Webcurios 19/11/21

Reading Time: 34 minutes

Is it getting FESTIVE in London? I ask only because I’m experiencing a mild degree of cognitive dissonance between my Twitter feed (Christmas adverts, christmas jumpers, turkey shortages, etc) and my physical existence in Rome (as of today: 22 degrees, sunshine, no fcuking hint of even a secretive Santa), and it’s quite hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. Are you real? ARE YOU?

Anyway, I am slightly late this morning and so this preamble will be kept to a minimum – the links, though, are as fattened, plump and bronzed as ever, veritably straining at their trusses, laden with promise (at least I think it’s promise; might be something else, you’ll just have to find out).

So, here we are once again. I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you are still going to pass off anything professionally-relevant that you find in here as fruit of your own indefatigable curiosity and research chops. So it inevitably goes.

By Sophie Vallance



  • ruDALL-E: It’s not, fine, the catchiest name in all the world, but ‘the latest text-to-image tool for you to play around with which once again feels like sort of dark magic’ was a bit long and unwieldy to use as title text. ruDALL-E is, as the name would suggest, a variant on the existing OpenAI tool DALL-E, but Russian (do you see???), and works very simply – input whatever text you like, and the software will attempt to ‘understand’ your request and generate an image which it things corresponds to said interpretation of your requirement. This has been trained on its own dataset, and so the visuals it spits out are stylistically-different from the sorts of things you might have seen before – there’s been some kvetching about whether this model is doing a bit too much ‘replicating stuff it’s seen before’ and not enough ‘imagining’, but you don’t need to worry about that. Instead, just spend a few seconds thinking of the most borderline-psychopathic subjects for an artwork you can, and then GO FOR YOUR LIFE! To my (literally the opposite of expert) eye, there’s a slightly airbrushed quality to much of what this spits out, with lots of the surfaces having a slightly De Lempicka quality to them (but, as I said, I don’t know what the fcuk I am talking about) – either way, if you’re struggling for gift ideas then why not feed the names of everyone you know and love into the machine and present them with hi-res, framed prints of the imaginings as gifts this festive season? “I couldn’t think what to get you so I got a machine to spit out an image based on your name” would make any right-thinking person’s day, right?
  • Dune Avatars: HAVE YOU SEEN THE DUNE FILM IS IT GOOD? As one of the pieces in last week’s longreads pointed out, unless they lean in hard to the p1ss-drinking, I’m not sure I want anything to do with a Frank Herbert adaptation; still, despite my personal reticence, I rather enjoyed this little (mobile-only) avatarmaking toy which lets you create your VERY OWN Atreides-looking CG homonculus which can caper in AR on your desktop or apparently be used as a player character in a bunch of games and game engines. This is really nicely done – ok, so it’s a Warner Bros title which means budget is…not exactly an issue, but it’s pleasing to see something like this executed at least functionally rather than the sort of bloated mess you often see being created from the ground up. It’s made using tech by Ready Player Me, whose schtick is making ‘metaverse-ready avatars’, and whilst, fine, you’re not going to be loading up Matt ‘I Drink My Own Urine But Honestly It’s Been Totally Purified So It’s Fine’ Muir into Fortnite anytime soon, these apparently work in VRChat (terrifying place that it is) and a few other not-totally-uninhabited worlds too, and it’s worth having a quick think about this sort of stuff because it’s the very, very early nascent stages of what this whole ‘metaverse’ is going to be like. Or at least bits of it. Maybe.
  • Eric Bompard: I just had to Google this – apparently Eric Bompard is a French luxury wool manufacturer, established in 1984. So know we (ok, fine, I) know. Anyway, I couldn’t really care less about cashmere, if I’m honest, but I was rather impressed with the way in which Bompard has used 360-degree video (God, remember when that was an exciting new thing? SIMPLER TIMES) to create their latest lookbook. Another mobile-only site, it takes you ‘behind the scenes’ (in a really staged way, but still) of the catalogue shoot, as you the viewer move your phone around to navigate within the environment, seeing the clothes in natural motion rather than simply hanging on the beautiful, disinterested horsepeople. Ok, so ‘look behind the scenes of a photoshoot IN VIDEO!!’ and ‘clickable, shoppable video!!!’ aren’t per se new gimmicks, but this is a nice, simple, light-touch activation which shows the fashion off nicely and where the 360 degree video actually sort of works, and, look, it’s been a long week and I am tired and the bar is low, what can I say?
