Now, Now

Fun little concept, the “now” page. From their about page:

Most websites have a link that says “about”. It goes to a page that tells you something about the background of this person or business. For short, people just call it an “about page”.

Most websites have a link that says “contact”. It goes to a page that tells you how to contact this person or business. For short, people just call it a “contact page”.

So a website with a link that says “now” goes to a page that tells you what this person is focused on at this point in their life. For short, we call it a “now page”.

Maybe I should put together one of those. And of course, the name reminds me of the classic “when will then be now” scene from Spaceballs:

How to Enjoy the Internet

Via Neil Gaiman’s tumblr, Ezra at ghostonly has an excellent post explaining some simple steps you can take to get back to enjoying yourself on the internet. It’s a good list.

#4 – Learn to say, “It’s none of my business.”

Don’t understand someone’s desire to use neo pronouns? None of your business. Can’t understand why someone is a furry? None of your business. Curious about how someone who talks about being poor can have a Starbucks in that last selfie they posted? None of your damn business.

[…]

If you have genuine questions from a place of good faith (i.e. what inspired you to use neopronouns?/what do you pronouns mean to you?) Go for it. But if you’re only asking questions to draw negative attention to someone or make them feel bad or to other them, you’re just being a nosy asshole.

Minding your own business is also good for you because – and I mean this genuinely – feeling entitled and superior is fucking exhausting. I know, because I’ve been 20 before. You will have a way better time online if you just stop caring about shit that doesn’t concern you.

Go read it, I agree with the whole damn thing.

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”.

Lilo and Stitch Got it Right

Over at Vulture, Bilge Ebiri has a great interview/retrospective discussing Lilo & Stitch, and what made it so good. It’s worth a read if you liked the movie, or even if you just wanted a better sense of the inside scoop of how things get made.

DeBlois: When we arrived in Florida, we knew these people because we had worked on Mulan with them. That was a difficult film to finish. There were lots of divorces and ailments that came out of that process. I remember myself working daily until well past 11 p.m., listening to people riding the Tower of Terror and poor custodians pushing around vacuum cleaners in these trailer buildings. So we made a decision. We sat down with the entire crew when we got there. We said, “Okay, here’s the deal. We have a lot less money. We have less time. But we want to figure out how we can make this movie so that everybody goes home at night to have dinner with their loved ones. Everybody gets a weekend. We’ll figure out how to make this and be happy doing it.” That became the spirit of making the film.

I still remember the first time I saw the movie – it was 2002, it was hot out, and we wanted to catch a movie since the theater would be air conditioned. I think we’d seen a trailer for it somewhere, figured it’d be cute, and so we went. I’m really glad we did.

Now, I don’t want to make it out to be some revelatory experience – it’s not going to blow your mind. But it is a remarkably well made, thoughtful, fun film. It has a lot of heart, both in the story and performance, but also in the animation and the subtle details. It wasn’t “designed by committee” and you can tell.

The Work Day Broken Down

From Melanie Curtin over at Inc: the average amount of productive work that happens at work is lower than you think.

Research suggests that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for two hours and 53 minutes.

That’s right–you’re probably only productive for around three hours a day.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American works 8.8 hours every day. Yet a study of nearly 2,000 full-time office workers revealed that most people aren’t working for most of the time they’re at work.

Melanie Curtin

What really made me laugh is that when the “missing” time is broken down, it’s not even including stuff that is unproductive but still technically work, like being stuck in often endless meetings that often don’t really matter for half the people in them. It’s literally just other random cruft like socializing, reading news sites, et cetera. (This article reminded me of a conversation I had with an old boss. During a 1:1, I was lamenting that I felt like I should be making better use of my time. He pointed out that if you were productive for even 5.5 hours on average, you were frankly a top performer. Something I continue to try and bear in mind when I’m feeling bad about the occasional unproductive day.)

Obviously, you should make the most of the productive time you actually manage to get! But also, maybe don’t beat yourself up too much when you end up having an off day.

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 Old Days are Gone

Over on Matt on Tumblr, the head of both WordPress and Tumblr shared his thoughts on how the old, porn-y days of the internet are likely not coming back (for better or for worse).

That said, no modern internet service in 2022 can have the rules that Tumblr did in 2007. I am personally extremely libertarian in terms of what consenting adults should be able to share, and I agree with “go nuts, show nuts” in principle, but the casually porn-friendly era of the early internet is currently impossible.

Matt Mullenweg

He goes on to list some reasonably well thought out arguments as to why he feels that way. Something I appreciate is that none of the argument is a moralistic one, it comes down to practicalities. Allowing sexual expression on a platform is challenging when the financial and regulatory Powers That Be™ are definitively anti-porn. Which is pretty maddening – there’s nothing wrong with consenting adults having fun on camera, nor is there anything wrong with those consenting adults getting paid for their work (and it is work). Yet because some senior executive at Visa feels squicked by it, the entire industry is left scrambling to find ways to let people give them money.

Anyway, it’s a quick read and some decent food for thought, so go take a gander.

Simple Language is Better

I’ve ranted about this before, but here’s yet another article (this time in The New Yorker), “Why Simple Is Smart” about how using simple language is better, and using overly elaborate, verbose, or jargon-y language is a sign of insecurity, not knowledge.

Simple is smart. High school taught me big words. College rewarded me for using big words. Then I graduated and realized that intelligent readers outside the classroom don’t want big words. They want complex ideas made simple.  If you don’t believe it from a journalist, believe it from an academic: “When people feel insecure about their social standing in a group, they are more likely to use jargon in an attempt to be admired and respected,” the Columbia University psychologist Adam Galinsky told me. […] Why? It’s the complexity trap: Complicated language and jargon offer writers the illusion of sophistication, but jargon can send a signal to some readers that the writer is dense or overcompensating. 

