social networking

How Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to find out who you are

How Cambridge Analytica used Facebook to find out who you are

No doubt you know all about this and other Facebook data scrapes and breaches by now but this cartoon explanation, by Eleri Harris and Andy Warner at The Nib is a useful explainer.

Note: I had an early Facebook account but dumped it after a year as I didn’t particularly like the Facebook design and found it less than useful. When Facebook bought Instagram I dumped that too. To me, there’s something questionable about social tools that attempt to pull people in by appealing to their desire to become more popular. Yes, I realize that Facebook and Instagram are more than that, but these (popularity) tools are deeply engrained in their designs. What people will do to become and remain popular is bothersome to me. Flickr does this and I ranted about it a number of years ago: Flickr Explore.

Of course, WordPress (this site) does this as well… Sigh.

Painting in the Dark

The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark from Delve on Vimeo.

“Painting in the Dark: The Struggle for Art in A World Obsessed with Popularity is the long overdue follow up to the Long Game Parts 1 & 2 which looked at the creative ups and downs of Leonardo da Vinci. In this new video essay, I’ve taken a look at the forgotten difficult years of another celebrated artist and wondered what it means for creative people working today.”

This is a fantastic video essay by Adam Westbrook that uses the life and work of Vincent Van Gogh to illustrate the idea that people who are driven to create, many times do so in obscurity without much recognition to drive them during their lifetimes.

It also illustrates the messiness of a growth process: people aren’t machines, they make good and bad choices in their lives and have ups and downs. No doubt some of our greatest minds (artists, scientists, and others) have never been discovered and their ideas go to the grave with them.

Adam has made other essays leading up to this one that you should have a look at as well. His Vimeo channel is: Delve.

[via Colossal]

Beware internet lynch mobs

The Photographer, The Entrepreneur, The Stockbroker And Their Rent-A-Mob

Jeremy Nicholl has written an amazing commentary on a fascinating and controversial series of events. Warning, takes a while to load but it does load.

A quick backstory:

The photographer Jay Maisel took a picture of Miles Davis for the cover of the famous album Kind of Blue. Maisel owns the copyright to the image.

Many years later Andy Baio decided to use the image as the basis for the graphic design for the cover of a new album, Kind of Bloop. The new image is highly pixelated but the original image can be made out.

Maisel sued Baio for copyright infringement. Baio, who is well known on the web posted Kind of Screwed describing what happened to him and his feelings about fair use. Baio’s post is well worth reading just for his history of the fair use issue no matter how you feel about this particular incident.

Then things got ugly as people who had no idea who Jay Maisel was formed a lynch mob and went after him both on the internet and at his studio. The most vocal of these people was/is a guy named Thomas Hawk (a pseudonym for Andrew Peterson) who my friend Dale and I have been disgusted with since from the early days of flickr. Hawk/Peterson is a professional victim and ambulance chaser, wherever there’s controversy there’s Thomas Hawk, usually claiming victimhood for himself or someone else.

Now that you have a bit of backstory and the names of the major players, read Jeremy’s commentary and don’t forget the comment thread under it, some great posts there.

You may wonder how I feel about this and the truth is, I have mixed feelings about the gray area where copying collides with standing on another person’s shoulders and taking an idea further. The aspect of this that most infuriates me has nothing to do with copyright or fair use, it has to do with internet lynch mobs who can do serious damage to a person without having to take responsibility for it.

The downside of the social internet is that it gives people tools to spread an idea around the world in minutes with no vetting on the accuracy of the idea. As the idea is telephoned through Twitter, Facebook, blogs (like this one) and more it becomes decontextualized or re-contextualized and warped, usually leaving an over-simplified story that is ripe for the likes of Thomas Hawk and his tribe of ambulance chasers.

The Attention-Span Myth

The Attention-Span Myth

Maybe my own brain is faltering in a Web wasteland, but I don’t get it. Whether the Web is making us smarter or dumber, isn’t there something just unconvincing about the idea that an occult “span” in the brain makes certain cultural objects more compelling than others? So a kid loves the drums but can hardly get through a chapter of “The Sun Also Rises”; and another aces algebra tests but can’t even understand how Call of Duty is played. The actions of these children may dismay or please adults, but anyone who has ever been bored by one practice and absorbed by another can explain the kids’ choices more persuasively than does the dominant model, which ignores the content of activities in favor of a wonky span thought vaguely to be in the brain.


On with my distractions.