  • Oxagon: I have featured Saudi CITY OF THE FUTURE Neom in here a couple of times now, the first in 2017 when its website launched (let’s just remind ourselves of how amazing it is, shall we? Yep, it’s amazing! Seriously, the website is wonderful, and everything you’d expect of the mad scifi dream of a future industrial plutocrats playground) – the project has been a bit quiet in the intervening few years (although it’s entirely possible that I’m simply not the sort of person who’s likely to see exciting updates about solar-powered business parks in the middle of the Saudi desert), but this week it unveiled THE OXAGON! THE OXAGON (it simply demands capitalisation!) is Neom’s industrial district (as far as I can tell – it’s all described in such astonishingly baggy language that it’s quite hard to tell), which is going to be the world’s largest floating structure and built half-off the Red Sea coast, and it’s going to be all GREEN and everything and…oh, look, just click the link and watch the ad, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Unless of course you find something ‘disappointing’ about the fact that just a short week after a conference at which, at best, our species maybe bought itself a little more time before all the envirohorror really kicks in we are now being sold a vision of an industrial centre built from the ground up in a fcuking desert and being told to believe that this is somehow ‘green’ – but then maybe you and I are just miserable naysayers who don’t have the vision to appreciate the majesty of the Oxagon.
  • Skittish: I know that the idea of virtual spaces in which to hang out with your friends, maybe with spatial audio, is a very ‘wave one of the pandemic’ concept, and that the idea of digital socialising is still something that people are trying to work out if they actually want, but I think this is really very fun. Skittish (made by Friend of Web Curios Andy Baio, but which I would feature regardless because it’s lovely) is a free (I think that there are paid tiers with additional functionality, but the basic product is perfectly-functional) product that lets anyone spin up a cute little 2.5d world in which they and others they invite can walk around, talk using spatial audio or text chat, watch videos in shared space from YouTube or Vimeo…all the usual sorts of features, but presented with such a sense of fun that it makes the prospect of ‘hanging out’ in virtual space practically fun. Look, I’m not a particularly cutesy person, but even I was charmed by how cute the walrus avatars look. As an easy, low-friction way of running an event or meetup, this is by far the best thing I’ve seen – even better, the digital ‘world’ you inhabit is easily customisable, so you can create visually-appropriate environments to host your, I don’t know, satanic taxidermy convention (although the prevailing aesthetic is always basically ‘Minecraft meets Tilt-Shift’, so on reflection you may struggle with certain darker themes). LOADS of fun, this – I suggest you and your team sack off the rest of the afternoon and go and watch cartoons in virtual space whilst embodying yourselves as tiny digital pigs.
  • Undercity Nights: I can’t claim to really understand this, but let me try and give you a brief precis. Undercity Nights is part of the wider series of events which are marking the debut of the animated series of League of Legends called Arcane (a music video from which I featured in the videos last week) – this website is by way of a whole load of backstory content, which fans can use to deepen their connection with the show, learn more about characters and sideplots, etc etc. Look, this is supplementary content for a cartoon based on a videogame that I have never played – I am very much not target audience here – but it’s still fascinating even if you’ve not experienced the rest of the content (sorry) which it stems from. The website here is beautifully-made, mimicking the style and design of the animation nicely and seemingly containing a bunch of reasonably-fleshed-out supplementary content (sorry) to enrich the stories from the game and cartoon, and there’s obviously lots of well-thought-out integration between the different properties within the franchise which makes this all feel more coherent than the usual ‘here’s a website what we made to promote the TV show’-type offering. Basically this is another ‘this is the future of digital entertainment’-type moments – single properties, exploited across multiple multimedia touchpoints through deep interactive storytelling with a strong emphasis on cross-platform unlockability and interdependence – which you might want to learn from if that’s your sort of thing.
  • Happy Tax Payer: I know everyone’s been gushing themselves dry about the Icelandverse this week (and yes, it is very well done indeed), but my favourite Northern European public sector campaign this week (and it’s a hotly-contested field) is this, from Finland, which seeks to encourage people to pay their taxes (actually I can’t imagine there’s that much tax avoidance in Finland – is there? – so perhaps this is just to make people feel better about tax) by pointing out all the awesome things that paying tax gets you. In fact,here’s the description from the website (which breaks my heart in its earnestness): “The aim of the project is to cultivate a positive attitude towards paying taxes and to reduce the shadow economy. The idea is to emphasise the building blocks of a fair and sustainable society: we are all working together to make this a good place to live and work in, for everyone.​” This is presented as a spoof streaming platform, with each film or TV show reinforcing the fact that, actually, paying tax is A Good Thing – so you have a made-up drama about a woman who’s forced to move to the North in search of a new life…but who, thanks to adequate social security provision resulting from an equitable taxation system, can do so without hassle! Look, I appreciate that this might not sound amazing, but I am an absolute sucker for this sort of gentle, reasonable, calm explanation of why actually not being a selfish cnut is good for everyone; in the unlikely event that anyone from the UK Government is reading this, can we try more of this sort of thing and less of the hating and the fear, please?
