Over at Slate, Will Oremus writes How Newsweek Collapsed, which is a fascinating article exploring the recent implosion at Newsweek. While I’m not saying all media outlets are like this, it’s still pretty eye-opening that things could get this bad at even a major, well-reputed outlet.
Via Kottke. This is about New York and the Village, but I feel like it’s about more than that. It’s about the homogenization, pacification, and gentrification of the places that were previously the havens of the freaks and weirdos who struggled to fit in anywhere else. It’s about society (and how we interact with it) becoming performative, and anything that deviates from the norm becoming a spectacle for others. You can sense some anger and frustration in this video, and I definitely get why. People who have been outcast, or are considered weird or a freak are people, and shouldn’t be treated as a spectacle or a tourist destination.
Via Kotaku, the Xenogears soundtrack is getting remastered. This was one of my favorite games, and one of the things I appreciated about it was the soundtrack. As much as I’d love to see the game itself also get some remastering love (maybe with a revisited second disc), this is also a welcome treat. The Japanese page has more information if you’re interested.
Kottke links to an article comparing time estimates between Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze by Artur Grabowski. The observations are interesting (if imperfect, as the author notes, since there were only so many variables he was able to control for): Waze tended to underestimate how long a trip would take, while Apple Maps tended to overestimate. As Artur notes, this has an impact on the user experience:
For Apple, Maps is a basic solution for its average user who wants a maps solution out of the box. Apple Maps does not directly drive ad or subscription revenue for Apple so there is less reason for Apple to incentivize iOS users to use Apple Maps over other solutions. However, Apple does care about user experience, and sandbagging trip time estimates so that users arrive at their destination on time results in a great user experience. Hence, I believe that Apple is intentionally conservative with estimated arrival times.
At the other extreme, Waze (Alphabet) makes money through ads when you use their app. What better way to get people to use your navigation app than by over-promising short trip times when no one takes the time to record data and realize that you under-deliver? If an unsuspecting user opens Apple Maps and sees a 34-minute route and compares that to 30-minutes in Waze, the deed is done. Now Waze has a life-long customer who doesn’t realize they’ve been hoodwinked and Waze can throw at them stupidly annoying ads.
That’s the thing: advertising definitely impacts user experience, and it’s often in more subtle ways than just product placement or overt advertising. It can impact how designers and developers think about what they’re building, and what they choose to focus on. You can see it elsewhere, too: think about the shift in newsfeeds away from a chronological feed and towards an algorithmic one. As Jason notes:
If that’s happening with your mapping app, just think of how your search results, Facebook newsfeed, and Instagram feed are manipulated to be more amenable to advertising.
I’ve been trying to keep a regular routine of posting at 5pm (through the magic of scheduling posts), but this one is a little late. It’s been snowy here in Portland, and in that vein, here’s some snow related links for your perusal:
- Project Habakkuk, a plan by allied forces in World War II to build an aircraft carrier out of pykrete (a mixture of wood pulp and ice). It ended up not happening, but even the stories that came out of the early phases are kind of awesome.
- 2018 Sapporo Snow Festival, because who doesn’t love some exquisitely done snow sculptures? As a regular player of Final Fantasy XIV, I’m of course tickled by the Nidhogg they made:
- Tom Waits performing a poem by Bukowski, “Nirvana”. The snow is a key set piece, in my opinion, but bonus points for being a story about a drifter and diners and the magic.
- A collection of photos of snow over at Unsplash. When you’re stuck having to shovel or are stressed about driving conditions, it’s easy to forget that fresh snow can really be quite beautiful. Go take a minute to browse, and you’ll see what I mean.
I’m sure I’ll soon be back to griping about the deplorable state of the internet and how social computing has failed us, but for now, enjoy the snow day.
Via Warren Ellis, Stowe Boyd has an article wondering Is Medium Following The Facebook Playbook? (It’s sort of ironic that the post is on Medium, but whatever.) This is written sort of in response to an interview with Matt Klinman by Sarah Aswell, How Facebook is Killing Comedy, which is also well worth your time to read.
Ev Williams, the founder and CEO of Medium, is actively discouraging the publication model that was what attracted a long list of publishers to the platform, which provided at least a few mechanisms for individual expression at the publication level: ordering of stories on the home page, recruiting contributions, and organizing by topics. Many of those publishers have left, or abandoned their publications. (I shut down Work Futures (workfutures.io) a few weeks ago, and departed for Substack and the recast Work Futures (workfutures.org).)
Now, Medium wants to manage all publishing and curation, with its own editorial staff and algorithms. A perfectly designed forest, as Klinsman suggests.
Via BoredPanda and Reddit, Guy Spends Almost A Year Gluing 42,000 Matches To Make A Giant Sphere, Sets It On Fire. Best giant matchstick globe burning you’ll see all day. If you don’t want to bother learning the math and planning behind it, here’s the video on Youtube:
Over at Medium, Nat Dudley has a nice (lengthy, well researched with clear examples) article, Be Kind, Design, based on a talk they recently gave. Worth some consideration.
You might be asking yourselves why we’re the ones who have to care about this. After all, everyone else is treating their customers poorly, so why should we be different.
It’s a matter of scale. Like Penalosa’s urgency for good urban design in cities, we need to care because our work has reach. The work we do is part of every industry on the planet. We are defining or redefining the interaction models for every part of society, and we’re doing it at a scale we’ve never experienced before. Changes we make can affect millions of people in seconds without their knowledge or consent. Decisions we make can reinforce existing power structures and biases, or they can break them down.
Over at Nieman Lab, Laura Hazard Owen has a nice interview with Jason Kottke about blogging, Last blog standing, “last guy dancing”. A salient bit:
There has to be room in our culture for that type of stuff — that stuff that is inspirational and aspirational — because it provides some sort of hope that we can actually have more of that in our lives, rather than less.
It’s like that quote from John Adams. I have it pulled up here. “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”
That’s a really interesting way to think about progress. Not everyone is going to be on that continuum at the same time, but I think the goal should be to get more people moving toward it.