tweets’n’such

Twitter is easily the worst place for my mental health with its relentless formula of cynicism and groupthink masquerading as irony, but it provides an incredible wealth of information and perspectives on current events.

It took over a year, but I finally curated an excellent mix of people that provide a reliable stream of useful insight with a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives. The direct access it provides to journalists and political insiders is a thing of beauty. It can often be its own, isolated world, where people continually mistake the shared catharsis of mocking opponents with meaningful engagement. But there is legitimate, educational, enlightening discussion going on there. It just takes a lot of digging to find.

I still don’t feel comfortable contributing or interacting on Twitter. I don’t think I have much to contribute in that format, but I’ve also never really tried. I think it would be quite difficult to navigate towards an experience that would be fulfilling rather than soul-crushing.

Meanwhile, Facebook is utterly dead to me as a place for evidence-based discussion. I have seen zero constructive disagreements take place here since the election. At the same time, this is the only reliable window I have towards seeing actual, confirmed human beings express sincerely-held conservative beliefs. Finding that on Twitter or Reddit is impossible, so I do appreciate the occasional glimpse of “my god he really believes that trump is doing the lord’s work” as a reminder that our election was not a joke.

That leads me to conclude that there is still merit in putting thoughts out there as a means of bolstering representation. Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll give some words to thoughts that others have not yet been able to articulate.

But it’s important to recognize these efforts for what they are. My posts are little more than thinking out loud, an outlet for the stuff that gets bottled up in my brain over time, a mostly selfish act rather than some benevolent community service. I’m not changing the world with my words. Nobody’s going to be won over or convinced solely by what I write.

facebook UX

Facebook is a horribly under-developed platform for discussion and engagement.

Anyone who has spent time on forums, blogs, chat rooms, Slack – anywhere else, really – knows there are a wealth of simple features that would be really useful and powerful.

We need something, anything to alleviate this cramped hellscape of noisy presentation, constant misunderstandings due to limited tools for expression, and complete dearth of tools for curation and moderation. This is where important conversations are happening nowadays, and we deserve a platform that is capable of far more than what it currently offers.

  1. Basic rich-text formatting. Allow bold, italic, underline, and anchors (inline links) for everything. For top-level posts, bulleted/numbered lists and blockquotes. That’s all you need.
  2. Inline images for posts. One image preview shoved at the bottom of a post is not enough. Obviously problematic for comments, but we should be encouraging high quality top-level posts.
  3. Locking posts. Sometimes threads have gone to shit and just need to end. Thread necromancy is fun for memories and jokes but annoying for heated or controversial discussions that just won’t die.
  4. Deeper nesting of comment replies. Even just one more level would go a long way.
  5. Sort comments on posts by replies, reactions, or timestamp. Provide more ways to sift through the noise.
  6. Emoji reactions to comments. Emoji add bandwidth, empathy, and humor.
  7. Emoji reactions to paragraphs or phrases. Like Medium’s highlight feature, except actually useful and fun.
  8. Sharing for comments. A single comment can be the best part of a thread. You can link directly to comments, but this is awkward and unreliable.
  9. Leave a placeholder text when comments are deleted. Threads become unintelligible when it isn’t clear a part of the conversation has disappeared. Indicate whether the comment was deleted by the author of the post vs. a page admin vs. the author of the comment.
  10. Move Like and Reply to the left or right of comments. Replace text with icons. Vertical space is a premium and for any post longer than 3 lines, this is wasted space and noise.
  11. Hide name / profile picture / timestamp for successive comments by the same author. It’s noisy and makes it much harder to read long threads.
  12. Allow highlighted / sticky comments. Let authors select a comment that appears first to set the tone of the conversation. Many blogs and news outlets do this, and it’s useful.
  13. Notify commenters when visibility has changed on a thread they’ve posted to. I’ve seen people get burned by this, and that has a chilling effect on discussion.
  14. Create a separate field for hashtags on posts. Allow posts to join the global conversation without necessitating noise in the post itself.
  15. Scheduled posts / future posting. Sometimes you find stuff you want to share but you’ve already posted a few times today already and don’t want to spam. All the major blogging platforms have this feature — let authors set a time and date for posts to appear.
  16. Allow filtering of your news feed. There are times when you want to see the news, other times you want to see what your friends are posting. There’s filtering by reactions, hashtags, posts with links to articles vs. posts with photos vs. posts with just text. Give people the ability to control the kind of content they’re exposed to.
  17. Separate notifications into reactions, comments on your posts, and replies to your comments. Notifications are ridiculously noisy right now.
  18. Show view counts to authors. We have this for videos, why not for everything else? It’s important.
  19. Add searching for your timeline. There’s no way to find a thread you commented on. It’s hard to find something you posted a long time ago. There’s no easy way to say the things you’ve liked or reacted to. There’s no way to search your photos.
  20. Show the profile intro in the hover popup for profiles. Give people a space to present themselves to people who don’t know them. A profile picture / cover photo / location are not enough. More bandwidth here facilitates more human interactions between strangers.
  21. Tag friends on any post without commenting. Tons of spam / noise is generated by people tagging friends because it’s the only way to generate notifications without putting things on someone’s timeline.
  22. Give control over the size of thumbnail images. Scrolling through your feed, almost half of the real estate at any given time is taken up by stock photos that offer no meaningful information and server only to draw attention.
  23. Colors, damnit. Zebra stripe comments. Apply a pastel background color for comment threads, or colorize the left-hand border. Differentiate threads with unique colors.

