Webcurios 18/11/22

Reading Time: 35 minutes

No turkeys! No money! WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS 2022 EVERYONE!

Still, on the plus side, at least it’s looking increasingly unlikely that you’ll be able to worsen your mood by spending the ‘festive’ (lol!) period doomscrolling through Twitter, what with That Fcuking Man apparently beating even the most optimistic predictions about how quickly he could gut the business. Silver linings!

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we are all set to be Tiny Tim this year.

By Alessandra Leta



  • Another Lettuce: We’re just going to get the M*sk mentions out of the way quickly up-top and then get on with things as though he doesn’t exist, ok? OK! In what has now apparently become the international signifier for professional hubris, we now have a LETTUCE VS TWITTER camfeed! So far Twitter is still standing and the lettuce is starting to look a touch on the brown and withered side, but given there only appear to be somewhere in the region of 20% of the staff that worked there a month ago left, I wouldn’t bank huge sums on the birdsite. You’ve all read and heard far too much about this over the past fortnight or so, so I’ll keep this short – but in general this episode does rather feel like an excellent opportunity for us to hammer another sturdy nail into the general concept of ‘individual exceptionalism and the genius-polymath-saviour’, or even the strangely-persistent ‘rich and famous people are somehow better and smarter than everyone else’ myth. Should Twitter eventually self-immolate and vanish into the digital ether, we can at the very least look back fondly on its status as the human invention which did more than anything else in history to demonstrate to us that there is not one single person alive in the world, not one individual that has ever existed in history, who isn’t also a bit of a d1ck at the very least – it’s A WINDOW INTO OUR HORRID TARNISHED SOULS FFS! It’s been a great leveller in that regard, although personally I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to this specific lesson.
  • Twitter Is Going Great: As someone who has to pay attention to all this Twitter stuff for Dull Professional Reasons, it’s been interesting watching the pace of the news flywheel change over the past fortnight – from desperate hacks mainlining speed to keep up with the announcement and the leaks and the changes and the Tweets, to this week in which everyone’s sort-of worked out what the direction of travel is and has decided to just slow down a bit and enjoy the car-crash. If you want a nice, easy one-stop-shop to keep updated on exactly how the company’s new owner is currently working to eviscerate his new toy, this site provides a neat compendium of the latest headlines in reverse-chronological order. Unrelated, but whilst this is obviously childish it’s also quite funny – well done whichever ex-employee set this up.
  • Futurepedia: Ooh, this is super-useful. Futurepedia is a searchable, filterable compendium of all sorts of AI tools for creating images, copy, code and anything else you can conceive of – you can filter the sites by the type of work you want to create, search by keyword, and there are already nearly 230 different sites linked to from here covering everything you could possible want. A CHALLENGE – I reckon that it’s probably almost-possible to create an entire business using AI tools alone, from the product, purpose and vision to the logo, website, copy and associated imagery. Can someone try this and see what happens? Because obviously all of you are going into winter with LOADS of spare cash just lying around that you can frivolously spend on stupid, pointless internet projects dictated to you by some random webmong.
  • The Bureau of Multerversal Arbitration: I got really excited by this when I found it, and then realised that it’s all run on Midjourney and through Discord, and part of me died inside. STILL! The Bureau of Multiversal Arbitration is, I think, the first ACTUAL game that’s been built around AI-generated images (I featured something in here a few months back that claimed to be such a thing, but it was literally just a crap jigsaw game using Dall-E images and so doesn’t really count) and this feels, interestingly, like the tip of some sort of iceberg when it comes to ways of encouraging players to create as part of gameplay. The premise here is based around the idea of a theoretical agency which exists to assist people in the multiverse, with players effectively using Midjourney (via the collaborative fiction of a Discord server) to create images based on specific prompts and tasks, which the wider community vote on and which are then integrated into the game’s wider story…look, fine, this is very much a game in the ‘D&D’-type sense, in terms of requiring a degree of involved commitment and imaginative legwork from the players (and, to reiterate, you have to use fcuking Discord), but if you can get on board with that sort of thing, and the idea of collaboratively pretending to be multiversal bureaucrats with a bunch of other strangers on a shared community server on your phone appeals to you (I realise that reads as slightly sniffy – it’s not meant to, honest), and you like the idea of creating images and artworks to illustrate the imagined scenarios dreamed up by the gamemakers, then this might be up your street.
  • Paris World; On the one hand, ragging on THE METAVERSE does rather go against my stated aim of ‘not featuring stuff in Web Curios for the sole purpose of slagging it off’; on the other, there are occasions when the only right course of action is to click and point and laugh. So it is with PARIS WORLD, Paris Hilton’s inevitable entrance into the giant grift that is THE METAVERSE (weirdly it feels less wrong typing it in all-caps, perhaps because it neatly encapsulates the ridiculousness of the whole thing). Why does Paris Hilton need to create her own metaversal experience? Why, to flog you clothes of course! There’s quite a large part of me that wants to tell you that this is a terrible, poorly-made waste of time and that you should avoid it like the plague – because that is exactly what it is – but I have an even stronger desire for you to click the link and experience the sheer, miserable, soulless cashgrab that the whole thing embodies. ENTER THE PARISVERSE! You get to design your avatar, choosing from a selection of sub-Roblox designs to create a stunted minifig which then gets unceremoniously plonked into a poorly-rendered CG environment (all pink and pastels and rainbows and unicorns, natch, as of course befits the personal brand of a now-middle-aged millionaire) and…and that’s basically it! You can move around, you could chat to other users if there was anyone there (there won’t be)…oh, and you can BUY PARIS MERCH! The ‘shop’ is literally the only thing that a user can visit or interact with in the ‘metaverse’ (lol), and, beautifully, even that is terrible and phoned-in, with a bunch of stuff for sale but no indication whether the items are digital or physical, and, if digital, where you might use them outside of the cold, joyless and deserted environs of THE PARISVERSE (also, beautifully, the ‘shop’ section is rendered in 2d because NOONE WANTS TRAIPSE ROUND THE SHOPS IN A SH1TTY 3D WORLD). Honestly, this is quite an astonishingly-cynical piece of low-quality work which I think sets the current bar for ‘worst example of metaversebullsh1t I have ever seen’ – WELL DONE PARIS!
