I'm a journalist-type tech-ish geek person, working in that interesting ambiguous place where reporting the news meets all sorts of peripheral skills. In my spare time I herd zombies, design games and write stuff.
“With my form of multiple sclerosis, I quickly started to realise that while the disease would likely never kill me by itself, the sheer weight of time could still do some serious damage. You know. All the wonderful things I should have done before. All the terrible things that might now happen. Playing Spelunky’s genuinely refreshing in this regard: it’s a reminder that the only moment that really matters is the moment that’s currently unfolding. Strategy dries up and blows away in the present, and in its place you’re left with tactics, with what to do for the next thirty seconds. Forget the City of Gold – how do I handle this frog that’s blocking the exit? Forget my plans for the afternoon, what’s with this stutter?”
Digital audience editor Chris Moran, my former boss at Guardian UK and an all round top bloke, has explained Ophan to journalism.co.uk, and if you’re interested in knowing what I do or understanding how I do it, it’s an excellent primer on how we’re building analytics into the newsroom:
“We know everything about print, pretty much, there’s not many tricks left in the bag, we’ve done it for 200 years and we’re used to it. But the internet’s changing all the time, as much as anything else.”
An idea central to Ophan, said Moran, was for it to be useful to everyone working at the outlet, something he referred to as the “democratisation of data”.
This is at the absolute heart of what’s worked for us out here in Australia. We couldn’t have had the success we have out here without this feedback loop – not just the data, but also editors, subs and reporters all working with and caring about the data. Ophan’s transformed how we work, and will continue to do so as it adapts to the changing internet. There are no analytics tools on the market that do what it does, and building it into the heart of the newsroom is a crucial part of making it successful.
In other news, it’s been a little quiet round here as I gear up for leaving Australia; lots of small projects are on hiatus while I pack up life into boxes again, including Pocket Lint, my ongoing game design work on BOPTUB, and standard curmudgeonly blogging approach. Normal service will be resumed as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway.
“The euphoria made time pass quickly, and the light outside faded as it got later and later into the evening. We were sitting at a table drinking, and talking, and she was telling me about a tattoo she planned on getting on her upper arm. She grabbed my hand, and ran my fingertips slowly over the spot she wanted it, staring into my eyes. Oh yes, something was building. The moment is burned into my memory, the moment before everything changed.”
Climate change is a mental health issue: “The ability to process and understand dense climatic data doesn’t necessarily translate to coping with that data’s emotional ramifications. Turns out scientists are people, too.”
“People do still donate at churches and other places. We literally have ten tonnes of beans. We have a ‘bean room’ at our central storehouse. People for some reason associate a foodbank with beans. But actually what we need is coffee, sugar, UHT milk, tinned fruit, tinned fish. A whole range of things. So we try and get the shopping list to people and ask them to buy from it. But whatever you do, you still get lots of beans.”
The rise and fall of Default Man: “When we talk of identity, we often think of groups such as black Muslim lesbians in wheelchairs. This is because identity only seems to become an issue when it is challenged or under threat. Our classic Default Man is rarely under existential threat; consequently, his identity remains unexamined. It ambles along blithely, never having to stand up for its rights or to defend its homeland.”
Robert Webb on growing up male: ‘Nobody ever told me: you don’t have to waste years trying to figure out how to be a “man” because the whole concept is horseshit. We are people, individuals comprising a variety of sexes, races, shifting sexualities and all the rest of it. Every convention that tries to reinforce this difference is a step back. Notions of gender pointlessly separate men from women, but also mothers from daughters and fathers from sons. The whole thing is – at best – just a stupefying waste of everyone’s time.’
‘The first funeral parlour he went to, in Hoxton, east London, told him they needed £2,500 upfront for the church and the vicar. “I said: ‘I can’t afford that.’ They said: ‘You won’t be able to bury him without that money’,” he says, at his flat. His father’s finch whistles in a cage by the window. Griffin is a former landscape gardener who gave up his job to care for his father when he became unwell. Another firm quoted him costs of around £4,000, asking for £1,000 upfront. “I told the funeral office I would just go to the unemployment office to see what they can give me. They said, ‘Oh no, we need the money upfront’. That’s when I started to get worried.”’
