phiffer.org

Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

Next Epoch Seed Librarynextepochseedlibrary.com

I made Ellie and Anne a website for their project, the Next Epoch Seed Library.

[nextepochseedlibrary.com](http://nextepochseedlibrary.com)
nextepochseedlibrary.com

If the website design looks familiar, it’s because I used the same WordPress theme I developed for Ellie’s website.

See also: Ellie’s essay about the project

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On faves, likes, and hearts

Filed under: Celebration
Filed under: Celebration

This week’s On the Media includes a discussion with the Tow Center’s Emily Bell, talking about a piece she wrote in The Guardian.

Yes, it’s about Twitter faves/likes/hearts. And yes, website design choices do influence user behavior!

I found myself not bookmarking, as I would have done a day earlier, a horrifying image retweeted by journalists depicting men using phones to film a woman being stoned to death for adultery. I did not “like” let alone “love” the image but wanted to note it as important. We must have a system which allows for capturing the significant as well as the appealing.

You may have experienced a version of this when a friend or loved one shares bad news on Facebook. I don’t “like” this, but I want to acknowledge it, and express my empathy. Facebook makes it easy to give that post a thumbs up. The cynical conspiracy theorist in me says this is an effort to make the site more compatible for a sale to Zuckerberg & Co.

The most baffling part is how Twitter is saying the new heart icon is “a universal symbol that resonates across languages, cultures, and time zones.” But then in the following sentence claiming that it is “more expressive, enabling you to convey a range of emotions and easily connect with people.”

It may be true that newer users—from a wider range of backgrounds—may find ❤️ symbols more familiar, but the ⭐️ undoubtedly offers greater flexibility in terms of which “emotions” are being conveyed.

It’s a small change, and I understand that complaining about social media software is tedious, but it does point to how Twitter is first and foremost a profit-seeking company. This change was meant to get their monthly active users numbers up (and by extension, their stock price). And perhaps the strategy is working:

“It’s a change that’s been fantastic for the platform,” said Weil. “We see now 6% more hearts, 6% more likes on Twitter than we saw with favorites.” He also noted that new users tend to engage 9% more with this change.

Back to Emily Bell in The Guardian:

The inherent tension at the centre of all modern communication businesses—including every news organisation—is that only the likable is reliably bankable.

The relaying of trauma, devastation and cruelty is not inherently profitable in the same way that the relaying of how awesome the new Adele track is or how much we adore kittens might be.

What people like on social media has consequences; not just the marginal economic kinds, but also for how the public publics (a verb) on the network. As Zeynep Tufekci has written in The Message:

What if Ferguson had started to bubble, but there was no Twitter to catch on nationally? Would it ever make it through the algorithmic filtering on Facebook? Maybe, but with no transparency to the decisions, I cannot be sure.

Would Ferguson be buried in algorithmic censorship?

Anyway, here’s a small selection of the 19,500+ (!!) tweets I’ve faved so far:

Platform Cooperativism + Creative Time Summitplatformcoop.net

There are two conferences happening in NYC this weekend that I’m planning on going to. Platform Cooperativism just got started this morning and runs through tomorrow at The New School. The Creative Time Summit is happening Saturday/Sunday, at a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant. I’m not sure how I’ll juggle both events tomorrow, but Platform Cooperativism has a livestream going if you want to follow along from home.

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I was an undercover Uber drivercitypaper.net

Related to yesterday’s post about the tyranny of customer ratings, here’s Emily Guendelsberger writing about her experience driving for Uber.

The Uberpeople forum exists in a state of quivering rage I usually associate with cable-news talk shows. Drivers are furious about everything. Spoiled passengers. Fare cuts. Living in fear of arbitrary ratings. The dumb Spotify thing streaming over the driver’s data plan rather than the passenger’s. A bunch of drivers are even using the forum as a home base to try to unionize in several cities.

But I also find some useful numbers to fill in the vagaries of the training video. For example, I should accept 90% of pings to avoid trouble. I’m also surprised to learn that Uber’s cutoff for driver ratings “below rider expectations” is generally agreed to be only 4.6 stars—I’d had no idea when using Uber as a passenger that rating someone four stars was kind of a big deal.

