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robertogreco : johnherrman   10

How to end on the internet
"It’s impossible to end a piece on the internet. All the conventions incubated in print fall flat: the neat summary, the mild prediction, the kicker quote. Especially the kicker quote.

Maybe it’s because the internet is endless and we all know it, so any suggestion of completion — of a thought, an argument, a story — rings false. “Oh really? You think this is it? Please. I’ve got ten more tabs lined up.”

Also, let’s be real: we rarely get to the end anyway. Midway through, we get distracted. We jump around. Pieces on the internet don’t build to a crescendo followed by applause; they cross-fade, one into the next.

Given all these challenges, there is no set of internet endings I admire more than John Herrman’s in his series THE CONTENT WARS at the Awl. John works for the New York Times now, and while there’s no question it’s an important platform for him, it has been impossible not to notice that his endings have changed, which has made me appreciate that previous run even more.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

John deployed the blog-style “Anyway!” with some regularity; I’ve always loved it, even though I’ve never quite been able to articulate what it does. Lower the stakes? Acknowledge that the reader had something else she was doing before she got sucked into this? Whatever the case, it’s one of the great rhetorical discoveries of the mid-2000s.

One of his personal trademarks was the Big Maybe — Exhibit A, Exhibit B — in which a piece, after building its case, explodes into hypotheticals: maybe, maybe, maybe, I don’t know! It reads as an unraveling of the thread of coherence; an admission that it was tenuous to begin with. It is, I think, a gesture of genuine humility. “I see this only barely more clearly than you.”

Then there’s the way this numbered list goes off the rails: 13, 14, 15… 234875627839452… 45862170348957103946872039568270. I love that sense of like, buffer overflow: of staring a powerful system in the face and coming away with a nosebleed.

Of course, this is my favorite:
In conclusion, haha, ashkjghasgauosghasugas;gashgk, who knows.

…because it is the ending that probably every piece, in every medium, deserves. And because it would never, ever be permitted by the editors of the New York Times.

Reading all of John’s CONTENT WARS endings (is that a weird thing to do? Because I just did it) is illuminating, because all of them, even the more conventional ones, share an unmissable sensibility, almost a declaration of values. In quick succession, you find: humility, and a reminder of the limits of knowledge; that almost comical effect of a mind straining to contain its subject; and an absolute refusal to retreat into empty optimism. All together, this is a pretty good stance for the 21st century.

It’s been a joy to read John in the New York Times and it is without question an important step for him — a place he’ll improve in lots of ways. However, it must not pass without mention:

Mr. Malik of Gigaom, whose site employed 85 people at its peak, said if he were to start the business today, it would probably be a Facebook page. There is an opportunity, clearly, to reach people there. Money? That’s another matter. “How do I monetize?” he asked. “Still not clear.”

They’ve got him doing kicker quotes."
howwewrite  2016  robinsloan  internet  johnherrman  structure  endings  unfinished  maybe  anyway  style  web  journalism  theawl  nytimes  thecontentwars 
april 2016 by robertogreco
The Uber Counterculture - The Awl
"Chatter and dissent in the trenches of the sharing economy"



"But perhaps the most interesting part of this study, and one that should be interesting even to ideological opponents who might be tempted to dismiss this research outright, is the outline it draws of Uber contractors’ attempts to take back power, either through crude organization or individual data collection. It surveys driver experiences as gathered from interviews but also from the numerous Uber driver forums, which together have thousands of members and display, in general, an oppositional attitude toward the company.

[image]

This is labor organization refracted through forum culture: there are calls for collective action next to flamewars; there are trolls and apparent astroturfers; there are political battles in which drivers mockingly tell other drivers “it’s a job, not a career.” There are memes! There is, in the absence of any sort of physical interaction or official means of driver communication, a work culture. "



"When people in the startup world talk about “algorithmic labor unions,” or a “right to an API,” they might want to look at what people are already doing, and what they’re trying to achieve. (Also worth considering in this context: Airbnb’s effort to mobilize its own users for political gain).

What do they want?

The same data Uber has, at least!

When do they want it?

