrote an essay about Twitter that is good and very much worth reading.

Twitter was built at the tail end of that era. Their goal was giving everyone a voice. They were so obsessed with giving everyone a voice that they never stopped to wonder what would happen when everyone got one. And they never asked themselves what everyone meant. That’s Twitter’s original sin. Like Oppenheimer, Twitter was so obsessed with splitting the atom they never stopped to think what we’d do with it.

Twitter, which was conceived and built by a room of privileged white boys (some of them my friends!), never considered the possibility that they were building a bomb. To this day, Jack Dorsey doesn’t realize the size of the bomb he’s sitting on. Or if he does, he believes it’s metaphorical. It’s not. He is utterly unprepared for the burden he’s found himself responsible for.

Our collective happiness on Twitter reaches a new low

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 04, 2017

Twitter Happiness 2017

The Hedonometer measures the average happiness of Twitter on a daily basis and the shooting in Las Vegas has pushed the index to a new low. The previous low point was after the terror attack in Orlando last July. The two other lowest scores have occurred in the past year and a half: the mass shooting of Dallas police officers and the election of Donald Trump, which is the only non-shooting or non-terror attack to achieve such a low score in the 9-year history of the index.

My social media fast

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2017

Last week (approx. May 7-14), I stopped using social media for an entire week. I logged out of all the sites and deleted the apps from my phone. I didn’t so much as peek at Instagram, which is, with Twitter and old-school Flickr, probably my favorite online service of all time. I used Twitter as minimally as I could, for work only.1 I didn’t check in anywhere on Swarm. No Facebook. As much as I could, I didn’t use my phone. I left it at home when I went to the grocery store. I didn’t play any games on it. I left it across the room when I went to bed and when I worked.

Many people have given up social media and written about it — the digital equivalent of the “Why I’m Leaving New York” essay — but since I didn’t write about leaving New York, I’m going to do this instead.

I used to be very good about using my phone and social media appropriately. More than a decade of working on kottke.org taught me how to not be online when I wasn’t working (for the most part). I tried super hard not to use my phone at all around my kids and if I was out with friends, my phone stayed in my pocket.2

Almost a year ago, after 13+ years in the city, I moved from lower Manhattan3 to rural Vermont. It’s beautiful here. I live in a house in the country surrounded by horse pasture and there’s great skiing in the winter. The nearest town is only five minutes away by car; it has a two-screen movie theater, a handful of restaurants (none of which are typically open after 10pm), two grocery stores, but nowhere to get a proper donut, sushi, or bowl of ramen. (The nearest ramen is an hour’s drive away.) While I was writing this post yesterday afternoon, the power in my house went out and didn’t come back on for three hours, forcing a delay in publication. It’s been difficult to meet people. Folks here are nice, but they mostly remind me of the people in the small town I grew up in (aka why I moved to the city in the first place). I work from home at a desk in my bedroom and some days, the only beings I’ll talk to are Siri, my landlord’s horses, and some days, my kids and their mom.

Social media, mostly through my phone, has been an important way for me to stay connected with friends and goings on in the wider world. But lately I’d noticed an obsessiveness, an addiction really, that I didn’t like once I became fully aware of it. When I wasn’t working, I was on my phone, refreshing Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook repeatedly in an endless series, like a little old lady at Caesar’s Palace working several slot machines at the same time. And I couldn’t stop it — my phone was in my hand even when I was trying to concentrate on my kids, watching a movie, or reading a book. So, I quit for a week to see what would happen. It’s not a super-long time period, but here’s what I noticed:

- Once I’d set my mind to it, it was pretty easy to go cold turkey. Perhaps my Twitter usage and keeping up with the news for kottke.org acted as a nicotine patch, but I don’t think so. Instagram was the toughest to stay away from, but I didn’t crack once.

- As the week went on, it was more and more evident that it wasn’t so much social media as the phone that was the problem. Even now, a few days after the conclusion of my experiment, I’m leaving my phone at home when I go out or across the room when I’m doing something. I’m going to try hard to keep this up.

- Buuuut, when you have kids, there is no such thing as giving up your phone. There’s always the potential call from their school or their mom or their doctor or another parent regarding a playdate or or or. I spend enough time online at my computer for work that I could mostly do without my phone, but with kids, that’s not really an option.

- Not a single person noticed that I had stopped using social media. (Not enough to tell me anyway.) Perhaps if it had been two weeks? For me, this reinforced that social media is actually not a good way to “stay connected with friends”. Social media aggregates interactions between loved ones so that you get industrialized communication rather than personal connection. No one really notices if a particular person goes missing because they’re just one interchangeable node in a network.