outrage loop

The interaction between modern social media and democracy seems overwhelmingly toxic.

More than any previous year, Facebook and Twitter have played a central role in every step of this election cycle, possibly to everyone’s detriment. Facebook shoves breaking news about world events in between wedding photos and clickbait listicles. Everything is competing for our attention.

Modern journalism is enslaved to view counts and there is no room for nuance or depth. Headlines are carefully selected to make people upset, because when we’re upset we click and share. Everyone’s screaming into echo chambers, recursively amplifying outrage.

Our memory seems to grow shorter and shorter. Scandals and tragedies constantly flow through our feeds, but never stick around long enough for the full story. We’re left only with hyperbolic headlines that reinforce our pre-existing notions and biases about the world.

In this environment, it seems that lying is optimal. If what matters most is spreading headlines, then Trump has demonstrated the winning strategy. The man’s tweets are pure, uncut viral gold. Liberal outrage over his nonsense may very well be the fuel for this eternal dumpster fire. We broke one of the basic rules of most internet forums: don’t feed the troll. But we’re way past that advice, now.

It remains to be seen is what lessons other politicians take from this debacle. If we can’t divorce ourselves from this model of news that makes us so susceptible to these loops of outrage, I fear that November 8th will not be anywhere close to the end of what we’ve been experiencing for the last year and a half.

complicated sharing

Vulnerability and sharing are tricky things with social media.

It’s been oft-observed that most people choose to share the positive, exciting parts of their lives here. Vacations, weddings, births, and all the various accomplishments we encounter in life are the meat and potatoes of what people reveal online. They’re safe, they make us look good, they give off the impression that we’re living happy and fulfilled lives.

Certainly, not all negative things get hidden. I see a lot of people sharing their grief over death, especially over time. I remember it being less common in the past, but perhaps we’re getting comfortable as facebook becomes more of a fact of life, in combination with its slow support for varied reactions (until recently, I never felt comfortable liking an announcement of a death).

But there’s so many things that never show up here. It’s not very often you’ll see someone announce that they’re suffering from crippling depression. People generally don’t feel comfortable saying they lost their job, dropped out of school, or failed to achieve one of their dreams. But if you pay attention, you can often tell when something’s up.

We’ve probably all had those moments where you stumble across someone you haven’t kept up with for a while, and the tone of everything they share has changed. They moved. They’re alone in all their pictures. Wait, weren’t they married — oh my god they got a divorce. It’s these moments that remind us how much of our lives remain obscured from most of the world.

Of all the aspects of life that are shared asymmetrically on social media, relationships are probably at the top of that list. It’s universally cool to express your love and affection here. No birthday, anniversary, or wedding dare go unannounced. Even the saltiest cynics will gleefully post every picture with their loved one. But you never see the other side.

