Archive — April 2018

The Facebook algorithm mom problem

The Facebook algorithm mom problem

An excellent description of one of the reasons I developed a distaste for Facebook for.

I write my content on my own personal site. I automatically syndicate it to Facebook. My mom, who seems to be on Facebook 24/7, immediately clicks “like” on the post. The Facebook algorithm immediately thinks that because my mom liked it, it must be a family related piece of content…

The algorithm narrows the presentation of the content down to very close family. Then my mom’s sister sees it and clicks “like” moments later. Now Facebook’s algorithm has created a self-fulfilling prophesy and further narrows the audience of my post. As a result, my post gets no further exposure on Facebook…

Comment

Support the DCA Cinema

Support the DCA Cinema

Apparently there are plans afoot to build a multiplex cinema behind Groucho’s in Dundee. While there might be a case to build a cinema in central Dundee, it would be perverse to position it literally in the back yard of the DCA, a pivotal venue of Dundee’s creative scene.

I have written before about a certain contingent in Dundee that would rather not have the DCA Cinema, on the basis that a mainstream cinema would magically sprout up in its place.

I personally think that having a cultural hub that commits to showing independent films is much more valuable to Dundee than a cookie-cutter multiplex that you can find in any town.

A drop-in consultation on the proposed new multiplex is taking place on Tuesday 1 May at the Malmaison, from 3pm to 7pm.

As Creative Dundee summarises it:

…A multiplex so close to the DCA cinema would negatively impact its revenue, ability to show these films and still be around… This is the type of space that is needed in Dundee at the moment.

Comment

Bill Grundy Looks at Aylesbury (1972)

Bill Grundy Looks at Aylesbury (1972)

I love pretty much everything about this.

Bill Grundy is notorious now for goading the Sex Pistols into swearing on prime time ITV. But before that, he found himself in Aylesbury for unclear reasons. He was none too impressed with its recent brutalist redevelopment, and his curmudgeonly commentary is highly entertaining.

His villain is Fred Pooley, Aylesbury’s planner, the man who invented the imaginary Buckinghamshire monorail town in the sixties, which actually became the motorway town of Milton Keynes in the 70s. Pooley was brilliantly talented. Grundy dismisses him as ‘smug’ – not that we ever get to find out, as he makes no effort to interview him. And so, rather it’s Bill Grundy who comes across as smug instead, drinking beer from a tankard and opining about fibreglass ducks and the ills of modern life, while undoubtedly being a major beneficiary of the improved communications and technology of the day in his work as a TV presenter.

Comment

The Rip — Portishead

They say a song is like a fart — if you have to force it out, it’s probably shit. So when a band leaves a gap of 11 years between albums, it means one of two things:

  • Option 1 — They have been enduring the worst form of musical constipation, and the album will be shit.
  • Option 2 — They have taken their time, let it come to them, and the album will be excellent.

When Portishead’s Third came out, there wasn’t much indication that option 2 would be on the table. In the words of Armando Iannucci, the second album by Portishead had nothing new to say.

Portishead were pioneers of trip-hop, but by 2008 it had become a cliched genre.

But Portishead avoided all those traps with their third album, which is actually probably their best. It conspicuously avoided the now-cheesy trip-hop tropes. It was a new sound, but still unmistakably Portishead.

The album was released 10 years ago today. There is no indication of when their fourth album will arrive. But we are still ahead of schedule by Portishead’s standards.

Comment

How can we incentivise the digital world to make safer services?

How can we incentivise the digital world to make safer services?

How regulation came to be in railways, engineering and cars — and what this tells us about how digital services may be regulated.

Trigger points for regulation have varied depending on the field, the period of history and the country. However, the thing all these triggers have in common is a change in attitudes. People need to demand change to incentivize companies to make their products and services safer.

Comment

Conversational solitude

Conversational solitude

On the Tuesday morning after Easter I waved goodbye to my brother and nephew at Norwich station and wandered off to catch a train back to London. Last night I walked over to BestMate’s in Plaistow and we had dinner and watched telly. Inbetween, I met and spoke to absolutely nobody I know. That’s 15 days, 9 hours and 12 minutes of conversational solitude. And I coped fine.

