kottke.org posts about social media

How [Points In A Circle] All This Could Be Different

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 19, 2019

Gizmodo has a pretty cool theme this week: the Alternate Internet. Not, like, the internet where they play Stone Temple Pilots b-sides — although, cool idea. No, like, the internet of alternate universes, different pasts and futures, where things went differently and like, Yahoo doesn’t ruin all it touches. That’s my kind of party.

Social Media Outlines.jpg

The story on alternate social media networks offers a nice media archaeology of all these sites; how they were covered and explained in the moment. Check out this explanation of Friendster in SF Weekly from August 13, 2003:

“Your induction into Friendster starts out innocently enough: You receive an e-mail invitation from a friend. It doesn’t cost anything to join, so you give it a whirl. You answer questions about your profession, favorite books, movies, music, and other interests, then upload a digital photo of yourself.

Thumbnail versions of your friends’ photos appear on your profile page like a collection of trading cards. Clicking on their pictures takes you to their pages, where you can see all of their friends, and so on. Even with only a few friends, you find that — through friends of friends — you suddenly have access to a social network of thousands of people.”

It’s a pretty common story what happened to all these sites; either they took the money, and got mismanaged, driving off whatever users they had in the first place, or they didn’t take the money, which meant they could never stay usable enough to support all of the users they were taking on.

A few other common threads: a fear of porn, other lewd behavior, and Yik Yak -style harassment. In short, it’s hard to make a social media site actually go big. You need money, a vanilla rep, ruthlessness, and more money. In the end, Facebook really was in the right place at the right time.

The one thing this doesn’t do is some deep left-field speculating, like, what if Google had seen what it had in Blogger to create Facebook before Facebook? Or Yahoo had figured it out with version X of whatever asset Yahoo had? There are social networks, real or latent, bigger than the social media graveyeard — some of the pieces are still here.

What do you care about?

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 31, 2019

Somewhat as a continuation to the previous post on journalism, which included a call to “look at people and how they use the technology, not just the tech itself.” I’d like to draw your attention to this post by Doug Belshaw which can be summarized as saying that the solution to the problem we have with FOMO, notifications, and busyness might simply be to think of the human (you) first. To be purposeful in your choices, to determine what you need, to focus on how best to answer those choices and needs.

Know who you are, what you care about, and the difference you’re trying to make in the world.

You should read the whole thing, but I’m including it here in part for this great list Belshaw extracted from a Kathy Sierra post from bak in “2006, in the mists of internet time,” The myth of keeping up.

A call for more research and questioning by journalists

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 31, 2019

Jeff Jarvis with some good comments (based primarily on a paper by Axel Bruns) arguing that the media in general needs to start with deeper questions, more research, referencing actual research, and demonstrable facts instead of presumptions. Excellent ideas.

He begins with this quote from the Bruns paper:

[T]hat echo chambers and filter bubbles principally constitute an unfounded moral panic that presents a convenient technological scapegoat (search and social platforms and their affordances and algorithms) for a much more critical problem: growing social and political polarisation. But this is a problem that has fundamentally social and societal causes, and therefore cannot be solved by technological means alone. [Emphasis mine.]

Agreed. Jarvis via Bruns then argues that these metaphors are too loosely defined, leaving room for broad usage, unclear meaning, resulting in moral panic more than actual research and fact based analysis.

He follows up with a number of articles and further research from the paper, backing up his point. Then numerous examples of media using the filter bubble shortcut. I encourage you to click through to the article and dive a bit deeper.

But that leads to another journalistic weakness in reporting academic studies: stories that takes the latest word as the last word.

Absolutely. And pretty much everyone does that at some point so it’s a good reminder to us all to consider new research and explanations of the day within broader historical context and preexisting knowledge.

The whole article (and the research paper, although I myself haven’t gotten to that yet) is worth a read, the main point of Jarvis is a good one; more questions, more research, deeper thinking. Looking at people and how they use the technology, not just the tech itself.

I do have to caveat this though by mentioning the Jarvis dismisses Shoshana Zuboff’s work on Surveillance Capitalism by portraying it as “an extreme name for advertising cookies and the use of the word devalues the seriousness of actual surveillance by governments.” One could debate whether Zuboff should have used another word, separating the practice from that of governments, but by saying “advertising cookies” Jarvis makes one of those surface remarks he raves against in his piece, somewhat discrediting it.

Verticality, media, and China

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Jul 29, 2019

Chinese vertical dramas

This is the collision of two interesting “topic fields” I like to pay attention to. China in general, especially how media, social media, and commerce differ from the western models. And how the verticality of smartphones (and apps) is affecting media at large.

First, in this piece on The Next web about Chinese vertical dramas, we get a quick dive into the growing number of series built for the format. Aside from the visual shape, they are usually short episodes, fast-paced with many punchlines, and are exploring the possibilities of top to bottom transitions. You can find quite a few links and screenshot examples in the article.