It often seems that no one wants to hear about how painful it is to go through a break-up. You won’t find nearly as much support if you want to talk about how much it sucks to be single, how lonely the world can feel without a companion, the emptiness that comes with parting from someone who fundamentally understood you, or the way that memories of past relationships can haunt you at random moments throughout your day.

Admittedly, it’s tricky stuff. Assuming you care about the people in your life – past and present – you have to take so much caution with what you let slip out. Oversharing can damage more lives than just your own. The safest option is often to say nothing at all, to grit your teeth and bear it.

But for myself – and I have to assume for many others – so much of my life experience is wrapped up in my past relationships. I learned so much. There are beautiful memories. intense pain, embarrassment, frustration, lessons learned, time lost, and wisdom gained.

It feels like such a dishonesty to say nothing about these things, but I lack any notion of a healthy way to broach these topics through this medium. I don’t know what the solution is, or if one exists at all. Perhaps facebook will never be a place where that kind of honesty is truly safe.

It seems a grave tragedy that the parts of our lives that would benefit the most from community support, open communication, and honest discussion, are ostensibly the most taboo. How many marriages would benefit if we were more willing to discuss the thorny, complicated realities of long-term relationships? Could we not all learn from each other’s mistakes? Don’t we all have lessons that we wish someone had shared with us earlier in our lives, that might have made us better partners, better human beings?

legacy

I’ve been following with some interest the story of Facebook’s Free Basics endeavor, which was recently shut out of India.  The notion is that Facebook would offer free but heavily limited internet access to developing countries, the rationale being that something is better than nothing in a country like India, where internet penetration is still only at 15-20%.  I will now write briefly about why this is a terrible idea.

Continue reading legacy

fantasybook

After 8 years on Facebook, I deactivated my account this weekend for the first time. I can’t quite say it’s the last time, as it’s turned out that third-party applications are able to reactivate your account (I’m glaring at you, Spotify) – but the idea is to be done with Facebook for all personal matters. It’s still a necessary broadcast node, so I’ve converted to a fan page, but it’s nonetheless on its way out as a core website in my internet experience.

Continue reading fantasybook

nomenclad

In general, I think Facebook is a good thing. It provides a way for people to stay in touch at all distances, it allows people to share cool and important things, and it provides a snapshot of what your peers value and desire. It does not, however, guarantee any kind of parity to reality. People assume that Facebook is showing real people and real lives because it’s real names that are popping up on their screen. What they forget is that Facebook is one giant filter of intention.

What shows up on Facebook is what people want to show up. Go look through your friend’s albums: how many weddings do you see? How many vacations? Babies? Trips abroad? Graduations? Visits with family? Parties with friends? There’s something missing from this picture. Like, say, people getting fired. Funerals. Arrests. Divorces. Suffice to say that we aren’t rushing to Facebook to tell everyone about our imperfections and admit that we’re not as happy as our pictures would have others believe. For the experienced netizen, this is business as usual. It’s a different story for the average Facebook user, however, and I’ve long pondered over how to challenge the way people perceive Facebook. Recently, I found a way.

As a kid, the game of the internet was always to appear older so as to enhance credibility, and the best way to do that was not to give anyone an excuse to look down on me. The first line of attack is always the display name, and by the time I was 13 I’d mostly standardized my name across the various mediums of the internet: salandarin. It was unique, didn’t have numbers (super important!), was easy enough to type, hard to say wrong, and carried a flavor of fantasy without sounding elven or magical. It’s austere and inert.