  • Pollinator Pathmaker: Oh this is DELIGHTFUL! Pollinator Pathmaker is a site which lets you map out the size of your garden, select how much light it gets, where you are in the world (well, Europe), what type of soil you have, how many types of plant you’d like to use, and then the extent to which you want an ordered vs chaotic garden, and then the website CREATES YOUR GARDEN for you! The idea is to create garden designs that work for pollinators, to create both a pleasing aesthetic spectacle AND save the bees. You can move it around, look at it in 3d, zoom in and out to see the individual species of flower in each area, and move through time so you can see how the garden changes with the passing of the seasons. Even better, the site produces a downloadable guide to planting the creation it spits out for you, so you too can (in theory, brown thumbs permitting) recreate it with seedlings – honestly, if I wasn’t currently living in a flat with limited outside space, and if that outside space wasn’t totally covered in ashtrays, I would be all over this.
  • YorkshireCoin: God’s own cryptocurrency! Except it’s not, sadly – this is entirely a spoof, which I suppose makes sense but which I am slightly sad about. Of course, I don’t think there’s anything to stop any of you minting your own YorkshireCoin and taking it TO THE MOON (or at the very least to Thornton-le-Dale).
  • The NFTBay: I hope you’ve all noticed and are grateful for the NFT restraint this week – barely a mention of the things! MAYBE THE HYPETRAIN IS OVER (it is not over)! This week, my favourite NFT-related thing (other than the creation of the ‘right clicker’ mosaic, which made me laugh quite a lot) is The NFTBay, a torrent of all the NFTs currently for sale across a couple of big marketplaces, all available to anyone who wants to download them, even if they have been ‘bought’ by someone else. Obviously this is all very silly – all you’re getting is a metric fcuktonne of sh1tty jpegs to download, after all, but then again it’s also VERY SILLY that people are claiming ownership of said jpegs, so here we all are. There’s definitely an art thing that could be done with this if you were so inclined, but, equally, you may just want to download the archive and spend a few days masquerading as a member of the Bored Ape Yacht Club for…hang on, actually, why would you do that?
  • The Family Museum: “Co-founded in 2017 by filmmaker Nigel Shephard and editor Rachael Moloney, The Family Museum is an archival photography project that evolved from research for a book, A History of Family Photography. This research was rooted in Nigel’s collection of around 25,000 original British amateur family photographs and 300 photo albums, dating from the 1850s to the noughties, put together by Nigel over a period of 30 years.” This is fabulous – I am generally a sucker for found photography, and these are no exception. Click into the blogs, as there are some wonderful explorations of some of the individual images and collections to enjoy.
  • Weather Is Happening: I received this email last week, which I will reproduce here in full: “GREETINGS, A LONG TIME AGO U FEATURED WEATHER IS HAPPENING ON UR WEBZONE AS A WEB CURIO. THE SITE HAS BEEN REDESIGNED, & EYE THOT U MITE THINK IT 2 BE AESTHETICALLY PLSING 2 THE EYE – THE WEATHER MAN”. Leaving aside the absolutely amazing Marvel Villain signoff that is ‘The Weather Man’, it’s always pleasing to be reminded of stuff I’ve featured in here before and I am happy to re-present Weather is Happening to you all now – it’s, to be clear, something of a niche concern (unless your interest is specifically in the weather in and around the city of Boston, Massachusetts, you’re unlikely to find it particularly useful), but it’s no less marvellous for that, and I can attest that the aesthetic glow-up it’s received does indeed make it ‘aesthetically plsing 2 the eye’. THANKS, THE WEATHER MAN!
  • Emoji Intensifies: Sometimes a standard emoji won’t do. Sometimes you need something more intense to communicate the degree of emotion you’re experiencing. Thank fcuk, then, for Emoji Intensifier, which lets you pick any emoji you like and up its intensity using a slider – ‘making it more intense’ means, effectively, making it shake as though full of uncontainable nervous energy’, but as long as you’re ok with that then you’ll be fine with this. In particular, there are certain emoji which when doctored in this way seem to change their meaning quite significantly – there are at least two I’ve tried which seem to strongly connote “a powerful struggle to defecate”, and I personally think that the aubergine becomes borderline-obscene when rendered using this engine, but see what you think.
