Friday, 31 May 2013

The Medium is the message

I came across a new social media web site that smelt of smug. 

It's stuffed full of confident 30-somethings wanting to share confident prescriptions about life, about tech, about consumer activism, about neat ideas and neater, confident, meaningful, artistically shaped lives. It concentrates on the word, and puts words on the page beautifully (much nicer than, hmm). It's a space to share and be seen and be part of something new. It's quietly getting rave reviews, getting known. What? You hadn't heard of Medium? Really? Where have you been?

Like 2 minute man. He has something to say. And he's damn proud of it. Summary: a neat trick to overcome procrastination, the start of everything takes less than two minutes, so, er, just DO IT! He riffs with this idea like he'd never experienced a true fear of failing, true crippling indecision, true lack of self worth. Go 2 minute man! (Medium doesn't have a search facility that I can find, so can't link back to it. Go Medium!)

Like, what did David Karp (Tumblr founder) mean by 'Fuck, yeah, Tumblr' when he sold it and pocketed 250 million? Quite why that's categorised under 'lady bits', Medium, I have no idea. Oh, the writer was female. Right.

And back to the point, how has Facebook failed, and what might the next Facebook look like? (But why add a photo of Balkan refugees to the former? Bit sick that, really.)

And with Medium, App.Net, Svbtle and others, there seems to be a wee bit of a trend developing here.

Apparently there's this problem with Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and #everyothersocialmediasite apparently: the shittiness of user-generated content. And these are attempts by 'alpha geeks' to create new social media sites that address that problem.

And, yes, user-generated content can be fifty shades of shite involving random pictures of kittens mixed in with selfies and food-shots, anodyne 'life advice', meaningful quotes repackaged by one graphic designer, badly targeted spam, well-targeted spam, my-kids-are-cute streams, here's what I did now and now and now and isn't my life interesting, isn't it? please notice me, and, and ... 

Mixed in is the good stuff - early warning of anything happening anywhere, good things to read, watch, listen to, eat, politics to die for, fashion to live for, the latest sensation in town, the best place to eat, that great concert, that TED talk, that... 

And what about real news from real life friends of real significance? A long-term friend's deeply brave slow-motion fight against terminal cancer; someone else's persecution by a neo-Nazi group; another's burgeoning directing career; another's random business move from video into pizza; news of friends and colleagues after the latest terrorist attack in Kabul (where I'm based) and news of a dear friend's 13 week-old pregnancy, just to mention a few that spring to mind. 

In an article on the smug site called ' "User generated" is a poor substitute for  "Reader submitted" ' - a distinction that would be mystifying, my guess, to anyone under thirty, Caleb Hildenbrandt lists the down side of the Twitter stream then comments, "What makes twitter different is that this content is no longer mediated; it no longer passes through the filter of selective publishing, but is passed straight from producer to peer-producer, unedited and uncut. The same thing goes for “inspirational” image macros on tumblr or chain-letter statuses on facebook, or google’s auto-complete suggestions for popular queries; the consumers of platitudes are indistinguishable from the creators."

Leaving aside the lack of proper-name capitals, what this misses is the simple truth that anyone can mediate and sort that stream for themselves. 

How about simply managing that stream a little more effectively? I need to focus on Afghanistan (for work and safety reasons) so use Slices for Twitter to create a list of people I regularly follow who have something to say about the situation here. If there's been a bomb in Kabul (where I'm based) as simple #Kabul search gives me an invaluable running commentary.

The same article has a sub-heading : Why public opinion is boring. 

Ok, so now we get to it. The problem is not with the stream in itself, it's the people, the horrible unwashed multitude that intellectuals, the middle class and snobs everywhere have always had a problem with. 

Middle class life is about sifting, elevating, making more clean, being different, more interesting. Encoded into the middle class outlook has always been a dislike of popular culture. In the UK television is often considered vulgar, lower class by a certain segment of the uber middle class. Not even particular programmes or types of programmes, but television itself. Yep.