At the recent ONA conference, Liz Heron, who oversees Facebook’s news partnerships, came in for some questioning about how news organisations can do well on the platform – something that’s a cause of some consternation for many, as it becomes increasingly clear how important it is as a mass distribution service. This is one of her responses:
To do well on Facebook, just create good content says Liz Heron #ona14
This is a familiar line from Facebook – I’ve been on panels with other employes who’ve said exactly the same thing. But while I have the greatest respect for Heron and understand that she has to present Facebook’s best side in public – and that a tweet may be cutting context away from a larger argument – this statement is demonstrably false. Even skimming the rather fraught question of what exactly “good” means in this context, it’s questionable whether quizzes and lists such as those that have brought Playbuzz its current success are in any meaningful way replicable for most news organisations.
It’s not that Playbuzz is “gaming the algorithm” necessarily, though it may be. It’s that the algorithm is not designed to promote news content. Facebook’s recent efforts to change that are, quite literally, an admission of that fact. Facebook itself knows that good – as in newsworthy, important, relevant, breaking, impactful, timely – is not sufficient for success on its platform; it sees that as a problem, now, and is moving to fix it.
In the mean time, creating “good” content will certainly help, but it won’t be sufficient. You can bypass that process completely by getting your community to create mediocre content that directly taps into questions of identity, like Playbuzz’s personality quizzes, and giving every piece absolutely superbly optimised headlines and sharing tools. You can cheerfully bury excellent work by putting it under headlines that don’t explain what on earth the story’s about, or are too long to parse, or are simply on subjects that people will happily read for hours but don’t want to associate themselves with publicly.
Time and attention are under huge pressure online. Facebook are split testing everything you create against everything else someone might want to see, from family photos to random links posted by people they’ve not met since high school, and first impressions matter enormously. “Good” isn’t enough for the algorithm, or for people who come to your site via their Facebook news feed. It never has been. Facebook should stop pretending that it is.
[shameless self-promotion] “Some people find it easier to put aside their fear than others; I find it almost impossibly difficult. It would be easy to give up, knowing that even if I manage to conquer my lack of coordination enough to run up a wall, I’d still struggle with the fear of getting down again.”
“The right leg of Leo Bonten broke after a stupid accident. There was an infection, it was off. But Leo wanted to keep his leg per se. To make a lamp out of it.”
Confessions of a former internet troll: “If there was a difference between trolling and schoolyard taunting, it was trolling’s particular take on the best way to be an outsider. The prototypical rebel without a cause is either a nihilist or self-serious, disappointed by a vapid world or giving up on it entirely; in either case, he is not content to gossip while there are motorcycles to be ridden in stoic search of the real. For us, it was neither possibility: the world was the place that cared too much, but the way to be above it all was to take aim at its vanity, to embarrass those who thought themselves too composed and too in charge to ever be caught flustered by something petty. We engaged. We had a cause. Whether it was a worthwhile one was a separate issue entirely.”
So this is what’s next: I’m going to New York. I am hugely, hugely excited to say that I’m going to be assistant editor of Guardian US. Sometime towards the end of the year, Grant and I will pick up sticks and head back to London for a short while before living in New York for the next couple of years.
I am so incredibly sad to be leaving. I’m so proud of what we’ve done out here. We’ve made Guardian Australia into a formidable force on the Australian media scene, in a very short space of time. We’ve punched well above our weight in terms of the stories we’ve broken, the readership we’ve gotten, and the response to our presence – it’s impossible to deny that we’re here, and that we matter, now. What we’ve achieved in so short a time is absolutely amazing. None of that will end when I leave, of course; I was only a small part of that incredible growth, and Guardian Australia is in a great place now to grow even more over the coming months and years. I’m so proud of it, and of all my colleagues, and I’m going to miss them enormously.
I’m going to miss Sydney too. I’m going to miss my new friends more than I can say, and I’m going to miss so much about the city too: the botanic gardens, the sky dinosaurs, the red lights on top of the Westfield tower, the ability to go to Bondi beach after work if I want to. I will be very sad to say goodbye.
