Age of Twitter accounts in #gamergate

I thought that yesterday's brief post on #gamergate would be all I had to say on the subject - but two really interesting posts caught my attention, that I want to bring to yours.

First up, some serious data work. Andy Baio has done the hard work of scraping 3 days of #gamergate and #notyourshield tweets, and done some analysis on them. His central finding is this:

Two massive, impenetrable hairballs of people that want little to do with one another, only listening to their side and firing volleys across the chasm.

And that's visualised beautifully.

He also points out that the average age of the Twitter accounts used by #gamergate supporters skews very, very recent, as the graph at the top of this post clearly shows. Baio's careful to not suggest that it's the result of sock puppetry - but it's another data point to suggest that there's some of that at work.

My friend Kevin Anderson weighs in on the subject of sock puppets and false flag campaigns:

When you look at the techniques being used by some of these groups, such as creating sockpuppet social media accounts and using feminist critiques as a weapon against Brianna Wu (to demonstrate that her games were “anti-feminist”), you quickly get a sense of how the next partisan political scorched earth campaign will be fought. Sockpuppets will become the weaponised drones of popular opinion, amplifying marginal views so that they swamp mainstream opinion

And he raises a spectre of this becoming standard operating procedure for fringe groups wanting to persuade the media that they're more numerous than they really are:

Who needs robo-callers push-polling voters when you’ve got an army of AI-driven Twitter and Facebook accounts all spewing your line and endlessly quoted by cable TV show hosts who don’t care if the accounts are real, only if they reinforce their own talking points? They’ll be found out eventually, but it will be too late.

It's really beholden on us as journalists to develop a sophisticated enough understanding of social media and how it operates, and the data skills to analyse behaviours in the way that Baio did, to counteract this. If we take one thing away from #gamergate, it's that a minority can magnify their voices through smart use of technology. (It's arguable that ISIS is another example of this.)

Social media and data journalism aren't quirky digital add-ons - they're essential tools in our journalistic arsenal to understand, interrogate and report on the world around us. If we don't equip ourselves with these tools, we'll be used by those who have done so.

A little summer in autumn

An autumn afternoon on the Adur

What a remarkably warm and sunlit day that was, for late October. It almost felt like a last gasp of summer - if the light hadn't been so utterly wintery.

Heating on soon, I think...

Facebookery

There's a fascinating piece from David Carr on the New York Times website today, looking at the relationship between Facebook and news publishers. But it needs to be read with caution. Some parts of it make me uneasy. It's very much filtered through a "news publishers are important" view of the world, and it makes me question whether Facebook is as committed as Carr suggests. For example:

The social network now has over 1.3 billion users — a fifth of the planet’s population and has become a force in publishing because of its News Feed, which has been increasingly fine-tuned to feature high-quality content, the kind media companies produce.

That misses the point, I think. The News Feed is fine-tuned to show photos and videos from your friends, and a small selection of high quality content items - and that value of "quality" can vary hugely depending on the social neighbourhood of the Facebook user. See what I mean about a news publisher-centric view of the world?

Still, the intersection of Facebook, mobile and news publishers is an interesting one. Facebook is a huge traffic driver - Twitter pales in comparison - and publishers have been terribly slow in adapting to mobile publishing. Will publishers end up handing too much power to the big blue giant is a rush for Zuckerberg's users?

One possibility it mentioned was for publishers to simply send pages to Facebook that would live inside the social network’s mobile app and be hosted by its servers; that way, they would load quickly with ads that Facebook sells. The revenue would be shared.

Giving people one less reason to leave Facebook will not be good for any of us, I suspect.

Some advice for publishers:

  • Anything Facebook is doing is about preserving Facebook, not the news business
  • Never rely on one traffic source. Facebook makes sense as part of a search/social/e-mail/app mix
  • Always look at how you can bring Facebook readers back to your site at some point
  • Take any advice you can on improving your mobile experience from them.

Some other points of note:

A few other things worth commenting on in Carr's piece:

For traditional publishers, the home page may soon become akin to the print edition — nice to have, but not the primary attraction.

Any traditional publisher that still thinks that the homepage is the primary attraction is in a world of trouble already. This has not been the case for a long time.

In the last few months, more than half the visitors to The New York Times have come via mobile — the figure increases with each passing month — and that percentage is higher for many other publishers.

Further evidence that we're right at the mobile tipping point. So many publishers have now crossed the 50% mobile threshold, that if you're not, there's probably something very wrong with your site.

Obligatory #gamergate post

ampp3d on #gamergate

Seriously abbreviated version of the #gamergate mess:

A bunch of predominantly male gamers are using "concerns about the ethics of games journalism" as a shield for a series of deeply misogynistic attacks on prominent women developers, critics and even celebrities.

Does game journalism have ethics problems? Yes. Are they any worse than those over other branches of journalism? No.

However - we in the media might be guilty of one thing: giving the #gamergate supporters too much publicity. As Ryan Cooper points out:

[…} there aren't that many committed Gamergaters, a few hundred at most. They openly boast of using sock-puppet accounts and bots to give the illusion of strength.