  • Wishly: This is…interesting. I can’t work out if I think it’s a positive idea or not, but I can see the appeal – Wishly is an app which effectively acts as a bridge between charities and donors/activists, letting users find charities to donate to or volunteer with using an easy app interface – oh, and there’s a space for brands too! The idea of creating an app-based matchmaking service to bring together potential volunteers and activists with the causes they might want to support feels like a good one, but I can’t help but be a bit wary of the brand element here (but I suppose the app makers have to eat), This is – as far as I can tell – US-only, but there’s something in the idea – if nothing else, anything that makes it easier to find viable local volunteering opportunities would be a step in the right direction, something I always struggled with in London.
  • Factshot: Simple but brilliant – Magic 8Ball, in a website. Well, sort-of. Factshot presents a bunch of questions – who should I call today – Mum or Dad?; should I go out tonight? Yes or No?; etc etc – and you the user just have to take a screenshot of the question to find your answer (in the classic ‘pause the gif to win!’ style). This feels like something which could quite easily be repurposed…there’s something fun in the idea of using this sort of thing to create mystery walks from scratch, say (freeze the screen and follow the directions it presents you with), or shopping lists (freeze the screen and buy the ingredients it tells you to), or at least there is in my head, but bear in mind that I am VERY TIRED and may well not be thinking particularly straight at present.
  • Tably: This link is in here pretty much exclusively for my girlfriend, but some of you might like it as well. Tably is an app which purports to help you understand the emotional maelstrom your cat is currently navigating (cats are always navigating an emotional maelstrom, it is a fact) – whilst previous iterations of this sort of thing have attempted to read your pet’s thoughts by analysing its vocalisations, this one instead uses FACIAL ANALYSIS to get an IN-DEPTH APPRAISAL of how annoyed your cat currently is with you. Take a moment to think about that – this app is purporting to be able to analyse your cat’s emotions based on photos you take of its expression. HOW???? This would imply that there somewhere exists an accurate database which links feline facial arrangements to verified feline emotional states which – let’s be clear about this – is not true. I think – not to be too hyperbolic, but – that the people behind this app might be chancers (and, er, Web Curios would as always like to remind you that all app installation is a slight risk). Anyway, if you’d like an app that will lie to you about what your cat is currently thinking or feeling then this is for YOU! No, Saz, you’re welcome.
  • Netflix Top 10s: OFFICIAL NETFLIX DATA! Limited data, fine, but data nonetheless! This site presents the current top 10 most-viewed films and TV shows in English and non-English language across the platform, so you can do a quick sense-check as to whether your zeitgeisty TV-trope-bandwagoning stunt idea is in fact zeitgeisty or not. This is annoying in that it lacks granular breakdowns – it would be helpful to be able to see the UK rather than just ‘global english language’, for example – but it’s better than nothing. Can someone explain to me wtaf ‘Red Notice’ is, and why people seem to be watching it so much more than literally anything else? You can find some individual breakdowns of where globally popular shows are locally top-10, which might be of additional use for cultural planning-type stuff, but in the main this is useful for global trend work rather than your more local activity.
  • I Have No TV: This is an amazing resource, which presents a whole HOST of documentaries from all around the world, including some actual proper good content from the BBC and everything, all free to watch – I am not 100% sure how legal or legit this is, but it seems to contain an awful lot of stuff which I was…slightly surprised to see here (including quite a lot of BBC content too, which is great if you’re like me and living abroad and can’t be faffed to VPN your way to iPlayer). Obviously I can’t guarantee that there won’t be all sorts of batsh1t ‘tail end of Amazon Prime’ conspiracyw4nk, but, with that caveat in mind, FILL YOUR DOCUBOOTS!
  • Tiny Barber, Post Office: This might be my favourite thing of the week. Craig Mod is a writer based in Japan whose work I featured in Curios a few years back – specifically, his travelogue about going around Japan investigating the phenomenon of kissa, small tea or coffeerooms, and his love of the peculiar Japanese phenomenon of pizza toast. This is his new project, in which he’s spending a few weeks visiting 10 Japanese cities and writing about his findings and observations (which, so far, mainly seem to involve sitting in coffeeshops and watching the world go by). I cannot stress enough what wonderful, slow, travel writing this is, and I recommend that you sign up immediately – Mod writes an email a day, and the whole project will be done in a few short weeks time. Waking up to read the story of a slow, gentle day in a Japanese coffeeshop is, I promise, a perfect use of your time.
