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The Objectively Objectionable Grammatical Pet Peeve

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A semi-attentive investigation into a confounding sentence type.
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27 days ago
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*The Procession of the Months* (ca. 1889)

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Created sometime around 1889 by Beatrice and Walter Crane, this illustrated series of poems personifies the months of the year as women.

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36 days ago
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This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)


With using Twitter becoming increasingly like smoking — a habit you can’t quit but know you should — there’s a chance that a better RSS reader will finally, finally take hold and scale.

Two years ago, Sara Watson boldly predicted in this space that we might see a return of the RSS reader, or something like it, recognizing that the world of constant email newsletters was simply impossible to maintain. But the appetite wasn’t strong enough yet.

The difference, going into 2023, is that even the Inbox Zero people are going to have a reason to complain. Left without a better way to quickly zoom in and zoom out on the state of the universe (also known as the world according to Twitter), I predict those people will reach a point of frustration in even their ability to manage email.

It is at this point that the most organized people in late capitalism will rise up about a very small matter and demand something better: An RSS for the people, open source, easily used, and not some weird niche version for podcasts or that uses AI.

Two years ago, Substack was becoming a thing, but the newest spawn of DC beltway publications based on newsletter distribution had yet to break through. But now the mix includes Semafor, Puck, Punchbowl, more Axios Locals, and new ones on the horizon like Pluribis News.

There are two types of Inbox Zero people in this world: Those who do not read any news or shop online, and those who use a lot of Twitter. You may recall them talking about how RSS readers were obsolete in a world of Twitter (after all, even Google killed Reader). Twitter could be their perfectly curated and controlled sandbox of content. Now, it’s less socially acceptable to tweet.

Contrary to what The New York Times has speculated, we are not at peak newsletter. We are just at peak newsletter via email delivery. The 10% of people who claim that email newsletters are their primary form of news consumption include among them the most anal, powerful, and high-net worth people in the country.

I predict that these people won’t stand for a universe where their email becomes ever more crowded just because of Elon Musk mucking up Twitter. The only way to survive in a world where multiple DC-insider publications are launching multiple newsletters and Twitter is no longer socially acceptable is to use an RSS reader that satisfies the intelligentsia and political elite.

Will we get it? It may well be that the feed from email to robust RSS reader needs an API that isn’t yet possible, given password-protected, your-and-Gmail’s-eyes-only email. RSS readers may need their own ecology of analytics in order to be commercially desirable and worthy of tech investment.

Given that tech companies have taken to these newsletters to plead their case to the beltway, they certainly don’t want to lose the readers of these email newsletters, either. That provides a market incentive to make a better, bigger, bolder RSS reader. And if Ben Thompson is right that that “text on the internet is arguably the most competitive medium in all of human history,” then there is an opportunity for a very retro version of tech disruption.

Nikki Usher (they/them) is an associate professor in communication studies at the University of San Diego.

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39 days ago
hooray for blurbs!!
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2 public comments
12 days ago
RSS is part of my life for 15 years now, since Google Reader time!

Been using Feedly, Inoreader and now NewsBlur. I wish there were more recipes options with IFTTT though, among other things.
The internets
39 days ago
Oh, the irony... Reading a blog post about the possible rise of RSS readers on my RSS reader.
New Baltimore, MI
38 days ago
RSS Reader? Which one do you use?
38 days ago
It's pretty obscure, you probably haven't heard of it

Music Notes: Best of 2022 Edition

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While I want to focus this post on my favorite albums of 2022, I have to start by noting the passing yesterday of the great Ian Tyson. While I am not much of a fan of the early 60s folk scene, Ian & Sylvia was about as good as it got, outside of the early Dylan albums. “Four Strong Winds” was perhaps the first classic song to come out of that scene and it remains one of the great songs of all time to the present. But for me, Tyson’s real peak came with his 1986 album Cowboyography. By this time, Tyson was decidedly out of fashion. What could be less 80s than an album by an aging folk singer about ranching in Alberta, done without any notes of 80s production values? Nothing. And that’s part of what makes it so great. The version of “Summer Wages” on that album is the best version and that’s a song pretty much equal to “Four Strong Winds” in his catalog. He co-wrote “Navajo Rug” with Tom Russell and it remains one of the best songs either of them wrote. It’s on this album too. “Fifty Years Ago” is a classic cowboy nostalgia song. “Claude Dallas,” an outlaw ballad about the murderous poacher then on the lam after breaking out of prison, is certainly problematic, but it represents a not uncommon point of view and works as a song. “Cowboy Pride” is a great country song about men fucking up their relationships. It’s a near five star album. In any case, Tyson is a huge loss and a sad way to end a year.