- My no-social week, for a variety of reasons, was probably the shittiest week I’d had in more than a year. Total emotional mess. Being off social media didn’t make it any better, but I doubt it made it worse. Overall, it was probably a good thing I wasn’t subjecting my friends and followers to self-subtweets and emo Instagram Stories…I was already scoring enough own goals without social media’s help.

- So, what did I do instead? I wish I could say that I had loads of extra free time that I used to learn Spanish, clean my house, catch up with old friends, cook delicious meals, and finish a couple work projects. Perhaps if shittiest week ever hadn’t been happening, I would have done some of that. Still, I did end up going to bed early every night, read a couple books, and had more time for work and dealing with kid drama.

After the week was up, I greedily checked in on Instagram and Facebook to see what I had missed. Nothing much, of course. Since then, I’ve been checking them a bit less. When I am on, I’ve been faving and commenting more in an attempt to be a little more active in connecting. I unfollowed some accounts I realized I didn’t care that much about and followed others I’ve been curious to check out. Swarm I check a lot less, about once a day — there was a lot of FOMO going on when I saw friends checked in at cool places in NYC or on vacations in Europe. And I’m only checking in when I go someplace novel, just to keep a log of where I’ve been…that’s always fun to look back on.

Mostly, I’ve resolved to use my phone less. Being on my phone was my fidget spinner…this thing that I would do when there was nothing else to do or that I would use to delay going to bed or delay getting out of bed in the morning. Going forward, I’m going to be more mindful about its use. If nothing else, my hands and thumbs might start feeling better.

  1. Yeah, I did not stop using Twitter. Ideally I would have, but Twitter is a huge source of information for this here website and I couldn’t afford to give it up without ditching work for a week, which I did not want to do because I wanted to maintain my normal schedule. But I didn’t look at Twitter on my phone, didn’t reply to or fave any tweets, muted some non-news/link accounts I follow, and limited my usage to “business hours”.

  1. Still one of my favorite tweets is from Scott Simpson: “My new standard of cool: when I’m hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever.”

  1. Haha, you’re getting a mini leaving NYC essay anyway. Suckers!

Computer-generated moths

posted by Jason Kottke   May 04, 2017

Moth Generator

Moth Generator

Moth Generator

Twitter bot @mothgenerator posts images of computer-generated moths with computer-generated names. From a NY Times article on Twitter science bots:

Also dedicated to winged creatures, this bot tweets make-believe moths of all shapes, sizes, textures and iridescent colors. It’s programmed to generate variations in several anatomical structures of real moths, including antennas, wing shapes and wing markings.

Another program, which splices and recombines real Latin and English moth names, generates monikers for the moths. You can also reply to the account with name suggestions, and it will generate a corresponding moth.

(via @nicolehe, who has a Twitter bot for her fiddle leaf fig plant)

Update: Because of the tweet accompanying this post, Moth Generator generated a new moth called “The Twitter bot posts images of realistic-looking computer-generated moths moth”. Neat!

Moth Generator

The best tweets ever (nominated by Kottke readers)

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 18, 2017

failwhale.jpg

Twitter, in principle, could have been invented at any point in the history of the internet. A big networked message board with an upper limit of 140 characters? It sounds like something a resource-conserving developer would have invented before web browsers existed. A few hundred people would have used it, and it would have been legendary. Maybe a few thousand.

Instead, Twitter happened in the early days of developing for mobile devices (originally, not even phones but pagers), when there were a critical mass of intense and casual users, and mass network graphs were quickly becoming the new hotness for software companies. You could get scale in a hurry, you needed scale after a certain point to survive.

And so we have this bizarre new communication platform-meets-vernacular art form. Which may end up killing us all. But first…

Jason joined Twitter in early 2007 and naturally, wrote about it intelligently and presciently here on Kottke.org. The first mention is in a kinda-sorta-liveblog of Steve Jobs’s legendary iPhone keynote, and makes Twitter sound like a new tech site. This is where I, personally, found out about it, although I didn’t sign up until a little later.

Playing with Twitter reminds me of blogging circa 2000. Back then, all weblogs were personal in nature and most people used them to communicate with their friends and family. If I wanted to know what my friends were up to back then, I read their blogs. Now I follow Twitter (and Flickr and Vox).

The reaction to Twitter mirrors the initial reaction to weblogs…the same tired “this is going to ruin the web” and “who cares what you ate for dinner” arguments…

When one thing (i.e. Twitter) is easier than something else (i.e. blogging) and offers almost the same benefits, people will use it.

I’d completely forgotten about this post, and it’s totally amazing.