Before they’re replaced by machines and herded to the next app? Idk actually!!"
uber  johnherrman  2015  sharingeconomy 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Notes on the Surrender at Menlo Park - The Awl
"8. These stories, for now, only exist in the Facebook iOS app. If you share them on Twitter from within the app—which is an option—you will be sharing a link to web versions of these stories. As I understand it, publishers have basically been given an API for Instant, which they can use to more-or-less automatically export their stories to Facebook. Follow this through:

– Publishers want to publish directly to Facebook because it gives them greater access to Facebook’s users
– This belief in greater access is predicated on the idea that native Facebook stories will share better than linked ones
– If this is the case, and if all stories are co-published on Facebook, the result is that the near-entirety of a publisher’s Facebook mobile is hosted and monetized through Facebook (for some partners this is clearly the intention; for others, maybe not)

Facebook owns an enormous share of mobile traffic overall, meaning that any publication’s mobile web referrals were already composed largely of people coming from Facebook. With wider adoption, Instant would effectively remove Facebook from the mobile referrer pool, and mobile web traffic would plummet—for adopters, totally; for everyone else, more than they might expect. If enough partners use Instant, and if there is enough good Instant content to read, users will begin to regard linked-out stories as weird slow garbage that should Not Be Clicked.

9. Basically: Instant allows publishers to hand over nearly all of their mobile business to Facebook.

10. The Facebook app converts any link to a story with an Instant version to an Instant embed. I posted a link to the Times launch story—the web version—on Facebook. Viewed on mobile, this link was replaced with the Instant story. Makes sense! Remove the inferior version when possible. Death to links!"



"13. Some future controversies we can look forward to: differences spotted in web versions and Facebook versions of articles; publications exceeding vaguely defined standards for, say, violent content; image rights issues (the DMCA never imagined this scenario in its wildest nightmares). Haha, sex stuff. Have you SEEN Facebook’s “community standards?” Facebook is very prudish, historically! Many, many discussions about the ideological opacity of T H E A L G O R I T H M. Idk, some other stuff. It will be crazy-making for all kinds of people. Lots of tweets. Can’t wait!

14. Now that we can see Instant in action,**** we can more clearly see what constitutes a publication on a Facebook-centric internet. A Facebook publication is… a brand? A “vertical?” It doesn’t own its distribution, it doesn’t meaningfully control its sources of revenue. It has no “design” outside of its individual articles. It is composed entirely of its content, as represented to Facebook users by Facebook. A lot of institutional advantages sort of evaporate. What is the difference, from the outside, between a large publication and a small one? One with a hundred reporters and one with ten? One with bureaus all around the world and one with a single office? One with strong institutional politics and one without? These distinctions are to be expressed through Facebook, which means through the News Feed, which means… not very coherently at all. An internet intermediated by Facebook is one in which publications are constantly struggling to stay on the right side of a thin line: are they justifying their own existence on Facebook’s new terms, or are they just weird middlemen introducing inefficiency into a system in which they are very obviously guests? This is slightly worse than a channel relationship. Partners are not guaranteed any more space, or traffic, than they can earn within Facebook’s own structure. They are essentially Facebook users with special publishing tools, legacies, momentum, and an immediate need to make money. Or are publications…. celebrities? No. I mean yes, sorry! Definitely! Congratulations!"



"234875627839452. Or maybe this is all just a short detour for Facebook. The history of software and web platforms is instructive here: Platforms grow by incorporating the labor of users and partners; they tend, over time, to regard the presence of the partners as an inefficiency. Twitter asks developers to make a bunch of apps using its data, so people make a bunch of mobile apps, then Twitter notices that these apps are actually very important to Twitter, and so Twitter buys one of the apps and takes steps to expel all the other apps, rendering the job of “Twitter app developer” more or less obsolete. In this formulation, publishers are app developers: They are working not only for their own benefit but, in addition, to find ways to increase Facebook’s share of user attention and satisfaction. If they find ways to succeed, through the practice of journalism or some other sort of content production, Facebook will take note. Perhaps Facebook will then devise a way to compensate reporters, or content creators, directly, rather than through the publications they work for. Maybe they’ll just buy a publication! Or many publications. If Instant is a success then, like everything at a functioning technology company that wants to make money, it will be iterated.

