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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March 2nd, 2015

We can marry you off, wholesale.

Facebook knew you were in love a long time before you did. It noticed you scrolling back through her timeline. Every millisecond lingering over the photos of her at the beach was faithfully logged.

When she sent a message to her best friend saying "Hot date tonight ;-)" it correlated all the messages that she'd been sending and rightly calculated that you were her probable partner.

When the two of you didn't send each other flirty message one morning, it concluded that you had spent the night in a… how to put this…? A state unobservable by Facebook.

On the surface, you two were perfectly suited to each other. But Facebook had detected a problem. […]

[Via The Null Device]

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The Internet of Shit

January 9th, 2015

Smart Pipe is a genuinely shitty idea.

[Via Schneier on Security

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Imagine Facebook with safe words

May 18th, 2014

After visiting's studios at The Armory,1 Kate Losse shares Further Notes on Kink as a Platform:

The first thing our tour guide wanted to make sure we understood was that not only is tourist photography fine at Kink, it is also encouraged, as is posting photos from Kink to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. "If you feel inspired to enter a cage and pose for pictures, please do!" the guide said enthusiastically, cautioning us only that the professional performers in the building were not fair game for photos/friend requests unless asked. "Just because you've seen someone's asshole doesn't mean they want to be your friend on Facebook," our guide admonished.

This was the first of many uncanny moments I felt during the tour, where a porn platform representative was laying down rules for social media that are more explicit than those of social media companies themselves. When was the last time a social media platform told you the house rules for friending or distributing information? For social media platforms, all information flow is good flow. At Kink, there are rules, and the proprietors of the platform wanted to make sure we knew them. […]

[Via The Baffler]

  1. Home page link contains only one image, perfectly work-safe – it's of a building! – but may be deemed by some employers to be NSFW even so, because the page mentions what sort of activities go on inside. Links deeper into the site are almost certainly NSFW.

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Introducing Duplo

April 20th, 2014

This description of how Duplo, Flipboard's new page layout engine, works is fascinating. It's ludicrous to think of just how much work your computer1 can get done in a few fractions of a second just in order to optimise the display of a bunch of text and images for maximum readability:

Duplo is a new layout engine that starts with the ideas in [Flipboard's old layout engine] Pages but uses a modular block and grid system to quickly fit content into thousands of page layouts in all sizes.


Duplo starts in a similar way as Pages: A designer creates a set of layouts. From this set, Pages selects the layout that best fits the desired content.

However, while Pages looks at about 20 candidate layouts, Duplo looks at anywhere between 2000 to 6000 candidates, searching for the best layout to fit the content. […]

Me, I tried Flipboard a while ago but on balance I tend to prefer the Instapaper approach.2 But it's good that clever people are putting so much work into trying to find better ways to make content readable in so many form factors.

[Via Daring Fireball]

  1. And especially the computer small enough that you carry in your pocket or hold it in one hand
  2. That or using Safari's Reader function as augmented by the Canisbos CustomReader extension, which allows me to have Safari automatically turn on the Reader function on certain sites and to customise the look of the text the Reader function displays in various ways.

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'Oral histories that are completely fabricated have value.'

April 16th, 2014

Talking to The Verge in the wake of the publication of her book It's Complicated, danah boyd talks a lot of sense about how people interact online:

People seem very afraid of their kids creating different identities on different social networks. Why are teens doing this, and should their parents be concerned?

No, in fact, this is one of the weird oddities about Facebook. Let's go back to Usenet. People had multiple nicks, they had a field day with this. They would use these multiple "identities" to put forward different facets of who they were. It wasn't to say that they were trying to be separate individuals. Who you are sitting with me today in this professional role with a shared understanding of social media is different than how you talk to your mom. She may not understand the same things you and I are talking about. At the same time, if you were talking about your past, I'd have none of it and your mother would have a lot of it. This is this moment where you think about how you present yourself differently in these different contexts, not because you're hiding, but because you're putting forward what's relevant there.

