Dark Matter: 7 November 2017

This week in the whole of the Web is a Swans album:

If you read only one thing this week — Christ, if you read only one thing this year — make it James Bridle’s sprawling, brilliant, terrifying essay on recombinant content created for an ephemeral, phantom audience of children and bots, ‘Something is wrong on the internet’ (21min). To excerpt:
Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.
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Piling on, part one: Parimal Satyal on what he calls ‘an Increasingly User-Hostile Web’ (22min, HT to Anjali for the link). Satyal lays out a Cluetrain-inspired takedown of the transformation of the open web into something decidedly more sinister with built-in profit motives. He illustrates this elegantly with a page load analysis of a Le Monde article on the launch of a space probe. To wit:
94% of the data being transferred and 99% of the requests being made have nothing to do with the article itself. Le Monde might principally be a newspaper in its printed version, but the online version is an invasive, insecure advertising platform with good content (in that order).
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Piling on, part two: André Staltz brings unfettered joy and delight with every word of his essay on net neutrality and the death of the Web (13min):
The internet will survive longer than the Web will. GOOG-FB-AMZN will still depend on submarine internet cables (the “Backbone”), because it is a technical success. That said, many aspects of the internet will lose their relevance, and the underlying infrastructure could be optimized only for GOOG traffic, FB traffic, and AMZN traffic. It wouldn’t conceptually be anymore a “network of networks”, but just a “network of three networks”

This week in the loneliness of the long-distance marketer:

When the night is dark and full of terrors, look to Martin Weigel for sunshine and rainbows. This, on bravery and folly (4min), is spectacular:

Exhorting clients to be ‘brave’ enough to buy ‘brave’ work is not just poor psychology. It misrepresents and undermines creativity, passing it off as some roll of the dice, or reckless shot in the dark in which the possibility of total failure is deeply embedded. Yet if we look at what makes for effective work we see that it entails eschewing category norms and conventions, being distinctive and interesting not merely relevant, evoking visceral reactions, and leaving behind long-term memory traces.

None of this is being ‘brave’. It’s not embracing of failure. It’s not reckless. It’s just prudent, effective brand-building. And so if as Nils Leonard has put it: “There is no such thing as creative bravery, only true creativity”, then the most foolhardy, risk-embracing and reckless thing a marketer can possibly do is to pursue the safe, the tried-and-tested, the formulaic, the unremarkable, and the unoriginal.

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I’ve posted other things like this before, but bookmark this one: Holly Allen — Director of Engineering at 18F — has published a very short, succinct guide to giving constructive feedback (1min). The broader 18F document archives on Github are a brilliant, well-recommended rabbit hole.

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Daniel Burka’s post on the value of fake designs (5min) set off a wave of Twitter threads over the last several days. You’ve probably seen it pop up in your feed. If not, remedy that. This, from Geoff Teehan, felt especially real:

In the early days of Teehan+Lax, we didn’t have a good body of work to show. Made up projects helped us build skill and reputation.​

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Mary Poppendieck has written a terribly smart piece on corporate accounting practices around IT — a reexamination of IT-as-cost-center vs. profit center in the age of agile (8min). It’s much recommended and worthy of broad internal circulation at your place of employment. A gem I particularly liked:

the cost center trap and the capitalization dilemma both create a chain reaction: Accounting drives metrics -> Metrics drive culture -> Culture eats process for lunch.​

This week in more product, less process:

Via Dan Hon, destroyer of worlds:

  1. If you type the letter “i” and it autocorrects to an “A” with a symbol, by the Apple Support team
  2. A fake WhatsApp update in the Google App store with a single added unicode space in the name
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21st-century camouflage as hostile architecture: even yet still more 3D adversarial objects, designed to fool visual classification systems (2min).

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You had me at ‘sort by depth’: the Cooper Hewitt Collection search functionality and filters (years, potentially) is the rabbittyist of all rabbit holes.

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I’ve only now found the Sleeping in Museums tumblr. Perhaps you found it sooner.

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I’m a bit late to the BBC’s Inspection Chamber (3min) — a piece of interactive audio fiction developed for use with Alexa. Give it a quick read. Lost in the promise of unnuanced search results and frictionless shopping is the capacity for some really fascinating storytelling models.

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Patrick Tomasiewicz pointed me at James Somers’ fantastic piece for The Village Voice on the archives of the New York City Public Library (6min) — keepers of private letters and records from Lou Reed to Ezra Pound. Please give it a few minutes of your time, if only for the brilliant final paragraph:

Lannon talked about how books like these weren’t the work of one person. “Knowledge is a sort of social production,” he said—made by scholars who meet each other, if not literally in rooms like this one, then across time through the work that’s left there. It struck me that there would be lots more shelves filled this way, each book, in its turn, the fruit of old boxes, well cared for, waiting to be found.

Jobs for Misfit Toys:

18F is hiring a Feedback Analytics Engineer (please, read the amazing description), and is open to remote work. This is a ridiculously great job for the right person. Apply soon: applications close on Friday.

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3D Printing company Markforged — good products, ridiculously smart peoples — is hiring a Product Marketing Manager in Boston. Also a very interesting role for the right person.

Until next week.