Derek Thompson

Aside from that central talking point, the rest of the article is also a nice read, discussing some basic tips towards better writing (writing musically is an interesting note, for instance). It’s a quick read, so just go read the article yourself.

Dead Malls and Public Spaces

It’s something I’ve talked about before, but I think “Dead Malls Predicted the Erosion of Public Space in America” by Rachel Presser is a good read, discussing the unfortunate decay of public spaces in the United States, and the impact it has on our sense of community, feelings of isolation and loneliness, and our general mental health.

But perhaps we mock because it’s the only way to come to the grips with the fact that we’re just losing places we can actually go without immediately being hustled out once we’ve dropped some cash.
[…]

It’s happening whether you live in a small town or one of the largest cities in the nation: places where we can just congregate and socialize freely are being yanked out from under us. To say nothing of how this disproportionately impacts young people who seem to have even less autonomy and rights than when I was their age; as even adults with decent incomes and control over their time thanks to remote jobs and freelancing are finding themselves lonelier than expected with very few places to go.

[…]

But when discussing Millennial loneliness, is no one seriously noticing how few places we have to go compared to yesteryear? Blame us being buried in our phones all you want, for a lot of us it’s the only way to find other people at the rate we’re going.

Rachel Presser

That our privatization of everything has done significant harm to our society is, in my opinion, indisputable at this point. I don’t think it’s irreparable, but I do think it’s going to take conscious effort and perhaps broader support than things currently have. There have certainly been attempts to revitalize areas by making areas more walkable, bringing in new businesses, updating shared spaces, and so on. But I think their success ends up depending a lot also on the intentionality of the people governing and participating in that area. If they want an area to feel alive, then they need to reconcile a disdain for “loitering”. The same practices they use to make an area “hostile” to homeless also drive away others who might gather in that area. You also have to let go of some degrees of control, and understand that an area is going to evolve and grow on its own, and if you try to force an area to be “just so”, you stifle the sort of organic community you are (in theory) trying to cultivate.

Just more food for thought.

WordPress, Tumblr, and the Web

Over at The Verge, Nilay Patel has a good interview with Matt Mullenweg called How WordPress and Tumblr are Keeping the Internet Weird. (Matt is the CEO of Automattic, which owns WordPress and recently acquired Tumblr.) The interview covers a lot of ground, but there were a few highlights for me. For instance, I thought this was a good take on the state of open source and the tragedy of the commons:

Tragedy of the commons is from economics actually. It’s a story. There’s a common field that belongs to this town, but it doesn’t belong to any one person. If all the farmers brought their sheep and cattle to graze in that field, but none of them were investing in maintaining it — maybe not having their particular sheep or cattle lay off it so things can regrow. The field gets overgrazed and dies. No more grass. Everyone loses.

In open-source, it’s very easy for companies to use open-source without contributing anything back, but that’s kind of one of the features of it. We can’t complain about it really, because that is what the license says you can and should do. But I think that companies who think more long-term say, “Okay, I’m getting a ton of value for this. I’m not paying a penny. How do I make sure that this is around five or 10 years from now?” We’ve seen examples of libraries that the whole internet depends on.

Matt Mullenweg

Also, I really love the idea of this open, transparent approach to decision making and discussion for a company:

What’s interesting at Automattic is there’s no internal email. I get a handful of emails a year from my colleagues. Everything happens on these internal blogs. What that means is we have essentially an organizational blockchain where every single decision going back to 2007 is on one of these internal blogs. You can find how every piece of code works, or every business decision, or every logo. Everything is in there somewhere.

Even if you and I decided something in a meeting, we need to write it up afterwards. It’s on this P2, so people can participate in it asynchronously. Future generations or future versions of ourselves who’ve forgotten why we made a decision can tell why we did that.

Finally, we try to say, “Reversible decisions quickly, and irreversible decisions deliberately, or slowly.” We put pretty much every decision into two categories. Most — 99% of what you do — is very reversible. Some things are really big. Who you take funding from, acquisitions — these things are hard to unwind, so you need to make those decisions very deliberately.

Matt Mullenweg

I don’t think it’d be the right choice for every company, because frankly not everyone is wired that way, but if you can cultivate that sort of culture, it’s really appealing to me.

It was also interesting to get some insights into his plan for Tumblr, which gives me a bit of hope:

It used to be every post we did on Tumblr, people would say, “Oh, you launched this new feature. Why haven’t you gone rid of the porn bots and Nazis?” So we had to do that. There were porn bots and bad people publishing on Tumblr, and we’ve done our best and still today are doing our best, to keep it a healthy, positive place on the web. If I have to say what I would love for Tumblr to be — besides just an alternative, another place you can go that’s different from the other social networks — is a place for art and artists.

Art is necessary for society. It feeds the soul. It’s naturally transgressive. Art pushes boundaries. We need to evolve how Tumblr moderation works to encompass that. It needs to be the best place on the web for art and artists — a place where they can have a direct relationship to their audience and people can follow things, not an algorithm that’s trying to enrage you.

And then further down, this continues:

If we can create a third place on the internet that doesn’t have an advertising model — you might have seen that we just launched an ad-free upgrade for Tumblr. Twitter and Facebook never do that because their business models don’t allow them to. But, luckily, since Tumblr isn’t making very much money right now, we can afford to do that and make it the model. I think that’s pretty cool. We have a really decent chance to bootstrap a non-surveillance-capitalism-based social network, which I think is impossible for the incumbents right now. They just have the golden handcuffs.

Definitely some food for thought.