[One] way of thinking about how to choose web projects is to take something that everyone does with their friends and make it public and permanent. (Permanent as in permalinked.) Examples:

  • Blogger, 1999. Blog posts = public email messages. Instead of “Dear Bob, Check out this movie.” it’s “Dear People I May or May Not Know Who Are Interested in Film Noir, Check out this movie and if you like it, maybe we can be friends.”
  • Twitter, 2006. Twitter = public IM. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that one of the people responsible for Blogger is also responsible for Twitter.
  • Flickr, 2004. Flickr = public photo sharing. Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake said in a recent interview: “When we started the company, there were dozens of other photosharing companies such as Shutterfly, but on those sites there was no such thing as a public photograph — it didn’t even exist as a concept — so the idea of something ‘public’ changed the whole idea of Flickr.”
  • YouTube, 2005. YouTube = public home videos. Bob Saget was onto something.

Some successful tweets seem predictable given the restrictions on the form — wordplay, pop culture mashups, classic setup-and-punchline jokes. But why are weird little micronarratives so compelling?

And on a platform packed with self-promoting brands, cynical media types, and actual Nazis, why do we love sweet, sincere animals who talk? (Wait, I may have just answered my own question)

Ten years later, I don’t know why Twitter is, but I’m glad that it does.

52 things learned in 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2016

Consultant Tom Whitwell shared 52 things he learned in 2016. Here are three:

Call Me Baby is a call centre for cybercriminals who need a human voice as part of a scam. They charge $10 for each call in English, and $12 for calls in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish. [Brian Krebs]

Twitter has enough money in the bank to run for 412 years with current losses. [Matt Krantz]

Intervision, the 70s Soviet answer to the Eurovision Song Contest, was judge by electricity grid voting: “those watching at home had to turn their lights on when they liked a song and off when they didn’t, with data from the electricity network then being used to allocate points.” [Nick Heady]

It was hard to whittle the list down to just three, so a bonus one:

Instead of batteries, the ARES project in Nevada uses a network of train tracks, a hillside and electric trains loaded with rocks to store wind and solar power. When there is a surplus of energy, the trains drive up the tracks. When output falls, the cars roll back down the hill, their electric motors acting as generators. [Robson Fletcher]

The Economist did a piece — “Sisyphus’s train set” — on ARES this summer.

How happy is Twitter?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2016

Using a 5000-word dictionary of words rated on their happiness, the Hedonometer measures the average happiness on Twitter.

Happy Twitter

Christmas is always the happiest day of the year (“merry”, “happy”, and “joy” are all pretty positive) while shootings and terrorist attacks are Twitter’s saddest events. The recent mass shooting in Orlando seems to be the least happy Twitter has been over the past 7+ years.

The Hedonometer also analyzes the overall happiness of movies based on their scripts. The happiest movie is Sex in the City while the saddest is Omega Man (followed by The Bourne Ultimatum). Somehow, the fourth happiest movie is Lost in Translation, which might be reason for some overall skepticism about the project’s sensitivity to context.

The happiness over time of individual movie scripts has been analyzed by the Hedonometer too. Pulp Fiction’s happiest moment is when Vincent and Mia go to Jackrabbit Slim’s and the low point is “Bring out the Gimp”.

Happy Pulp Fiction

The system has analyzed books as well…the low point of the entire Harry Potter series seems to be the event at the end of The Half-Blood Prince.

Update: Grain of salt and all that, but the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers have pushed the happiness quotient on Twitter lower again so that the two least happy days have both occurred in the past month. There’s been a general feeling that 2016 has been a bad year, like George RR Martin is writing it. I wish the data were available for a closer analysis, but if you look at the chart, you can see that Twitter’s overall happiness starts to rise around the end of 2012 but starts to fall again right around the beginning of 2016…the effect is quite clear, even just from eyeballing it.

The unbearable lightness of being yourself on social media

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2016

From the NY Times, the excellent Jenna Wortham on How I Learned to Love Snapchat. This bit caught my eye:

Its entire aesthetic flies in the face of how most people behave on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter — as if we’re waiting to be plucked from obscurity by a talent agent or model scout. But Snapchat isn’t the place where you go to be pretty. It’s the place where you go to be yourself, and that is made easy thanks to the app’s inbuilt ephemerality.