Problems in the social networking world

A while ago when I was deep into flickr I wrote a piece on how too much concern with the social networking aspects of it can affect one’s photography: Flickr Explore. Now Thomas Webber at The Daily Beast has taken apart how Facebook’s popularity contest works in a fascinating piece: Cracking the Facebook Code.

How does the social media giant decide who and what to put in your feed? Tom Weber conducts a one-month experiment to break the algorithm, discovering 10 of Facebook’s biggest secrets.

The bottom line is that you can game these systems if you want to be popular and Thomas shows you how. But then, being popular on Facebook means what exactly?

The popularity of Facebook and other social networking sites is probably partly the result of people being obsessed with their own popularity. Social networking for the sake of social networking.

I think our culture has hit a new low.

Postscript: Not that this should be a model for anyone but on Twitter I can’t see how people could be following 1000 other people who tweet a lot. How can they have a life among all of that information flying by like a crawl on CNN? I follow about 50 people and try to keep the number manageable so I can actually read the tweets. Anyone I connect with who floods that channel I disconnect from. I’m not interested in minute by minute updates from anyone, including The NewsHour, onPoint Radio or friends. I think many use Twitter as a way to make as many connections as possible and to me, that defeats the purpose of it. Again, social networking for the sake of social networking.


Trolling someone online? Bill would slap you with jail time

Trolling someone online? Bill would slap you with jail time

A new cyberbullying bill aims to punish those who intend to cause “emotional distress” online with fines, jail time, or both. The problem—as usual—is the vague language used in the bill, which leaves many critics concerned that it could be used to censor speech on the Internet.

This bill is controversial and is being attacked by free speech advocates. However, as one who has had problems with trolls in various online spaces, I do think it would be useful if there was a law that gave them pause before they acted.

Maybe the answer is a virtual restraining order that was sophisticated enough to track IP addresses as well as other identification information on the trolls. And, a blacklist of trolls that could be used like Akismet to keep abusers out of online discussions.

The wisdom of community

Derek Powazek on: The Wisdom of Community.

The Wisdom of Crowds (WOC) theory does not mean that people are smart in groups — they’re not. Anyone who’s seen an angry mob knows it. But crowds, presented with the right challenge and the right interface, can be wise. When it works, the crowd is wiser, in fact, than any single participant.

Mail Art to Gary

Mail Art to Gary

Many years ago, before there were weblogs, web sites, the internet as we now know it or other ways to do social networking online there was a network of artists and artist wannabees who partook in something called “mail art” or “postal art.” I was heavily involved in this network for about eight years: about 1978-1986.

Mail art took place in an area where rubber stamps, photocopy art, fanzines, handmade books, cheap gallery space, and the post office intersected. Various fanzine-like mags and fliers were circulated with hundreds of mail art shows all over the world one could mail a “piece” to. In the years I did this I was in many hundreds of shows all over the world. I also exchanged mail art with hundreds of other artists all over the world and I have a large collection of this stuff in my basement, just waiting to be photographed.

During this time I hung out in a bookstore in Eugene, Oregon called “Koobdooga” (A Good Book spelled backwards). I hung out in the store thinking that it might improve my terrible reading skills to just be near books and people who read them. Well, I was right because the manager of the store, Gary Sharp, helped me learn how to read by recommending good books to me and encouraging me to become more “literary.” I eventually even learned how to spell his last name but this is photo evidence of my typewritten spelling at the time. I might have had an Apple II at this point but didn’t use it for this kind of printing.

I eventually merged many of my interests together and made small boxes decorated with photo collages, rubber stamp art, and sometimes lined with old maps and put in them shards or small pieces of ceramics I’d made years before in another art life.

This is a piece that I sent Gary a long time ago that he kept, photographed, and sent me a digital copy of the photo. The idea that he saved this piece is amazing to me but given that I sent out hundreds, maybe even a thousand of them makes things as interesting as knowing that people in other countries read this weblog. Not to assume that anyone else might have saved this stuff, but maybe a few did and my work is all over the world, not via this weblog (which puts it there) but via the US mail, in solid form.

Someday I’m going to set up a macro stand and start photographing my collection of other people’s mail art and post some of it here. It is every bit as visually interesting as the best designed web sites and it travelled around the world at the speed of people, trucks and planes and got archived right here in my house.

I have no idea if the mail art network is still alive or what the web, weblogs, RSS, digital cameras in phones, flickr, etc. have done to it, but for me it was the beginning of thinking about social networking, sharing broadly, and a kind of work that this weblog allows me to continue to experiment with.