It's not quite as clear-cut as he makes it sound - there are many more people than that who define themselves as in support of #gamergate - but that's certainly about the size of the core. Indeed, it's the mainstream media's lack of understanding of sock puppetry and non-Facebook and Twitter social tools that mean that many mainstream press accounts don't really understand the underlying dynamic of the movement.

The end of the gamer

I suspect that lurking under this is the fact that "gamer" is becoming meaningless as a term. Would you describe yourself as a "televisioner" or a "cinemaer"? No - because these are mainstream activities, and you actually have to look to sub-genres to find some sense of identity from them. Think "horror movie buff" or "historical drama fan". Gaming is reaching the same point. The number of people NOT playing some form of digital game is rapidly becoming vanishingly small. There will always be some - just as there are those who don't watch TV. But not many.

It can be profoundly unsettling to have something you hang your identity on assimilated by the mainstream - that's at the root of people in their 20s complaining that bands have "sold out" when they become popular.

Dealing with shifting identity is part of being an adult, though. And no sense of threat justifies this sort of behaviour.

tl;dr - #gamergate in two sentences.

  • Games journalism is no better or worse than most journalism in its ethics
  • None of this justifies your insecure misogyny

FirstFT

Slightly baffling e-mail from the Financial Times press team this morning:

Financial Times readers can now receive the FT’s daily top picks of global news, comment and analysis from around the web by signing up to FirstFT. Concise and engaging, this free email features must-reads from the FT and other sources.

Smart move. The FT has been publishing morning e-mails since at least 2006 - but this is a distinct step upwards from the traditional "list of stories we've published" or "written communication" e-mails we've seen in the past. In the last 18 months, we've seen an emergence of the morning (and evening) e-mail almost as a publication in its own right, and the FT adopting this mode shows that it is willing to learn from the successes of, say, Quartz, one of the acknowledged masters of the form.

But this is an odd quote from the FT's new head of aggregation:

Andrew Jack said: “In an age of information overload where readers are shying away from the perpetual social media stream, trusted editorial judgment and aggregation is an increasingly valuable convenience for busy readers. FirstFT is carefully crafted, analysed and illustrated by our world-class journalists and provides a new way for readers to get the FT’s take on the essential news of the day.”

"shying away from the perpetual social media stream"? Really? I'd like to see some data to back up that assertion, because that reads to me like exactly the sort of wishful "people want gatekeepers" thinking that has blighted digital journalism for a decade or more. A good morning e-mail is a useful addition to a publisher's armoury, not in any way a replacement for social media, which remains one of the biggest traffic drivers on the web.

I'd agree with pretty much everything he says after that odd assertion about social media, but that first section worries me. Yes, information overload is a problem. Yes, a smart curated response to that is a good and useful thing to do. But that's not the same thing as "shying away from perpetual social media stream".

Scanning the e-mail

The design of the e-mail is interesting - but looks like it needs a little more work. Bolding the first few words of each paragraph does increase scannability - but they need to think a little harder about those words. Some of them really aren't very informative. These two are too generic:

Global banks put to the test

Foxconn moves up the value chain

Do either of those actually convey enough information to tease you into reading more? I'd suggest not. My eyes glide over their profound genericness.

And this is a pun which you have to decipher, which defeats the object of a scannable e-mail:

Microsoft is floating on air

Yes, it's a cloud pun. Ho ho.

I suspect that the team are making the mistake of writing the e-mail to be read, rather than scanned. E-mails like this work best as a scannable list of quick information nuggets and links. They're requiring too much cognitive effort from the reader to decipher what's being put in front of them, and that defeats the object of a morning "catch-up" e-mail.

Still, early days. Hopefully they've got some robust analytics underlying the system so that they can test, learn and improve.

The Flickr iPad app

Few apps have deserved the response "at last" more than the Flickr iPad app. The fact that it has taken over four years for this to surface is a sign of just how much Yahoo has dropped the ball with the service over the years. But, hey, they're playing catchup, and they've done a really nice job of it with this app.

Browsing and searching through photo streams is easy, photos open smoothly into full view even on my aging iPad 3 (which will be replaced by a sparkly new iPad Air 2 next week...), and the information overlays use iOS's translucency beautifully. It also integrates nicely with iOS8's extensions system, allowing you to share photos around easily. It's a really nice piece of work. They may have done this late, but they've done it right.

There's no doubt that the iPad is just a superb experience for browsing and interacting with photos. I've had a really pleasurable time today browsing through friends' photos as well as exploring some of my own. If you have an iPad and are a Flickr user – current or lapsed – it's well worth a download.

The Flickr problem

Every time I mention Flickr - as I did this morning when I read about the app - I get at least one response along these lines:

It's a reasonable position. As I mentioned above, Yahoo's stewardship of the once market-leading photo sharing app has been less then stellar. The changes in the Marissa Mayer era of Yahoo have not always been well-received by users.