(photo by Jessica Kourkounis)
(photo by Jessica Kourkounis)

So what does a 4-star ride look like?

I’ve had a perfect rating for almost a week when I get a ride that I can tell is going to screw it up. I pull up, blocking a one-way street, and throw on my blinkers. After waiting the requisite few minutes, I text the guy. He opens the front door, makes a “one minute!” gesture, then shuts it again. Several more minutes tick by. I finally call, and the guy picks up, giggling. “We’ll be right out!”

When the couple finally gets in, nearly 10 unpaid minutes after I showed up, a cloud of weed stank follows them into my car. I try to hide my irritation. They’re headed to a restaurant in Chinatown I’ve been to a bunch of times, so we chat about that as I drive. Despite this, the stoned guy insists on giving me inefficient directions. When he directs me to turn the wrong way down a one-way street, I tell him not to worry, I’ve got this, and just drive them to the restaurant. The guy sulks.

The next day, my five-star rating has updated to a 4.8.

It’s a good article, and I’m slightly worried that it’s published in a publication that’s been shut down recently.

The website remains accessible for now, but if it were to go offline archive.org won’t have a copy: “Page cannot be crawled or displayed due to robots.txt.” Here’s the article text on Pocket, but that doesn’t include the embedded infographics.

I’ve saved a copy of the page’s HTML and images as WordPress metadata, for posterity. Perhaps I should be doing this more systematically. I bet a lot of my old posts link out to dead URLs.

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Rating systems in the on-demand economywww.theverge.com

The Verge’s Josh Dzieza on how Uber and its peers “turned us into horrible bosses.”

The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error. All the algorithm has to do is tally up their judgments and deactivate accordingly.

Ratings help these companies to achieve enormous scale, managing large pools of untrained contract workers without having to hire supervisors. It’s a nice arrangement for customers too, who get cheap service with a smile—even if it’s an anxious one. But for the workers, already in the precarious position of contract labor, making every customer a boss is a terrifying prospect. After all, they—we—can be entitled jerks.

See also: The Trouble with the “uber for…” Economy and part 2 of Enchanting by Numbers

Link via James

The Whale is dead, long live Linky (updated)

I recently got this email about my project The Whale:

I am not a web developer or anything like that, but I am a person who has struggled with OCD and dyslexia for decades. A work like Moby Dick is normally not accessible to me because of the way I read. Your way of organizing it into small bitesize, all caps chunks has allowed me to enjoy this great literary work.

I know this is probably not what you had in mind when you wrote the code, but I wanted to thank you all the same.

I was floored. This is the most rewarding kind of feedback to get about a project.

And while that’s certainly not what I had in mind when I wrote the code, there is a part of me that enjoys the constant fidgeting with the text. All the clicking (or tapping) eases some part of my brain that might otherwise have me go impulsively check for new social media notifications.

I asked if there were any other texts that he might enjoy in this format, and then decided to generalize my project to show additional novels beyond Moby Dick. And so was born the project I’m now calling Linky. The current selection includes:

Update: Added three more titles to the list.

From [Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein](https://phiffer.org/linky/frankenstein#14)

If you have any ideas for other titles that might benefit from the Linky treatment, please let me know.

The brutal rationymag.com

New York magazine’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells identifies the key political fact that has emerged from the Intercept’s Drone Papers:

One question—maybe the most pressing question—is how the public feels about that brutal ratio of one targeted death to five or six unintended. The evidence so far is that the public is more or less okay with it.

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Feral Landscape Lovebrooklynrail.org

Ellie wrote an essay that was recently published in the Brooklyn Rail. She makes a case for weeds, in urban spaces that are lacking in green spaces.

Based on growing evidence for the role of greenspace in mental health and the importance of plant life for a slew of environmental services (including temperature regulation, air quality improvement, and soil stabilization), the plant community I work with is beneficial and should be embraced. A small but growing cadre of defenders respectfully refer to these plants as “spontaneous urban plants” that inhabit “novel ecosystems” which are in urgent need of further study.

