Webcurios 17/07/20

Reading Time: 16 minutes

Blah blah blah week blah blah blah.

We have some HOUSEKEEPING to take care of.

Point the first: I am off next week due to having STUFF TO DO that is going to keep me offline for two whole days (unconscionable, I know). You will have to find a way of consoling yourselves in my absence; I am told PCP is ‘similarly engaging’.

Point the second: there is a BRAND NEW issue of Imperica Magazine out RIGHT NOW, featuring the usual smorgasbord of new writing from often-previously-unheard-voices, on a range of topics as diverse as they are. Interesting, erudite and CHEAP at just three quid for an awful lot of reading material.

Point the third – AS OF 31 JULY THIS IS ALL OVER. Publisher Paul has decided, as is well within his right, that he can no longer shoulder the burden of *gestures at the infrastructure* all this, and as such the website and magazine will shut down at the end of the month. You can read more about that here, should you so wish. All of which means that I currently have NO IDEA what is happening with Curios, so, er, anyone who wants to offer me an unconscionable sum to do this with YOUR branding all over it (or, perhaps more sensibly, with your competitors’ branding all over it!) then do hit me up.

Anyway, for the PENULTIMATE EVER TIME ON THIS URL, I am Matt, this is Web Curios, and I neither know nor care who you are because this has always, exclusively, been for me. See you in two weeks for what I imagine might be a slightly emotional last ever Imperica.

By Felicia Chiao

LET’S KICK OFF THIS WEEK WITH A NEW ALL-VINYL MIX BY WESTCOUNTRY CRATEDIGGER THOMAS ‘DAPWEARER’ SPOONER, FULL OF OLD BLUES AND SOUL AND OTHER STUFF!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO SUGGEST THAT IF YOU’RE IN THE UNFORTUNATE POSITION OF HAVING TO CARE ABOUT THE STUFF ABOUT S*C**L M*D** THAT SITS AT THE TOP OF CURIOS YOU MIGHT WANT TO SIGN UP TO MATT NAVARRA’S WEEKLY UPDATE OF NEWS AS IT’S MARGINALLY MORE COMPREHENSIVE AND CONTAINS LESS OF A SUBTEXTUAL IMPLICATION THAT YOUR JOB IS POINTLESS AND THAT YOUR EMPLOYER AND CLIENTS ARE MORONS (IT IS AND THEY ARE):