Last time I guest edited here, I posted about an Ian Bogost piece on how Stories are overtaking social media, which focused in part on the vertical rectangle.

That name is vestigial now, because it’s only incidental that an iPhone or a Pixel is a telephone. Instead, it’s a frame that surrounds everything that is possible and knowable. A rectangle, as I’ve started calling it.

Back to China, this fascinating piece by Connie Chan at Andreessen Horowitz looks at the varied business models local internet companies are using, contrasting that to the mostly “one trick pony” approach of American counterparts. Chan focuses on books, podcasts, videos, and music, and although the examples are varied, they can be boiled down to a couple of main ideas; gamification of every possible aspect of the app and experience, and up-selling to VIP memberships and all kinds of merchandise.

Bullet comments at Logic mag

Finally on the always excellent Logic mag, Christina Xu with a look at bullet comments culture in China, “an invasive species from Japan,” which layers comments over video, each attached to a specific moment. Originally popularized on the Bilibili platform, they are now present in a number of other places and media.

They represent the essence of Chinese internet culture: fast-paced and impish, playfully collaborative, thick with rapidly evolving inside jokes and memes. They are a social feature beloved by a generation known for being antisocial. And most importantly, they allow for a type of spontaneous, cumulative, and public conversation between strangers that is increasingly rare on the Chinese internet.

My Favorite Secret Social Network

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 08, 2019

peach emoji.png

If, for some reason, you join Peach, and you find my handle there, and you add me as a friend — maybe we’re IRL friends, or friends from other social network, or we used to work together, or you know me from here or someplace else — don’t be surprised if I don’t reciprocate your friendship right away.

Being Peach friends is a very special thing, and it doesn’t map neatly onto other kinds of friendship, digital or otherwise. The only way to know if someone is a good Peach friend is if they’ve been a good friend on Peach, which above all means one is supportive, discreet, and chill. The only other way to know if someone is a good Peach friend is if they’re not one of the people you go to Peach to talk about with your discreet, supportive, supremely chill Peach friends.

Confused? Yeah, it’s confusing to me too. The best effort at sorting it out in public so far is by Navneet Alang, who in “Notes on Peach” writes about why a small handful of us love this buggy, unreliable, deeply unpopular social network so much:

Most of all, there is no central feed. Instead, you have to click on each friend’s individual profile, which, first, limits the number of people you want to have on it, and second, makes things weirdly intimate, confessional, like you’re really writing to yourself and other people just happen to read. Of the odd mix that makes up my friend list of about fifteen—a couple of IRL friends, a few pals from Twitter, and a few complete strangers in another country—most use it as a sort of ongoing diary for the things you can’t say elsewhere, a release valve from the glare of Twitter. It is the sort of app where you talk about having a headache, the fact that you’re horny, a memory you have of your father that still fucks you up, and of course, pictures of your dog, mostly to a cobbled-together group of people you’ve never even met who, for some unknown reason, have all agreed not to judge.

I am the sort of person who has posted the following tweets in public, under my government name:

I’m posting them here again because frankly, I don’t think they got enough attention the first time. That’s who I am and what I’m about.

I blush to think at my Peach posts ever being made public. Or even private in a different context.

That’s what Peach is for. It is a place to be real with people who’ve chosen to be real with you. It’s friendly, it’s therapeutic, it’s cathartic. It’s necessary. When it’s not around, those of us who use it go a little bit mad.

We’ve come to lean on confessing out loud. And there are no priests left who can be trusted any more. The only thing we can trust is benign neglect.

Is that the next phase of the web? The web that hardly works, where no one’s paying attention because no one really cares? (Except your friends, including strangers, who somehow care so much?)1

As Bill Callahan wrote, “Everyone’s got their own thing that they yell into a well.”

How to Fix Social Media by Injecting A Chunk of the Blogosphere

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 18, 2019

Not all hour-long podcasts are worthwhile, but I found this one by The Atlantic’s Matt Thompson and Alexis Madrigal to be pretty compelling. The subject: how to fix social media, or rather, how to create a variation on social media that allows you to properly pose the question as to whether or not it can be fixed.

For both Matt and Alexis, social media (and in particular, Twitter) is not especially usable or desirable in the form in which it presents itself. Both Matt and Alexis have shaped and truncated their Twitter experience. In Alexis’s case, this means going read-only, not posting tweets any more, and just using Twitter as an algorithmic feed reader by way of Nuzzel, catching the links his friends are discussing, and in some cases, the tweets they’re posting about those links. Matt is doing something slightly different: calling on his friends not to like to retweet his ordinary Twitter posts, but to reply to his tweets in an attempt to start a conversation.

Both Matt and Alexis are, in their own way, trying to inject something of the old spirit of the blogosphere into their social media use. In Alexis’s case, it’s the socially mediated newsreader function. In Matt’s, it’s the comment thread, the great discussions we used to have on blogs like Snarkmarket.