  • The Tresverse: Or at least it was, until approximately 10 minutes later I found this and once again had my mind blown about exactly what it is that consultants are able to sell to stupid clients. If you were well-known high-street haircare brand Tresemme (sorry, I can’t be bothered to find the appropriate keyboard shortcut to apply the right accent to the final ‘e’, you can just imagine that it’s there), what would YOU think was a good use of a wedge of your marketing budget? Influencer work? Product sampling opportunities? Assorted follicular content? Any and all of these might be acceptable answers, but what I imagine literally NONE of you immediately landed on as a response was ‘the creation of a virtual hair salon in digital space’. AND YET! This is quite special – from the grandiose characterisation of the thing as ‘The Tresverse’ (LOOK I KNOW THAT IT’S NOT REAL AND THAT THEREFORE I SHOULDN’T GET UPSET ABOUT THIS BUT THE USE OF THE TERM METAVERSE TO DENOTE A SINGLE, ISOLATED AND TINY DIGITAL EXPERIENCE REALLY GETS ON MY FCUKING NERVES) to the way in which it constitutes literally three interactive elements (choose your hair! Choose your face! Select some colours for your outfit!) and then just shows you a few adverts and boots you out, to the fact that (shockingly in 2022) all the character models are very white, to the point at the end at which I genuinely lost my sh1t and started laughing at my laptop because of the terrible rendering of some of the crowd models (you get to choose a new look for your avatar and it does a small, hair-related catwalk, is the entirety of the experience here). Perhaps my favourite thing, though, is that this is SO phoned-in, so poorly-made, that if you load it on desktop the site asks you to TURN YOUR SCREEN (don’t try and swivel your monitor – the site will eventually load anyway). Honestly, this is so terrible that it’s almost cheering – I promise you that however much you may hate what you do for a living, however hard you are phoning it in right now, however much you might thing ‘I really am a charlatan who doesn’t know what they are doing’, know that you are still better than the people who commissioned this (although, credit where it’s due, the hair physics is nice). Still, at least you don’t have to justify the spend to anyone (NB – should anyone involved with this project happen to stumble across this, I would LOVE to know about its genesis).
  • Xtadium: Is VR going to transform the way in which we experience entertainment? Eventually perhaps, but it feels like there’s still a significant way to go before any of the VR gubbins add anything meaningful to the TV experience. Xtadium launched this week as part of Meta’s VR offering, and it’s billing itself as THE FUTURE OF SPORTS; initially there are a very limited number of sports available, and none of them are what you mght call top-tier, but the service offers you the ability to set up VR viewing rooms to watch things with your friends on big virtual screens and, perhaps more interestingly, to run your own multi-camera setup so that you can effectively direct your own and your friends’ viewing experience. Which, I’ll be honest, sounds of very limited appeal right now, but I suppose if you’re a more committed fan of sport than I am you might relish the opportunity to be able to flick to BoundaryCam™ or TiouchLineCam™ or AttractiveMemberOfTheCrowdCam™ whenever you like. Presumably as this stuff develops there will be more interesting widgets you can drop in and add – so, for example live Fantasy Football score updates, say, or your favourite Twitch streamers watchalong – but at present this feels, as with 99.9% of all VR stuff, like technology desperately searching for a use-case.
  • Africa Climate Mobility: How are we feeling about COP? Positive? Like change is just around the corner? Good, don’t let me ruin that momentary feeling of optimism. Launched in conjunction with the climate change conference, this website is a superb resource (and a sobering one), presenting a wealth of data and information about the scale of the climate crisis as it affects the African continent – here you can find details on the projected scale of climate-induced migration projected across the continent in the coming years, flood risk data, water availability (actual and projected) and much more, along with a significant amount of writing about What This Data Means and What Needs To Be Done. I think we’re probably all past the point of thinking that a reason argument based on data is enough to change anyone’s mind about anything anymore, especially on an issue as polarised and, frankly, post-fact as the climate ‘debate’, but I find it literally staggering that people can look at stuff like this and not think ‘hm, we possibly have a global duty of care here’.
  • The Midnight Pub: This is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT, and is effectively like a slice of 1998 right in your browser. This year online has, for me at least, been characterised by the pleasing sense that the odd, small internet is growing back again, and that the sorts of strange, small projects that characterised much of the very early public internet are starting to sprout once more after a decade or so of being stifled by big platform hegemony – the Midnight Pub is perhaps the ur-example of this, as it’s basically a webforumchatserverthing which could as easily have existed in the late-90s as the early-20s. “It’s late. You are seconds away from the main street in a small alley. It’s quieter here, but you can still hear the sound of chatter, footsteps, and cars from busy downtown. The city is buzzing, the streets are like arteries. You see an intriguing place in the alley, with a moon on its door. It reads “The Midnight Pub”.The Midnight is a virtual pub that lets you write posts and create pages.” Every post is a new place for people to talk and chat and discuss (JUST LIKE A FORUM!), and this is a live and active community with new posts each day, and the posts are WEIRD – there is some time travel roleplay happening (or at least, er, I presume it’s roleplay; we should also allow for the possibility that there are currently visitors from the future in our midst and that they are choosing to hang out on a very obscure corner of the web whilst working out how to get home), posts about coding, posts about academia and research…this is lovely not so much for what it contains, which may or may not interest you, but for what it embodies about slow community online.