I wonder if Snapchat’s intimacy is entirely due to the ephemerality and lack of a “fave-based economy”. Blogs, Flickr, Twitter, Vine, and Instagram all started off as places to be yourself, but as they became more mainstream and their communities developed behavioral norms, the output became more crafted and refined. Users flooded in and optimized for what worked best on each platform. Blogs became more newsy and less personal, Flickr shifted toward professional-style photography, Vine got funnier, and Twitter’s users turned toward carefully crafted cultural commentary and link sharing. Editing worked its way in between the making and sharing steps. In 2013, Mat Honan wrote of Vine:

It built a ground up culture that feels loose, informal, and — frankly — really fucking weird. Moreover, most of what you see there feels very of-the-moment. Sure, there’s plenty of artistry that goes into making six second loops, and there are volumes of videos with high production values. But far more common are Vines that serve as windows into what people are doing right now.

Sounds familiar, right? I’m almost positive that when Instagram was first blowing up, similar things were written about it in comparison to Flickr. Now, as Wortham notes, Instagram is largely a place to put your heavily curated best foot forward. But scroll back through time on anyone’s Instagram and the photos get more personal and in-the-moment. Even Alice Gao’s immaculately crafted feed gets causal if you go back far enough.

Although more than a year older than Vine and fewer than two years younger than Instagram, Snapchat is a relatively young service that the mainstream is still discovering. It’ll be interesting to see if it can keep its be-yourself vibe or if users tending toward carefully constructing their output is just something that happens as a platform matures.

Walt Disney’s corporate strategy chart

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2015

From 1957, this is a drawing of the synergistic strategy of Walt Disney Productions, or what Todd Zenger of Harvard Business Review calls “a corporate theory of sustained growth”.

Disney Synergy Chart

The boxes on the chart have changed, but since the appointment of Bob Iger as CEO, Disney has seemingly doubled down on Walt’s old strategy with their increased focus on franchises.

Disney’s dominance can be boiled down very simply to one word: franchises. Or rather, an “incessant focus on franchises” in the words of former Disney CFO Jay Rasulo.

“Everything we do is about brands and franchises,” Rasulo told a group of financial analysts last September. “Ten years ago we were more like other media companies, more broad-based, big movie slate, 20 something pictures, some franchise, some not franchise. If you look at our slate strategy now, our television strategy, almost every aspect of the company, we are oriented around brands and franchises.”

Franchises are well suited to extend across multiple parts of a big business like Disney, particularly because it’s a repeating virtuous cycle: movies drive merchandise sales and theme park visits, which in turn drives interest for sequels and spin-offs, rinse, repeat, reboot.

I wonder if more tech companies could be using this strategy more effectively. Apple does pretty well; their various hardware (iPhone, iPad, Mac), software (iOS, OS X), and services (iCloud, App Store, iTunes Store) work together effectively. Microsoft rode Office & Windows for quite awhile. Google seems a bit more all over the place — for instance, it’s unclear how their self-driving car helps their search business and Google+ largely failed to connect various offerings. Facebook seems to be headed in the right direction. Twitter? Not so much, but we’ll see how they do with new leadership. Or old leadership…I discovered Walt’s chart via interim Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Tweet programming

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2014

You can now program by tweeting snippets of Wolfram Language code to their Tweet-a-Program bot, @WolframTaP. To test it out, I tweeted:

And got back:

Cool!

Rise of the museum Twitter bots

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2014

Fan Museum Bots

John Emerson has compiled a list of Twitter accounts that periodically tweet out images from the online collections of some of the world’s best museums, including the Met, the Tate, the Rijksmuseum, and MoMA.

I’m Working on My Novel

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2014

Working On My Novel

From artist Cory Arcangel, Working On My Novel is a book comprised of tweets from people who posted they were working on their novels.

What does it feel like to try and create something new? How is it possible to find a space for the demands of writing a novel in a world of instant communication? Working on My Novel is about the act of creation and the gap between the different ways we express ourselves today. Exploring the extremes of making art, from satisfaction and even euphoria to those days or nights when nothing will come, it’s the story of what it means to be a creative person, and why we keep on trying.

Arcangel also ran a blog that reposted “I’m sorry I haven’t posted” posts from other blogs.

The last of the great Twitter apps

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 30, 2014

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

There are fewer third-party Twitter applications in active development than there used to be, since Twitter built its own clients, clamped down on apps that “replicate Twitter’s core user experience,” limited the number of new user tokens third parties could get, and otherwise kinda spiked the well.