The preteen me wanted that because it provided a shield against scrutiny. Passivity is a great strategy for avoiding criticism, but it also leaves any hope of quality interaction in the hands my neighbors. Salandarin provided no material for conversation. However, as I became more engaged in online communities at the end of high school, I had earned a few nicknames. I started adopting them because they were flavorful and personal. Since 2008, my display name evolved thusly:

  • salandarin
  • saladman
  • salad
  • sal
  • salmon
  • salmonesque
  • SALMONATOR

I jumped between all of these sprodically for the next few years, using them for alts or special accounts, picking whichever seemed more thematically appropriate for the given environment. I could only have so many, however, as I still needed to log in to the accounts without going through the “Forgot your username?” prompts every time. But then sites started separating account name and display name. In particular, Steam eliminated all restrictions on what display name you could use. Duplicates were fine. Special characters were fine. Really long, or really short. It was all good. So, when I switched from HoN to DotA 2 and found myself using Steam a whole lot more, I realized I had a golden opportunity.

For the unfamiliar – Steam is a platform for playing video games.  Your display name dictates what identifies you in the game.  So, if my display name is SALMONATOR, it’ll tell everyone in the game “SALMONATOR just got a double kill!“, and it’s the name that appears in front of all chat messages.   With that explained, here are just some of the names I’ve come up with over the last year. Yes, all of them were in caps, and I’m proud to say they’re all original.

  • SALMONATOR
  • HEROIC SALMON
  • SMICKDASH
  • CHIROPRACTIC MANSLAUGHTER
  • PREMIUM FOOD STAMPS
  • GONNA POOP ON YA
  • IMPROMPTU BRODOWN
  • BUTT ALCHEMIST
  • PREHISTORIC MOP
  • JANITORIAL MASQUERADE
  • INTERSTELLAR VISIGOTH
  • SERF DUNKING
  • QUESTIONABLE OSMOSIS
  • LOBSTER CANNON
  • CAPTAIN THUNDERFUNK
  • SMUGFRUIT
  • FATSLAP
  • DUMPTURKEY
  • SPOONIST
  • SHAMBURGER

Some of them are silly and lame. Some of them are alright. A few are hilarious. In general, though, a quirky and unique name goes a long way to breaking the ice in the garden of social butterflies that video gamers are known to be.  I can hear people trying not to laugh when they say “dumpturkey” or “butt alchemist” over voice chat, and it’s absolutely great.  Seeing “GONNA POOP ON YA is GODLIKE!” appear on the screen is just a delight. Anything that gets people to chill out and remember that it’s just a video game is a huge winner, and it makes the overall experience better for me (and hopefully others too).

Continue reading nomenclad

You Are SO Not Invited.

I’m surprised that up to this point, not a single person has noted the lack of explanation of the asterisk lying in wait in the header. Once upon a time, before what I dub the “Great Harddrive Failure of 2005” and the resulting “Dark Age of the Internet”, I had utilized this asterisk to note something of extreme importance. The issue here is that I have absolutely no idea what I had noted. I had originally planned to make a footer (the things that go below everything, thus why they are called footers, unless you’re a CommuNazi). Nonetheless, I am nauseated and disgusted by your skills of examination. So much so that both my eyes are filled with angst, also known as blood.

So, I woke up this morning to my eyes telling me “we hate you”. The meaning of this I didn’t understand until I started experiencing exponentially increasing aches in the area of my head, and by third period, I had been informed that both of my eyes were completely bloodshot. After confirming this fact via a quick run to the mirror, I took my first visit to the nurse’s office of the year, and slept rather peacefully for thirty minutes until my dad got me. The ride home was rather painful as the sun was out, and light to my head was the equivelant of mating in the manner of moose and rams (that is, to repeatedly bash your head against a hard object…not…the other things rams do…). After decorating the house a bit (i now have my silly mini tree in my room, it emits about 25 or 30W of happy), I again went to sleep, but not before playing a rousing game of Age of Empires II, which I’m sure most of you are familiar with. For those of you who aren’t, skip this next part.

[geek]

It’s amazing how poorly memory serves to accurately define a staple of my youth. The game is ridiculously easy – I remember finding the computer insanely hard to beat even on the moderate setting, but using the Goths (whose special unit is the Huskarl, that has like 15 piercing armor, costs like nothing, and can be created in less than 3 seconds) I’ve managed to completely own without even a question of my authority. I generally just create my entire army of 100 in less than two minutes, and sweep the entire map in one or two runs. Before I have the resources for the massive recruitment, I create only enough to defend my base as well as my ally’s. Whether this strategy would work in a real game, I don’t know.