So, Medium. What are you about? Helpfully Ev Williams explains in a 'welcome to Medium' note. Medium, is "designed for little stories that make your day better and manifestos that change the world." Cutsy and earth-shattering all in the same sentence, right? Kittens and death? Seems inclusive and useful? 
But wait, what's this? "Creation is only available in Chrome, Firefox and Safari." Really? Hmm. Let's look at browser stats. Ok, so I use Chrome myself, as it seems does a good proportion of the planet (when did that happen?) but Internet Explorer, good ole IE is running a good second, and used to be the first as recently as May 2012. But then IE is for those who don't know better, right? The unwashed multitude? And Medium is only aimed at the smug, techie netizen who wouldn't dream of steam-driven IE. And why would you want to aim at a browser that nets an 8% user base? Oh, yes, that would be the smug Mac fanbois.

I'm not the only one who questions the basis of these new uber-social sites, as Anil Dash's title alone should make his perspective clear, "You Can’t Start the Revolution from the Country Club". He hits several nails on the head far better than I could. "In today’s world, where the social web is mainstream, innovating on the core values of tools and technology while ignoring the value of inclusiveness is tantamount to building a gated community. Even with the promise that the less privileged might get a chance to show up later, you’re making a fundamentally unfair system." It's published on Medium as well as on his own blog, but, because he has access to this privileged audience, he picks up others who don't. He wonders if they "mark the beginning of “white flight” from Twitter and Facebook, ...  not being on Facebook has become the new, cool status marker (esp for affluent white tech people)." (or rather he quotes Whitney Erin Boesel as saying that in “Race, Class, The Beginning of ‘White Flight’ from Facebook& Twitter?” 

Ev in his welcome continues, "It’s used by everyone from professional journalists to amateur cooks. It’s simple, beautiful, collaborative, and it helps you find the right audience for whatever you have to say." Except, here's the thing. It's not. It's currently in beta, and there's a whole process about "how to post" which involves, wait for it, being INVITED to post. Jeez. I felt like I was in the 20th century right there for a moment. No. Wait. Not a joke. They mean it. And, ok, that's fine for an openly curated offering, like an online magazine or something, but, just to remind you, we're talking alternative social media here. 

"Create a note here saying what you’d like to write about and a link to something you’ve written on the web. No guarantees, but we’ll check it out (limited time offer)."

So, well, shamefacedly I'd have to admit, er, this is it. This is my attempt to get them to think I'm a writer with something to say who is worth inviting to post. 

That's the thing about smug and exclusion. It makes you want to join. And the site looks pretty. Ok, except that their logo looks like Morrisons, which as supermarkets go is really not all that exclusive and hip and happening, but, you know, whateverz. They don't want me to be part of their club, and any club that doesn't want me has got to be good. Right Groucho?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Six friends 'liked' the Rolling Stones?!

I noticed that six friends had 'liked' The Rolling Stones! Time for some defriending on Facebook I (sort of) joked as an update.

One of those 'likes' came from a twenty-two year old fer Christ's sake! She can't ever have known anything but the current embarrassing granddads.

Why do you dislike the Stones? she asked. Is the hatred that profound?

Well, actually in a weird way, I discovered when I thought about it, it actually is. My answer was pretty lame, and fails to explore the surprising depths of my disdain.

So how to explain a dislike for this mediocre pub rock band, when I thought I was merrily indifferent to them. I should have hidden behind a lame, each to their own.

What do Moby and the Stones have in common? I asked back.

Knocking other people's genius and passing it off as your own is absolutely different, imho, to developing on from some creative spark and according the original some respect, development and creativity.

Bad haircuts, she quipped. So I took the rant for a walk.

They were always a shit band, Jagger a vain, talentless tosser, and then they carry on churning out the same empty shit for how many decades? Cock-rock at its worst. I could go on. Compare them to contemporaries like Hendrix or the Beatles or Bowie or The Kinks or even The Doors, who all tried to develop or push the boundaries in some way. Or, if you want rock, try the Stooges or Led Zeplin or The Who. It doesn't help that back in the day Stones' fans were always morons, only one step ahead of Status Quo.

Which also doesn't capture it. I feel I've failed in my anti-Stones duty. Perhaps someone else can explain?

I write like

Apparently, wait for it...

I write like
David Foster Wallace
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

So now you and I know. Is that a good thing? I suspect it's because the text I used (the only thing I had to had) is the draft of a non-fiction blog post I have just about finished.

In contrast, I had a quick trawl for something else and found a poem I wrote ages ago. Here's the poem so that you can decide for yourself:

Funeral Fire

I remember black flowers, a low-slung coffin
and priestly incantations. I stared at my boots
as they buried their girl, killed in a car crash.

