The funny thing about language is that sometimes a single word can have two opposite meanings. Smarter people than me call these words “auto-antonyms.” For example, the adverb “periodically” can mean:
- Recurring at regular intervals of time, but also
- Repeating at irregular intervals
When I launched this newsletter, the central gimmick was that it would be published every week, aligning with the first definition above. Effective immediately, the publication schedule will reflect the second definition: irregular, sporadic, from time to time. And I don’t even have to change the name!
I’m going to continue to write, I hope you continue to subscribe. Talk to you soon.
Smart folks like Chris Messina have been talking a lot lately about “Conversational Commerce,” the ability to deliver information and brand experiences through natural language, meeting their customers where they live — their messaging apps. Industry observers like Casey Newton have been tracking these trends closely and went deep earlier this year on The Search for the Killer Bot. Even Adweek have is getting into it, so it was no surprise that Facebook’s F8 conference was all about the bot.
“We think that you should just be able to message a business in the same way that you message a friend,” Zuckerberg said. And it was so. And the bots were bad, but the tech journalists were cautiously non-committal as to whether this was A Good Thing because, really, what tech journalist can afford to write off and/or anger Facebook?
All the geeks go on about how hard it is to make a decent chatbot and all the marketing folks are worried about getting the brand voice just so and of course the Simpsons did it first.
It’s a bot, bot, bot, bot world.
Taking this week off from the newsletter proper to digest what’s happening in Facebookworld. Had half an article written but if you want to hear a bunch of half-cocked thoughts about bots you can just read every other article published today.
See you next week, but until then:
…and people have terrible ideas. Garbage in, garbage out.
Short and sweet this week: you owe it to yourself to check out Techies, a series of portraits and interviews from Helena Price that tell the stories of those underrepresented in the tech industry. In Price’s own words:
”I started this project with two main goals: I wanted to show the outside world a more comprehensive picture of people who work in tech. I also wanted to bring a bit of attention to folks in the industry whose stories have never been heard, considered or celebrated.”
The photography is stunning and the interviewees are generous to share their lived experiences in the frequently homogenous world of technology. Give it a try: you can view the project in full or follow along one story per day on Medium.
And if you, like me, frequently find a trip to the office to be similar to gazing into a mirror, maybe Techies will be a starting point for imaging what a more inclusive future would be like.
Genius, the occasionally noxious, always useful, frequently brilliant platform for annotations might be wishing for a couple more highlights this week, after an article by Chelsea Hassler called out the company’s News Genius product as being a potential tool for abuse and bullying. Recently reinvigorated by the hiring of Leah Finnegan, News Genius builds on the power of the Genius Web Annotator to aggregate annotated articles from across the web. By simply prepending “genius.it/” to a valid URL (like this one), a Genius user can annotate the content without the publisher’s permission or even knowledge of the annotation. Hassler believes this becomes especially problematic when paired with the frequently misogynistic nature of so many online interactions:
“There’s a lot of truth to that. Female bloggers have a long, sordid history of harassment on the Web — Gamergate is just the tip of the iceberg — and while Genius-enabled annotations could theoretically bring a larger audience to unknown writers, some denizens of the Internet are not seeking to broaden their page views; they actively wish to stay in their own circles, avoiding potential readers who are likely to be unfriendly.”
Hassler’s article and the (annotated) discussion around it eventually made it to Congresswoman Katherine Clark who reached out to Genius for comment via her social channels. Genius responded and they have added a “report abuse” button to each annotation – a good and necessary move but one that has been known to telegraph a lack of thoughtfulness about issues of abuse. And since that last link brought Anil Dash into this, I’m obligated to link to his seminal article about building online communities titled “If your website’s full of a-holes, it’s your fault.”
If you read Dash’s recommendations, it seems like Genius is following that playbook fairly closely: paid moderators, posted policies, accountable identity. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if these authors are asking Genius to annotate their content. The good and honorable thing to do here is for Genius to provide an opt-out so those who don’t want to participate aren’t compelled to. That said, it’s more than a little bit interesting that after extensive annotation, Slate published three corrections to the original piece.
The team is tasked with taming the daily flow of content and reanimating the NYT’s vast archives.
“News is and will always be the heart of (our) service,” French said. “But for an organization that puts out 350 stories a day — the equivalent of a Harry Potter book a day — we do a lot more than just tell you what the news is. We tell you how to live a better life.”
Medium founder Ev Williams sits down with Ad Age to hash out the present and future of the platform (publisher? platisher?).