Comment

Google AMP for Email: What it is and why it’s a bad idea

Google AMP for Email: What it is and why it’s a bad idea

I have been following the controversy around AMP fairly closely. A lot of people whose opinions I respect are against AMP generally, although I still cautiously think AMP is generally a good thing. At least, it is in my view clearly better than Facebook Instant Articles.

So if AMP is Google’s response to Facebook, I am in favour of it. Facebook’s interest is clearly to keep people in the Facebook ecosystem. AMP may give Google some a bit of control over content, but it still keeps it fundamentally of the web. At least you don’t have to use Google to use AMP.

However, AMP for Email seems far more obviously bad. Not least because, as this article points out, it appears to be a solution looking for a problem.

There may be cause to be wary of Google’s intentions after all.

Comment

Was there a civilisation on Earth before humans?

Was there a civilisation on Earth before humans?

This is mind-blowing.

Perhaps, for example, some early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 million years ago. There are fossils, of course. But the fraction of life that gets fossilized is always minuscule and varies a lot depending on time and habitat. It would be easy, therefore, to miss an industrial civilization that only lasted 100,000 years—which would be 500 times longer than our industrial civilization has made it so far.

Comment

Bringing focus to our findings: continued user research for the API Service

Reporting findings to the API Service team

Bringing focus to our findings: continued user research for the API Service

This is the final blog post in my short series about the user research I led on for the API Service at the University of Edinburgh.

This post covers the second half of the research, where we brought focus to the detailed picture developed in the first phase, and began to prioritise the issues to help the API Service team direct their ongoing work.

Comment

Dear developer, the web isn’t about you

Dear developer, the web isn’t about you

A call to stop the madness and focus on making the web a better platform for people, and not the technologist’s playground it’s becoming. It’s lengthy, but well worth it.

There is so much good stuff here, but I particularly enjoyed this section on the obsession with JavaScript.

Instead of HTML being generated on, and delivered from, the server, a JS bundle is sent to the client, which is then decompressed and initialised and then requests data, which is then sent from the server (or another server, as now everything is a service) as JSON, where it is then converted on the fly into HTML.

Permit an old lady to rant here…

Because to me, this is rather akin to building a Boeing 747 to commute to work.

🙌

Comment

Boards of Canada ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ turns 20

Boards of Canada ‘Music Has the Right to Children’ turns 20

More on the 20th anniversary of Music Has the Right to Children.

The music imprints ideas in your head, subliminally or through uncanny association: opener “Wildlife Analysis” sounds like an old TV ident left to wander into the woods, the treated, wobbly synth harmonies of “Olson” could’ve come from a half-remembered Stevie Wonder or Gary Wright song heard as background music during some family car ride, and “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” sinks its minimalist, graceful melody in so deep through repetition that the realization you can hear indistinct voices in the background is almost startling. There’s something deeper in the music than just music…

Comment

An Eagle in Your Mind — Boards of Canada

Music Has the Right to Children (cover detail)

Music Has the Right to Children (cover detail)

It is 20 years to the day since Boards of Canada released Music Has the Right to Children.

Seminal is a word that is bandied around easily when talking about music. But it may be genuinely applicable in this case. Simon Reynolds in Pitchfork notes how the album seemed to kick-start a transformation in electronic music.

Before this point, electronic music was unashamedly futuristic. Boards of Canada set the template for a nostalgic yet dark genre known as hauntology, since explored further by the Ghost Box label among others.

The album’s cover, featuring a weathered, decades-old family photograph with each person’s facial features redacted, sets the scene. Following a short introductory track, Music Has the Right to Children introduces the listener to the Boards of Canada sound in uncompromising fashion, with An Eagle in Your Mind.

A wistful drone slowly evolves into a darker, brooding melody. Crunchy, syncopated beats and glitching speech samples then take precedence, while narration from a nature documentary subliminally slips beneath. Things get psychedelic, before an unpredictable abstract hip-hop vibe takes over. A childlike melody discordantly tinkles on top, hammering home the sense that something has gone horribly wrong.