  • FlipLand: You will need to open this on your phone. Some of you will get this immediately, other will be baffled. WHICH WILL YOU BE???

By Barbara Kruger



  • Conception: Conception is a company whose website promises the frankly INSANE scifi prospect of being able to create human life through asexual reproduction, specifically by turning stem cells into human eggs. I KNOW, RIGHT?! I have no idea whatsoever how the science here works – or if indeed it does – but the promise here is that through technology (apparently tested on mice) scientists have been able to transform any stem cell into a viable egg which can then be fertilised and brought to term, thereby enabling the reproductively-challenged to explore the possibility of having children where none previously existed. “In our lab, we reconstitute the process under which egg cells would normally develop inside the female body. We generate induced pluripotent stem cells from blood samples. We then shepherd these stem cells through the various steps that they would normally undergo as they develop to become viable eggs.” HOW MAD IS THIS?!? Obviously there are all SORTS of ‘interesting’ questions inherent in this sort of experimentation, and the slight ‘WE ARE BECOME GODS!!!’ vibe of the whole thing does make me a touch…nervous, but overall this is proper cutting-edge mad future scifi stuff which I will be fascinated to track.
  • Mediaopoly: Interesting idea, this – plug in any Twitter account you like and it will attempt to assess its political leanings based on the sorts of news outlets it shares content from. More specifically, it points out exactly where the news shared by said accounts comes from – how many of the sources it shares from are owned by private equity, how many by major media conglomerates, etc etc. More than anything it’s a useful snapshot of How Media Works, and how vested interests in media proliferate, but it’s also a potentially-helpful way of quickly checking whether that interesting person you’ve just chosen to follow is in fact a raving Infowars maniac or whether they are in fact a nice knitted-opinions Guardanista like you and me (I am assuming, but, well).
  • MiniMuseums: SO SMOL! SO CUTE! MiniMuseums is a lovely project, currently operating in the Bay Area, which invites artists to create small, er, ‘museums’ which they then take 360-degree photos of to make them available to an online audience. The idea of tiny public gallery spaces is hardly a new one, fine, but there’s something about the way in which these are presented which makes them particularly-pleasing to explore – the museums are morelike dense collages, and there’s a pleasing richness to them which lend themselves to the 360-degree image exploration here enabled.
  • Muskehounds: If you’re in your late-30s or early-40s and from the UK, I am reasonably-certain that merely reading that word will have your internal jukebox singing ‘One for all and all for one / Muskehounds are always ready’ over and over again on an infernal loop (nope, not sorry) – this is a methuselan website celebrating ICONIC (I hate that word, but occasionally its use is justified) cartoon representation of the French Revolution, ‘Dogtanian and the Muskehounds’. All the information you could possibly want about the characters, the show, the animation, the theme tune…links to fanpages (many of which are sadly dead, but still)…even some information about Alexandre Dumas. Click the link and travel back in time, and remind yourself of the strange, forbidden allure of feline temptress ‘Milady’ (look, YOU FANCIED HER TOO, don’t lie).
  • Glitch In Bio: I’ve always been slightly confused at the need for those ‘all your social profile links in one place!’ homepage services, but they continue to be popular enough that new variants continue to spring up all the time. This one, by coding community Glitch, is a particularly-shiny one, letting users not only chuck all their personal links in one place on a personal URL, but also making the resulting page customisable in the oh-so-trendy MySpace-style – so you can not only add all your social profiles (ADD ME ON LINKEDIN!!) but also embed audio and video, theme the page, add in email signups and payment options…basically this is a reasonably-sophisticated little personal homepage maker with bells on, and could be worth a look if you’re in the market for a personal digital address with a little more personality than About.me or other such services.
  • YouTube Dislikes: YouTube’s plan to remove dislike counts from its videos has engendered a huge wailing and gnashing of teeth – “How am I meant to tell if a video is sh1t unless it has been massively ratio’d?” – so inevitably there’s no w a plugin to reinstate it. Should you be lost without the easily-viewable at-a-glance opinion of EVERYONE ELSE about the quality of a particular video, this will save your life – of course, you could just apply a standard critical filter to your video selection process (does it feature a KERRRRAZZY placeholder image? Does the female presenter appear to be displaying a non-standard amount of cleavage in the thumbnail?), but perhaps that would be too hard.