I now have the yearning to play Starcraft again – if I get any minor amounts of money this Christmas, I’ll be certain to get the combo. It’s probably down to ten bucks these days.

[/geek]

Various things (no bulleted list here, i’m afraid):

My parents somehow miraculously got me signed up for Ski Club, past the deadline. This is a highly good thing, as such a proliforous amount of people were going this year (as opposed to last year), missing out on the fun would just be no good.

I’ve finally, after like three months, gotten back in touch with a few of the people from camp. Christina and I have sent a few back and forth, and I got in touch with Zach, although I have still left the entirity of Ohio behind. With time, I’ll get there, but for now, I’m a bum.

Things of humor (sorry, no bulleted list again):

If you check out Colette’s Xanga, you’ll see a post concerncing some silly face recognition software that compares your face (hur, hur) to that of a bunch of celebrities. I am proof that this thing is entirely broken. Just look. (grumble)

Two or three posts ago, I gave a little plug for Facebook, encouraging people to sign up. So, they did. I friended these people. And you know what happens? A pentagram, apparantly. My network of friends is one step away from symbolizing the devil. Ryan is the only thing stopping this. Insert fear here.

And finally, let’s have some good times. The next gen is here, and everybody is celebrating. If you don’t get that, I suggest you go watch four hours of press conferences from E3. Like me! I’ve been listening to the song from that thing for at least an hour now, it’s so good.

Now, because cliches are in, I am creating a new status: the conventions of standard English in the titles. As long as cliches are in, there will be a conventions status monitor, which I will create for your pleasure tomorrow. Images shall be included! As soon as cliches are out, however, the status of the conventions will be neither in, nor out. As you can see, the conventions are obviously in (read: capitalization, grammar, punctuation). Dance Katuragi, DANCE!

Shameless? Perhaps.

I have recently been accused of shamelessely whoring myself for the chance of increasing the traffic this site sees. My response? You are 100%, absolutely, positively, without a doubt, correct.

With this fact established, I must move on. Right now, as I have told several of my colleagues, my body feels like nausea. My muscles refuse to cooperate. My head feels like a small child has just discovered the piano and has decided to attempt to play the Tocatta in D Minor with no formal training. My stomache? Let’s not go there. Long story short, I didn’t go to school today, with this being possibly the first day that I actually had a reason beyond hating school to stay home. I hadn’t eaten all day, until I just now ate 4 pieces of pizza, and yet I can estimate no measurable difference in feeling as far as my stomache is concerned.

As far as school is concerned, I face a crossroads of some level of importance. I have three options for physics. I can stay in AP Physics, which will require a bulleted list to explain the advantages and disadvantages.

  • A fairly large amount of work is required.
  • Will require about twice as much work as I’m doing now to hopefully ensure an acceptable grade.
  • Lots of friends in the class, but…
  • …she just changed the seating arrangement to adjust for people that have left the class, separating all of us. Since most of the class is spent listening to her lectures, this basically reduces the fun factor by a lot.

Or, I can move to Honors Physics.

  • Will require minor amounts of work.
  • Will require minor amounts of explaining to the guidance counselor and teacher.
  • Will probably not have many (if any) friends in the class.
  • Will probably require a major schedule change.
  • Will have a better teacher.

Or, I can move to Conceptual Physics.

  • Will require no work at all.
  • Will not require a schedule change.
  • Will require large amounts of explaining to the guidance counselor and teacher.
  • Will have friends in the class.
  • Will be a LOT of fun (or so I’m told).
  • Will have a better teacher.

What do you guys think? I’m willing to keep giving AP a chance, but basically whether I want to stay in or not is determined by the results of this next test. If I could go back, I would certainly do conceptual or normal honors, but having made the bad choice of AP, I have to either live with that or do something about it. Bleh.

[edit]

I encourage you all to go get a Facebook. Akin to MySpace, but far better, and a little more personal. An invitation is required, so let me know if you need one.

[/edit]

[edit^2]

I just noticed there’s a link I can just supply you with to invite you.

Go here.

[/edit]