  • Spotilicious: A truly-hideous name for this otherwise-useful service, which lets you filter your own Spotify account to allow you to do things like filter your Spotify Liked and followed music by your Mood, Genres, Running pace and more.
  • Childishism: This is baffling, but in a good way – it’s actually the online component of an exhibition around artists and childhood at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, and, according to the exhibition blurb, Childishism “is a visual essay commissioned for the catalogue accompanying To Begin Again: Artists and Childhood. Childishism takes the form of an imagined search engine that algorithmically maps an associative history between artistic representations of the childish. For Anna Craycroft, “when artists personify the childish or childhood in their work, a deeper social imaginary is revealed.”” Type in whatever you fancy and see what crops up – I am a big fan of these sorts of search engines which exist not so much to give you what you ask for as to show you things you might not have considered, and the way in which this encourages a different sort of exploration of artworks and themes through tangential association is pleasing in the extreme.
  • The Female Gaze: This made me a tiny bit sad. A collaboration between the Kunsthalle Charlottenburg in Denmark and Meta, The Female Gaze seeks to make the user question the way in which depictions of women in art are a product of the conventions and perceptions of the male-dominated society in which they existed and their interpretation by the mostly-male artists who captured them – which is a totally legitimate question, and something which it is good and right that galleries are interested in exploring! Such a shame, then, that what this boils down to is the ability to take a 3d render of a painting by artist Peter Illsted, depicting a young woman cleaning mushrooms, and change elements of it – from the walls, to the lighting, to the arrangement of elements in the scene, to the pose of the central figure herself – and then take a digital photo of your creation to share. Er, why? How does me changing the way in which the subject is posed radically alter what the painting is communicating? How is this doing anything other than substituting the painterly male gaze of the title with my own digital-but-equally-other gaze?  I would argue that it does neither of those things. Still, you can make some nice images with it if you’re in the market for that sort of thing.
  • Floor 796: Another one of those occasional ‘a massive canvas made up of interlocking tiles, each of which is its own bit of pixelart but which when added together form a huge composite image of quite staggering density and complexity’ things, this time in which the overall composition is of the imagined ‘Floor 796’ in a future space station. This is DIZZYING – zoom out, pan around and have an explore and see what you can find; I get the impression that if you are a particular sort of pop-culture consumer (specifically, if you like scifi and popular big-ticket TV shows, and anime and videogames) then you will get a lot more of the in-jokes and references here, but even if you don’t there is an awful lot of really quite good animation and artwork on display here, along with some genuinely weird little vignettes (why is there an old-style headmaster administering a caning to someone? WHAT SORT OF SPACE STATION IS THIS?).
  • Galactica: This launched this week with surprisingly little fanfare – Galactica is Meta’s newest text-generating AI, a large language model that, rather than the general, all-purpose corpus GPT-3 was fed to train it, has been “trained on over 48 million papers, textbooks, reference material, compounds, proteins and other sources of scientific knowledge. You can use it to explore the literature, ask scientific questions, write scientific code, and much more.” This stuff is, potentially, so exciting, and I think that there’s something more interesting about this sort of focused LLM than the broader stuff. The demo was live earlier this week but has annoyingly now shut, so you can’t currently play with it yourself, but it’s worth having a look at some of the examples cited on the site as you get a very real sense of the possibilities at play with this stuff.
  • Beatmatch: It seems astonishing to me that noone’s done ‘a dating app, but using your musical tastes to match you’ before (maybe they have and I just missed it), but that is exactly what Beatmatch purports to be. It’s iOS-only at present, and I think only in the US, but you can sign up to the wait list and in the meantime start thinking about exactly what sort of listening profile your ideal partner will have. Actually on closer inspection it’s less of a ‘pure’ dating proposition than it is a social app with music at its heart – but, look, it’s going to be literally wall-to-wall BTS stans and Barbies seeking mutual gratification, isn’t it? Still, if YOU will only deign to fcuk people who can name all of Sepultura’s albums then perhaps here’s where you might go to find them (or, perhaps, more likely, the classifieds in Kerrang!).
  • Play Your Power: It’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to feature a mobile game created by a cosmetics brand to flog you some makeup – so ENJOY this shiny-looking if deeply-simplistic racing game from lipstick-peddlers NARS, in which you pick one of three ‘characters’ (lipsticks) and participate in an infinite-runner(rider)-type game, collecting nonspecific blobs and avoiding obstacles and racking up points which you can then exchange for PRIZES (if you are terrifyingly competent). Interestingly, according to my terrible performance and subsequent place on the global leaderboard, over 11,000 people have played this since launch – I would LOVE to know what the conversion rates are for this sort of thing, and what the CPU is. I mean, ok, ‘love’ is a bit strong, but I have a vague interest should anyone happen to know.