45862170348957103946872039568270. This is unspooling into a more general complaint, but whatever. There is toxic mindset that permeates discussions not just about Facebook but about most accelerating, inevitable-seeming tech companies. It conflates criticism with denial and nostalgia. Why do people complain about Uber so much? Is it loyalty to yellow cabs and their corrupt nonsense industry? Or is it a recognition that, as soon as a company reaches its level of importance and future inevitability, it should be treated as important. A word of caution about Facebook is not a wish to return to some non-existent ideal time. Print media was broken, TV was broken, commercial and public radio were broken, local media was broken, web media was very broken. Understanding this—or even just assuming it to be true!—is understanding that it is imperative to seek out the manner in which your media is broken, and the pressures that keep it that way. Worrying about the details of the coming future is merely taking that future seriously. People who insist otherwise? They have their reasons.

19. Oh, right: So what happens when Facebook goes away? Are today’s publishers, by then, just portable content generators ready to be passed to the next platform? Or have they been replaced by something else entirely? There is apparently only one way to find out!"
johnherrman  publishing  facebook  facebookinstant  journalism  2015  unspooling  twitter  walledgardens  archives  data  advertising  analytics  theatlantic  nytimes  buzzfeed  nationalgeographic  nbcnews  snapchat  snapchatdiscover  web  internet  online 
may 2015 by robertogreco
An Asshole Theory of Technology - The Awl
"This reminded me of something I came across a few years ago. It’s an account of Sony Chairman Akio Morita testing out the first Walkman:

[image: "I rushed home with the first Walkman and was trying it out with different music when I noticed that my experiment was annoying my wife, who felt shut out. All right, I decided, we need to make provision for two sets of headphones. The next week the production staff had produced another model with two headphone jacks."]

And an accompanying note, written a decade later in 1989, from writer Rebecca Lind (both collected from this book):

[image: "... the potential interaction of personal stereo use and interpersonal communication was considered from the very beginning of Walkman product development. Further, the potential impact was deemed to be something which should be remedied, hence, the addition of extra jacks and the "hot line" feature [which reduces playback volume and allows sharing listeners to converse without removing their headphones]. Because these attempts were made to neutralize this situation, we may assume that the personal stereo was at first considered to have a potentially negative influence on interpersonal communication."]

There seems to be something similar going on with the Apple Watch: an assumption not just that watches don’t do enough, or that other smartwatches are bad, or that an Apple Watch might allow people to do new things, but that the Apple Watch can, and must, fix the way people behave. It is, in this view, a tool for correcting problems created by the device to which it must be paired to operate. The Apple Watch is supposed to be a filter between you and your attention-suck hellworld smartphone; we will give it permission to intervene because it is slightly easier to look at while reducing our what’s-going-on-over-there-by-which-I-mean-in-my-pocket—by-which-I-mean-everywhere-else anxiety just enough to keep us sane. It provides a slight buzz, hopefully just enough, at a lower social cost. So it’s a little like… methadone?

Sony was worried that its portable stereo would be alienating. This turned out to be true. But the impulse to correct it was wrong: the thing that made it alienating was precisely the thing that made it good. The more compelling a gadget is, the more you use it, the more the people around you resent you for using it, the more they are pressured to use it themselves. (The fact that these devices are now all connected to each other only accelerates the effect.)

This is the closest thing we have to a law of portable gadgetry: the more annoying it is to the people around you, the “better” the concept. The more that using it makes you seem like an asshole to people who aren’t using it, the brighter its commercial prospects.

Consider an extreme example: Skip ahead past whatever replaces Google Glass** and the Oculus Rift to, say, mostly invisible lenses that take over for most of what we use phones for now (and, presumably, quite a bit more). It will certainly be tempting to suggest that the lens is less “distracting” then a phone or a tablet or a watch or a headset that blocks your view. And it will certainly help remedy the specific behaviors associated by previous devices. But just imagine how much of an asshole you’ll seem like to people in your physical vicinity for whom lensworld is inaccessible. You will be less present to non-participants than ever, even if your outward appearance and behavior lacks previously known asshole qualities. You will be two feet away and living on a different planet. (Though by then, maybe phone-level distraction will be normalized. Why prioritize people talking to you from two feet away over people talking to you from 100 miles? What the hell is your problem you stupid bad idiot? I’m talking to someone here, way over there.)

