Aggregation is Broken

A few days ago, there was a bit of a kerfuffle between Vox and 538 (Nate Silver’s blog) over Vox posting some of 538’s content without ‘proper attribution’. Vox put up a poor mouth semi-apology in the way of a statement on vox.com called ‘How Vox Aggregates’. Here’s a bit of that:

I started as a blogger in the pre-social web, when the only way to build an audience was to have other sites quote or link to your work. Those links didn’t drive a ton of traffic back to the original site, but they drove some, and sometimes you would get a new regular reader out of the deal. And that was basically how my career began. Everything I wrote, I wrote in the hopes that someone else would take it and try to use it on their site, with a link back to my site.

The lesson of that, to me, was that writing on the internet is a positive-sum endeavor: I was creating content that helped other people make their sites better, and in using that content, they were helping me grow my site.

Vox’s approach to aggregation — which Nate Silver criticized today on Twitter— is informed by that.

There have been lots of Hot Takes on this. Here’s mine.

I firmly believe that in a post-social web, aggregation is completely broken. People aren’t looking to diversify their reading. If they see an image on Tumblr that’s been shared across dozens, even hundreds of sites, are they going to untangle that rat’s nest of attribution and find the original creator of that image? Are they fuck. At best, they’ll follow the last person to share it - they’ll follow the aggregator. Balls to the creator.

Gamification of the internet is only making it worse. And by this, I mean sites that award points to people based on the content they post. See something interesting or funny on the internet? Post it to Reddit under your name and you get all the glory! Win-win.

Back in February, I posted something on Twitter that accidentally went semi-viral, with a few thousand retweets and favourites.

I was bored the other day, so for shits and giggles, I googled the text of this tweet and found that I’d made it to Buzzfeed. I had no idea about this because I received no noticable bump in followers from them, even with their attribution. But I also found that someone on Reddit had lifted the text and image from my tweet and used it to score 47 points on /r/funny (I have a Reddit link score of 1. Yes, one).

Now I’m just a minor player in this whole thing. What about the people producing genuinely great and funny content? Last week, Mallory Ortberg (one of my favourite people on the internet) discovered that some of her work had been lifted by thepoke.co.uk.

To be fair, The Poke had attributed it to where they found it - an imgur gallery (later itself updated with proper attribution after its creator received a twitter backlash), which in turn came from a thread on /r/funny (4618 points, btw). This thread also included one hilarious comment that serves to emphasise my point: “atleast give credit to the person who made them, stolen from front page funnyjunk”.

Ugh.

Seriously, aggregation on the internet is a fucking joke.

79 Theses on Technology. For Disuptation

Alan Jacobs wrote seventy-nine theses on technology and how it affects and informs our world.

  1. Everything begins with attention.
  2. It is vital to ask, “What must I pay attention to?”
  3. It is vital to ask, “What may I pay attention to?”
  4. It is vital to ask, “What must I refuse attention to?”
  5. To “pay” attention is not a metaphor: Attending to something is an economic exercise, an exchange with uncertain returns.

The whole thing is wonderful. But just as wonderful are some of the responses they have invited. And the responses to the responses. Oh listen, just go read the whole thing, will you?

Flying Through an Eclipse

Recent Film Reviews

(I try to post reviews of all the films I watch over on letterboxd. Here are some of my most recent reviews)

Black Sea ★½

When you’re making a submarine film, I’m sure it’s really tempting to default to autopilot and cross off the tickboxes of all the scenes you expect to see in these films. The near-miss collision, the accident that sends the sub to below crush-depth where they just barely survive. Etc. etc.

So it’s not enough for Black Sea to lazily trot out the same hackneyed bullshit we’ve seen countless times in films like this while claiming to be different because this time it’s all in service of a story that’s really just a commentary on the exploitation of the working class.

Plus, it has Jude Law (with the worst Scottish accent since Christopher Lambert) saying “the shit is fighting back”. Honestly, that’s an actual line from this film.

Good grief.

Predators ★★★

Predators isn’t a bad film. In fact, it’s got some really great bits in it: the smash opening; the reveal they’re on an alien planet; any time Walton Goggins is on the screen. In fact, it’s a good enough film that you’ll actually overlook the fact that they cast (lol) Adrien Brody (lol) as a badass soldier (lol).

