phiffer.org

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

Zuckerberg: give your stocks to Facebook usersamericamagazine.org

You may have heard Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has promised to donate 99% of his stock in the company “to charity.” (It’s unclear what “charity” means precisely at this point, but one might want to look in the direction of Newark.)

Here is an interesting suggestion from Nathan Schneider, published today in America Magazine:

First, the stock could go back to the Facebook users who made it valuable in the first place. As I have noted here before, Facebook’s business model depends on gathering, mining and selling the personal information that its users post on the platform. That includes our networks of relationships, our photos, our worries, our milestones, our passions and our preferences. It’s barely understood what exactly Facebook knows about us and how, except that it’s a lot. This is part of what has made Mr. Zuckerberg so controversial, and rightly so; early on, he referred to his users as “dumb” (followed by a word even more insulting) for trusting him with such data. What if, rather than papering over that controversy, he could resolve it at the root?

Consider what it would mean if a substantial portion of Facebook stock were held in a trust that acts on behalf of the platform’s users. (This is a model I’m borrowing from the employee-owned John Lewis Partnership in the United Kingdom, explained in Marjorie Kelly’s extraordinary book Owning Our Future.) Users could then vote on what positions the trust should hold at shareholder meetings, and it could distribute dividends based on the stock’s value back to users, or reinvest them by buying more ownership in the company. The trust, therefore, would have a dual incentive: to protect user interests and privacy in Facebook’s business model, and to ensure that the company remains solvent.

The other suggestion, to sell the stocks and distribute the proceeds to every person alive, is also noteworthy, effectively saying: “Do you really know better what to do with all that money than the collective wisdom of everyone on Earth combined?”

Link via Caroline

Helpful talk tips!posts.postlight.com

Paul Ford recently shared some of his speaking tips on the Postlight blog.

I’m finding that it’s very important to just get up there and talk a little bit, make some dumb jokes, let people get used to you existing. A lot of times I talk about the status of the talk (“this is a new talk and I’ll be glad to hear what you think”).

I’m noticing that this style of presenting is very adaptable; when you’re in a small room you can turn it into a conversation and bring in the audience; when you’re speaking to hundreds of people, and engagement is not possible, you can just keep plowing ahead but it’s still like you’re just having a fun chat instead of holding forth. You can even do a kind of professorial “Oh! Right!” as if the deck was surprising you, and both you and the audience were just seeing this information for the first time together and you were merely riffing.

I highly recommend that you try to find some way to go see Paul give a talk.

Link

New York After Renttoe.prx.org

The latest episode of Theory of Everything is a recut version of April’s New York After rent series. Listen to the whole thing in one 70 minute post prop f director’s cut episode.

In the future startups will enable us to rent out our memories, feelings, and dreams, the same way we now rent out our extra bedrooms and the stuff in our closets. In the future every flight of fancy eventually will be commodified.

Download MP3

Link

Photos of Fukushimawww.podniesinski.pl

From Arkadiusz Podniesiński’s photo essay of the Fukushima disaster:

While I am in Futaba I am accompanied by a married couple, Mitsuru and Kikuyo Tani (aged 74 and 71), who show me the house from which they were evacuated. They visit it regularly but due to the regulations they can do this a maximum of once a month, and only for a few hours at a time. They take advantage of these opportunities even though they gave up hope of returning permanently a long time ago. They check to see if the roof is leaking and whether the windows have been damaged by the wind or wild animals. If necessary they make some minor repairs. Their main reason for returning however is sentimental and the attachment they feel to this place. A yearning for the place in which they have their origins and spent their entire lives.

Kikuyo Tani in front of the entrance to her house.
Kikuyo Tani in front of the entrance to her house.
The sign reads “nuclear energy is the energy of a bright future.” Another one is too real: “local nuclear energy guarantees a lively future.”
The sign reads “nuclear energy is the energy of a bright future.” Another one is too real: “local nuclear energy guarantees a lively future.”
Site where vehicles have been dumped. Aerial photograph.
Site where vehicles have been dumped. Aerial photograph.

Link

Canada 150canada.pch.gc.ca

In 2017 Canada will celebrate 150 years since its confederation. The Canadian government commissioned type designer Raymond Larabie to adapt Mesmerize into an official national typeface.