The idea of real names being the thing that leads you – that's not actually what leads us in the physical space. We lead with our bodies. We adjust how we present our bodies by situation. We dress differently, we sit differently, we emote differently. […]

Call me nostalgic, but I'm always pleased to see references to Usenet. We might not have called it 'social media',1 but there's a lot to be learned from the experience of all those people back before the web was even a thing, having thousands of shared social spaces to navigate. Of course Usenet also blessed us with Canter and Siegel, but that was part of the learning curve too.

  1. And in fairness it wasn't quite the same beast as MySpace or Twitter or Facebook – but mostly in respects that were for the better. A choice of flexible, powerful third party client software running on a variety of platforms. No single centralised authority policing the discussions – especially outside the Big 8 hierarchy. The best online discussions I ever had or saw happened on Usenet. Also some of the biggest flamewars, but that's what killfiles and scorefiles were for.

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Who needs the NSA?

January 27th, 2014

What a brand knows…

The question is, would your privacy fare much better if you were logging in to Google+ or Twitter instead? And if so, would that be because those networks were being less intrusive on a point of principle, or just because they haven't yet persuaded you to hand over quite as much information about yourself?1

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

  1. Your social network's customers, don't forget, being not you the user but the marketing executives who want your details to help them sell things to you.

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Data does not include domestic crying…

December 2nd, 2013

Quantified Breakup applies a little data analysis to the aftermath of the end of a relationship. Like these infographics about the Public Display of Emotions:

Every day we function within parameters. We do our jobs. We do our chores. We chit chat with the person who sells us groceries. We function very admirably.

But when something disruptive happens in our lives – a breakup or maybe even a serious family emergency – we sometimes can't help but let it all out. And I don't just mean at home. Sometimes, you kinda have to stop functioning and ball your eyes out in public. […]

Commiserations with other people about breakups seemed to reveal that I was not alone in expressing emotions like this! I've had women shrieking with joy as they told me about the therapeutic effects of crying publicly.

Here's a quick breakdown of public crying I recall from emails, texts and conversations (I started jotting down data for this in mid-October. Data does not include domestic crying):

Public Displays of Emotion

Even as we read this, a software developer somewhere who has seen that post is working on a project called BreakupBuddy,1 an app designed to pull all this data together in a single place. Grabbing your location and the details of what you're listening to is the easy bit: the trickier part is providing a slick but flexible user interface so you can tag parts of the day according to your mood and behaviour. An in-app purchase buys the GetHappy module, which reacts to your mood changes by suggesting a cheery soundtrack, accompanied by pictures from your photostream of happier times. (If the facial recognition/tagging allows it to identify and avoid pictures of That Cheating Bastard, so much the better!) And of course, every status update gets posted to the social network of your choice, because like the lady said, public displays of emotion can be cathartic.23

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. Yes, the name needs a bit of work.
  2. I have a horrible feeling that if I searched the App Store there are probably three apps already there that aim to fill this need.
  3. OK, I couldn't resist: a quick search found this and this, neither of which quite seems to fit the bill. Perhaps there's a genuine gap in the market here.

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Olivia and her friends weren't wrong when they thought she'd become suddenly famous. Her audience just wasn't human.

November 26th, 2013

Shantal Roddam (@Allieqtzm) was a typical example of one of her new followers. Shantal was a "Friendly beer fan" from Butte. She was following:

@ESPN, the world's leading sports brand;
@MarsPhoenix, a long-dead robot on Mars;
@ReutersScience, the news organization;
@KingJames, Lebron James, the NBA star;
@AlexisMadrigal, your faithful correspondent;
and Olivia, a high school student in San Diego.

By 8:25pm, Olivia could announce, "I have hit 3,000 everyone 3,000 porn stars."

Alexis Madrigal's article trying to answer the question Why Did 9,000 Porny Spambots Descend on This San Diego High Schooler? serves as both an introduction for non-techies to the world of Twitter spambots and a reminder of the extent to which the language and practices of social media would be unintelligible to an average reader from twenty years ago.

It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.

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Subject: Re: 'Became a zombie' Life Event

November 22nd, 2013

Benjamin Rosenbaum has posted a sharp, blackly amusing short story about how Facebook's users and software developers would react to a zombie plague breaking out, called Feature Development for Social Networking.

Nice work, even though you just know this story isn't destined to end well for any of the characters.


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