By Mary Frey



  • NFT Map Layers: The ongoing quest to try and work out why NFTs exist continues apace, with a predictable lack of success. The latest? Er, some sort of weird Foursquare-crossed-with-Ingress map layer! This is an initiative by Superlocal, a borderline-incomprehensible platform which as far as I can tell promises you the ability to be able to earn ACTUAL REAL MONEY by ‘checking in’ to places with their app (I can almost guarantee that noone will ever earn any actual cashmoney as a result of this), and which is offering NFT owners the ability to link their tokens to the service to create a gamified layer in which people who own the same types of NFTs can collaborate to ‘own’ areas of the map and…oh, God, this is so tiring. NOONE WANTS TO DO THIS! NOONE WANTS TO BUY SOME UGLY NON-ART TO PLAY A CRAP VERSION OF GOWALLA THAT LITERALLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE WORLDWIDE ARE EVER GOING TO ENGAGE WITH! STOP TRYING TO MAKE FETCH (ok, fine, NFTs) HAPPEN! There’s also a light social discovery layer to it – “People who hold the same NFTs as you likely have similar interests to you. Use your NFTs to discover new places, meet up at events more easily, and more!” – but seeing as everyone who owns an NFT already knows everyone else who owns the same type because they all spend 20h a day in the same discord talking to each other about their fcuking NFTs this seems a touch otiose.
  • Ask My Book: Not my book, to be clear – I have on occasion been asked if I ever want to write a book, and once I have stopped laughing at the suggestion I am forced to admit that the answer is ‘no, because I have literally nothing to say that I think is worth reading’, which always leaves me feeling a bit sad if I’m honest – but the book of one Sahil Lavingia, who as part of the promo for his book called ‘The Minimalist Entrepreneur’ has trained a small AI to answer questions about the title. A cute idea, and as the costs and barriers to training drop ever lower there’s something quite nice about thinking of how this sort of thing can be integrated into publishing promo. At the very least, a chatbot trained to act as one of your major protagonists could be fun – although be aware that everyone will at some point try and fcuk your character.
  • The Gist: This is genuinely brilliant and super-impressive. A plugin for Slack, the Gist does one single thing – anyone entering the channel it’s plugged into can type ‘!gist’ and get a summary of everything that has happened in the Slack over the past 24h, and the amazing thing is that the summaries are…really good! They make sense, they are accurate, they are concise, and they genuinely do help you catch up with recent events and discussions. This is, as far as I can tell, genuinely good, and I almost never say stuff like that. A rare, official Web Curios endorsement, not that the people who made this will ever know or care.
  • The Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards: I’ve not featured these for a few years now, mainly because they went a bit mainstream (I FOUND THE CONCH!) and I figured you were all getting your fix of derpy tortoises or whatever from the pages of the Guardian. BUT everything is so cold and damp and bleak and foreboding right now that I figured we could all do with some dumb animal pick-me-ups – here, then, for your enjoyment, are the finalists in this year’s Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. If the ‘talk to the hand’ penguin doesn’t become a meme in its own right then there is no justice in the world.
  • Listening: I don’t think this is the first service of this ilk that I’ve featured here, but I had a play with this this week and it’s…pretty good! A Chrome plugin which lets you take any article you find online and automatically have it text-to-voiced by AI and sent to the podcast player of your choice for later listening – if you’re a listener rather than a reader by preference then you will find this invaluable.
  • All The Web Shortcuts: This is VERY worky and quite dull (SORRY) but also very fcuking useful indeed (NOT SORRY) – a directory, compiled by Google, of all the web shortcuts you can use in Chrome and what they do – from the ‘oh everyone knows that Matt, fcuk off and stop patronising me’ ubiquity of slides.new (which you all OBVIOUSLY know will open a brand new Google Slides doc) to the ‘wow, this is practically witchcraft’ hacks that let you open, say, a brand new Canva doc or Miro session just by typing a couple of words into the browser bar. Honestly, you may think this stuff is immaterial but it’s the sort of thing that will lead colleagues to gaze at you as though you’re some sort of keeper of all of the tech-work secrets, and who doesn’t want that sort of low-level adulation? NO FCUKER, etc.
  • All The Meme Templates: Nathan Allebach is a hero of modern times – it is he who has spent the past…Christ knows how long compiling every single text, emoji and ASCII meme format into this open GDoc for anyone to cut and paste from whenever they like. Want a nice, easy way to make an emoji sheriff like it’s 2019 all over again? Want every single tired old joke format you’ve ever seen on Twitter for you to riff through with your own personal tweaks? Honestly, this is every single stressed-out community manager’s dream – this is basically 107 pages worth of content calendar material in one. Obviously this stuff is mainly for Twitter, meaning that the potential shelf-life of its utility is at present hovering around 96h based on current lifespan predictions, but just think of what an amazing weekend of posting you can now have!
  • Free Anime!: Another free anime site! I know I feature these things with semi-regularity, but I always figure that things like this are likely to get shut down by the copyright police pretty much immediately and that I should therefore share new ones as and when I find them. Anime’s not my thing, but should you be one of the seemingly-infinite numbers of people who find the whole ‘three frames of animation in a minute’ style compelling (joke, honest) then you will potentially find a lot to love here – I have checked a couple of titles at random and they definitely worked, so click away and fill your boots before the rights holders cotton on and demand that you cough up.
  • Rose Island: A website which I think was created to accompany a Netflix series about the island in question, which was a mid-20th century attempt at creating a micronation: “Rose Island was built in 1967 by Italian engineer Giorgio Rosa, just outside of Italy’s territorial waters. Rosa proclaimed himself President and declared the independence of ‘Respubliko de la Insulo de la Rozoj’ on 24th june, 1968.” You may be unsurprised to learn that the Republic lasted less than a year – still, this is a nicely-made little site which tells you enough about the mad project’s genesis and history to tempt you into perhaps watching the documentary in question. Has ANYONE ever succeeded with one of these dreams of aquatic independence and sovereignty, out of interest? And what is it with rich people and the almost-universal desire to create water-bound communities with rules made up by them? Money is brainworms, I am increasingly convinced.
  • Cine Casero: Ok, so this is all in Spanish but you can translate it in Chrome if necessary, and it’s worth making sure you can understand the copy because this is a LOVELY project. Perhaps the first Uruguayan website I’ve featured in over a decade of doing this, which I now feel unaccountably guilty about (SORRY URUGUAY!), this is a the home of Cine Casero, “which is a collective dedicated to the preservation of collective memory that was born in 2014 with the aim of celebrating for the first time in Uruguay “The day of family movies” (Home Movie Day). We are interested in involving, enthusing and training the communities themselves so that they can address the problem of audiovisual preservation of their collective memory.” This is so so so lovely – a wonderful amalgam of found history and narrative, and national identity as defined by home cinema over the decades, and there are some wonderful examples of old home films scattered around the site – again, obviously all in Spanish, but even if you don’t speak the language there’s a certain atmosphere to everything here which is worth experiencing. Also – and I NEVER say this – the autoplaying music on the page is rather lovely.
  • Signlearner: This is SUCH a good idea – is there an equivalent for English sign language, does anyone know? Signlearner is a Chrome plugin which helps to teach you American Sign Language by highlighting random words on pages as you browse – hovering over the highlighted word or phrase will bring up a short, hovering video of someone demonstrating how to sign said word in ALS. So so so clever, and it works really nicely – this feels like an excellent mechanic that could be replicated quite simply for a host of other things.
  • Teenage Engineering: I appreciate everything probably feels quite…tight right now, and that there probably aren’t many of you – any of you? – who are currently desperate to drop the fat end of £300 on what is basically a nicely-polished hand-carved Weeble, but, on the offchance that any of you are feeling both rich and at a loss as to what to buy your audiophile aesthete friend for Christmas then you might be interested in the products sold by Teenage Engineering, particularly the wooden choir, which consists of “eight wooden dolls, made to serenade you with