But there are still some gems out there, including some I was surprised I’d never heard of. Joanna Geary, Twitter’s head of news in the UK, recently put together a shortlist of 30 third-party webapps useful for journalists. Here are three I’ve been using and enjoying:

  1. Followerwonk includes a number of useful searching and sorting tools, some free, some paid. I was especially impressed that it can give an inferred gender breakdown of your follows and followers that includes “undetermined” as a category. (A lot of other tools break everything down into male and female, which isn’t a good binary for human bodies, let alone the zoography of Twitter.) Being able to search Twitter bios is useful too.
  2. TweetBe.at is a list manager. Twitter’s been neglecting lists — on the website “Lists” is even hidden behind an otherwise superfluous “More” button, inside your own profile — but they’re really useful. It’s just that even in the best third-party apps, it’s not easy to add or edit them. This fills that gap.
  3. My favorite Twitter tool right now is BioIsChanged, which (you might guess) tracks bio and avatar changes for the folks you follow on Twitter. You can see when someone changed jobs, took a new headshot, or otherwise tweaked what they’re about online. What I like best is its customization: you can get new bio notifications in real-time (too much for me!), in daily or weekly digest emails (perfect!), or just whenever you check into the website. I’m getting better at pretending to be superhumanly attentive already.

Two other Twitter tools worth trying that aren’t part of Geary’s list but are worth a look:

I just started with Nuzzel, but it comes highly recommended by Christopher Mims and Lauren Goode, two reporters whose judgment I trust. Like Flipboard and Newsle and a handful of others, it pulls web links from your Twitter and Facebook feeds, sorting them by the most-shared. A good way to see what everybody’s talking about at a glance.

And Happy Friends is a mailbox/outline reader for Twitter that’s hard to explain but fun to use once you get into it. It’s not like anything else out there, which might be the best compliment I can give it.

Update: I missed an app that I’ve been using for so long and so often that I forgot to mention it. ThinkUp, which offers “analytics for humans.” The best thing about ThinkUp are its email “insights” digests, which tell me things like which users I’m talking to most often, whether I’m retweeting too many of my own replies (hint: when I asked you what you name your computers yesterday, I retweeted probably a few too many of your answers), and other little mini-analyses.

I also have to put in a plug for YoruFukurou, my favorite client for Mac. (I hope your tokens don’t run out, YF.) It’s a customizable, high-powered app that handles lists and spam reporting and link and image expansion well, but it doesn’t have that oh-my-god, Ozymandias-watching-30-TV-screens-at-once thing that TweetDeck has. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

The end of @everyword

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 05, 2014

The Guardian has an interview with Adam Parrish, creator of @everyword, an automated Twitter account that’s been listing a dictionary’s worth of English words in sequence since 2007. @everyword recently reached the Zs and will complete and close tomorrow, June 6.

Words aren’t just things that we write and use in our speech. They are also things we think about individually. Like sex, weed, swag - when they’re not in a sentence, we can also think about them individually. Everyword raises that question of thinking about a word just from that perspective, as a social object.

On the other hand, because @everyword is inside an individual person’s Twitter stream, the words take on the context of whatever else is in the stream at the time. There’s the possibility of weird serendipitous interactions between a word in your stream and some other tweets. The word “super” might be tweeted, and then you read a tweet about a school superintendent or Superman movie.

Any Twitter account that gets you thinking about both the Platonist and the Dadaist dimensions of language at the same time is my kind of fun. And that’s a sort of fun that I associate with the Golden Age of Twitter, given its commingling of high and low, news and musings, humans and bots. That too is coming to a close:

In its early days, because of ven-cap funding, Twitter wasn’t thinking about monetization. They were just really encouraging developers to work with it and do interesting things. There was no concept of ads or promoted tweets. Now things are different. They’ve changed the API and some of the things that were easy to do are now difficult.

The flipside is, more people use it. As an artist, it’s disappointing that the medium has been converted into this very commercial, focused platform, but on the other hand I get to have a huge audience for an experimental writing project. It’s a huge privilege and I definitely have Twitter to thank for that.

It’s all cause for low-grade melancholy and a touch of anxiety. As Suzanne Fischer wryly tweets: “If the dictionary is finite, what else might be ending?”

JZSMA (The Jay Z Social Media Average)

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2013

From Rap Genius, a chart showing mentions in rap songs of popular social sites and apps like Twitter and Instagram:

Rap Genius Sm Graph

Compare with the graph for the same terms from Google News:

Google News Sm Graph

And here’s the graph for general search terms. (I excluded Snapchat from the Google graphs because Google wouldn’t allow 6 search terms at a time…it barely showed up in either case.) Twitter rules the rap roost, but Facebook demolishes everyone in general and news search traffic.