Now onto my favorite albums of 2022. I listened to more new albums from this year than any year in my life, partly due to my commitment to these posts and partly because it is fun. If I was to make this list tomorrow, it would be different than it is today. But this is what I got today.

  1. Fontaines, D.C. Skinty Fia

This is my favorite album of the year and the one I keep coming back to. For me, it’s the peak work of this great Dublin rock band. It’s pure guitar rock in the best way–anthemic, crunchy, lyrical, ass-kicking. Great live show too.

2. Kevin Morby, This is a Photograph

For me, this was the best album of Morby’s career. I thought this was the first time that the production really matched the talent. Maybe it is the influence of his partner Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) but the songwriting took a huge step forward here and so did the presentation. Really, a very good album.

3. The Paranoid Style, For Executive Meeting

Possibly I’m biased here, but what can I say–Elizabeth made an absolute ripper here. I don’t know if I like it better than the other Paranoid Style albums per se–they are all very good. But the enormously dense lyrics are so sharp here, the guitars kick ass, and the duet with Patterson Hood was very good for both of them. Great album.

Mary Halvorson, Amaryllis

It’s hard to separate this from her companion album Belladonna, but i thought this was the superior piece. With a new sextet of just amazing musicians and joined by the Davos Quartet on a few tracks, this was a new level of noise and improvisation by one of the all time masters of jazz and I mean that quite literally–her contributions are reaching that made by the long-dead greats of the genre.

5. CLAMM, Care

My favorite punk album of the year and my favorite Australian rock album of the year, these are both high bars given the incredible punk out there and the unbelievably good music scene down under. Noisy and angry, yes, but also lyrical and with a strong sense of song that a lot of punk lacks. This isn’t just an album of thrashy songs that all sound the same. This is an album of carefully crafted rock and roll while also holding true to what makes punk great. Superb work.

6. Kendrick Lamar, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

Some saw the latest Kendrick album as less of a STATEMENT than the last couple but I barely understand what that even means. I thought it was a brilliant and self-lacerating album of the first rank. Maybe it isn’t DAMN, but I mean what is.

7. Julia Jacklin, Pre-Pleasure

Jacklin is a Grade A songwriter from Australia, another of the brilliant people working down there. I almost feel she was born a songwriter. She has that thing that people like Tom T. Hall or Kris Kristofferson had–the preternatural ability to compose a song of tremendous power. I’m not sure this quite matches the jaw-dropping level of Crushing, probably one of the ten best albums of the entire 2010s, but this is very fine music.

8. Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man

Whatever extra attention Shires has gotten because she’s married to Jason Isbell, it’s entirely deserved on the merits. She continues to release albums that range from very good to great, equal to Isbell’s and sometimes better. This is a powerful feminist country album, something we are seeing more of and something that we need to see more of.

9. Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life of Earth

Alynda Segarra continues to move forward with a fantastic career. Building on the excellent 2017 release The Navigator, their first release in five years is designed as “nature punk” full of fury over the state of the planet and our indifference to it. It’s also just damn fine rock music. Great voice, great politics, great music.

10. Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double, March

Fujiwara’s double trio concept–two drummers, two trumpeters, two guitarists–is a lot of fun. When the band is filled with the likes of Taylor Ho Bynum and Mary Halvorson, it’s more than fun. It’s freaking intense and brilliant and everything that free jazz should be.

10 More Very Good Albums from 2022

  1. Rosalia, Motomami
  2. Kronos Quartet, My Lai
  3. Fred Moten/Brandon Lopez/Gerald Cleaver, self-titled
  4. Mitski, Laurel Hell
  5. Cate le Bon, Pompeii
  6. Bill Callahan, Reality
  7. Jake Blount, The New Faith
  8. Leyla McCalla, Breaking the Thermometer
  9. Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen
  10. Drive By Truckers, Welcome to Club XIII

This week’s playlist, made shorter by listening to full Dead shows:

  1. The Del McCoury Band, Del and Woody
  2. The Grateful Dead, Hundred Year Hall (Frankfurt, 4/26/72)
  3. The Grateful Dead, To Terrapin (Hartford, 5/28/77)
  4. Woody Guthrie, Hard Travelin: The Asch Recordings
  5. Gang of Four, Entertainment
  6. Jim & Jennie & The Pinetops, One More in the Cabin
  7. Freakwater, Scheherazade
  8. Chris Stapleton, Starting Over
  9. Norman Blake, Home in Sulphur Springs
  10. Greg Brown, Dream Cafe
  11. Flying Burrito Brothers, Gilded Palace of Sin
  12. Smog, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love
  13. Mitski, Bury Me at Makeout Creek
  14. Sun Ra, Purple Night
  15. The Freight Hoppers, Waiting on the Gravy Train
  16. Buena Vista Social Club
  17. Spring Heel Jack, Masses
  18. Fairport Convention, Liege and Lief
  19. William Parker, Wood Flute Songs, disc 4
  20. Led Zeppelin, III
  21. Miles Davis, Live-Evil, disc 1
  22. Bert Jansch & John Renbourn, Bert & John
  23. Cat Power, You Are Free
  24. John Prine, The Missing Years
  25. Drive By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera, disc 1
  26. Snail Mail, Valentine
  27. Matthew Shipp & Whit Dickey, Reels
  28. Will Johnson, Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm
  29. Wussy, Attica!
  30. Drive By Truckers, English Oceans
  31. Terry Allen, Salivation
  32. Julien Baker, Turn Out the Lights
  33. Juliana Hatfield Three, Whatever My Love
  34. Temet, Imrahan
  35. Bill Callahan, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Suit
  36. Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive
  37. Jeremy Ivey, Waiting Out the Storm
  38. Charles Lloyd & Billy Higgins, Which Way is East
  39. Richard & Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights

Album Reviews: 2

Davido, A Good Time

Sure, it’s the last week to get some 2022 albums in for this here end of the year list, but I started my new albums this week with this 2019 release by Davido, a Nigerian musician who has strong Afrobeat influences, but has just as strong influences from more modern beats and ideas, from Africa, from Latin America, from hip hop, and from various western dance genres. Mostly a pretty cool album. Lots of excellent cameos. Probably a little on the long side, at a full hour. There’s enough filler here that 45 minutes would have made a tighter and more successful album. But it’s still quite good. Album title: appropriate.


Sudan Archives, Natural Brown Prom Queen

Sometimes when you hear an album that is universally reviewed with awe, it ends up being overrated and you wonder what the hell everyone is thinking. Sometimes when you hear an album that is universally reviewed with awe, it kicks ass. This is definitely the latter. Superb work.


Field School, When Summer Comes

Mediocre and fairly lame indie pop from Seattle. It ticks the boxes of catchy licks and lyrics, but the singer is pretty whatever, the lyrics themselves are very whatever, and the music is extremely whatever since these guys sound like they’ve never played together before. This in fact may be the whitest album ever made. As a friend of mine said about it, “It sounds like someone’s idea of the 90s if they only ever had Friends to go on as a reference.”


Soccer Mommy, Sometimes, Forever

I certainly wasn’t the only person to jump on the Soccer Mommy bandwagon after her first album, but I sure am glad I did. She continues to amaze with her excellent songwriting and excellent indie rock sound. The production is a little dirtier here, a little more effect-laden, a little more fun.


Babehoven, Sunk

Nice little album here. The music is whatever, but the emotion of the voice is very real. Deep, striking, fascinating vocals. This deserves further exploration so consider this grade a bit provisional.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics. Oh hey, also New Year’s Eve. Know this is a partying type of crowd here so keep it under control you crazy bastards!

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39 days ago
the tomas fujiwara album here is crazy good, prob my fave of the year
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How Elon Musk Could Actually Kill Twitter

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Sign up for Charlie’s newsletter, Galaxy Brain, here.

Journalists have been declaring Twitter dead for nearly a decade. Observers see flagging user numbers or feel an amorphous, grim vibe shift and pounce, often prematurely. But this week, everyone is fretting and monitoring. As of this writing, Elon Musk appears poised to finalize his Twitter acquisition, and there is, both inside and outside the company, an apocalyptic feel to the ordeal.