The typeface includes all Latin characters and accents, common Cyrillic characters, and syllabic and diacritical elements contained in Canada’s Aboriginal languages. The typeface is provided in two weights: light and regular.

Canada is home to [over 60 aboriginal languages](http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-314-x/98-314-x2011003_3-eng.cfm)
Canada is home to over 60 aboriginal languages

Oddly, if you want to use the official font you must apply for permission.

See also: Clearview, the federally-approved highway typeface

Link

The Great Big Adam Curtis Binge-Watchwww.listmuse.com

A comprehensive list of all of Adam Curtis’s documentaries, conveniently linked in one long list. There are a few I didn’t realize I hadn’t seen. I’ve heard that some of the videos include advertising breaks, so you may want to seek out alternate versions for those ones.

See also: that time I called into WFMU and asked Adam Curtis if he thought his use of imagery was manipulative (around 50 minutes in)

Link via Kevin Slavin

On the Border of Greece and Macedoniahomebrave.squarespace.com

From Scott Carrier’s Home of the Brave podcast:

Four days ago, the European Union decided to allow only refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan into Northern Europe, stranding thousands of people at the Idomeni transit camp on the border of Greece and Macedonia. This report is from the Idomeni camp, where a variety of protests are ongoing by Iranians, Pakistanis, Moroccans, and Somalis who say they’d rather die than be sent home.

Download MP3

See also: an earlier episode with interviews of Donald Trump supporters

Link

On Encryption and Terroristsnadim.computer

Nadim Kobeissi, maker of Crypto.cat and Minilock:

The premise driving the people writing encryption software is not exactly that we’re giving people new rights or taking some away: it’s the hope that we can enforce existing rights using algorithms that guarantee your ability to free speech, to a reasonable expectation of privacy in your daily life. When you make a credit card payment or log into Facebook, you’re using the same fundamental encryption that, in another continent, an activist could be using to organize a protest against a failed regime.

In a way, we’re implementing a fundamental technological advancement not dissimilar from the invention of cars or airplanes. Ford and Toyota build automobiles so that the entire world can have access to faster transportation and a better quality of life. If a terrorist is suspected of using a Toyota as a car bomb, it’s not reasonable to expect Toyota to start screening who it sells cars to, or to stop selling cars altogether.

Link via Matthias Bruggmann

How to go to spacewww.youtube.com

A video adapted from Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer, where complex subjects are explained “using only drawings and a vocabulary of the 1,000 (or ‘ten hundred’) most common words.” I believe this all started with the XKCD cartoon Up Goer Five, “the only flying space car that’s taken anyone to another world.”

Video

I love this part at the end of the video.

You can find Thing Explainer at book stores, or by using your computer to search the place where computers think together.

See also: Time Magazine’s interview with Munroe, where his responses are all stick figure drawings. And also the MinutePhysics YouTube channel.

Link

Christina Xu’s setupusesthis.com

I don’t usually follow this sort of equipment connoisseurism, but I enjoyed reading about ethnographer Christina Xu’s international phone setup.

Having two phones went out of style in China a few years ago because most phones for the Chinese market can use (at least) 2 SIM cards simultaneously, but no such luck the Galaxy S6 I got in the US. There’s no way I’m giving up my T-Mobile SIM card, either: my plan comes with unlimited free data while roaming internationally, and while it’s not terribly fast, it’s a real lifesaver in China. You see, the Great Firewall is designed to limit access to information for locals, not foreigners, so it doesn’t even bother blocking mobile data if you’re roaming. This means that—wonder of wonders!!—I have slow but steady, constant access to Instagram, Twitter, and all of the Google services I use regularly.

But at the same time, having a local Chinese number is indispensable, not least because many local mobile and web services require one for verification purposes. And the Great Firewall goes in both directions: Chinese apps run incredibly slowly outside of it. My solution was to get a second phone in China that I could use just for phone calls and Chinese apps, and I ended up with the Oppo, a low-end Android smartphone designed for the Chinese and Indian market.