1 comment

Design flaws in electronic health records can harm patients, study finds

Design flaws in electronic health records can harm patients, study finds

We know that poor usability can lead to disastrous consequences. Think to the recent case of the accidental missile alert in Hawaii.

This is a more rigorous, academic investigation into the negative consequences of poor usability in electronic health records. The study even suggests that bad usability may have caused deaths.

Some 557 (0.03 percent) reports had “language explicitly suggesting EHR usability contributed to possible patient harm,” and among those, 80 caused temporary harm, seven may have caused permanent harm and two may have been fatal.

Comment

MySpace Tom beat Facebook in the long run

MySpace Tom beat Facebook in the long run

“Wouldn’t you rather be a rich nobody than whatever Mark Zuckerberg is?”

I love this perspective. Tom from MySpace may have been a bit of a laughing stock for a while. But you have to say, he must be feeling a bit better than Mark Zuckerberg is right now.

It puts MySpace’s failure to evolve in a new light, as perhaps the healthy thing is for a platform to die and for everyone to move on.

Comment

Design for navigational momentum and unity

Design for navigational momentum and unity

When trying to persuade people not to overload their navigation menus, I have often drawn an analogy with road signs. These must be a model of brevity, because drivers need to be able to digest them quickly.

Web users may not be travelling at 60mph, but they still want to get their stuff done quickly.

I enjoyed this Gerry McGovern article that draws a similar analogy:

The core purpose of navigation is to help you move forward. Designing digital navigation is not that different from designing navigation for a road. You always want to be able to help people maintain their momentum and get to their destination as quickly as possible. The essence of momentum is to help people move forward, and this is the essential purpose of navigation—to help people move forward.

Comment

Why the web will win

Why the web will win

A reminder of the web’s resilience.

The web is designed to be open-source, and therefore it is designed to last.

Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 proposal for the World Wide Web wasn’t the most technically sophisticated vision of the early internet, nor was it the most popular at the time. However, in 1993, Berners-Lee and CERN open-sourced all of the technology associated with the World Wide Web. The open nature of the World Wide Web meant it could be implemented by anyone, anywhere, on any computer.

Comment

Centrism isn’t dead – we just need a new word

Centrism isn’t dead – we just need a new word

I find it strange that so much attention is being put on centrism at the moment. I definitely do not identify with either the left or the right. But I have rarely used the word centrist to describe myself. Partly because I find it quite meaningless, and perhaps also because it assumes I am seeking a middle ground (which is sometimes true, but not always).

In an increasingly polarised political landscape, the idea of centrism is actually beginning to appeal to me more — even as it is becoming exceptionally unfashionably in certain quarters.

This article makes the argument for the need of “a rational approach to politics”, not a centrism that is simply “stuck in the middle”.

I simply want a term that adequately describes the need to shout “leave me out of this insane squabbling” or “I want no part of this imbecilic narrative”. What we are perhaps crying out for is a new term for politics that isn’t defined by the end points but by the process; defined not by the beliefs but the rational steps the lead us to those beliefs.

Comment

A year after United’s public-relations disaster

A year after United’s public-relations disaster

What happened after United violently removed a passenger against his will from an overbooked flight? What do you think…?

Flyers may have said in that survey that they’d avoid United, but they really kept choosing whichever airline offered the best price and itinerary. And often that was United. In the month that followed the Dao incident, United flew more passengers than a year earlier, posted its biggest gains in months in passenger-miles flown, and had its fewest cancellations in its history (and fewer than any of its main competitors). A month after the incident, United’s share price hit an all-time high.

Comment

Rock On — Tortoise

Tortoise’s most recent original music may not be as good as their material from the 1990s. But they have developed a knack for producing some excellent cover versions. This cover of Rock On is the highlight of their most recent album, The Catastrophist.

Comment

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

More on the hypocrisy of media organisation going after Facebook (which I recently wrote about).

What will happen when the Times, the New Yorker and other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides “interest-based” advertising?

1 comment

‘The third era of Zuck’: how the CEO went from hero to humiliation

‘The third era of Zuck’: how the CEO went from hero to humiliation

A reminder of just how recently it seemed plausible that Mark Zuckerberg could be a future US President. That seems highly unlikely now.