a repertoire of choral classics as well as perform your own original compositions through midi over ble. Each member has their own characteristic vocal range. individually one can sing a dynamic solo, together they perform an immersive a cappella concert.” The ‘choir’ members are available to purchase individually – but seven of the eight types are sold out, so you’ll need to be quick if you want a ridiculously-expensive (but very pretty) musical wooden toy gift.

  • Flags of Afghanistan: A project by a certain Omar Mohammed, exploring the history and heritage of the many flags of Afghanistan’s history: “Since the beginning of Afghanistan as a nation state, the design of its flag has existed in a constant state of flux. With each new leader, faction, or party gaining power, the flag and its emblem were altered to represent the new order in the country. Flags Of Afghanistan بيرق هاى افغانستان places these flags in political, cultural, and design contexts; building visual and historical relationships that aim to archive the past while informing the future.”
  • Partiful: One of the very real and painful things about ageing is the extent to which so much of what is ‘new’ is just stuff that you remember perfectly well from the past but repackaged slightly and given a new name, and the associated extent to which literally NOONE cares when you point out that ‘exciting new service x’ is exactly the same as ‘boring old service y’ which has been around for ages. So it is with Partiful, a website which replicates exactly ONE bit of Facebook’s functionality – the ‘events’ widget, which older readers will recall were basically the only way in which anyone organised anything for approximately 3 years in the late-00s/early-10s. You can create an event! Invite people from a predetermined friends list or an imported one! RSVP with varying degrees of commitment! Exactly like the Meta-owned legacy product, but with none of the stinky brand association! Actually, while we’re talking about it, my outsider prediction for 2023 is that Facebook makes a comeback as a platform as people remember that, whilst it’s a hateful company owned by a terrifying techfuturezealot, it actually has a lot of pretty robust and useful functionality that people might remember about when Twitter finally dies. I am not suggesting that it will become ‘cool’ – just that people might remember that it can in fact be quite useful. But, er, don’t quote me on that please, unless I turn out to have been right.
  • Earbirding: A site designed to help YOU, the casual, non-expert avian enthusiast, get better at identifying a variety of bird friends via their calls and cries and strangulated croaks. This has been dormant for three years, sadly, but it contains an absolute wealth of information on how to tell a corncrake from, I don’t know, a chicken, should you be in the market for such a guide.
  • Gem: Multisearch for secondhand stuff – that’s literally it, but I figure it might be useful to those of you who enjoy sorting through eBay for bargains. This searches across “eBay, Etsy, Grailed, The RealReal, Poshmark, Vestiaire Collective, Rubylane, Farfetch, Fashionphile, Garmentory, ASOS Marketplace, LiveAuctioneers, Reversible and hundreds of independent online stores”, so it’s fair to assume that if you can’t find it via Gem then it probably doesn’t exist or is illegal.
  • The Best Inventions of 2022: Time Magazine’s annual rundown of the inventions that they consider to be the most impressive of the year is once again a BRILLIANT overview of human creativity and ingenuity, and is honestly a list that makes me feel marginally better about the state of the world (the bar is low, fine, but still). Divided across a range of categories spanning everything from accessibility tech to VR to sport to parenting to ‘wellness’ (LOL!), this is a compendium of amazing ideas and problem solving, and (as I think I have said every year I’ve featured this) is as good a source of creative inspiration as a million and one links from fcuking Contagious. A warning, though – the Time website has (for me at least) been rendered horrible to use through aggressive advertising, so apologies in advance for the fact that the reading experience is a little like scrolling through a letterbox.
  • The Talking Swear Clock: One of Rob Manuel’s multifarious bot projects on Twitter has been SwearClock, which each hour (on the half hour) Tweets a particularly foul-mouthed version of the time. Now that’s been turned into a talking swearclock thanks to the magic of free text-to-voice software and a bit of light automation – honestly, it’s worth opening this up on a laptop, turning up the volume, and then locking it and changing the password and watching as people around you get increasingly upset at the steady stream of things like “vicar’s jizzrag, it’s 9:49am”. Beautifully, whatever plugin they are using to do the voice lets you choose from a range of different accents, so I am currently amusing myself as I type by having what I imagine to be Italian Elon Musk shouting the sweary time at me incessantly.
  • OnlyBans: Nabbingt the coveted final slot in this week’s cornucopia of miscellaneous links is this game, which is designed to highlight all the ways in which it’s hard to make a living as a sex worker online whilst navigating the ever-changing world of what is and isn’t allowed on the major platforms. Your task is to earn enough money from your camming and subscriptionbongo services to pay your bills this month – navigate your way through content creation and sponsor deals and platform rules as you try and turn a profit. This is…not fun exactly, but interesting, and it’s a smart way of demonstrating the hoops adult content creators are forced to jump through by the platforms that make millions from them. Whilst this isn’t explicitly NSFW, it is very much a game about fisting yourself on camera for cash, so, well, probably not one to send to your nine year old unless you’re a significantly more liberal parent than I would be.