But I’m so excited about what’s next. Grant and I get to go explore New York. We get to embark on another adventure, so soon after the last one. We get to go across the world, again. And, most excitingly, I get to be a big part of what’s next for the Guardian in the US. I am thrilled to have this opportunity. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
[The old man offers a response—and thinks it came out OK—but sees on the face of the other guy that not one word was understood. This other guy, he resembles the old man—the old man of a few years ago, at least—and is speaking to him now, but the old man is not sure which language he’s using.] Take the steps slow, your correspondent is telling him as they duck into the subway station. Real widow-makers, these. [The old man looks up at him with lamblike credulity in his eyes. He has no choice but to believe he is being led somewhere in good faith.]
In non-spoof news, today Reddit’s CEO posted a blog post about why it wasn’t going to take down a community specifically devoted to sharing naked photos of celebrities acquired by hackers and very much not endorsed by those pictured. Then, having drawn a line in the sand, it promptly banned the community. That caused, unsurprisingly, a lot of users to react with confusion and not a little anger, pointing out – among other things – that ban was more than a little hypocritical if Reddit was going to continue not to police other problematic communities (pro-anorexia and self harm communities, for instance), and suggesting that Reddit’s response was only because of the status, profile and power of the victims in this instance (the site doesn’t take down revenge porn, for example). There’s been another round of explanation, which boils down to: Reddit got overwhelmed and therefore had to take action. That actually bolsters some of the arguments made by users – that it’s only the high-profile nature of this incident that forced action – but if the first post is to be believed, Reddit doesn’t see that as a problem. It wants the community to choose to be “virtuous” rather than being compelled to do so – it wants its users to govern themselves. But it also thinks it’s a government. Yishan says:
… we consider ourselves not just a company running a website where one can post links and discuss them, but the government of a new type of community. The role and responsibility of a government differs from that of a private corporation, in that it exercises restraint in the usage of its powers.
Yishan simultaneously argues that Reddit users must arrive at their own self-policing anarchic nirvana in which no bad actors exist, and that Reddit is not a corporation but a governing force which has both the right to police and, strangely, the responsibility not to do so. Of course Reddit is a corporation, subject to US and international laws. Of course its community is not a state, and its users are not citizens. Yishan is dressing up a slavish http://laparkan.com/buy-vardenafil/ devotion to freedom of speech regardless of consequence as a lofty ideal rather than the most convenient way to cope with a community rife with unpleasant, unethical and often unlawful behaviour. Doxxing, revenge porn, copyright infringement so rampant it’s a running joke, r/PicsOfDeadKids: none of these things are dealt with according to the social norms and laws of the societies of which Reddit is, in reality, a part. Only when admins become overwhelmed is action taken to police its community, and at the same time the CEO declares the site to be, effectively, the creator of its own laws. This would be nothing but self-serving nonsense if it weren’t for the way it’s being used to justify ignoring harmful community behaviours. Reddit’s users are right to point out that the company only acts on high-profile issues, that Reddit’s lack of moral standards for its users allows these situations to develop and makes it much harder for the company to police them when they do, and that the site’s users suffer as a result of its haphazard approach:
This is just what happens when your stance is that anything goes. If you allow subreddits devoted to sex with dogs, of course people will be outraged when you take down something else. If you allow subreddits like /r/niggers,of course they’re going to be assholes who gang up to brigade. The fine users of /r/jailbait are sharing kiddy porn? What a shocking revelation. The point is, you can’t let the inmates run the asylum and then get shocked when someone smears shit on the wall. Stand up for standards for a change. Actually make a stance for what you want reddit to be. You’ll piss off some people but who cares? They’re the shitty people you don’t want anyway. Instead you just alienate good users who are sick of all of the shit on the walls.
If Reddit thinks it’s a government, it should be considering how to govern well, not how to absolve itself of the responsibility to govern at all.
“Today, videogames are for everyone. I mean this in an almost destructive way. Videogames, to read the other side of the same statement, are not for you. You do not get to own videogames. No one gets to own videogames when they are for everyone. They add up to more than any one group.”
“When there’s no immediate threat to our understanding of the world, we change our beliefs. It’s when that change contradicts something we’ve long held as important that problems occur.”