But here's the thing - I don't know of any other service that really does what it does. Instagram is great, but is very much a mobile-centric service, with limited support for those of us with large archives or an SLR and CSC habit we've yet to break. 500px is a little more arty in nature than I'm comfortable with for the majority of my photography.

So Flickr remains part of my social media arsenal, until something that genuinely exceeds it comes along. And given that Yahoo finally seem to be going in the right direction, I'm not sure how likely that is right now.

Time-travelling to Exeter

Here's an example of something that Flickr is still great for. The iPad app has inspired me to take a little time today to go through another set of photos from 2002. I've been steadily working through my digital photo collection, starting in 2001 when I bough my first digital camera, and working onwards, making sure they're all well edited, tagged and described.

I'm in 2002 right now, and that's brought me to a summer weekend in Exeter. The photos are a mix of images from my first (2MP!) digital camera (a Minolta), and scanned images shot on film. They're fun - but most importantly, they're of the weekend I got engaged. Special times. And now I have a backup online, with those photos I want shared publicly available to all. And already one has found a new life:

That's what Flickr's still great at.

You can see the full Exeter album on Flickr - or view it below:

Into Yosemite

Installing Mac OSX Yosemite

Oh, and I'm now working full-time in the new Mac OS version: Yosemite. It probably won't be released to the public until after Thursday's Apple event, but the public beta is now essential at Gold Master, and the version I've been running off an external hard drive seems stable. It's now on my "production" machine - and eight hours in, all seems fine.

The price of the four-day weekend

Morning Tom Foolery

I sometimes underestimate just how different the life I choose to live is. I can often work where I want - like the coffee shop I'm sat in right now. I have a lot of freedom to pick and choose the people I work with - and have taken satisfaction is severing ties with people who proved unpleasant as clients. I don't have a boss, or a full-time job. My time is pretty much mine to manage, but that comes with choices. For example, I've just spent four solid days looking after my toddler daughter, picking up some of my wife's days, so she can get a handle on her work as term really kicks in.

And I always, always, always underestimate how tired I'll be after a day looking after that tiny bundle of explorative energy. "Oh, I'll do some blogging and catch up on e-mail after she goes to bed," I say. Hah.

rampaging-hazel-pop.jpg

And so I find myself tearing through a Tuesday, trying to catch up on the work I haven't been able to do for over half a week. It's at times like this that I almost - almost - feel like going and getting a proper job again. The eternal problem with working for yourself is that there's no such thing - mentally, at least - as office hours. Your income is completely dependent on how much you work, and thus any time where you could work can lead to you feeling guilty for not doing so. Frankly, I'm the most demanding boss I've ever had.

And then I remember that little rampager, and remember she needs time with her parents far more than she needs more toys, and I try to settle down and live comfortably in the choices I've made.

#selfie culture

Is selfie culture rendering moments lesser than your role in them, and the record of them? Even if it is - is it a problem? And is it even new? I have a relative that doesn't see the point of most photos that don't have a family member in them...

The end of The Magazine

The end of The Magazine

Pioneering sub-compact magazine The Magazine is going away:

The Magazine will cease publishing its regular every-other-week issues with the December 17, 2014, edition. We don't see this as a failure, but as the right time. The Magazine was frankly gloriously profitable in its first year as readers came onboard to try out the app and the format, but they then very slowly trickled away. This was abetted in part by Apple's decision to hide Newsstand apps, a constant complaint by readers who simply forgot when we had new issues appear. We also have problems getting notifications to work reliably, which led to more people forgetting, and thus canceling subscriptions.

I suspect that there was a deeper problem: even as a long-term subscriber (I've been subscribed since issue 1), I would struggle to tell you exactly what The Magazine is about. When it launched, it was a technically revolutionary digital magazine, that was small and tight, and largely filled with well-known Apple and design pundits writing about other things. In the two years since, it's retained the idea of being a magazine about other things for people interested in tech - but that's a brutally hard sell. And retaining and recruiting readers is the hardest part of any magazine. As founder Marco Arment said:

Many non-ideal factors and decisions I made up front probably contributed to The Magazine not being sustainable forever. But the biggest challenge was simply that running a magazine today is a really tough business. I thought making a high-quality app was the hard part that was keeping iPad magazines from being more successful, but the app turned out to be the easiest and least important part of the business.

Rather ironically, most big publishers have their markets well sorted, but their technology is a disaster area. The Magazine is failing for the opposite reason - great tech, but an un-marketable concept. I'd really like to see more big publishers do some interesting things with TypeEngine (the platform behind latter issues of The Magazine, targeting niches within their existing audience with lightweight, cheap magazines.

Magazines have always worked best in clearly defined niches (with a few, large and notable exceptions). The internet has only made niches more important as time goes on.

The Magazine was filled with fantastic journalism, exceptional photography and great illustration - but without a compelling hook, that wasn't enough.

Still, well worth checking out the next eight issues, and the vast archive, if you're interested in good journalism and an interesting digital publishing concept, even if it's approaching its end.