Cultural differences in web design

Over at sabrinas.space, Sabrina Cruz has a great breakdown of how web design differs between western and Japanese sites, written in support of their video on the same topic. Well researched, and they even go into details on how they collected their data. Good stuff.

While the rest of the world’s smart phone adoption began with the iPhone, Japan was years ahead – but alone. This article points out:

[Japanese cellphones had] e-mail capabilities in 1999, camera phones in 2000, third-generation networks in 2001, full music downloads in 2002, electronic payments in 2004 and digital TV in 2005.

The result was that Japan’s smart phone culture evolved separately from the rest of the world. There was less emphasis on large pictures and text was more acceptable since it had been the norm since the early days.

sabrinas.space

Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s fascinating to see how this sort of stuff differs in different cultures and regions. Makes you wonder what sort of further shifts in technology will influence design in the future (looking at you, Vision Pro).

Check Check

The slow train wreck that is Elon’s Twitter continues to both entertain and dismay. Damion Schubert has a solid summary of the latest mess (blue-check/verification shenanigans), and why it’s yet another example of a tone-deaf cock-up by the owner. I particularly liked this gem from his post:

The problem is that status isn’t why the blue checkmark was important . And because he didn’t understand it, now the status associated with the blue checkmark is roughly as desirable to wear as a dead fish found in the anus of a rotting skunk.

Damion Schubert, “It’s Not About Status, Elon. Only Now It Is.

Other “delightful” recent shenanigans include:

I’ve not been talking much about this tire fire lately, partly because I haven’t been blogging much at all, but also because it’s the sort of thing that you probably either a) don’t care about, or b) are already following along and are aware. But still, sometimes it’s useful just to touch base. It’s not frequent that you get to see as major a service as Twitter actively implode. It feels kind of like if you were able to get an accelerated, bird’s eye view of the fall of Rome.

November Flew By

I dressed up as a consistent blogger for Halloween, and then let the site lay fallow for November (two posts! Or three, if I actually get this post out today). Sometimes that’s just how things roll. No shortage of things to talk about – it would’ve been easy to fill the blog just with posts about the continuing train wreck that is the Twitter acquisition, for instance. Life’s just been a little busy, between work and Thanksgiving and my girlfriend moving up to Portland (I’m actually in San Francisco right now, helping prep for the move).

Here Be Rambles

An Implosion

Twitter is imploding currently, for a multitude of reasons. It’s been a while coming (I’ve talked about this several times before, for what it’s worth). I have a lot of mixed feeling about this: some schadenfreude, some grief at the disintegration of a service I’ve spent nearly 15 years on, some anger and disgust at how Muskrat has handled the entire situation. It’s a train wreck I’ve had a lot of trouble looking away from.

I suppose it’s worth clarifying: I realize the service itself is still technically functioning (there’s been some degradation in some areas, but the core service is marching along). But it feels… well:

That’s the vibe. In some ways the chaos is actually fun, but in a “last days of summer” sort of way.

SO, I’ve dusted off my Mastodon account, and have been using FediFinder to pull in as many people from my Twitter lists as I can. (It’s pretty straightforward: link your twitter account and your mastodon account, and then it searches your follows for mentions of their mastodon account, and builds a CSV file that Mastodon can then import automagically.)

Next steps is figuring out how to get everything hooked up so I can cross-post effectively, in a non-shitty way. I’m sure there are already plugins to do it, but figuring out which one to go with I suspect will be a little trial and error. Also: if you’ve got a mastodon account and I haven’t found you yet, please let me know! I’d be happy to follow and keep in touch.

Engagement is Not Engagement

John Green’s latest vlogbrothers video touches on something worth thinking about:

He’s talking about the low-calorie social media debates that drive what we call “engagement” – namely, more comments and likes or dislikes – which leads to increased view counts, and higher priority in algorithms (whether on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere). I’m calling it low-calorie social media because these sorts of debates are easy to have an opinion on, but they’re not substantive (and I’d argue, often not nutritious either).

