Fan Is A Tool-Using Animal

September 2nd, 2015

Maciej Cegłowski on his experience of trying to attract fandom to Pinboard in the wake of the decline of Delicious:

[The single change…] that killed fandom dead on Delicious was no longer being able to type "/" into the search box.

There is no God, life has no meaning, it's all over when you can't search on the slash character. And fandom started freaking out on Twitter.

Being a canny businessman, I posted a gentle reminder that there was still a bookmarking site that let you search on a slash tag.

So fandom dispatched a probe to see if I was worth further study. The emissaries talked to me a bit and explained that my site was missing some features that fans relied on.

In my foolishness I asked, "Could you make me a list of those features? I'll take a look, maybe some of it is easy to implement."

Oh yes, they could make make a list.

I had summoned a very friendly Balrog.

Great stuff. Especially the part about how the Google Docs document that the users wrote to communicate with Maciej about what features they wanted ended up as the subject of fanfiction.

[Via MetaFilter]

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June 10th, 2015

The story of The Last Museum:

I am not at my ranch, nor my Beijing office, nor the lesser office in Brooklyn, but here, back home, in the Old Valley. In a few minutes we'll pull off the highway and into what used to be Pruneridge Shopping Center. I can see the Jobs statue out the window of this car, rising up from the center of the Apple ring.

Pruneridge has gone the way of all physical stores. In its place stands a massive set of overlapping, complex, structurally-interlinked steel polyhedra that required sixty-thousand hours of continuous computer time to model. Ten billion microscopic mirrors catch the light and reflect it in various soothing patterns. There is one mirror per living human on this earth.

This is MoST, the Museum of Social Transformation. It is mine, but soon it will belong to the world.

I will tell you how I got here. […]

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

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Unintentional time-lapses

May 18th, 2015

A group of researchers from the University of Washington and Google have found a way to construct time-lapse video sequences from within the millions of photos to be found online:

First, we cluster 86 million photos into landmarks and popular viewpoints. Then, we sort the photos by date and warp each photo onto a common viewpoint. Finally, we stabilize the appearance of the sequence to compensate for lighting effects and minimize flicker.

The results are downright spectacular in some cases, and just plain odd in others.1


  1. Wait until right at the end, when the video gets to the Charging Bull statue from New York's Financial District. Why is it doing that, exactly?

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Task Continuity

April 10th, 2015

At the Mozilla blog there's a fascinating post about research Gemma Petrie & Bill Selman did into how real users handle Task Continuity, i.e. the mechanics of dealing with stuff they want to read online now as opposed to stuff they want to get back to later:

Based on our research, we developed a general model of what the task continuity process looks like for our participants. Task continuity is a behavior cycle with three distinct stages: Discover, Hold/Push, and Recover.

The Discover stage of the task continuity cycle includes tasks or content in an evaluative state. At this stage, the user decides whether or not to (actively or passively) do something with the content.

The Hold/Push stage of the cycle describes the task continuity-enabling action taken by the user. In this stage, users may:

  • Passively hold tasks/content (e.g. By leaving a tab open)
  • Actively hold tasks/content (e.g. By emailing it to themselves)
  • Push tasks/content to others by sharing it (e.g. Posting it on Facebook)


In the Recover stage of the task continuity cycle, the user is reminded of the task/content (e.g. By seeing an open tab) or recalls the task/content (e.g. Through contextual cues). Relying on memory was one of the most common recovery methods we observed. In order to fully recover the task/content, the user may need to perform additional actions like following a link or reconstructing an activity path.

It seems that emailing yourself a link to look at later is still a thing, which I find both amazing and a bit depressing. Also, there's a distinct lack of mentions of just bookmarking the content in the web browser you're using to read the content in the first place, which rather suggests that browser makers have been wasting their time with that whole bookmarking feature they've all been using for the last couple of decades.

For what it's worth, my usual approach to seeing stuff in my web browser that I'll want to come back to depends upon whether I want it as reference material or just don't have time to look at it right now: material I know I'll definitely want to refer to, especially if I'm likely to want to look at it more than once1 goes to Evernote, where I can tag it and set a reminder alarm if need be. Content that I'll want to look at later (possibly with a view to filing it in Evernote if it's worth keeping) gets bookmarked in Pinboard. Text-heavy content that I know I'll want to read but that is lengthy enough to require a significant chunk of my time is likely to be consigned to Instapaper. Whichever way it goes, one click and I'm ready to move on to the next browser tab.2

Interestingly (Well, I find it interesting!)) the only real exception to that general approach comes when I see a YouTube or Vimeo video I want to come back to: if I'm already on the YouTube or Vimeo site I'll generally use those sites' Watch Later features to tag that content, so that next time I'm in the mood to kill some time watching a bunch of videos it'll be to hand.3

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

  1. e.g. a snippet of Applescript, or a web page showing the opening hours of a local supermarket over a bank holiday weekend
  2. Mac OS X and iOS try hard to encourage users to use Safari's reading list feature to grab content to review later, but that's no good to me if I might want to look at the items when I'm using a non-Apple device, i.e. if I'm browsing from work during my lunch break using Firefox on a Windows PC.
  3. I still tend to do my video-watching in batches rather than visiting YouTube/Vimeo multiple times during a browsing session. The good old days of reading the internet in batches via a metered dial-up connection scarred me for life shaped my browsing habits in ways I still can't shake.