By Francisco Rodriguez



  • Caroline Ellison’s Tumblr Archive: Look, you may well be in the privileged position of not knowing who on God’s earth Caroline Ellison is, in which case feel free to skip this entirely as, honestly, you don’t need to know. If, on the other hand, you’ve been keeping track of all ‘this’ then you might be interested to read the personal Tumblrs of a woman at the heart of the first instance of economics/polyamory crossover since John Maynard Keynes.


  • James Perrou: I don’t know who James is, but their Insta feed is mainly polaroids of people who are in bands and I am very much in favour of this sort of tightly-focused photo project. Some of the people are famous, some of them less so, but I very much like all the pictures.
  • Yamaha Black Boxes: Are YOU a music equipment nerd? How nerdy? THIS nerdy? Yamaha Black Boxes is an “Archive of 1980s electronic musical instruments and music computers made by Yamaha’, and to be honest I can’t imagine for a second that any of you will give two hoots about this but, well, you never know and I live in hope.
  • Tobias Gremmler: Are YOU in the market for the sort of unsettling digital art that depicts people’s nervous systems extending from their skeleton like a milky filigree web of pain? GREAT!


  • A New Climate Reality: We kick off the longreads this week with a timely piece in the NYT about Where We Are Now with regards to the coming climate apocalypse – and, I promise, this is a moderately-hopeful article! Ok, fine, it’s ‘hopeful’ in the sense of ‘well, things are looking terrible but they are at least not looking as terrible as we thought they might look a decade or so ago’, and the main takeaway here is still ‘we need to work really fcuking hard to attempt to ensure that stuff doesn’t get any worse than we think it’s currently going to get based on the direction and pace of travel right now’, but it made me, for the first time in a while, feel moderately more positive about the future of the planet. This is, of course, relative, and perhaps this positivity is simply the result of a recalibration of expectations – don’t for a second think that the future is going to be anything other than, for the vast majority of people, significantly more unpredictable and parlous than the past and the present – but the fact it feels possible to talk in even halfway-positive terms about the future of the planet is a small positive in an otherwise somewhat-dark end-of-year period.
  • The Rise of Influencer Capital: An excellent-if-unrelated piece in New York Magazine which segues rather nicely from the FTX stuff, all about the rise of the individual and the individual’s brand in the business of raising and making money – which, it doesn’t take a genius to work out, is entirely what SBF was doing and what Musk has been doing for years, and what GaryVee does (the article spends a not-inconsiderable amount of time to GaryVee and in particular the terrifying amounts of money he has apparently made from his value-free collection of poorly-drawn NFTs), and frankly what it feels like everyone is trying to do. Ask kids these days what they want to be when they grow up and I would bet money that whilst loads of them will still say ‘creator’ there will be a significant number who will say ‘brand’ (these are the children we ought to be most frightened of, and the ones I strongly suggest keeping a close eye on).
  • Everything Is Silicon Valley Now: Or, perhaps more accurately, why money and the drive for ‘growth’ ruins everything. Read the whole article – it’s good, and it will hopefully elicit meaningful nods throughout, and what the author writes about baseball might meaningfully be applied to ‘football’ or ‘exercise’ or ‘veganism’ or anything else you care to mention, frankly – but, equally, the whole piece can neatly be summarised in this single paragraph: “It’s a cycle. People create something, together, that reflects their energy and weird work; that thing becomes compelling as a result, and that makes it valuable, and at some point someone puts a price on it and someone else pays that price. It is at that moment that the thing begins to change. The new owner will almost always decide that what is most interesting about this thing is not the human essence that gave it value, but The Owner Himself, and will act accordingly. People will come back for the valuable stuff until the owner succeeds in crowding it out; when that crowding is done, the owned thing dies. Until then, what’s left is just what’s valuable—the humanity and brilliance and unpredictability and fun that all that cynical and idiotic and self-serving wealth is always and everywhere busy replacing with itself. There’s nothing to do but look for the good stuff until the looking becomes too challenging, or until it’s gone.”
  • Immortality Through Breeding: I’m not 100% convinced that this piece isn’t the result of some sort of elaborate trolling sting to fool the reporter into thinking that the faintly-ridiculous central premise – to whit, that a certain subsection of the very rich have decided that they want to attempt to get their bloodline to own the future by basically just procreating like mad, to the point where their eventual pool of descendants is large enough to have some sort of controlling stake in human affairs and as a result form a kind of Dune-like Atreides-level superfamilynexusthing – is in fact real. AND YET! If you’ve read enough about effective altruism and longtermism and some of the other more recherche’ bits of niche philosophy that the very rich tend to end up espousing (weirdly, these bits of niche philosophy also tend to be the ones that paint said super-plutes as exceptional individuals whose unique brilliance is what has granted them their wealth and who probably deserve to be ruling and running everything!) then this sounds sort of weirdly-plausible; I for one am very glad that I will be long dead before the 9th-generation of post-Elon Musks takes control of the irradiated wastelands that remain.