“More of a discovery than an invention”

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2013

For this week’s New Yorker, D.T. Max has written a profile of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

Jack Dorsey, the tech entrepreneur, takes the No. 1 bus to work, and he likes to catch the 7:06. It carries him nearly from one side of San Francisco to the other-down California Street almost to Market. A ride costs two dollars, but Dorsey has a monthly pass, so the actual price, he told me on a recent commute, is closer to a dollar seventy-five. “If you buy it in bulk, it saves you a little bit of money,” he explained. As we got on, he added, “I love the bus. It’s consistent, and it runs every few minutes. But it’s also express. If I took another bus, it’d be stopping.” The offices of Square, his mobile payment-processing service, just moved. He used to follow his bus ride with a pleasant twenty-minute walk down Mission to the San Francisco Chronicle Building, where Square rented office space; now his commute ends with a short ride on a Muni train to Square’s new headquarters, which have a panoramic view of the city. When we got to the Muni stop, Dorsey, who is thirty-six, pointed it out with the excitement of a six-year-old.

No idea if this was intentional, but Max has managed to write a piece that mirrors Twitter itself: it is both substantial and full of ridiculous things.

How long will Twitter be around?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2013

The latest installment of XKCD’s What If? column starts off by answering a question about how tall your Twitter timeline would be if it extended off the screen.

On my computer’s monitor, the average tweet is about 2.4 centimeters high. This suggests that Jeph Jacques’ tweet tower is 900 meters tall-taller than the tallest building-and still growing.

However, Jeph has nothing on @YOUGAKUDAN_00, who tweets many times per minute — usually binary, but sometimes actual words. @YOUGAKUDAN_00 has accumulated 37 million tweets, enough to reach into low Earth orbit.

But then a more interesting question is explored…how long will Twitter last?

Suppose you’re transported to an alternate universe. You open IMDb and load a random page, and the movie that comes up is The Land Before Time XXVII.

Based only on the title, how many Land Before Time movies do you think there are in this universe? Clearly there are at least 27, and probably more.

Allied troops faced a version of this problem in World War II. German tank parts had serial numbers, many of which were sequential (1, 2 … N). Suppose they captured a random tank. If they determined it was Tank #27, then they can be sure that the Germans had made at least 27 tanks. It also told them there probably weren’t millions of tanks; if there were, they would have been unlikely to get a two-digit serial number.

The Monster at the End of This Tweet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2013

Sesame Street did a series of tweets the other day in the style of The Monster at the End of This Book, which is a favorite of mine and my kids.

Grover: That tweet, did it say there was a MONSTER at the end of it?

Grover: It did? Well, please do not retweet that tweet!

Grover: YOU RETWEETED THE TWEET!

Account of a trip to North Korea

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 23, 2013

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and current Executive Chairman of Google, recently visited North Korea and took his daughter Sophie along. Upon her return, she wrote up a very interesting account of her trip. Her report contained a surprising number of Twitter-length nuggets of goodness1; here are some of them:

Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.

The longer I think about what we saw and heard, the less sure I am about what any of it actually meant.

Nothing I’d read or heard beforehand really prepared me for what we saw.

Most of the buildings they visited — offices, libraries, etc. — were not heated:

They’re proudly showing you their latest technology or best library, and you can see your breath

They weren’t allowed to have mobile phones, there were no alarm clocks, and they were told their rooms were probably bugged:

One person suggested announcing “I’m awake” to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.

It’s like The Truman Show, at country scale.

Very little in North Korea, it seemed to us, was built to be inviting.

You could almost forget you were in North Korea in this city, until you noticed little things, like the lack of commercial storefronts.

There is only revolutionary art. There is only revolutionary music.

I was delighted to learn that [Kim Jong Il] and I shared a taste in laptops: 15” Macbook Pro.

No one was actually doing anything.

They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.

It’s a fascinating piece and worth putting up with the weird 2-column layout to read the whole thing.

[1] In fact, almost every sentence is tweet-length. Do young people naturally write in SMS/tweet-length sentences these days?

The web we lost

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2012

A nice post from Anil Dash about the web of yesteryear and all the nice things we used to have.

When you see interesting data mash-ups today, they are often still using Flickr photos because Instagram’s meager metadata sucks, and the app is only reluctantly on the web at all. We get excuses about why we can’t search for old tweets or our own relevant Facebook content, though we got more comprehensive results from a Technorati search that was cobbled together on the feeble software platforms of its era. We get bullshit turf battles like Tumblr not being able to find your Twitter friends or Facebook not letting Instagram photos show up on Twitter because of giant companies pursuing their agendas instead of collaborating in a way that would serve users. And we get a generation of entrepreneurs encouraged to make more narrow-minded, web-hostile products like these because it continues to make a small number of wealthy people even more wealthy, instead of letting lots of people build innovative new opportunities for themselves on top of the web itself.