Actual engagement – something more lasting and impactful than just a like or a passing comment – is hard. It’s hard to build, it’s hard to sustain, it’s often messy. But it’s more fulfilling. Even when it leads to challenging questions or work to be done, you can at least feel like you’re making some sort of progress on something that is meaningful, whether that’s some form of volunteering, philanthropy, or do-gooding, or if it’s just deepening connections with either individuals or a community.

I think John is right that there is a place for those “instantly debatable” questions and topics. But I think it’s a lot like junk food: it’s fine as a snack, but if that’s all you’re eating, it’s just going to make you sick.

Same Old Playbook

Over at the Verge, Adi Robertson has an article calling out some of Zuckerberg’s recent comments about an “open” ecosystem for VR being wrong and misguided on multiple levels. The comments in question include such bangers as:

In PCs, I think you’d say that Windows during the ’90s and 2000s especially was really the primary ecosystem in computing. The open ecosystem was winning.

Mark Zuckerberg

Which, uh, no. Windows was not an open ecosystem. Microsoft in general wasn’t an open ecosystem. Anyone who ever had to try and open a Word document in some other tool at the time can tell you that. They’re doing a lot better these days, but that’s after both legal and economic pressure to do so.

Microsoft was so far from meaningfully open that it was almost broken up by regulators. It was so notoriously domineering that we got a whole movie about a Bill Gates stand-in who murders programmers. If anything, it’s the kind of reference point that I personally might avoid if I were fighting antitrust suits across multiple continents! To the extent Microsoft is open, it’s partly thanks to years of intense legal pressure that Meta is only beginning to face.

Adi Robertson

(I did think it was weird they called Netscape a “startup”, and that particular line I think could have been phrased better – Internet Explorer may be a joke now, but it a) wasn’t then, and b) wasn’t decades old.)

What the article (and Zuck’s comments) really drive home to me, though, is that they’re basically running by the same playbook they did for Facebook. Which is to say, talk up how things will be interoperable, encourage folks to buy in, and then once they’ve captured a good chunk of the market, close the doors. You offer enough partnerships and deals with other services that it looks like you’re playing nice with others, but at the cost of an actually open ecosystem, and at the cost of actual interoperability. The little guys get screwed first, but again, once they have enough of the market, no one is safe. It doesn’t take much — shutter an API or tweak an algorithm, and suddenly you’ve ruined the ability for others to function. (This has happened repeatedly, such as shutting off third party access so content has to be created in-house; deprioritizing/burying non-FB links to content; dictating an algorithmic pivot to prioritizing video content, then back again; charging pages to “promote” content if they want their content visible to subscribers… the list goes on and on.)

I’ve already commented on the fact that I don’t think VR is ready for widespread mainstream adoption. I do think some of the work they’ve done with the Oculus and Quest is interesting. But there’s no way in hell I want FB/Meta anywhere near the levers of control for the development of a “metaverse platform”.

Virtual Spaces Roundup

I’ve bumped into a few different takes on virtual spaces in the past few months, thought I’d share a few:

Sprout (https://sprout.place): Sort of a scrapbook-meets-chat room vibe. What I think is interesting about this is that it recognizes that modern communication is often messy, with a variety of mixed media and different attention spans.

Skittish (https://skittish.com): This one is made by Andy Baio (who also runs Waxy, founded Upcoming, and is one of the organizers behind XOXO), and takes the idea of a virtual space quite literally. One of the neat things about this one (aside from the cute event spaces and avatars) is that it uses spatial audio, so if you need to have a quiet conversation with one or two people, you can literally move your avatars away from others and do so, without actually leaving the space or switching to another room.

WFH.FM (https://wfh.fm): This is less about communication and more about shared vibes. It lets you create a space you can then share with others (with or without the edit code to let others also add to it), where you can add various bits of media, gifs, videos, music. Like Sprout, it has a sort of scrapbook thing going on.

Hopin (https://hopin.com): This is a bit more of a traditional approach to virtual spaces, so more like a series of chat rooms that have video integration (both streaming talks, and also for group video). The most recent Write the Docs event used it, and I think it was pretty effective overall (no real hiccups that I could tell, though I wasn’t privy to the behind the scenes).