But if there’s a complaint to be made about the film, it’s that it’s just too goddamn bleak. For the entire 107 minute run-time, there’s not a single moment of hope to be found in this film.

Exhausting.

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ★

Honestly, the next time some dickbag comes along and tries to tell me that Episode III is the best of the prequels, I’m going to smack that person in the goddamn nose.

White God ★★

I know White God is supposed to be a parable, but I’ll be damned if I know exactly what it’s supposed to be. Current list of theories:

  • Social Exclusion
  • Teenage Angst
  • Immigration
  • The prison system
  • The oppression of the Jews before and during WWII (what dog pounds have such prominent chimneys?!)

It could be any one of these things. It could be all of them. I don’t know. And I’m not sure the film itself actually warrants the kind of time it would take to develop these theories. It’s 100 minutes of a dull, emotionless domestic drama with 20 minutes of interesting images tacked onto the end. Seeing 200 dogs running through Budapest dishing out vigilante justice like some canine Mr Majestyks was at least something I hadn’t seen before. The rest of the film was just filler.

Groundhog Day ★★★★

For most of this film, it’s all very clever and enjoyable and even if it doesn’t sweep you off your feet, you think “I’m so clever, I can see all the mechanics of this plot at work and I can appreciate on an intellectual level what the film is trying to do. Yes, very clever.”

And then the last scene rolls up and hits you like an ton of bricks. Even if you’ve seen the film before, it’s still a gut-punch of emotion.

That’s the real genius of this film.

Force Majeure ★★★½

Force Majeure is an interesting reflection on the ways that relationships can be affected and tested. There are the large, obvious events, like a father leaving his family to save his own life under the threat of an avalanche. But these are just the sparks that ignite the fuel that’s already there: the years of insecurity and resentment. And those are the things that really test relationships.

I guess it says something about my own marriage that we chose to watch this on Valentine’s Day.

Wild Card ★★★

Jason Statham IS Nick Wild in WILD CARD.

If this sentence doesn’t make you want to immediately run out and watch this film, forget it, this is not the film for you.

Photos from the Blade Runner Model Shop

It may not be a great film, but these photos at least give you some idea of why it’s such an amazing achievement. The amount of care and craft that went into something that would appear on screen for a second or two. So impressive.

RIP Terry Pratchett

I am a nerd.

I spent an entire weekend migrating my blog from Wordpress to Jekyll and I fucking loved it. I have a board game collection that’s out of control. And just this week, I’ve had not one, but two arguments about the ending of Battlestar Galactica (one of these turned into a standing-up, shouting kind of argument)1.

In fact, I’m going to revise up and describe myself as a huge nerd.

Despite this, I have not enjoyed a single Terry Pratchett book that I’ve read.

It’s not like I haven’t tried. I’ve asked my nerd friends where I should start and I’ve gotten different suggestions from each of them. And I’ve tried each one that’s been suggested. Even Metafilter, the closest we’ll get to an internet version of a Borg hive-mind can’t settle on any one starting point. The closest I’ve come has been Good Omens, but I’m dismissing this because of Neil Gaiman. Oh, and I played a lot of The Colour of Magic on the Commodore 64. But again, I’m not counting this because it’s, you know, not a book.

All the same, I’m going to pour one out for Terry Pratchett for two reasons.

First, even though I can only handle him in small doses, even I can recognise he was capable of some beautiful writing. Like this passage from Wings

‘Come to think of it,’ he said. ‘it wasn’t frogs exactly. It was the idea of frogs. She said there’s these hills where it’s hot and rains all the time, and in the rain forests there are these very tall trees and right in the top branchs of the trees there are these like great big flowers called … bromeliads, I think, and water gets into the flowers and makes little pools and there’s a type of frog that lays eggs in the pools and tadpoles hatch and grow into new frogs and these little frogs live their whole lives in the flowers right at the top of the trees and don’t even know about the ground and once you know the world is full of things like that your life is never the same.’
He took a deep breath.
‘Something like that, anyway,’ he said.

I mean, wow. This is just marvellous. (For the record, I gave up on Wings after 50-odd pages.)