The open web is an amazing thing, way way way better than Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and all the apps on my phone put together. The thing that really irritates me and deeply disappoints me about Twitter specifically is that the people who started that company and those who now run it know this. They know exactly what Anil is talking about. They railed against big companies trying to control the web back in the day. And they don’t care anymore? Are they just out for themselves and the money? Has the Valley really shifted so significantly from Brand to Rand?

Twitter is a machine for continual self-reinvention

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2012

Matt Haughey wrote an essay called Why I love Twitter and barely tolerate Facebook.

There’s no memory at Twitter: everything is fleeting. Though that concept may seem daunting to some (archivists, I feel your pain), it also means the content in my feed is an endless stream of new information, either comments on what is happening right now or thoughts about the future. One of the reasons I loved the Internet when I first discovered it in the mid-1990s was that it was a clean slate, a place that welcomed all regardless of your past as you wrote your new life story; where you’d only be judged on your words and your art and your photos going forward.

Facebook is mired in the past.

One of my favorite posts on street photographer Scott Schuman’s blog, The Sartorialist, consists of two photos of the same woman taken several months apart.

Sartorialist Kara

Schuman asked the woman how she was able to create such a dramatic change:

Actually the line that I think was the most telling but that she said like a throw-away qualifier was “I didn’t know anyone in New York when I moved here…”

I think that is such a huge factor. To move to a city where you are not afraid to try something new because all the people that labeled who THEY think you are (parents, childhood friends) are not their to say “that’s not you” or “you’ve changed”. Well, maybe that person didn’t change but finally became who they really are. I totally relate to this as a fellow Midwesterner even though my changes were not as quick or as dramatic.

I bet if you ask most people what keeps them from being who they really want to be (at least stylistically or maybe even more), the answer would not be money but the fear of peer pressure — fear of embarrassing themselves in front of a group of people that they might not actually even like anyway.

For a certain type of person, changing oneself might be one of the best ways of feeling free and in control of one’s own destiny. And in the social media world, Twitter feels like continually moving to NYC without knowing anyone whereas Facebook feels like you’re living in your hometown and hanging with everyone you went to high school with. Twitter’s we’re-all-here-in-the-moment thing that Matt talks about is what makes it possible for people to continually reinvent themselves on Twitter. You don’t have any of that Facebook baggage, the peer pressure from a lifetime of friends, holding you back. You are who your last dozen tweets say you are. And what a feeling of freedom that is.

Serfing the web

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 26, 2012

I wondered how long it would be before someone connected Facebook and especially Twitter with the idea of extractive and inclusive economic systems forwarded by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson in Why Nations Fail. The winner, in a delightfully over-the-top fashion, is David Heinemeier Hansson from 37signals.

Twitter started out life as a wonderfully inclusive society. There were very few rules and the ones there were the people loved. Thou shall be brief, retweet to respect. Under this constrained freedom, Twitter prospered and grew rapidly for the joy of all.

Budding entrepreneurs built apps that made life better for everyone. Better, in fact, than many of Twitter’s own attempts. They competed for attention on a level playing field and the very best rose to the top. Users saw that this was good and rewarded Twitter with their attention. Twitter grew.

Unfortunately this inclusive world was not meant to last. From the beginning, an extractive time bomb was ticking. One billion dollars worth of eagerness for return. Hundreds and hundreds of hungry mouths to feed in a San Francisco lair.

And thus began Twitter’s descent into the extractive.

Chrystia Freeland provided the gist of the book in a NY Times essay earlier in the fall:

Extractive states are controlled by ruling elites whose objective is to extract as much wealth as they can from the rest of society. Inclusive states give everyone access to economic opportunity; often, greater inclusiveness creates more prosperity, which creates an incentive for ever greater inclusiveness.

Twitter, Facebook, and old new media

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2012

Newsweek announced yesterday that the print magazine will cease publication and the entire thing will move to an all-digital format.

Newsweek Global, as the all-digital publication will be named, will be a single, worldwide edition targeted for a highly mobile, opinion-leading audience who want to learn about world events in a sophisticated context. Newsweek Global will be supported by paid subscription and will be available through e-readers for both tablet and the Web, with select content available on The Daily Beast.