Crows Developer Conference (and again in 2021): Okay, SO. This feels more like Old Internet™ than anything I’ve seen in ages. The development team at Crows Crows Crows made an “alternative to GDC” during the pandemic, complete with talks and art installations and people roaming around a weird, weird 3d virtual space. I haven’t checked to see if it’s still running, but you can at least go read the promo emails and get a sense of what it was all about. The other spaces I listed are, y’know, usable/useful for y’all, but I had to include this one as well.

Anyway, just wanted to share a few services for folks to check out. There are plenty more out there if you bother to look – these are just a few I’ve personally bumped into lately. Virtual spaces: they’re not just chatrooms! They’re not just games! They’re not just commercialized saccharine sanitized corpo-shit!

The Soul of the Web

Over at The Atlantic, Kaitlyn Tiffany has an article on The Battle for the Soul of the Web – a headline that may sound a little dramatic, but is touching on some important topics. The article touches on a few different topics, but a central one is about the decentralized web (DWeb), and where that both intersects and contrasts with the Web3 space. It’s an interesting topic that is worth a deeper dive if you care about online spaces at all.

Decades removed from the gonzo highs of blinging GIFs and wacky blogs, the web is now a place where many people feel exploited, manipulated, and tracked; where freedom of speech is being tugged around in a strange culture war; and where the rich get richer.

Among this set, one solution seems to be the consensus favorite. If these problems are intrinsically linked to consolidated tech giants like Meta, Google, and Amazon, why not embrace technologies that decentralize power? 

Kaitlyn Tiffany

I’ve been railing against and ranting about information silos for years, so I suppose it’s no surprise that this line of thought might be a little appealing to me. I’ve had a passing interest in the potential of technologies like IPFS for years, for instance, though it remains to be seen how things pan out, and what adoption looks like – how much broad adoption is necessary for a technology or philosophy on technology to sustain itself and become independently viable?

That said, I think they’re at least asking the questions, and that’s a good start:

Nathan Schneider, a media-studies professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a frequent writer on collectivism and tech, told me. “DWeb asks more,” he said, and dwells on two key questions: “What do we actually want socially, and how do we center those values in our technical designs, so the technical becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in itself?”

There’s obviously some overlap between some decentralized web efforts, and decentralized finance efforts. I hope that the former doesn’t get dragged down because of the latter (or, more specifically, the scam-filled gold-rush that congealed around DeFi in recent times). There’s lots of questions I don’t have answers to about this (perhaps others do?), like how do we make the technology useful, approachable, ubiquitous… without also making it a target for those who want to exert power and control, and exploit it? User congregation around particularly useful or interesting tools or information is inevitable, and with that, how do you prevent just making silos all over again? (Another topic that gives me a headache is how to shepherd information accuracy, and curb disinformation in a world where oversight is virtually impossible?)

The Metaverse is Bullshit

I haven’t really added much to the discourse about Meta’s attempt to create the “Metaverse” – a term pulled from a cyberpunk novel (Snow Crash) – largely because there’s frankly already plenty of folks saying what I’d want to say. But hey, they once again made “big advancements” today with the addition of lower bodies for their virtual avatars, and just… for fuck’s sake.

I don’t entirely blame the development team working on this. I’m sure there’s some very smart people involved, and some of them may even have prior experience with virtual worlds and game development – though that might be optimistic, based on the results so far. I say I don’t entirely blame them, because it’s a very high profile, expensive project, with a lot of direct pressure and visibility from the head of the company. That’s bound to fuck up a roadmap or two.

More Ranting INcoming

Ambient Friends

Found via Lucy Bellwood, Bobbie Johnson has a great insight on “ambient friendships“:

Social media is built on ambient relationships. You post, you tweet, you share; I read, I listen, I see. Maybe we interact briefly. But I can feel closeness to you without actually having it. 

To make things even more complicated, we can exist on both sides—creators and consumers of other people’s thoughts, and each other’s. But so often I see what you’re doing, you see me, but we’re never quite talking to each other. 

Ambient friendship.

Bobbie Johnson

Modern internet socialization in a nutshell, right there. There’s some thoughts churning connecting it to thoughts about some of Sherry Turkle’s work, but I’ll save that for another time.