  • Facebook To Add Licensed Music Videos (In US) (Soon): Artists on Facebook in the US will as of next month be able to add official music videos to their profile JUST LIKE IT’S YOUTUBE! Except it won’t be, it will be Facebook, and thus in all likelihood it will be horrible and a bit unfun; that, though, won’t stop this probably doing quite well. Why? DATA! SO MUCH DATA! Given the fact that all music now is generated by an algorithm which determines its suitability for TikToks (probably), it seems likely that layering the rich, deep, mulchy datasets that Facebook has on each and every one of us over the types of music we like to consume (and how, and where), it’s not surprising that record labels, artists and brands would welcome the opportunity to learn more about exactly the sort of music that, say, 22 year old meme fans from Carlisle like to listen to at 11am. Coming to the rest of the world with tedious predictability…soonish, I’d imagine, though there’s no information beyond this broad speculation available at present.
  • Gmail’s Going To Become Slack (Basically): Oh God it’s a SLOW news week and, honestly, I don’t really care about the fact that Gmail’s going to integrate all sorts of existing GSuite gubbins into its next update. All you need to know is that there’s an update coming, it will let you do a bunch of stuff that you can already do in Slack, Teams et al, and it’s yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that work might one day stop rather than just following you around wherever you go, ‘efficiently’ insinuating itself into every spare waking second of your life like so much evil grouting inbetween the tiles of your soul.
  • It’s Now Easier To Add Multiple Photos To Reddit Posts: “Reddit’s new image galleries will now allow you to post up to 20 images or GIFs on a single post with support for multiple videos in a post coming “soon after launch,” according to Reddit. Any community can enable the Image Gallery feature, but community moderators will need to opt in to allow their members to use it.” There is going to be a lot more bongo, is my HOT TAKE on this.
  • A Guide To Marketing On Pinterest: I have, for several years now, been writing stuff like ‘you really ought to be doing more stuff on Pinterest if you sell domestic-type goods to people’; finally, some practical guidance as to what that might in fact mean! This is a guide to Pinterest by Pinterest, and as such it’s possibly a touch more convinced of the innate benefits of the platform than a more objective assessment might be; still, as an overview of what you can do on the platform and to what end, it’s pretty decent. As a general point, it’s really nice to see a platform produce its own, high-quality how-to guides in simple, readable fashion – more of this stuff, please.
  • Spotify Launches Podcast Charts: To be honest, there aren’t even any real brand implications for this (other than ‘this makes it easier for people to find podcasts by topic, and means that you really should ensure that you put your podcasts on Spotify as well as all the other places’), but I’m including it mainly as my friend Rich always complains he never knows where to find new podcasts and I thought he might find this useful (personal service, right there).
  • The State of Public Relations: Feel free to read this headline out with whichever emphasis you think best fits the context (for the avoidance of doubt, though, I am placing the stress very much on the second word here). This report – the annual one by one of the industry trade bodies, examining the industry’s navel and picking out the malodorous lint from it so we can all have a good old gawp – floated across my field of vision this week and made me quite annoyed, specifically the statistic about the lack of ethnic diversity in the profession. For those of you unaware, I nominally ‘earn’ my living working at the edges of PR; I have worked in/with quite a few PR agencies, small and THE BIGGEST IN THE WORLDZzzzzzzz, I know lots of people who work in the industry, and, look, let’s be honest – PR’s not where the world’s best and brightest end up (nb – which is why I ended up there; I’m under no illusions on this score, trust me). It’s mainly the home for middle-class arts graduates who don’t really know what they want to do with themselves but have a vague idea that ‘the media’ or ‘entertainment’ or ‘the creative industries’ is a fun bucket to end up in and so TO THE PRESS RELEASES, THOMAS!! CAN EVERYONE STOP HIRING MEDIOCRE WHITE PEOPLE PLEASE? Given we can all see that current hiring practices – to whit, ‘hiring people who look and sound exactly like the people doing the hiring’ – isn’t exactly creating hives of brilliance and intellectual acuity, why not try making an effort not to hire blond people from West London who have decided to get into PR because ‘after three years of being a playwright, it’s just not working out and I need to start earning some money’ (this is, I promise, an example drawn from life FFS)? Did you know that before working in comms I had never met anyone who wore a signet ring, and didn’t even know what one was? Do you know how many I’ve met in the past 20 years? CAN EVERYONE IN PR STOP BEING A POSH, SLIGHTLY-STUPID WASTE OF FLESH PLEASE? Thanks everyone!
  • The Roger: This is childish, fine, but I am including a link to this site partly because it’s quite slick and shiny but mainly because it is called The Roger. It’s the launch site for some new footwear collab between everyone’s favourite Swiss tennis machine Roger Federer and…some Swiss brand, and it’s VERY swish (unintentional), featuring all sorts of multimedia content about The Roger (for that is the name of both the man and the shoe, DO YOU SEE??) including lots of soft-focus interview content about his life, some slightly-inexplicable chat about design and creativity between Federer and KAWS, a bit of hi-tech remote tennis play, and lots of stuff about how amazing this shoe is. But, well, it’s called ‘The Roger’, and there is no way in hell you can make that sound cool, I’m sorry, no matter how much of Federer’s massive alpine face you feature throughout.
  • The Museum of Tires: As I laboured (ha! ‘Laboured’! Like I did anything other than phone in the work as per usual!) this week on a piece of new business that, as per usual, demanded that you achieve what is practically alchemy in exchange for some slightly-ropey looking beans, I stumbled across this site and, as often happens in cases such as this, wondered who the fcuk it was that signed off the dev cost on this. Vredestein is a brand which you may well be familiar with but which I had never encountered before – they make tires! Performance tires! And they really like them, so much so that they have created this virtual museum of, er, tires! There’s a COUNTDOWN TO THE EXPERIENCE, and then BAM! You’re immersed in a world of, er, tires! There’s some CG and some stirring music, and then you’re taken through what is basically a 3d representation of a not particularly exciting museum that tells you about, er, tires! All with a bloodless voiceover delivered in a tone one can imagine accompanying your organs being harvested for testing by a sinister team of alien biologists. As ever with these things, I am baffled at who thought this was a good use of money but also very, very glad that it exists and that someone got paid to make it.

By Jesse Howard

NEXT, PRETEND YOU ARE 14 AGAIN WITH THIS ANTHOLOGY COLLECTION OF CLASSIC EMO (BUT NO SELF-HARMING PLEASE!)!