This is not to say that the Apple Watch won’t be successful, or that it will. But if it is, it probably won’t be for the reasons reviewers think, or even necessarily for the reason Apple thinks (it was designed by a self-described “group of people who love our watches,” which, what? Who??). It won’t be because it’s a better watch (boring, weird, WRONG) or because it makes non-Apple-watch users less irritable (anti-marketing). It will succeed if it can create new rude exclusionary worlds for its wearers (this is why I wouldn’t underrate the weird “Taptic” communications stuff).

It will succeed, in other words, to whatever extent it allows people to be assholes."
apple  culture  rebeccalind  akiomorita  communication  attention  isolation  applewatch  sony  walkman  googleglass  johnherrman  distraction  oculusrift  mobile  phones  smartphones  2015 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Time Borrowed - The Awl
"A Facebook that treats native posts without favor will still inherently favor them because they are closer in form to the things that Facebook users share the most—and any link that would be widely shared on Facebook would be more widely shared if it weren’t a link to a website. Publishers early to accept Facebook’s proposition will enjoy an additional, larger advantage: For a short and glorious time, they alone will reap enormous the benefits of this heightened context. Their presence in News Feed will seem slightly easier and more natural than the presence of their competitors, whose manipulative headlines—which have been carefully optimized to convince you to leave Facebook to go to another site—will read an awful lot like spam. By serving as shining examples to those on the outside, they will create additional pressure to come in, given the opportunity. Publishers who join later will enjoy a perpetually diminishing advantage, gaining access to an audience pursued by ever more publishers instead of a few. Eventually, publications that once competed with each other for Facebook’s audience from the outside will find themselves doing the same from the inside, using Facebook’s platform not just to reach their audiences but to turn those audiences into revenue.

How exactly this will go remains to be seen. But Facebook has been pushing native video for months. It has been wildly successful—the raw numbers achieved by Facebook videos are enormous. My feed is now filled with auto-playing Facebook videos."



"Years of free referral traffic from Facebook have posed the question: When will Facebook want to keep this traffic for itself? Supposing years of future success—and putting out of mind that another law of platforms is eventual death—partner journalism poses its own version of this question: If Facebook knows what works, why outsource it?

The publishing industry is gloomy and threatened and increasingly claustrophobic. Most publishers, even the ones who claim otherwise, are not tech companies in any meaningful way (though one might ask, “How would you describe a company that designs, produces, and distributes branded content for advertisers for enormous fees?”), so any access to the world of tech is an intoxicating prospect. It’s a cynical oversimplification to say that news organizations and apps exist for the same reason—to gather human attention—but their revenue models suggest that this is at least their shared business model. Facebook—that is, News Feed—is succeeding on a different scale than any publication can dream of. That it is willing to share some of this time and attention is understandably very exciting.

So Facebook offers to let publishers into News Feed. It offers, probably, a great CMS—better than most publishing companies could come up with on their own. It offers a revenue sharing plan that offers at least partial participation in Facebook’s sector of the attention business. It offers ways to target stories like never before. And so the publishers feel like they’ve made it. That they have crossed over, at least a little, from a dying industry to a booming one."



"Facebook has been trying to find the next Facebook for years now. In 2013, before it purchased WhatsApp and fitness tracking company Moves, it purchased a company called Onavo. Onavo, which offered a free app that reduces data usage, was ostensibly valuable to Facebook’s international Internet.org project. But it had also built an enormously valuable app analytics service. With a rare and nearly complete view of its users’ internet activity, Onavo was able to see which apps were succeeding before anyone else but Apple and Google—it was, I was told in early 2014, the only outside firm that knew exactly how big Snapchat was. This analytics service—once widely used by venture capitalists and tech companies—was shut down shortly after purchase.

