The origin of the selfie stick

The selfie stick actually predates the smartphone:

My daughter, Sage, and I were travelling. She was young, and we were actually in Italy, at the Pontevecchio, and she was taking a picture of me. I was taking a picture of her, and then [we were] trying to flag down somebody who understands English, which is not always . . . [We'd] have to wait to see who might be likely, someone wearing a camera, maybe. Or I’d stabilize it on a fencepost of some sort and set the self-timer and have to run in to the shot. I kept thinking, “There’s got to be a better way.”

A fascinating interview with a man with a reasonable claim to be the inventor of the Wand of Narcissus

Should we be taking a harder look at the potential ad revenue of the (defunct) Gigaom? Rick Waghorn thinks so:

Maybe, just maybe, the fall of the Gigaom empire is the first tremor of a bigger earthquake; evidence that something is seriously awry in the relationship between publisher and advertiser if 6.5m passionate tech readers when matched to widely valued original content can’t deliver a living for the journalists concerned.

Short version: Gigaom seems to have had a big enough audience to draw a decent ad revenue, but not enough to support the size of staff it was running on. The more I read about the fall of the tech site, the clearer it becomes that the mismanagement of the company was the biggest single reason for the failure.

Talking of services with two tiers of users, Twitter is making life nicer for its elite “verified” users:

Quality filter allows verified users to hide tweets in notifications containing threats, offensive or abusive language, duplicate content or that are sent from suspicious accounts, similar to the old “filtered” option users had previously. The renamed feature appears to be still rolling out.

Useful for depriving trolls of some of the response they’re looking for - namely “big” names seeing their bile. But as yesterday’s online fracas shows, non-verified users get abuse, too. Just a first step there, Twitter.

[via The Next Web]

A rule of thumb for Medium

Marco Arment, 18 months ago:

Treat places like Medium the way you’d treat writing for someone else’s magazine, for free. It serves the same purpose: your writing gets to appear in a semi-upscale setting and you might temporarily get more readers than you would elsewhere, but you’re giving up ownership and a lot of control to get that.

Still good advice

Welcome to medium Matthew Butterick:

Among web-publishing tools, I see Medium as the equivalent of a frozen pizza: not as wholesome as a meal you could make yourself, but for those with out the time or motivation to cook, a potentially better option than just eating peanut butter straight from the jar.

He’s talking about typography - appropriately, given that his site is called Butterick’s Practical Typography and is stunningly lovely to read - but it applies just as much to running your own blog or site as opposed to just publishing on Medium.

And sure enough, he explores that idea:

Rather, because gentle scrutiny reveals that these systems are powered by a form of human fracking. To get his fracking permit on your territory, Mr. Williams (the multi billionaire) needs to persuade you (the writer) that a key consideration in your work (namely, how & where you offer it to readers) is a “waste of time.”

If you really believe that, then by all means, keep using the billionaire’s typewriter.

Make no mistake - the team behind Medium aim to make money from the service. And they’re already in danger of building an ecosystem of lords and serfs - those who get paid for their work, and those who don’t, those who get their own domains, and those who don’t - an elite of established content creators and the hoi polloi of mere users.

We’re a very long away here from the sense of the democratisation of publishing that blogging used to hold.

That’s not to say that Medium isn’t a useful tool. Or indeed, that this is inherently a bad thing, which it’s not. It just requires you to be careful in where you commit your time and effort; caveat auctor, if you like. Be sure you understand the value exchange you’re participating in. Your words will help Medium make money.

How is publishing them at Medium helping you achieve the things you want to do?

If you don’t have a clear answer to that, you’ve just been fracked because you like the new, shiny thing.

Medium continues to evolve at a fair old clip;

But the most interesting - and possibly telling - move is the arrival of custom domains on the platform:

We’re starting out with a very limited beta for a select few publications. We are delighted to have partnered with New America to bring you context.newamerica.org, with Midcentury Modern at its new home midcenturymodernmag.com, and with Substance at substance.media. Rounding out our list of launch domains is Medium’s very own comics publication thenib.com. You can learn more about these publications here.

Your publishing brand, on Medium

So, now you can run your publication on Medium on your own domain name, so you’re not trapped on the platform forever. That’s an encouraging move.

The problem? It’s a curiously top-down approach. We’re seeing only established publishers given access to these tools first. Now, if Medium continues with its existing patterns of behaviour, this will eventually be available to everyone, but that could be a year away.

This is very different to the models of publishing platforms we’ve seen in the past. They’ve tended to support and celebrate the independent publisher who grew an audience on the platform, and then later see existing brands join the party. Here, the existing brands get first play, and the rest of us wait. In effect, Medium is starting where Twitter has evolved to: as a two tier service, with existing publishers getting a better service than the general mass of the user base.

Some might see that as a good thing - but I can’t help worrying that this is severely restricting Medium’s potential to be a home for innovative publishing experiments.

Another argument for not just owning your content - as you do even if you publish on Medium - but owning the space you publish on, too.

Can we design for more time?

Playground

Here's a good question:

If digital technology saves time, how come so many of us feel rushed and harried? Technological utopians once dreamt of the post-industrial society as one of leisure. Instead, we are more like characters in Alice in Wonderland, running ever faster and faster to stand still. Is digital technology at once the cause of time pressure and its solution?

The (proposed) answer is that we're making conscious design choices with our technology that need to be challenged - and changed.

Food for thought on a Sunday morning.

(And yes, I'm aware of the irony that I'm blogging at quarter to nine on a weekend morning)

Corporate bureaucracy kills the network, says former MySpace VP, Sean Percival:

“The analogy I use is like you were the half-time [basketball] coach, and I walk in and it’s half-time, and you’re down by 100 points … They had been beat down by that corporate bureaucracy, they knew they were about to lose to Facebook. They knew that the end was near. They could smell it.”

Short version: News Corp internal bureaucracy slowed site development to a crawl, making it unable to challenge Facebook. But the long version is worth reading.

No wonder Zuckerberg was so keen to keep Facebook independent.

[via Post*Shift]

Naming that GoPro tune

If you watch a number of GoPro-type extreme sports videos, you’re probably deeply familiar with this track:

This tune is indelibly marked in my head as the “Le Web tune”, because as I sit in the main stage area, finishing liveblog posts, high-energy GoPro videos are often playing with that track in the background.

For me, Crystallize by Lindsey Stirling, from her self-titled album, will always be of Paris (although, ironically, I met Lindsey in London.

But, for most people, it’s the GoPro music, and James Trew has gone to great lengths to understand why it’s so used in those videos:

Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya lectures on the neuroscience of music and emotion at Goldsmith’s University, London. Unsurprisingly, he says it’s complicated. “When a musical piece is chosen to go along with a visual scene, what’s needed is the congruency of meaning across both dimensions — musical and visual,” he says. “The answer lies, in my view, not just in the music, but the various ways that meanings emerge out of the video.” The trouble being, that meaning is a deeply subjective thing.

It’s a fascinating look at how something so subjective can lead to remarkably uniform results.

Markdown guide image

One of the single best investments of time I’ve made in recent years was learning Markdown. This sums up why:

Once you get the hang of Markdown, it’s an incredibly powerful writing tool which will allow you to write rich content for the web far faster than almost any other method. To get to that point, however, there’s a little bit of a learning curve.

And to help, the nice people behind the Ghost blogging platform have put together an Ultimate Guide to Markdown that really smooths the process of learning to write in it. If you’re serious about time-efficient writing or the web - take a look.