THE SECTION WHICH WOULD LIKE TO REMIND YOU ALL THAT IF YOU LIKE SOMETHING IN THE MEDIA THEN YOU PROBABLY OUGHT TO PAY FOR IT IN SOME WAY IF YOU WOULD LIKE IT TO CONTINUE EXISTING, PT.1:

  • You Need Iceland: This is very good indeed, and I like it a lot, but it’s also a rehash of at least one, possibly two, projects from about ten years ago which I have repeatedly used as examples of stuff which clients ought to steal and which noone has ever listened to me about, and therefore I can’t help but be slightly bitter about the fact that I FOUND THE CONCH (or something). You Need Iceland is a project by the Iceland tourist board, part of the same activation which saw them do the ‘Google Streetview but powered by real people’ stunt at the top of lockdown (SO LONG AGO) – the central conceit is that everyone is stressed out and needs some sort of release after 5 months of ALL THIS, and what better way to achieve that than by screaming into your laptop or phone and then having that scream broadcast across the Icelandic landscape from a series of speakers placed around the island? Choose where you want to scream, tap the button and CATHART YOUR LUNGS OUT whilst looking out over the fjords! This is such a nice idea – simple, cheap, speaks to a simple emotional truth (we are all miserable and frustrated) and clearly demonstrates the product benefit (Iceland is massive and there’s noone there and if you want to scream into the void then PLEASE COME AND VISIT US!), and it’s a lot of fun. If nothing else it’s worth keeping it open somewhere in the background, as I am currently doing – having your work interrupted at random by someone yodelling, as happened approximately 90s ago, is surprisingly pleasant.
  • Super You: This is hugely-reminiscent of a piece of CG that did really good numbers a few years back, in which an animator presented a series of humanoid figures composed of various materials and shapes, all running and walking across the screen – effectively this is an AR toy (for iOS) which does the same thing; point it at a human figure, tell it which effect you want it to apply, and BANG! Your subject is transformed from person into, er, a pile of ambulant boxes, say, or a weird echidna-robot. You can, obviously, export all of this for use in other apps, so grab this now before everyone else does and we all get bored of the FX; with the right editing I think there are quite a few decent visual gags you can do here, not least the potential for novel spins on TikTok memes featuring post-drop transformations and the like.
  • Lipsync With Google: Or, ‘Train The AI To Lipread’! Still, this is fun, so let’s ignore the fact that we’re once again working for free to train a multi-billion dollar business’ software. Lipsync is a new Google experiment thingy, which aims to track your mouth movements to see how well you’re delivering the lyrics to a bunch of contemporary(ish) tracks. This is really smart – it’s fun, it’s simple, it taps into the contemporary obsession with lipsync performance…oh, and, yes, it’s all adding data to the machine to make it better at interpreting the different ways in which people shape sounds with their mouths. I was absolutely terrible at this, but I’m putting that down to the fact that I was so discomfited by seeing my own slightly-too-plastic face contorting itself whilst ‘singing’ (and the fact that, er, I didn’t know any of the songs); have a go and see how you get on.
  • Acute Art: I’m surprised that I’ve not featured this before; Acute Art is the inevitable shiny, high-end artworld take on AR for the visual arts; whilst you have Snap democratising the whole thing, this is very much at the other end of the spectrum, with bespoke creations in conjunction with some of the fine art world’s biggest names. “Acute Art collaborates with the world’s leading contemporary artists, providing access to cutting-edge technologies that allow them to translate their creative vision into new digital mediums – including virtual, augmented and mixed realities.” So you get Eliasson, Christo (RIP), that cnut Anish Kapoor…you get the idea, it’s very much a smorgasbord of Frieze-class talent, all of whom have created bespoke experiences to be enjoyed within the Acute Art app. The thing is, though, that all the work is…not particularly interesting; there’s a slight issue, to my mind, with this AR stuff, in that the output isn’t actually that impressive. Once you’ve got over the initial excitement of ‘here’s a CG depiction of something which is hovering as a digital layer over the real world as seen through the screen of my device!’, there’s not a fat lot else left other than some sub-videogame CG and animation which clips awkwardly through the furniture, and I struggle to see much in the way of high concept in any of this other than ‘hey, wouldn’t it be neat if you could have a digital…thing floating in the sky?’. Oh, I don’t know, maybe I’m being grumpy, see what you think.