In talking about the shift on his Daily Beast blog, Andrew Sullivan notes something interesting about reading online vs. reading in print (emphasis mine):

Which is why, when asked my opinion at Newsweek about print and digital, I urged taking the plunge as quickly as possible. Look: I chose digital over print 12 years ago, when I shifted my writing gradually online, with this blog and now blogazine. Of course a weekly newsmagazine on paper seems nuts to me. But it takes guts to actually make the change. An individual can, overnight. An institution is far more cumbersome. Which is why, I believe, institutional brands will still be at a disadvantage online compared with personal ones. There’s a reason why Drudge Report and the Huffington Post are named after human beings. It’s because when we read online, we migrate to read people, not institutions. Social media has only accelerated this development, as everyone with a Facebook page now has a mini-blog, and articles or posts or memes are sent by email or through social networks or Twitter.

People do tend to read people and not institutions online but a shift away from that has already started happening. A shift back to institutions, actually. Pre-1990s, people read the Times or Newsweek or Time or whatever. In 2008, people read Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish or Paul Krugman’s column in the Times or Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP. Today, people read feeds of their friends/followees activities, interests, thoughts, and links on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr, i.e. the new media institutions.

Now, you may follow Daily Dish or Krugman on Twitter but that’s not quite the same as reading the sites; you’re not getting the whole post/article on Twitter, Krugman items are intermingled & fighting for attention with tweets from @horse_ebooks & Lady Gaga, and if you unfollowed Krugman altogether, you’ll find when he writes something especially good, someone else in your Twitter stream will point you to it pretty quickly. That is, Twitter or Facebook will provide you with the essential Krugman without you having to pay any attention to Krugman at all.

What that means is what blogs and the web are doing to newspapers and magazines, so might Facebook & Twitter do to blogs. Blogs might not even get the chance to be called old media before they’re handed their hats. It’ll be interesting to see how smartphone/tablet apps affect this dynamic…will apps push users/readers back toward old media institutions, individuals, or the friend-packaging institutions like Twitter?

The best 99 Problems jokes on Twitter

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2012

According to the data scientists at Stellar (i.e. me armed with clumsy SQL queries), people like riffing off of Jay-Z’s line from 2004’s 99 Problems:

If you’re having girl problems I feel bad for you, son
I’ve got 99 problems, but a bitch ain’t one

Here are some of the better ones I found:

@antichrista: If you got religious circumcision, I feel bad for you, son. I got 99 problems but a bris ain’t one.

@elibraden: I’m rubbing lotion on my belly rapping “I got 99 problems but ab itch ain’t one” to the elderly men in the gym locker room.

@goldengateblond: “I got 99 problems but the witch ain’t one.” — Darrin Stevens, widower

@evacide: I’ve got 99 problems, but an insufficiently sophisticated grasp of 4th amendment law ain’t one: https://t.co/E2XcSpb8

@dustmop: I got 99 problems but one of them is that i used hex and i actually have 152 other problems :(

@sween: If you’re coming to Canada to escape Obamacare, I feel bad for you son. We’ve got 99 problems but a lack of socialized medicine ain’t one.

@bagyants: “I got 99 problems, but they can wait.” - Lay-Z

@mikesacco: i got 99 problems but that’s 693 in dog problems!!

@blitznbeans: “I got 99 problems but I really need to lie back on this chair.” - Chaise-Z

@justin: I’ve got 99 problems but a view controller that works as expected on iOS 5 and doesn’t respond to user interaction on iOS 4 is the main one.

@paulypeligroso: “I got 99 problems but a bitch aint one.” - The Dalmatian parents from 101 Dalmatians.

@trevso_electric: I got 99 problems but white privilege ensures that they’re relatively trivial or easily worked out with a therapist.

@yellowcardigan: I got 99 problems but a joke structure based on a 2004 rap single ain’t one.

@lisarahmat: I got 99 problems but my math ain’t one hundred.

Let’s get a Kickstarter together to have Jay-Z rap all these lines.

Twitter is old media

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 11, 2012

Edd Dumbill writes that Twitter, as it strives to become a profitable company, is turning into an old media company.

Twitter’s bait-and-switch, now they’ve built their reach on the back of eager early adopters, is disappointing. It marks them as part of old, unenlightened, business, and consigns them to a far less remarkable place in the future economy than they otherwise might have had.

Michael Heilemann has a somewhat harsher take in his post on Amazon, Twitter, and Star Wars:

Some part of me can’t help but admire the purity of the clusterfuck that is Twitter’s continued downward trajectory from startup wunderkind to some sort of bland, wannabe ad-driven media company.

It’s incomplete, but I can’t help but draw comparisons between Twitter’s alienation of their original users and ecosystem to, because I am me, Star Wars.

Despite what George Lucas says, the continuing alterations to Star Wars have been driven by business reasoning, not some artistic auteur need to see the vision completed. And in both cases, the original fan base is the one getting run over, while the unwashed masses get to enjoy Jar Jar and Justin Bieber, respectively.