There is a helpful symmetry here, if you’ll grant it. Online publishers, with more readers than ever, are looking desperately for the next thing; Facebook, with more people using its core product than ever, is doing the same. The difference, of course, is that publishers’ next thing already belongs to someone else. Their future belongs to Facebook’s past."
facebook  journalism  publishing  2015  johnherrman  advertising  video  cms  onavo  snapchat  whatsapp  contentwars  instagram  news  newsfeed  media  content 
march 2015 by robertogreco
The Next Internet Is TV - The Awl
"Websites are unnecessary vestiges of a time before there were better ways to find things to look at on your computer or your phone."



"In this future, what publications will have done individually is adapt to survive; what they will have helped do together is take the grand weird promises of writing and reporting and film and art on the internet and consolidated them into a set of business interests that most closely resemble the TV industry. Which sounds extremely lucrative! TV makes a lot of money, and there’s a lot of excellent TV. But TV is also a byzantine nightmare of conflict and compromise and trash and waste and legacy. The prospect of Facebook, for example, as a primary host for news organizations, not just an outsized source of traffic, is depressing even if you like Facebook. A new generation of artists and creative people ceding the still-fresh dream of direct compensation and independence to mediated advertising arrangements with accidentally enormous middlemen apps that have no special interest in publishing beyond value extraction through advertising is the early internet utopian’s worst-case scenario."
future  internet  media  television  tv  2015  johnherrman  hosting  journalism  content  snapchat  facebook  channels  buzzfeed  vox  youtube  video  delivery  syndication  advertising  ads  fusion  espn  cnn 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Shitphone: A Love Story — Matter — Medium
"Shitphone gradually instilled patience. When the phone malfunctioned, or a call dropped, I assumed the mindset of a citizen trapped in a bureaucracy: I did what I must to navigate the system in which I was stuck.

I came to believe that shitphone had helped me reconnect with my immediate surroundings, but quickly realize it had not. My idle moments were filled with idle thoughts and actions of similar or lesser value to another glimpse at the internet. I looked at the sky more, which was nice, and I stopped looking at my phone when I walked, which was a terrible habit anyway. Sometimes I looked at other people buried deeply in their nicer phones and felt like I had ascended, somehow, in the slightest way possible.

I definitely had not: I had gone from compulsively checking my phone to watching others compulsively checking theirs. (I also came to believe, briefly, that shitphone is somehow a more honest device, as far as its relation to the global economy is concerned. An iPhone is instantly associated with Apple stores and book-length interviews with Jony Ive and Steve Jobs and America, all distractions from its provenance; shitphone marketing is flimsy enough, and pricing low enough, that there is nothing to distract you from the fact that these devices are made possible by companies willing to take thin margins and people willing to work for long hours and low wages, and that you will throw them away after two years anyway. If you look at any piece of cheap consumer electronics long and hard enough you will be able to see nothing but a collection of externalities; with shitphones, you get there faster. But this was a feeling, not understanding: I knew no more about the people and labor that created this phone than the people and labor that created my iPhone. If anything, I knew less.)

It had become clear, at this point, that there is a wide experiential gulf between my shitphone and my brandphone, and that, at this moment in the history of technology, there are reasons to buy, through subsidy or otherwise, a $650 device. But I still suspected that the smartphone industry’s weird narcissism of small differences has left it, or us, somewhat blind to what’s coming. I researched, and then began to covet, premium shitphones. I nearly bought another BLU — the company’s flagship device — but it was a little out of my price range, especially now that I was replacing one phone with two. I found a better match: The Posh Mobile Titan E500A. For $169.99, delivered. 177 customer reviews, 4.3 stars."



"If shitphones were ready for everyone, they wouldn’t be shitphones. As devices, they’re nearly there; as buying decisions, they’re still exotic. They represent a compromise and a risk. They are classic shitworld. Still, smartphone shitworld is already encroaching on brands, and smartphone brandworld is ceding to shit. Major carriers offer cheaper devices, though many of them are older devices from familiar brands; ZTE and Alcatel sell affordable smartphones through pay-as-you-go carriers Cricket and Boost Mobile as well as T-Mobile. More and more casual phone-buyers — people who either can’t or don’t want to pay $80+ a month for a traditional contract, or who don’t have good credit, or who don’t care to enter into a multi-year contract just to Snapchat with their friends — could be tempted to pair such options with cheaper prepaid plans, pushing the industry toward some kind of populist tipping point.