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April 4th, 2015

Windscreenwiperman is a thoughtful piece of work on a tricky subject:

A man makes friends with a young teenage boy online. This film explores the stigma around online friendships, and our global addiction to social media. Directed by Sam Baron. Written by Sam Baron & Raphael von Blumenthal. Produced by Mark Hopkins, Aidan Grounds & Emily Precious. Starring Raphael von Blumenthal, Joe Hurst & Rebecca Herod.

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gail period com

April 1st, 2015

Where you end up if you mistype 'gmail' as 'gail' and your browser autocompletes your entry:

Hello and welcome to the FAQ.

Q: Why isn't there any content here?
A: All personal web content is hidden on back pages to conserve bandwidth.

Q: Interested in selling
A: Sorry, no.

Q: How did you manage to get
A: My husband registered it as a birthday gift back in 1996.

Q: How many times a day is this page visited?
A: In 2014 this page received 1,829,385 hits, which is an average of 5,012 per day. Eighty-five percent of those hits were from unique IP addresses. Occasionally, we get Redditted and get several tens of thousands of visitors over a day or so.

Q: I think you're infringing on my trademark…
A: You can't have an exclusive trademark on a common word or name. My husband and I successfully defended ourselves against an attempted domain coup d'état in 2006; see WIPO Case D2006–0655 for more information.

Q: Don't you know that you could throw some ads up and make money?
A: Yes, I know, thank you. For those who feel they need more advertising in their life, have a look at our nifty EFF ad below.

Thanks for visiting,

Gail (faq at gail period com)

Bravo. Proper old school internet.

[Via @lexim]

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If we had a solution, we wouldn't be bothering you with all these damn clues.

January 8th, 2015

18. Did we use the word "content" without quotes? We feel so dirty.

New Clues, from two of the authors of the original Cluetrain Manifesto. A mix of idealism, naiveté, and the odd CheapShot™. All in all, a hell of a lot of fun to read.1

  1. Even if it makes me feel old to realise that it's been almost sixteen years since the original.

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Why Audio Never Goes Viral

November 16th, 2014

Why Audio Never Goes Viral:

With a community of creators uncomfortable with the value of virality, an audience content to watch grainy dashcam videos, and platforms that discourage sharing, is a hit-machine for audio possible? And is it something anyone even wants?

A decent overview of why not all content is suited to going viral.

If 'going viral' requires content to be in brief chunks that can be digested by the listener with minimal context I'm not sure that I want the audio content I listen to1 to make the effort. Plenty of the best audio content thrives on length and context, so why try to make it fit a template that won't work to the medium's strengths?

[Via philgyford]

  1. Like most people, I'd imagine: a mix of content originally made for radio, plus some podcasts.

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How do we build an Internet we're not ashamed of?

May 29th, 2014

Having finally got round to reading the transcript of Maciej Cegłowski's Beyond Tellerrand 2014 Conference Talk , I can but report that – as usual – he talked a lot of sense:

One reason there's a backlash against Google glasses is that they try to bring the online rules into the offline world. Suddenly, anything can be recorded, and there's the expectation (if the product succeeds) that everything will be recorded. The product is called 'glass' instead of 'glasses' because Google imagines a world where every flat surface behaves by the online rules. [The day after this talk, it was revealed Google is seeking patents on showing ads on your thermostat, refrigerator, etc.]

Well, people hate the online rules!

Google's answer is, wake up, grandpa, this is the new normal. But all they're doing is trying to port a bug in the Internet over to the real world, and calling it progress.

You can dress up a bug and call it a feature. You can also put dog crap in the freezer and call it ice cream. But people can taste the difference.

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State of MetaFilter

May 19th, 2014

Matt Haughey posted some bad news on MetaTalk today:

Today I need to share some unfortunate news: because of serious financial downturn, MetaFilter will be losing three of its moderators to layoffs at the end of this month. What that means for the site and the site's future are described below.

While MetaFilter approaches 15 years of being alive and kicking, the overall website saw steady growth for the first 13 of those years. A year and a half ago, we woke up one day to see a 40% decrease in revenue and traffic to Ask MetaFilter, likely the result of ongoing Google index updates. We scoured the web and took advice of reducing ads in the hopes traffic would improve but it never really did, staying steady for several months and then periodically decreasing by smaller amounts over time.


Where we are headed

The site is currently and has been for several months operating at a significant loss. If nothing were to change, MeFi would defaulting on bills and hitting bankruptcy by mid-summer. As a result, I'm having to make the difficult decision to lay off employees to make up for budget shortfalls. Starting June 1st, we'll be operating with a smaller moderator staff. […]

Not the sort of MetaFilter link I usually post here!

MetaFilter is one of the best, most consistently interesting online communities on the web; not just because of the links people post there, but because over the years it has hosted some of the most entertaining and informative comment threads I've seen on the internet. Since the Death of Usenet, it's been my number one source of civilised discussion online, and it's a terrible shame that it looks as if Google's tweaking of their search algorithm may have hit the site hard, despite MetaFilter being about as far from a linkfarm as it's possible to be.

If you've enjoyed the various links I've posted here over the years that came from MetaFilter, please consider dropping by the site and sending them a donation via PayPal (the donation link is at the foot of that page, under the subheading Supporting MetaFilter. Or even making it a recurring monthly donation if, like me, you use MetaFilter regularly.

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