But I’ll mostly be pouring one out because even though he’s not my cup of tea, his writing touched – deeply touched – a lot of my friends. His writing, his irreverence, his entire outlook on life - these had a profound influence on an entire subculture. A subculture I count myself part of.

Godspeed, Sir Terry.

“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING,” said Death. “JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.”

  1. For the record, I think the ending to Battlestar Galactica is totally fine. I have no problem at all mixing spiritualism with sci-fi.

The Greatest Kanye West Song of All Time

Casey Johnston goes deep to find the best Kanye song, pitting them against each other. Even if you don’t like Kanye or you think brackets are a bad methodology to finding the best anything, the writing here is just great.

Everyday Carry interviews Jason Rohrer

This is so good. I could use any one of his answers as a pull-quote here, but this answer hit one of my weak spots:

Why do you EDC?

I like the idea of finding the very best version of some otherwise mundane object, settling on it, having that problem solved well, and then using that object for the rest of my life. This is my watch. This is my pen. This is my wallet.

Don't believe his lies

Have you read that interview Rock Paper Shotgun did with Peter Molyneux? If not, you should go read it now. And not just because it’s relevant to what I’m about to talk about, but because it’s an absolutely fascinating interview. It’s an interview that starts off with John Walker asking Peter Molyneux “Do you think that you’re a pathological liar?”

I mean, holy shit, that’s something, right?

It’s a tough interview. It was sharp around the edges. But that’s a good thing. Most developer interviews are polite affairs. Even developers that really deserve to have the boot laid in get the soft treatment. Microsoft released the Halo: Master Chief Collection, whose multiplayer (arguably the main draw of the collection) was unplayably broken and the hardest question most games press ask is “when will it be fixed?” It’s press-as-PR bullshit.

Remember back when Dan Hsu laid into Peter Moore about all the issues that plagued the Xbox 360 at launch? Remember how that was greeted? Everyone cheered and welcomed this as a new frontier: the moment when the games press seemed like they could actually be (whisper it) games journalists.

Their Fucking Testicles

Which brings us to the Molyneux interview. Rather than being heralded as another great moment in games journalism – when a developer who has lied to consumers for years was finally held accountable – the reaction from most of the games industry has been pretty disappointing. The latest episodes of DLC, Idle Thumbs, Gamers With Jobs and Isometric all include some variation on the theme of “poor Peter Molyneux, he didn’t deserve that”1 (Isometric even went so far as to say that the whole thing just demonstrated gamers’ ‘sense of entitlement’). A common thread across all four podcasts is that they described the interview as “unprofessional” for starting by asking Molyneux if he’s a pathological liar.

This has driven me absolutely fucking potty over the last couple of days. I feel like I’m living in bizzaro-world, where up is down and down is up. Peter Molyneux is such a notorious liar that he’s spawned a goddamn internet meme:

Dont Believe His Lies

(that image was stolen from the Idle Thumbs forum, by the way)

… yet actually saying this to his face, actually confronting him about it is “unprofessional”? I just don’t get it.

Personally, I think that, if anything, the interview didn’t go far enough. I want to know if Molyneux feels any guilt about taking people’s money for Curiosity over the promise over a ‘life-changing prize’ (for the record, Eurogamer ran an article about how much the winner’s life has changed. Short answer: not at all). I want to know if he feels any remorse over putting out Curiosity in the first place, since it was nothing more than a shameless cash-grab helping in the race to the bottom of free-to-play games. I want to know if he feels bad about potentially having taken money and press from other potential God games that were on Kickstarter. Games that could potentially have been driven with more passion than he’s shown Godus. And while we’re at it, I want to know if he ever gives a second’s thought to the people for whom Godus was the first game they’ve backed on Kickstarter and they’re now so wary of the process that they’ll probably never back another project on there.

These are just some of the questions I wished John Walker had asked Molyneux.

  1. The only thing I can think of is that the four podcasts I listed above all feature game developers as either main hosts or as special guests. I guess game developers would have a different reaction to the interview? Idk.

23 and me: The complete James Bond

Liza Daly watched all 23 James Bond films (and apparently read the novels, too). On Quantum of Solace

This is the only movie in which Bond does not get laid. It’s also the only one in which he is not captured. Draw your own conclusions.

Worth reading. Although she says she’s never met anyone who will defend Moonraker. I’ll go to the mat for that film.

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