  • The Bitcoin Address: Silly and pointless, but also quite instructive – this is a website set up at the url of the Bitcoin wallet address used by the hackers that took over blue tick Twitter this week (it’s totally legit, despite the dodgy-looking url, promise), using the wallet string as the address (you’ll see what I mean when you click). On landing on the page you get a little PSA telling you that the wallet thing was a scam, but you can also see the Page’s analytics – at the time of writing, 7,500 people have visited this site in around 72h, which may not sound a lot but, honestly, to get that many people to a dodgy-looking url with no publicity and nothing to do when they get there is…impressive, to my mind. It made me think that there’s actually not a terrible play here in terms of buying news-adjacent urls and using them to drop cookies on people or collect email addresses. Christ, I hate myself.
  • Unwoke: Bit conflicted about including this one, but fcuk it. ‘Unwoke’ is a site which appeared this week as a jobs board for people who are sick of what they perceive to be the STALINIST THOUGHT POLICING of the modern left, and the insistence of some sections of society to look down on others for such perfectly normal, healthy and blameless behaviours like, I don’t know, casual racism and sexism and misogyny and stuff. Do YOU feel that modern society has gone TOO FAR in its demands that you treat others with base-level kindness and respect and consideration? Are YOU feeling marginalised in your current place of employment because of colleagues’ insistence that you not demonstrate obvious disdain for specific groups or categories of people? POOR YOU! Get on Unwoke, then, and advertise yourself as a dreadful cnut who wants a new job! I don’t think this is entirely serious – I mean, the site works and all the rest, but it feels to me more like someone MAKING A THING as part of the culture wars rather than an actual site anyone actually thinks will get traction (I mean, look: “Hire courageous, free thinking and freedom loving individuals. Not ideologues whose only agenda is to weaponize your brand and business to further a radical cause.” – that can’t be serious, can it?) – but it’s a touch miserable nonetheless. It wouldn’t 100% surprise me if this turned out to be a marketing thing by Alex Jones or somesuch fcuker, using this as a means to find more people to attempt to shill Brain Force to.
  • This Pony Does Not Exist: My Little Ponies, as imagined by GAN! Even better, none of them appear to be Nazis! This is A N Other variant on all those other ‘this X does not exist’ sites that you’ve all seen before, but this is particularly nicely-done in that it allows you to fiddle with the parameters a bit and see how that affects the sorts of faces the machine generates. Chuck the sliders all the way up to ‘chaotic’ and witness some very sketchy creations indeed.
  • Cubechat: I don’t think that there’s any point me trying to come up with a better one-line description for this service than that which the website offers: “You are a cube, and you can move around and talk with other cubes like at an in-person party.” Who doesn’t want to be a cube? NO FCUKER, that’s who! This is not 100% unlike something I featured in March, which let you wander round ‘rooms’ in a top-down view, with voicechat options determined by your proximity in digital space to other users; there are lots of fun features, though, including conversation ‘bubbles’ to allow for closed chat, the ability for all-user screensharing, and, er, jumping and lasers. Honestly, it’s unlikely to ever be something you use professionally, but as a way of making your team meeting (for upto 16 people) marginally-less soul-destroying, this isn’t bad at all.
  • Download and Save Your TikToks: It’s fair to say that TikTok’s not having a great month, what with the ban in India and the ban-ish noises coming from the US, and the fact that it’s a proxy in a much bigger international conversation about East/West power and control, and Facebook about to launch its TikTok clone Reels to audiences around the world (probably). I’m still pretty bullish on TikTok, which almost certainly dooms it to near-future obsolescence, but if you’re a little more scared that it might vanish without warning at some point soon then you might want to get involved with this site, which rips and saves all your TikToks as video files so they don’t go the way of all the Vines (RIP).
  • The Atlas of Surveillance: “The Atlas of Surveillance is a database of the surveillance technologies deployed by law enforcement in communities across the United States. This includes drones, body-worn camera, automated license plate readers, facial recognition, and more. This research was compiled by more than 500 students and volunteers and incorporates datasets from a variety of public and non-profit sources…Through a combination of crowdsourcing and data journalism, we are creating the largest-ever repository of information on which law enforcement agencies are using what surveillance technologies. The aim is to generate a resource for journalists, academics, and, most importantly, members of the public to check what’s been purchased locally and how technologies are spreading across the country.” This is quite incredible, not only as a resource for journalists and academics but as a visualisation of the extent of surveillance tech across the US. Check out the map, have a bit of an explore, and then remember that the UK is by many measures quite a way out in front as one of the most surveilled nations in the world, outside of China. SMILE!!