  • How Facebook Designed The ‘Like’: This is properly fascinating – it’s not wholly hyperbolic to say that the ‘Like’ button has been one of the most culturally-significant bits of code ever written, at least in terms of the way that it shaped the internet in its formative mass-adoption years, and, through so doing, the way that it subsequently shaped society. What I find most interesting about this is the degree to which the issues we know know resulted from the ‘like’ – the way it favoured light-touch, no friction interaction, in particular – were predicted to a degree but considered to be trivial when compared to the potential benefits; I am not suggesting for a second that anyone can have been expected to predict exactly how its evolution, rollout and adoption by the wider web will have played out, but it’s fascinating to see that people literally did have the ‘yeah, but won’t this just make people default to incredibly light-touch social interactions and reduce meaningful engagement between individuals, as well as not doing anything positive for the idea of nuanced and in-depth debate online?’ conversation and decided ‘well, maybe, but wevs’.
  • Hancock: I can’t imagine you want to read about Matt Hancock, but don’t worry, this isn’t really about him – instead, Sam Leith in the Spectator writes about the very modern obsession that people in the public eye have with showing their ‘real’ selves, and the fact that the rest of us really, honestly, genuinely don’t care what our elected officials are like as people and would simply prefer that they were competent and honest (qualities which Hancock has not previously demonstrated in abundance). Again, this feels tied in some way to the ‘influencer capital’ piece up there – must EVERYONE be a brand?
  • Football and Money: You really wouldn’t know that a major international football tournament starts on Sunday – fine, yes, there’s a new version of that fcuking Three Lions song out today, but in terms of people actually getting excited about the sport in question it’s yet to really capture the public imagination (maybe it’s different if you’re an 11 year old, of course, I shouldn’t assume that everyone looks at life with the jaded, cataracted eyes of the senescent). Why? OH YES THAT’S RIGHT IT’S MONEY FCUKING EVERYTHING UP ONCE AGAIN. If you’re a keen follower of football and the wider discussion around it then this is unlikely to tell you anything you don’t know, but for the rest of you this is a useful and instructive whistlestop tour of how the game has changed since it become a toy of the billionaire classes in the post-Premier League era.
  • Reviewing The New Meta Quest Pro VR Thingy: I don’t normally feature product reviews here, but I’ll make an exception for this as I think it’s the best explanation yet of why Meta might be a bit fcuked. Read this review – by a tech reporter, for a tech publication, so exactly the sort of target audience that Meta have in mind for this bit of kit – and have a wonder as to exactly how many people, based on the reporter’s experiences, might ever be minded to fork out £1500 for an ugly, heavy helmet that you can use for a couple of hours at a time to do spreadsheets in VR with.
  • The Other Side of the Twitter Exodus: I really enjoyed this essay, by Hugh Rundle, on what it feels like as a long-term user of Mastodon to see the hordes of Twitter users approaching over the horizon, and the feeling of having your home suddenly invaded by a bunch of people who don’t know you, don’t know the rules, and seemingly want to do nothing more than p1ss on your rug and have noisy sex in your shed when all you want to do in there is paint Airfix models. This is, to be clear, in no way a ‘we don’t want you here, leave’ rant – it’s more of a thoughtful piece on the nature of small communities and the care it takes to build and curate them, and the necessarily different desires and use cases that communities have when they change from being small to massive. Here’s a taster – but I encourage you to read the whole thing, as it’s a really interesting perspective: “It’s not entirely the Twitter people’s fault. They’ve been taught to behave in certain ways. To chase likes and retweets/boosts. To promote themselves. To perform. All of that sort of thing is anathema to most of the people who were on Mastodon a week ago. It was part of the reason many moved to Mastodon in the first place. This means there’s been a jarring culture clash all week as a huge murmuration of tweeters descended onto Mastodon in ever increasing waves each day. To the Twitter people it feels like a confusing new world, whilst they mourn their old life on Twitter. They call themselves “refugees”, but to the Mastodon locals it feels like a busload of Kontiki tourists just arrived, blundering around yelling at each other and complaining that they don’t know how to order room service. We also mourn the world we’re losing.”
  • Local Ubers: One of the things that I have decided over the past 5 or so years that I really believe – and one I which, I know, I have wanged on about too much here, for which apologies – is that we are going to look back on the past three decades as a period of time when we let Venture Capital do untold harm to society in pursuit of ceaseless hockeystick growth and margin. This article in the always-excellent Rest of World is a nice example of what can happen outside of that relentless flywheel – it profiles a number of different ridehailing companies that have been established in markets that aren’t currently served by Uber due to their being perceived as too small and unprofitable, and which are able to offer a small, limited service to people who need it without the desperate drive from investors to increase user numbers and margins and returns. Turns out it’s perfectly possible to run a small-scale business that serves a user need and a community and make it work, enough to pay yourself and your drivers and to earn a living, and you don’t need to expand ruthlessly or put anyone at risk or be some sort of *ahem* ubercnut to do so. Whodathunkit, eh?