  • The Natural Landscape Photography Awards: THE PHOTOGRAPHY AWARDS WILL NEVER, EVER STOP! Still, these are gorgeous, and very much scratch my personal ‘wow, the earth is a beautiful and terrifying accident of physics’ itch – special mention to the photo of lightning against the Matterhorn which is an astonishing shot.
  • Scan Of The Month: As far as I can tell, this website does nothing other than post images of a different object each month, taken through an MRI. This month it’s a LEGO minifig, which you may not have thought you would have wanted to see MRIs of but which you will, I promise, be more interested by than you’d have thought. In particular, there’s something fascinating about seeing all the thought and attention that goes into the bits you don’t see – obviously I can’t vouch for the site long term, as there’s no visibility of what they are going to scan next, but presuming they don’t take a strange and unexpected pivot into body horror or similar you might want to sign up for their occasional updates (Web Curios takes no responsibility for future mental scarring engendered by them sending you images of, I don’t know, MRI scans of instruments of torture, or foetal abnormality in puppies, or something).
  • Writer: Another week, another sizeable nail in the coffin of the very idea of ‘being able to earn a decent living via the production of words what read good’ – this is Writer, a piece of software designed to help teams implement their style guides in practice (because, let’s be honest, most style guides for brands get produced at some expense by AN Other agency and then quietly oublietted on the S: drive somewhere, while whoever’s in charge of writing the blogpost this week gets on with churning out 400 words of identikit thought leadership pabulum because it doesn’t matter either way). Objectively-speaking, this is very clever – a plugin that integrates with Word, Gdocs and a bunch of other programs, Writer lets you set up rules, vocab guides and the like, which are automatically used to flag prose as being non-compliant as it gets written, with simple ‘click and replace’ suggestion functionality to ensure that staff aren’t doing the unthinkable and saying ‘thrilled’ when the style guide clearly states that the brand is in fact always ‘jazzed beyond belief’. If you work for a large organisation with a lot of ‘content creators’ (OH GOD MAKE IT STOP) I can see exactly how this could be useful, even though my personal opinion is that this is a further step towards the utter productisation of the written word and its eventual complete devaluing (which, given the quality of that last sentence, I seem to be ably abetting here).
  • Yassify: This has been everywhere this week, but if you have somehow contrived to miss it then please enjoy Yassify, a Twitter account which posts pictures of famouses (actors, musicians, TV show characters, etc) which have been facetuned to the nth degree and which as a result all have that strange Melania Trump-esque quality of looking like their faces have been rendered in some sort of weird matte-foundation polymer. You can read an explainer as to what it’s all about, should you want one, here – as ever, it’s probably not worth attempting to ascribe too much meaning to this as a) it’s a joke ffs; and b) the creator has said that they are only doing this til their premium subsscription to whatever ‘shopping app they’re using expires, so just enjoy the faces and let it wash over you.
  • Population Builder: Small-but-useful, this – select a bunch of geographical areas within the UK and the site will spit out a population estimate for the selected geographies, based on 2020 data. Imperfect, fine, but given Facebook has hamstrung its ad planning tool, which was always my go-to for data on ‘how many people live here?’ data, this might be a helpful alternative.
  • Spotify Statistics: It’s almost that most wonderful time of year – when everyone shares their Spotify Wrapped update as a thrilling insight into how special and unique and interesting they are (“You listened to that? Oh you fascinating human!”). One of the perils of the Spotify thing, though, is that it only happens once a year and therefore it’s hard to track what’s going to be top of your personal tree – using this app will give you UP TO THE MINUTE DATA about your most-listened-to tracks and artists and genres, and all the information you could possibly require to ensure that when the official version comes out you have tweaked and primped your tastes to present the best possible version of your musical self to the waiting world.
  • Audiobites: Simple one this – Audiobites turns any audio clip you care to feed it into a video, with speech-to-text providing the copy which accompanies the audio. It works with audioclips or video, and lets you add your own images to use in the resulting visual output – if you have some GREAT voicenotes sitting on your phone and want to create some grade-A beef, this is potentially hugely useful (there may well be other uses, fine, but for some reason I can’t get beyond the Everest-scale pettiness that this might enable).