  • Docs Plus: This is – FULL DISCLOSURE – a project by a friend of mine, but it’s very smart and I would include it even if it weren’t, so there. Docs Plus is basically a bit like Google Docs, insofar as it’s a collaborative, cloud-based document writing platform with all the usual gubbins; what makes it HUGELY interesting is the integration of videochat into the document. Any doc created within docs plus can have a multiple number of video chats going on within it – any piece of text assigned as a ‘Heading’ will offer users the opportunity to jump into a discrete, isolated chat instance attached to that heading – so, for example, if you were working collaboratively on a document you could have separate, concurrent video/voice chats on each chapter to discuss structure, contents, etc. It’s still a bit rough, and you’ll need to get in touch with the creators for full access, but it’s SO clever – as a tool for meetings, brainstorms, events, it’s got huge potential. Simple, clean and easy to use, this is really worth a look if my hamfisted description made any sense to you.
  • Reddit Title Scraper: A little tool that lets you analyse individual subReddits to see which words tend to appear most frequently in the post popular threads. If nothing else it’s interesting to point this at some of the more bongo-oriented subs to see just how unoriginal language can get.
  • Gatitos Gorditos: Ordinarily ‘it has cats in it!’ is not a strong enough argument for inclusion in Curios, however much my girlfriend might protest; on this occasion, though, I am including this Twitter feed (which is basically just cat photos) entirely because of its name (basically, ‘fat little cats’ in Spanish) and the fact that reading out the captions in (what if I interrogate myself properly is probably a moderately-offensive) cod-spanish has made me laugh more than almost anything else I’ve seen this week (I am so tired).
  • Kickback: Or, Pyramid Shopping! This is the latest app to employ the waitlist trick of artificially building buzz around its launch; you can download it, but access is via an invite code only and those appear to be in short supply. Still, the premise is easy enough to understand; you sign up and you can shop through the app with big name brands much as you can do elsewhere; the gimmick, though, is that you can earn cashback on your purchases (seemingly easy to access and cash out on via PayPal) when your ‘friends’ sign up to the app and make purchases on it – LITERALLY A PYRAMID SCHEME! Still, in an era in which I have seen SO MUCH scam-selling on Facebook – seriously, there was a fcuking black garlic pyramid scam the other day, which strikes me as…niche – this feels like it might be destined to do rather well. DON’T FALL FOR IT IT IS A FCUKING TRAP, is my advice.
  • Just For Fun: This is a lovely little site, collecting a bunch of small codegames, a few of which have been in Curios before but lots of which were new to me. Lots of fun, and the sort of thing which is definitely worth bookmarking under ‘stuff to click on when I simply can’t feign interest in whichever made-up version of ‘strategy’ we’re currently pretending is the right one’.
  • The Promo for Sneakers: This is a brilliant time capsule. Sneakers was a 92 film that was about crime and HACKING and which, as part of its press kit, featured a FLOPPY DISC which contained all sorts of information for hacks about the film, delivered in a way which in 1992 was basically one step removed from playing the entire movie on a Cray Supercomputer or something. The press kit itself is a bit rudimentary – there wasn’t a lot of multimedia in 1992 – but it’s a wonderful bit of storytelling/worldbuilding creativity.
  • Too Long, Didn’t Listen: Podcasts are GREAT (so I am told), but, also, a cripplingly-inefficient way of finding out anything at all; I DON’T HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO YOU FFS JUST TELL ME THE USEFUL STUFF. This app aims to solve that problem, offering you the audio equivalent of those services which used to exist in the 90s and offered you the chance to imbibe the timeless wisdom of the latest business guru tomes in handy five-page summaries (IMAGINE what the modern-day equivalent would be like! Take a moment to contemplate the majesty of ‘GaryVee for Dummies’ – it’s quite the astonishing mental image) – instead of summary pamphlets, though, this is basically a podcast discovery and sharing service, with the added benefit of being able to ‘bookmark’ the podcasts so you can effectively create highlight reels of the best/most ‘inspiring’ content. This is almost certainly hugely useful if you’re a heavy listener, and probably doesn’t deserve to be described as poorly as I just have.
  • Comet Neowise: It’s nice every now and again just to pause for a moment and take a look at some photographs of nature being spectacular; although at the same time, given the progress of 2020 to date, it’s hard not to look at these and in the back of one’s mind flash back to Day of the Triffids and other such novels of comet-y horror. Still, probably all fine and this is very unlikely to be a harbinger of alien deathinvaders!

By Alex Colville


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