Sent by school, I stood awkwardly
between the Head and the driver -
neither family, nor converts – three aliens.

I watched the fisted handfuls of dirt and gravel
thud on wood, and could imagine a thin wail rising,
a soul smoke, curling into these believers’ ears,

welcome in their mind’s heaven. Perhaps just
a place for people they can’t yet leave
to the long, the nothing, the end.


My spirited gran’s funeral day was godless -
the small cask slid back, curtains closed
on her leaving, engulfed by a secular fire.

I admired their strength. Even in this last ritual
they chose unbelieving, uncomforted pain -
there were no half truths, no small lies, no rot.

His daughters then watched granddad choke
gut-deep sobs, and, soon, too soon, saw cancer
yellow his sharp mind, sapping his quiet force.

His same ritual reduced us, silenced us.
Becoming adults, we children wait

to bury parents, but don’t know how.

Ben Bruges

(Sorry, not the most cheerful of poems, just what I had to hand.)

And this time? What does this automated web-based bot think?

I write like
Chuck Palahniuk
I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

Hmm. Well I've heard of him, but never read anything. Maybe I should check him out. And maybe you want to explore your reading style for yourself:

I Write Like... 

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Hidden Short Stories

Short stories seems to have become newly fashionable. Long a staple of starting-out writers and the American creative writing scene, they are becoming so in vogue that established novelists are re-learning how to write the form.

And it is very different from the novel, which is as little appreciated as how different a short film is to a feature. You could start with Checkov, Chinua Achebe, Tolstoy, Kipling, Guy de Maupassant, Dahl.... or my dear friend Victoria Taylor Robert's Hidden & Other Stories.

It's an awkward and difficult form, and Vicky is completely in control of the effects it can achieve - the time spent in the company of very different, often very difficult characters - their situations, their outlook, their place in life, but especially their view out and towards the 'life' that's generally swirling around them in careless and damagingly carefree ways. In her hands, the story tends to creep up on you, you are in a mind, and as the gloom slowly dissipates, you perceive clearly a life, a person you thought could never imagine being, but now are fully imagined within, the contours, shapes and feeling of that life clear, in sparse, carefully controlled detail.

And the endings? Vicky controls her endings with clarity and economy - never the cheap, over-obvious reversal, but a sly dig, a ping back into the story that led up to it, a re-shaping or re-casting of the story in a subtly different light, giving a resonance beyond the end, causing the life to reverberate just a bit further and longer than you expected.

Of course there are some stories I didn't take to, some that left me cold, but more that left me slightly shaken, slightly disturbed from the main flow of 'life' as most of us live it. And that's where her characters come from - the edges, the margins, the lost and forgotten, and are the more powerful for that.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Motion text design I wish I had designed #99

... and it doesn't hurt to have the voice of the great Mr Stephen Fry narrating it. It almost makes me wish I had a good start up idea. That's not going to happen any time soon, but in the meantime, I'm looking forward to the commission that enables me complete design work like this.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

A couple of useful camera sites...

Just to share - excellent Sony EX1 set of tips from Sony here

... and very useful forum for the XDCAM series.

and here's a 3d view

Saturday, 27 February 2010

What the F**K is Issuu?

I feel obliged to try this out, now that I've accidentally sent an invitation to everybody I know, everybody I've ever been spammed by, and everybody I don't know, plus a few random services thrown in for good measure.

I can only say SORRY SORRY SORRY.

If it makes you feel better, I invited myself at least three different ways and posted an automatic facebook status update.

So, ahem, Issuu. It makes stuff like this possible:

... and it might be a possible tool for sharing documents. So far the content on it is pretty pants. But then you can embed your own stuff, they share their API so if it takes off people will build interesting applications on the top of it (is the theory). You could use it for a private archive of important documents, you can use it to design your own documents (so far untested by yours truly). So - maybe some good points.

Or alternatively, it's just a home for sad people to self-publish to themselves and their mums.

One person has already put up their whole archive of punk / post-hardcore fanzines. Great effort. And how many subscribers have they got so far? None. Bless.

I can't find anything useful to read on it (though would be very happy to be proved wrong), but I can see great potential in it.

So - either curse me for the spam email, or, remember it was me, when it really takes off and helps you share documents in a stylish and effective way. Here's hoping it's the later.