(Full disclosure: I was a longtime commenter on Matt and Robin Sloan’s blog Snarkmarket from 2003 to 2008, until I was elevated into a full third member of the site, where I posted pretty regularly until about 2013, when our blog, like so many others, began to wind down, replaced by both social media and professional news sites. I was also one of the early contributors to Alexis’s Tech section at The Atlantic starting in 2010, which is also held aloft as a blog standard during this podcast. So I have some skin in this game.)

Also worth reading into this discussion: Anil Dash’s 20th anniversary roundtable at Function with Bruce Ableson, Lisa Phillips, and Andrew Smales, which pretty explicitly (and usefully!) constructs the early blogosphere as the precursor to contemporary social media.

It’s easy to look at Twitter and look at Facebook, and look at the things that are happening, and how awful people are to each other, and say: the world would be better off without the internet. And I don’t believe that. I think that there’s still space where people can be good to each other.

So here’s the thing:

  1. The blogosphere was not always better than the contemporary social web;
  2. The blogosphere felt like it was getting better in a way that the contemporary social web does not.

And that turns out to make a huge difference! I mean, in general, the world was sort of a crummy place in the early 2000s. (The late 1990s were actually good.) But on the web side, especially, things in the early 2000s felt like they were getting better. Services were improving, more information was coming online, storage and computing power (both locally and in the cloud) were improving in a way that felt tangible, people were getting more connected, those connections felt more powerful and meaningful. It was the heroic phase of the web, even as it was also the time that decisions were being made that were going to foreclose on a lot of those heroic possibilities.

A lot of the efforts to reshape social media, or to walk away from it in favor of RSS feeds or something else, are really attempts to recapture those utopian elements that were active in the zeitgeist ten, fifteen, and twenty years ago. They still exercise a powerful hold over our collective imagination about what the internet is, and could be, even when they take the form of dashed hopes and stifled dreams.

I feel like I can speak to this quite personally. Ten years ago, I was just another graduate student in a humanities program stuck with a shitty job market, layered atop what were already difficult career prospects to begin with. The only thing I had going for me that the average literary modernist didn’t was that I was writing for a popular blog with two very talented young journalists who liked to think about the future of media. That pulled me in a definite direction in terms of the kinds of things I wrote about (yes, Walter Benjamin, but also Google Books), and the places where I ended up writing them (Kottke.org, The Atlantic, and eventually Wired). So instead of being an unemployable humanist, I became an underemployed journalist.

At the same time, the blogosphere, while crucial, has only offered so much velocity and so much gravity. By which I mean: it’s only propelled my career so far, and the blogs I’ve written for (Kottke notwithstanding) have only had so much ability to retain me before they’ve changed their business model, changed management, gone out of business, or been quietly abandoned. They’re little asteroids, not planets. Most of the proper publications I’ve written for, even the net-native ones, have been dense enough to hold an atmosphere.

And guess what? So have Twitter and Facebook. Just by enduring, those places have become places for lasting connections and friendships and career opportunities, in a way the blogosphere never was, at least for me. (Maybe this is partly a function of timing, but look: I was there.) And this means that, despite their toxicity, despite their shortcomings, despite all the promises that have gone unfulfilled, Twitter and Facebook have continued to matter in a way that blogs don’t.

For good or for ill, Twitter lets you take the roof off and contact people you’d otherwise never reach. The question, I think, is whether you have to tack that roof back on again in order to get the valuable newsgathering and conversation elements that people once found so compelling about the blogosphere, or whether there’s some other form of modification that can be made to build in proper protections.

The other question is whether there can be anything like a one-size-fits-all solution to the problem of social media. I suspect there isn’t, just because people are at different points on their career trajectories, which shapes their needs and wants vis-a-vis social media accordingly. Some of us are still trying to blow up, or (in some cases) remind the world what they liked about us to begin with. Others of us are just trying to do our jobs and get through the day. Many more still have little capital to trade on to begin with, and are just looking for some kind of meaningful interaction to give us a reason why we logged in in the first place. The fact that this is the largest group, for whom the tools are the least well-suited, and who were promised the most by social media’s ascendancy, is the great tragedy of the form.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves, what was it that we wanted from the blogosphere in the first place? Was it a career? Was it just a place to write and be read by somebody, anybody? Was it a community? Maybe it began as one thing and turned into another. That’s OK! But I don’t think we can treat the blogosphere as a settled thing, when it was in fact never settled at all. Just as social media remains unsettled. Its fate has not been written yet. We’re the ones who’ll have to write it.

Gurus, ninjas, and experts

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 03, 2010

whatthefuckismysocialmediastrategy.com is certainly a veritable and powerful social media strategy generator for any business. If you need a social media strategy, you should start here before interviewing folks. You know, to make yourself conversant in the lingo. That said:

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