At Twitter’s headquarters, in San Francisco, Musk is doing things like wandering around the lobby carrying a porcelain sink (for content purposes) while simultaneously trying to convince employees that he will not, as previously reported, cut 75 percent of staff. One current Twitter staffer told me that “the bootlicking is next level” as anxious employees greet Musk in the hallway, unsure of his plans for his new company and their place in it. Outside the company, power users are mulling plans to bail, and sharing a report that Twitter is already on life support. My timelines are full of earnest eulogies for the platform or fears that it will turn into a 4chan clone once Musk takes the reins. People are waxing nostalgic, sharing greatest-hits threads of good tweets. Dara Lind, a reporter, summed it up succinctly, noting that the whole thing has “big, big last-night-of-camp energy.”

It seems foolish to try to predict what a mercurial person like Musk—who loves to troll and to float ridiculous ideas in public—will actually do to the platform. But it is impossible to ignore that his tenure is an inflection point for the company and, perhaps, for the 2.0 generation of social-media companies, which have been battered by misinformation, a techlash, and changing online behaviors. Platforms and networks rise and fall and even die out naturally—just look at MySpace—but there’s not much precedent for what’s happening with Twitter: A culturally resonant and politically influential platform could, quite suddenly, flame out as the result of new ownership.

Naturally, this has led me to wonder, and to ask those with experience at large platforms, what could Elon Musk actually do to kill Twitter?

[Read: An unholy alliance between Ye, Musk, and Trump]

Those I spoke with agreed that Musk likely couldn’t flip a proverbial switch to destroy the platform immediately. Any harebrained, Muskian idea for a new feature couldn’t get implemented overnight. One former senior employee I spoke with also argued that high-profile, controversial decisions (like the reinstatement of Donald Trump or Alex Jones) would certainly drive some people off the service but would be unlikely, on their own, to cause a mass exodus. They cited past mass-quit movements like #DeleteFacebook and #DeleteUber as historical analogues, suggesting that it’s pretty hard to get huge numbers of people to log off as part of a moral stand. That said, Twitter already appears to be hemorrhaging power users, and it’s unclear how much more the platform can take.

But Musk could certainly kneecap Twitter via inept management. If he really does cut a significant chunk of Twitter staff, that would cause an organizational nightmare. Even if one assumes there’s bloat in the company, former employees argued that Twitter could still lose all kinds of institutional knowledge in the shuffle. That institutional knowledge would be useful in a crisis—the kind that social-media companies have all the time, such as when high-profile users go renegade, or the site goes down, or traffic unexpectedly surges. Those I spoke with were especially worried about losing site-reliability engineers and members of the internal trust-and-safety team, which handles content moderation.

Even if Musk’s cuts don’t affect these departments, his ownership could possibly trigger a wave of resignations from employees in key infrastructural roles.

“These sites—no matter how talented the engineering organization—are often held together by a series of fragile, legacy systems, the precise functioning of which is only truly known to a few people,” Jason Goldman, a member of Twitter’s early team, a former board member, and the company’s former vice president of product, told me. “Without even factoring in nefarious intent, it is easy to imagine scenarios where big mistakes happen because of the kind of disruption Twitter is about to endure. The exact nature of the mistake is impossible to predict, but the increased likelihood of a mistake happening is a reasonable assumption. And it’s more likely to be from some small error that compounds than it is from the large decisions that often end up in the spotlight.”

Sources described a few nightmare scenarios that could legitimately hobble Twitter, which is still used by more than 200 million people every day:

1. Outside hackers and/or hostile foreign governments focus their hacking efforts on Twitter. Because of the massive layoffs and org-chart chaos, Twitter is unable to adequately address the attacks, causing catastrophic breaches, loss of personal information, or extended outages.

2. A stripped-down trust-and-safety team is unable to deal with government subpoenas or complex law-enforcement requests. A bare-bones team might, for example, accidentally assist outside efforts to identify anonymous dissidents and activists in foreign countries.

3. The trust-and-safety team is unable to stop coordinated efforts from fraudsters orchestrating low-level scams. Similarly, a strapped trust-and-safety department is unable to combat or monitor child-sexual-abuse material, sex-trafficking efforts, nonconsensual pornography, and copyright violations.

4. An inexperienced engineer pushes some buggy code and part of the site’s functionality goes down, but the people with expertise in that area of site reliability are not there to help restore it.

5. Musk does indeed roll back Twitter’s content-moderation rules and reduces tools for monitoring and reporting abuse on the platform. As Kate Klonick, an associate professor at St. John’s University Law School who studies content moderation, argued recently, a lack of speech governance, or a dismantled trust-and-safety apparatus, will result in a bad product, less engagement, lower ad revenue for the company, and, ultimately, more radicalized communities.