Link

Untitled (social media, variable dimensions). 2015.twitter.com

I’ve collected some images that were circulating on Mlkshk recently, based on a Tweet by Brett O’Connor.

twitter.com/negatendo/status/628611950168117248

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On Facebook’s Safety Checkwww.theatlantic.com

Facebook’s Safety Check lets you notify friends and family that you’re safe after a natural disaster or “human disaster.” Robinson Meyer wrote about it in the Atlantic.

To know, within an hour or two of an event, that someone is safe: It’s so valuable, so emotionally practical, as to be almost priceless. It is anti-terror, in a way: It says, be not afraid. And in the three places where it was first deployed—Afghanistan, Chile, and Nepal, all three after major earthquakes—its activation made a lot of sense, because earthquakes are events which by their nature can affect millions over huge swaths of territory.

But earthquakes and cyclones are not themselves public-facing events. Terrorist attacks are. As Brian Jenkins, a terrorism scholar at the RAND Corporation, writes, “terrorism is aimed at the people watching.” Terrorism is a public-relations campaign with guns and bombs. It weaponizes culture, and it exploits journalistic concern for heinous violence to grab media attention and get pathology taken instead as politics.

Link

How to escape the advertising bubble

Maciej Cegłowski has interesting things to say about big data and the online advertising business. He argues—persuasively, I think—that the advertising technology (adtech) sector is overvalued. In a recent essay, he describes what will happen when that adtech bubble finally bursts.

The problem is not that these companies will fail (may they all die in agony), but that the survivors will take desperate measures to stay alive as the failure spiral tightens.

These companies have been collecting and trafficking in our most personal data for many years. It’s going to get ugly.

Remember when, in its death throes, RadioShack sold off the customer data of 67 million people? This will probably be worse than that. And a whole lot of the web is built on top of adtech spaghetti business (think: spaghetti code, but for business).

The prognosis for publishers is grim. Repent! Find a way out of the adtech racket before it collapses around you. Ditch your tracking, show dumb ads that you sell directly (not through a thicket of intermediaries), and beg your readers for mercy. Respect their privacy, bandwidth, and intelligence, flatter their vanity, and maybe they’ll subscribe to something.

One way I could see publishers phasing in this more-respectful business model is through existing web browsers’ do-not-track differentiation. Every modern browser has privacy settings that let an individual user opt out of online tracking. That do-not-track preference gets included with each and every web request, but it’s up to the website operator to act on it. As far as I can tell, all adtech companies seem to ignore this preference completely.

Firefox privacy preferences
Firefox privacy preferences

Okay, so are you ready for my idea for how publishers can escape the adtech bubble? Stay with me here, because this is a crazy suggestion: if I’ve signaled through my preferences that I prefer not to be tracked, then … I dunno, maybe don’t track me.

A typical ad-driven website relies on dozens of companies to show me slow loading, poorly-customized advertising. But there’s nothing stopping the website itself from simply not letting those companies’ code onto the page.

I would say just switch to dumb (non-tracking) ads for everyone, but I know how this would play out: “it’s too extreme, we can’t afford it!” But here’s the thing, if you think this adtech spaghetti business is going to collapse, you’ll have to start switching traffic over to something else eventually. Why not start out with current and future subscribers (aka “users”) who’ve already indicated they prefer not to be tracked by the adtech industry? Just do what we’ve been asking for in the first place.

Here’s how: if a given visitor has checked the do-not-track box, you’ll be able to detect it. Adjust your ad libraries and CDNs to detect the DNT: 1 HTTP header and then show a small message congratulating yourself, and set aside those ad spots for “artisanal” ads. Once things are rolling along you can ditch the old bloated, crappy ads for everybody else.

You can already tell what proportion of visitors have do-not-track enabled, it’s there in the traffic stats if you look for it. You could pitch this to the higher ups with real numbers, and spin it as a Premium Advertising Experience, like organic fair trade traffic without all the slow bandwidth-bloat and creepy surveillance.

The big challenge, of course, is this type of effort involves cooperation between many departments that may not currently get along well. But getting the ad sales people and the ad tech people and the web developers to get along is important.

Nobody likes working on ads, and I know it’s hard to just get buy-in, let alone actually launch a new thing. But an adtech collapse might be an existential threat, better to get in front of this now rather than wait for it to happen.

Also posted on Medium.com