  • Fondfolio: I’m not sure what I think about this – I think I’ve got a certain level of English shame and self-loathing that precludes me from being able to look at stuff like Fondfolio without coming out in some sort of full-body embarrassment rash, but equally I can sort-of see that for some people this might be a genuinely lovely idea. The premise is simple – Fondfolio is a user-generated book, which is compiled of statements or memories about a particular individual, written by their friends and loved ones, and compiled into a bespoke, one-of-a-kind presentation book for them to keep and return to when they feel in desperate need of a pick me up. Your appreciation of this will depend entirely on the extent to which you’re the sort of person who enjoys reading your old school yearbooks, or work leaving cards – and, I suppose, on who fills the thing in and what they say (it would be quite funny to get one of these where everyone took a page to enumerate one’s personality defects to several decimal places, for example). It seems unlikely that this is doable by Christmas this year, but if someone you know is the sort of person who’d like to sit down in a comfy armchair and read several dozen hagiographies of themselves then a) maybe bookmark this for their birthday; and b) why are you friends with them? They sound awful.
  • To Me, To You: I am charmed by this (very silly, very pointless) webthing in ways I can’t adequately explain. There’s got to be something clever that can be done with infinite redirects like this, surely?
  • Women In Type: “Type-manufacturers employed women as part of departments that were variously known as ‘drawing studios’, ‘type drawing offices’, or ‘departments of typographic development’. These women worked daily on developing and producing typefaces that were, eventually, almost always attributed to male designers. They merit attention as key contributors to the design process of many renowned typefaces that emerged throughout the twentieth century. Women in Type is a research project highlighting the work of these women. It focuses on their roles and responsibilities between 1910 and 1990 within two major British companies: the Monotype Corporation and Linotype Limited (formerly Linotype-Paul Ltd and Linotype-Hell Ltd).” This is a brilliant piece of English design history, featuring the history of type in the UK in the 20th century, examples of notable work, and an exploration of women’s role in the development of the industry – if you work in design, this may be of particular interest, but in general it’s a fascinating look at a very particular branch of industrial history.
  • Concert Roulette: It’s a source of constant personal disappointment – one of a near-infinite series – that despite being well into middle-age by now (and frankly if I’m honest about my lifestyle, quite possibly well past it) I still can’t bring myself to listen to classical music (or at least not trad classical – modern stuff, fine, but I can’t seem to get Brahms, Liszt and those lads however hard I try). Still, perhaps Concert Roulette will help – a seemingly-vast trove of classical concert footage which you can explore through a series of random selections. Either go full lucky dip, or select the sort of styles you’d like to explore or avoid, and GO! Content is pulled from YouTube, so there’s no shortage of material here – I’ve had this cycling through stuff in the background as I type this morning, and, well, it’s better than ClassicFM (low bar, I know, but I am a know-nothing bozo when it comes to this sort of thing).
  • Doors: This is a wonderful project, if a very odd one. Doors is a massive, evolving interactive fiction adventure, built in Twine and letting the player explore a vaguely-Potterish school of wizardry via a classic ‘choose your own adventure’-type system of exposition and choices; there’s some light character development, saveable progression…oh, and there’s a lot of kink. Doors is explicitly queer-coded, and as such you can explore all sorts of possibilities within its world which would have Ms Rowling’s expensively-coiffed hair standing on end (one supposes) – this is really well-made and far more engaging than I was expecting (and I write this as someone who, honestly, has no particular personal desire to be figged by a house elf). NSFW, in case you were wondering, although given it’s all text then, well, give a fcuk.
  • Peter Talisman: Finally this week, a beautiful addition to / twist on the endless clicker genre – Peter Talisman is a sort of folk-horror experience, designed to accompany the new album by the artist of the same name. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but you’ll need about 40m to play it all the way through, there is no saving, and you will want to turn the sound up – honestly, this is so, so lovely, and so beautifully-made, and it works perfectly as an introduction/accompaniment to the album (which itself is also gorgeous). I can’t recommend this highly enough – please do give it a click and a play.

By Chelsea Gustafsson



  • The Museum of Failure Collection: Not (I don’t think, I haven’t checked the source code) a Tumblr! Still, who cares – this is a small site accompanying the infamous Museum of Failure (physically located, at present at least, in the US and Taiwan), which offers up a rolling series of examples of products or services deemed ‘failures’ – so, for example, here we have ‘Amazon Destinations’, the hotel booking website which everyone forgets Amazon tried to make happen, and the Motorola Iridium satellite phone, and a brand of tampon called ‘Rely’ with the truly jaw-dropping slogan “It Even Absorbs The Worry” (no, really). WONDERFUL (and there are at least three things on here that I reckon you could reasonably resurrect as they were genuinely great ideas that were simply before their time – see if you can find them).