This is one of those moments where we’re really fascinated because this huge PR machine has sort of cracked and we can see through, and what we can see is someone way over his head

Comment

Crying over spilt milk: An empathy map example

Crying over spilt milk: An empathy map example

Example empathy map

I have recently been involved in a project with the University of Edinburgh UX Service to conduct user research for the API Service.

In one of the workshops we ran, we wanted participants to work with empathy maps to give us an insight into their experiences.

This post on the University Website Programme blog outlines how I introduced workshop participants to the concept of empathy maps, with an example around my own experience of buying milk.

Buying milk is a simple task that most of us carry out on a regular basis. But this example showed how using an empathy map can reveal a surprising amount of detail about the behaviours and feelings someone goes through when completing a task.

1 comment

Publishers haven’t realised just how big a deal GDPR is

Publishers haven’t realised just how big a deal GDPR is

With the media still consumed with scrutinising Facebook, Thomas Baekdal once again points out that it is the media who appear to be less prepared to deal with privacy trends and comply with new regulations like GDPR.

It’s interesting that Thomas Baekdal has emphasised that this is not only important for compliance. But because it is becoming a fundamental expectation.

He notes the clear changes that Google and Facebook have made in reaction to GDPR. In contrast to publishers.

I have yet to see any publisher who is actually changing what they are doing. Every single media site that I visit is still loading tons of 3rd party trackers. They are still not asking people for consent, in fact most seem to think they already have people’s consent…

Comment

But could Remain win a second referendum?

But could Remain win a second referendum?

Some home truths for remainers from Jonathan Calder.

In the Remain camp we constantly remind ourselves how good we are and how evil and ridiculous Leavers are. (Leavers do the precise opposite of course.)

If insulting Leavers were the key to victory we would have won the first referendum. But we didn’t and there is no reason to believe that calling people “gammons” will help us more than calling them “fruitcakes” did.

Comment

Facebook and the end of the world

Facebook and the end of the world

When the world goes up in flames, the handful of people left in the burning ruins of civilization will shrug, look at their feet, and—from inside a deep black hole of unending ennui—mumble pathetically how ironic and silly it is that the thing that ultimately took us all down was Facebook.

1 comment

Why do we forget most of what we read and watch?

Why do we forget most of what we read and watch?

Not just what we read and watch. But also what we have written. And, if you were Johnny Carson, who you had just interviewed.

It’s an oddity peculiar to the live performer’s divided brain that needs exploring. It has to do with the fact that you — and the “you” that performs — are not identical.

I get the same thing all the time, whenever anyone asks me on a Monday morning what I did in the weekend.

Perhaps me and the “me” that was in the weekend are not identical. Certainly, my brain is in a totally different place — one that has difficulty piecing together an eventful yesterday.

Comment

The death of clothing

The death of clothing

Clothing sales are on the decline. Guess what? Millennials are to blame.

In seriousness though, it is interesting to consider the declining role of clothing in how people express themselves.

As clothing sales have declined, technology purchases have climbed — as have experiences.

So, pay for a good smartphone. Go on an experience. Brag about it on social media. A new pair of jeans would seem weak in comparison.

Who needs fashion these days when you can express yourself through social media? Why buy that pricey new dress when you could fund a weekend getaway instead?

Comment

Collecting things

Collecting things

Giles Turnbull argues that you should, “Collect things that future-you will find useful.”

Part of me recoils at this idea. I am naturally a bit of a hoarder. But as such, I make it part of my routine to occasionally tidy things away into the bin.

But it will undoubtedly be important to keep some of this stuff.

All this is a long-winded way of saying: be an archivist. Capture the things your people are thinking about and talking about, as well as the things they’re doing and delivering. The two are intertwined. They shape one another.

Comment

The ordinary greatness of Roger Bannister

The ordinary greatness of Roger Bannister

Roger Bannister’s great achievement was not to attain the impossible, but to make the unattainable realistic.

The claim that typically accompanies a feat of athletic genius—that it may never be equalled—was never said of Bannister’s four-minute mile. The point of his race was exactly the opposite. The four-minute barrier had daunted runners for generations, but Bannister intended to break through it so that others might follow. And they did.

Comment