  • The MSCHF Art Show: Another profile of MSCHF to coincide with the…agency(?)’s inaugural real-world art show currently taking place in NYC. Your interest in this will largely depend on your interest in both MSCHF as brand/art pranksters and the intersection between brand, marketing and high-end artworld stuff, but I personally find the whole project here fascinating, not least the seeming pivot away from advermarketingpr-type stunts towards the sort of stuff that feels more adjacent to brands like Balenciaga or Supreme (who I suppose they have always been a natural evolution of). Still, though, no piece has offered me an adequate explanation as to a) where the initial cash for this came from; b) what the VCs who’ve paid in think they are investing in.
  • All The PR: A journalist at Slate spends a day saying ‘yes’ to all the PR emails they receive – this is what their day was like. This is interesting even if you have never worked in PR (you lucky, lucky fcuker) or journalism, but if you have done either then you will very much enjoy this (albeit probably for different reasons). I have MANY THOUGHTS on this, but the main one is ‘man, there are some fcuking terrible PRs in the US that are literally stealing money from idiots!’ I particularly enjoyed the quote from one business owner who says something like “Our PR is always telling us to keep an eye on the news to see if there are any breaking stories we might want to offer a comment on” and, my dude, that is literally what you are paying the PR for, perhaps stop paying them.
  • Can Food Be Art?: I have a feeling this might be paywalled – if so, sorry, but it’s an excellent opportunity to subscribe to Vittles which really is worth every penny if you have any interest in food and writing about food. Still, if you’re able to read it then you will be treated to a beautiful pair of essays on the links between food and art, the extent to which food can and / or should ever be thought of as art, and the role of the aesthetic in defining our relationship with what we eat. Also, the descriptions of radicchio in the second essay are just LOVELY.
  • London’s Forgotten River: A GREAT essay, which taught me all about the river Roding and which is genuinely heartwarming about the community and care that exist around it. It is also, unfortunately, likely to also render you inconceivably p1ssed-off when you read things like this: “I traced the source of this to an outflow, which was clearly spewing raw sewage (visible poo, toilet paper, condoms and all) into the brook and from there directly into the Roding. From estimating the rate of flow, it would appear to be spilling potentially hundreds of thousands of litres of raw sewage into the Roding every day and appears to have been doing so for some time. This is the worst pollution event that I have ever seen.” The Trust reported the spill. And though Thames Water came to investigate they have so far not resolved the issue.” There are notes of hope, though, not least in the ideas towards the end of the piece around the concept of the rediscovery of value in the commons, and the potential for giving natural areas defined state ‘incomes’ which are guaranteed and which are used for their upkeep. Baby steps.
  • What It’s Like To Dissect A Cadaver: This is an odd piece – I don’t think the author would mind my describing them as a touch idiosyncratic, as evidenced by the  fact that, per this article, they have so far paid multiple times to attend dissections as a curious observer. Which, it’s fair to say, isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time,but has resulted in this fragmentary series of observations about what it’s really like to apply a scalpel to dead flesh and cut. This is written conversationally and dispassionately, but it’s probably not one for the squeamish – your likely enjoyment will depend largely on your ability to stomach lines like: “Cutting into the skin and tissue is interesting. The skin goes way deeper than I thought, and you can stand a scissor point in it,” which in and of itself is a perfectly banal sentence until you take a moment to actually imagine it at which point it becomes powerfully evocative.
  • Menu Design: SUCH a great book review in the LRB – this is Rosemary Hill, writing about a book on European menu design through history and taking the reader on a whistlestop tour through culinary history and trends in both food and society over the past couple of hundred years. This is JOYOUS – my girlfriend and I collect restaurant menus, in part so we can remember what the fcuk we ate which occasionally gets tricky after the third bottle – and so I am admittedly the perfect target audience for this, but I challenge anyone not to be charmed by stuff like this: “Who knows what a Coventry Puff is, or a Fedora Pudding? Congress Tart sounds unappealing and it is unclear what the Haversnack café in London had in mind in 1966 in its offer of ‘Fruit Disc’ for 1/6d.” I WANT CONGRESS TART NOW.
  • On Lithuanians and Russians: Ok, a warning, this is VERY LONG, but it is also a superb piece of writing – honestly, I can’t stress how much I enjoyed the prose here (translated from the Lithiuanian by Elizabeth Novickas – I don’t obviously speak Lithuanian so can’t comment on the accuracy, but this reads EXCEPTIONALLY well) – which touches on national identity and selfhood and history and politics and philosophy, and, honestly, if you can spare the time and a bit of light thinking work, this is one of the best things you will read all week, I promise you.
  • Lockwood On Saunders: Finally this week, Patricia Lockwood writes about the work of George Saunders. It’s a testament to how good Lockwood is as a writer that I enjoyed every word of this, despite not being familiar with all of the works discussed – if you are a devotee of Saunders work then this will obviously be of help, but anyone with an interest in The Novel and The Short Story (sorry, but) and narrative and Why Writers Write (sorry again) will adore this. Honestly, it makes me almost upset how good Lockwood is and how well she writes – it’s just not fair that someone can be this good (specifically, someone who isn’t me).

By Keita Morimoto