These scenarios are hypothetical, but they illustrate a truism about platforms: They do not run themselves. They are made up of humans, many of whom have complex jobs overseeing niche parts of the social network, much of which is unseen to the average user.

One former trust-and-safety engineer for a large social network told me that many elements of the job that seem boring or straightforward are actually incredibly fraught, like how to define and take action on different kinds of spam. Trust-and-safety officers in charge of such efforts aren’t just dealing with Viagra ads or crypto-scam bots; they’re figuring out how to handle bulk messages from legitimate political organizers exploiting the platforms for mass messaging. As one person put it, there are good actors and bad actors and also “spammy but not necessarily malicious businesses trying to get you to buy things in between, and all those things can look very similar to machine-learning models.”

[Read: Elon Musk’s texts shatter the myth of the tech genius]

Those with trust-and-safety experience at the platform told me that a big percentage of the job is dealing with the messy edge cases that are difficult for a computer to decipher. Programs might be able to address specific product quirks if a user files a clear help ticket reporting an obvious problem. “But if I wrote in, ‘My account has been hacked because it “accidentally” liked a porn tweet on 9/11 and I’m U.S. Senator Ted Cruz,’ that’s going to be a lot for a computer to unpack,” Brian Truebe, a former Twitter trust-and-safety professional, told me over email.

“A lot of things humans say and do are only easily interpretable/decoded by other humans,” he continued. “And when all speech is happening in a few places, those few places need more humans to review, not fewer.”

Reactionary tech figures such as Musk like to imply that content-moderation teams act as a kind of thought police. But these teams largely work on protecting users’ privacy, complying with laws, or keeping the site from becoming overrun by the kind of spam that no human wants to encounter. “To really have a robust security-and-abuse team, you need a massive amount of actual humans to respond and filter things that need to be filtered out,” Southey Blanton, a systems technician who worked in trust and safety at MySpace, told me. Blanton said that cuts to his team led to a skeleton crew of moderators, who had to rely on imprecise AI tools to get rid of bots and spam—which led to many legitimate human accounts getting banned as well. “Overall, a social-media site is under attack, as well as being overwhelmed, basically 24/7, 365,” he said. “I am fully convinced that if Musk does what he is saying he will do, it will be an absolute shitshow.”

Klonick echoed the sentiment. “Language and the meaning of language always evolves, but on the internet, that happens a billion times faster,” she told me. “And if what online speech governance does is manage the harms of how people communicate, it has to be constantly working and changing. It’s not like an oil change.”

Even under leadership that values moderation, Twitter isn’t exactly known for peace and harmony. There are numerous reasons for this. The tech journalist Ryan Broderick suggested in his newsletter that “Twitter has never been able to deal with the fact its users both hate using it and also hate each other,” and that the platform’s architecture causes such frequent context collapse and infighting that its least aggressive and obnoxious users tend to leave or just lurk. If Twitter is struggling with this now, imagine the impact if Musk does decide to turn the platform into a maximalist speech Thunderdome. The truth that the anti-“woke” warriors refuse to acknowledge is that the economic success of platforms depends on thoughtful, swift content moderation that strikes a balance between open dialogue and chaos. This morning, in a letter to advertisers in which he used the bloodless, platitudinal language of a veteran social-media executive, Musk wrote that Twitter cannot become a “free-for-all hellscape.”

Most of us understandably think of technology platforms in abstract terms. When tech titans like Musk or his text-message friends wonder what all those employees at Twitter are doing, they are, quite foolishly, looking at a social network as if it were a basic piece of machinery. “There’s often a supposition that sites like Twitter must work like a car; maybe they need some routine maintenance every year, but under the hood they mostly just work,” Goldman, the former Twitter VP, told me. But Twitter isn’t a car; it’s a living, breathing, dynamic entity.

Living, breathing things do one thing quite reliably: They eventually die, for all kinds of reasons. They die of natural causes, or because of direct harm. They die because of unforeseeable events. Musk very well could kill Twitter out of malice or hubris, or through calculated, boneheaded decisions. But one possibility seems more likely than others. If Twitter dies at the hands of this billionaire, the cause is likely to be tragically banal—neglect.

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103 days ago
but can he please kill it
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How platforms turn boring

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Russell Brandom on the "Bootleg Ratio," the ratio of original to freebooted content #
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139 days ago
newsblur not boring tell your cool friends
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