Forest Enclosure, Johnson Avenue. [Feral Landscape Typologies](http://ellieirons.com/projects/feral-typologies/)
Forest Enclosure, Johnson Avenue. Feral Landscape Typologies

To the average city-dweller, and compared to their cultivated counterparts, the species I advocate for can appear “messy” and unrefined: flowers that are too small, seed pods that are too big, thorns that tear clothing, roots that reach into brick and asphalt. They may seem indicative of disrepair, of indolence, of a community down on its luck or still climbing towards peak gentrification. It is perhaps this sensibility that drives building superintendents and maintenance crews out into the streets to “clean up” (massacre) these plants on a regular basis.

As the Weedy Species Alliance motto goes: “Let the Dandelions Live!”

See also: Feral Landscape Typologies and The Next Epoch Seed Library

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Design is Capitalismcreativemornings.com

Jennifer Daniel on self-important rhetoric within the design field. I think this critique can easily be extended beyond the realm of design.

Video

Loved this quote about professional provincialism:

“When you think about it—and I mean really think about it—everything is meat distribution engineering.”
—a meat distribution engineer

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The Decay of Twitterwww.theatlantic.com

Robinson Meyer wrote a great essay in The Atlantic about the difference between saying and writing on Twitter:

On Twitter, people say things that they think of as ephemeral and chatty. Their utterances are then treated as unequivocal political statements by people outside the conversation. Because there’s a kind of sensationalistic value in interpreting someone’s chattiness in partisan terms, tweets “are taken up as magnum opi to be leapt upon and eviscerated, not only by ideological opponents or threatened employers but by in-network peers.”

Anthropologists who study digital spaces have diagnosed that a common problem of online communication is “context collapse.” This plays with the oral-literate distinction: When you speak face-to-face, you’re always judging what you’re saying by the reaction of the person you’re speaking to. But when you write (or make a video or a podcast) online, what you’re saying can go anywhere, get read by anyone, and suddenly your words are finding audiences you never imagined you were speaking to.

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Let’s Encrypt (updated)

Update: since this was written, the letsencrypt-auto script has improved significantly. When I tried it again today (December 8, 2015), the process was basically just cloning the GitHub repo and running ./letsencrypt-auto. I’ll leave the original (outdated) information here for posterity.

As of today phiffer.org is being served using SSL encryption thanks to a free certificate from Let’s Encrypt. It’s a recently launched service, sponsored by Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (among others), intended to make HTTPS encryption ubiquitous on the web.

Hooray for [Let's Encrypt!](https://letsencrypt.org/)
Hooray for Let’s Encrypt!

Let’s Encrypt is very new, and there are still some rough edges, but overall I’m impressed by how smoothly the process went. I wanted to document my experience, in case it’s helpful to others (and future-me). This post is a bit more technical than usual and, because the service is new, much of it may not be relevant very long into the future. That said, I hope this might offer some clues for folks trying to get up and running on HTTPS.

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Facebook M is made out of contractorswww.buzzfeed.com

BuzzFeed’s Mat Honan decided to try out Facebook’s new Messenger-based digital assistant, M.

Facebook M is just a person with a phone.
Facebook M is just a person with a phone.

And what do you know, sending parrots via mobile phone is a thing that you can do in 2015.

Honan talked to a woman from the parrot-renting company, Happy Birds, about what it’s like to receive a request from M. Turns out it’s just a person with a phone.

“She said, ‘I’m doing it for someone else.’ She said ‘well, it’s for my boss’ friend.’”

There was another indicator, however, that this was a legitimate request. Just after the woman claiming to be M called Happy Birds, the company received an identical request through GigSalad — an online platform where performers and event services can connect with interested clients.

This wasn’t the only time I saw evidence of M turning to independent contractors on other platforms to execute requests. When I tried to get it to send a Minion to my colleague Katie Notopolous (she loves Minions) it helpfully offered that “I am able to set up a Tasker with Task Rabbit to go purchase a minion costume and can come interact and entertain for 20-30 min at a rate of $150 for the hour.” (I deemed this too expensive.)

In fact, much of M’s real-word efforts seem to run on contractors. Facebook confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the trainers are all independent contractors. Which to some extent answers the question of how Facebook can scale this up, before M becomes fully automated. It will take an army of humans, each doing small tasks. Simply put, before Facebook can make its robot act like lots of humans, it needs a lot of humans to act like robots.

See also: The Weird Robot Hotel

Link via Casey