It is tempting to see this as the triumphant rise of the shitphone. But nothing from shitworld ever really rises, it just reaches up at whatever is above it and pulls relentlessly down. Brands that can escape before the pulling becomes too strong must then find, or invent, something new. These breakthroughs, or new features, or new categories, comprise innovation. Or are they just fresh economic inefficiencies waiting to be solved?

I look forward to my first good shitwatch. I trust I will not wait long."

[See also:

“A Preview of the Real Amazon Store”
http://www.theawl.com/2014/12/a-preview-of-the-real-amazon-store

“The Case For Buying A Shitty TV”
http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/the-case-for-buying-a-shitty-tv ]
consumerism  apple  criticism  electronics  technology  iphone  johnherrman  commoditization  amazon  smarthphones  mobile  phones 
march 2015 by robertogreco
Internet, Why So Blue? - The Awl
"His version of the internet is profoundly blue, bluer than any internet before, for a reason he didn't realize was personal until long after the decision was made. It had been fortunate for him, a young citizen of the internet, that links, traditionally, are blue. But why are links blue? Did he ever ask?

The man who invented links was writing them to a grayscale screen. The first popular browser, Mosaic, later turned links blue because it was the darkest color available at the time that wasn't black; they needed to stand out, but only just. Blue was the best alternative. Blue always survives the focus group. Blue wins the a/b test. Which is convenient, because blue is usually already there.

Why is the internet blue? The internet is blue because… the atmosphere? And gases. The internet is blue because of its air and its Sun. The internet is blue because the internet is blue, and it's time to go to school. Maybe they'll tell you there."
internet  color  colors  blue  2014  google  instagram  tumblr  twitter  linkedin  microsoft  facebook  johnherrman 
june 2014 by robertogreco
Should You Tweet? - The Awl
"11. Should I Tweet?

Civilian Twitter experiments and professional Twitter strategies imagine an intoxicating and tangible upside. Jokes might gain an audience; a regular person or established media property might become an indispensable new information node; a snack food, or an airline, might foster goodwill from prospective customers and absorb the public outrage of detractors. This upside, in the long term, has either eluded its seekers or revealed itself to be vanishingly small.

Tweets that become popular on the strength of their humor or newsworthiness provide little lasting benefit to their creators, in terms of audience. (If an audience is acquired, it will remain but immediately lose interest.) Tweets that reveal the prejudices or carelessness of their creators, however, foster intense and lasting attention. They are the stuff of legacy.

Understood in gambling terms, Twitter is a large and popular casino. There are design features that reward you for small victories while distracting you from commensurate failures. There are no clocks in Twitter. Time is displayed differently within its walls, measured not in dates but in distance from the present. All other visible numbers are cumulative, but you are given the impression that the past does not exist. It most certainly does, permanently and yet stripped of protective context.

Minor successes are repeated back to you until you feel you are safe, and it may be suggested to you that you are on a roll. This will be sustained until you forget that there's no way to cash out your chips, that every follower and favorite and retweet is in fact not a victory but an accumulated liability. Users that choose not to gamble will be expected to produce non-gaming revenue.

Understood in actuarial terms, your (or your brand's) chance of survival decreases with every passing tweet. Your failure is Twitter's only durable form of success. They are the same, and Twitter is a trap. The answer to this question is obviously no."
via:maxfenton  twitter  liability  liabilities  2014  johnherrman 
april 2014 by robertogreco
Welcome To The New Internet: Simple Design, Short Names, No Ads
"So this is one, if not the, vision for the future of the internet, and a lot of people are dedicated to making it catch on. It's an internet where every blog is Daring Fireball, where every post looks like Instapaper, where every discussion is led by its rightful leaders, and where ads are considered no better than spam. It's barren but design-forward, and, at least at the moment, kind of elitist. It's not clear how it'll make money. Maybe it won't! Maybe that's part of the idea.

But in any case, it's starting to take shape."

[via: http://www.theawl.com/2012/08/the-pretty-new-web-and-the-future-of-native-advertising ]
design  internet  web  advertising  ads  daringfireball  spam  aesthetics  2012  app.net  branch  instapaper  svbtle  medium  johnherrman 
august 2012 by robertogreco

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