  • A London Inheritance: I appreciate it’s churlish of me to say this, living as I do in what is, objectively, the most beautiful city in the world (fight me), but I really miss London at the moment – specifically, the sort of meandering walks you can take through the city, losing yourself on a Sunday in EC1 in a fug of empty streets and shuttered boozers and p1ss-infused alleyways. This blog (not a Tumblr either but, well, I didn’t want to leave the section empty this week) scratches that itch for me perfectly. No idea who writes it, but the description states: “Through “A London Inheritance” I will document my exploration of London using these photographs as a starting point. To try and identify the original locations, show how and why these have changed and how the buildings, streets and underlying topography of the city have developed. This journey will take me from Hampstead to Hoxton, Battersea to Greenwich, well known landmarks as well as hidden buildings, streets and steps, along with events such as the Festival of Britain and the Coronation.” This has been going for YEARS, and as such is a wonderful archive of and about the City – if you are, or have been, a Londoner, you will adore this, I promise.


  • Origami Chris: I promise you, there are no cranes here. This stuff is insane.
  • The Stan Winston School: The Stan Winston School is an LA-based institution which teaches propmaking and SFX work – this is its Insta account, which is a near-constant procession of awesome puppetry and modelmaking and SFX and makeup and basically if you’re curious about How Film Stuff Works, or just want to see some very cool prop work, this will be right up your street.
  • McSenget: ‘Senget’ is apparently Malay for ‘tilted’ – so this Insta feed serves to document instances of McDonald’s food which arrives at destination compromised by having been thrown around in transit (or prepared by a blind person). You want to see images of Big Macs with distressingly-misaligned cheese flaps? YES YOU DO.


  • How NFTs Create Value: I promise that this week’s longreads are light on the NFT/Web3 stuff, but I wanted to kick off with this piece because it’s a neat illustration of what to my mind is the main issue with the whole movement at present – as I have previously outlined, it’s not so much the existing silly frothiness I take issue with as the persistent inability of anyone pumping this stuff to be able to point out to me why it’s a good idea for anyone other than the people who got in early. This article is published by Harvard Business Review (although as we know, Harvard isn’t necessarily the imprimatur of intellectual quality its alumni and academics might have us believe), co-authored by a professor of business management at the University, and still doesn’t manage to say anything meaningful about the ‘why’ of it all beyond vague claims about ‘community’. Basically there’s nothing in here that convinces me that any of this is more than a question of brands and branding – see what you think.
  • The Metaverse Is Coming – What Next?: I think I have managed to de-paywall this  link, but if not (and if you’re interested in the general metaverse conversation) then I strongly advise you seeking a way around the paywall as it’s probably the smartest thing I have read about the whole thing to date. Sam Lessin (more about him later) writes about his observations based on the current state of Web3-type stuff, and offers up a selection of questions to which he is still seeking answers – I get the impression that Lessin is significantly more bullish than I am about all this stuff, but what I like about this piece is that his questions are the same ones I am asking (to whit, ‘how exactly does anyone think that this is going to help creators monetise their work more?’, and ‘how does cross-’verse interoperability work?’), and that he is quite open about not knowing the answers to most of them. In particular, his thinking on ‘will this let creators make bank?’ struck me as admitrably clear-headed: “It’s the simple reality of competition—if you get an immersive and frictionless digital environment going, there will inevitably be too many creators looking for work to sustain pricing. Unless or until creators form guilds, the likely outcome will just be a race to the bottom on pricing. This is already happening in the creator and gaming economies. To be sure, more people are supporting themselves independently than has been the case historically. But in most cases, that means getting by marginally at best. It isn’t clear how that would be any different in the metaverse.”
  • RIP Lowtax: Rich ‘Lowtax’ Kyanka was not, by all accounts, a hugely pleasant or indeed good person; he was, though, one of the most influential people most people have never heard of. Founder of (in)famous messageboard Something Awful, he was indirectly responsible for the creation of 4chan, which itself was…well, we don’t need to get into all of that here. More than that, though, the prevailing humour and tone of SomethingAwful effectively defined a lot of 00s and early-teens webculture, for better or (likely) worse, and it’s definitely a significant datapoint in my personal ‘Neill Strauss is responsible for everything that’s wrong with the world in 2021’ thesis (I will expand upon this at length for anyone who is interested, I warn you). I spent a LOT of time reading SomethingAwful way back in the day – the site’s review of ‘cult’ bongo flick Edward Penishands, is still one of the funniest things I have ever read online, anywhere – and whilst it was a truly odd and dark place it was also a crucible of The Modern Web in many respects. You can read an overview of the Kyanka/SA influence matrix here, if you want to go deeper – RIP.
  • Chinese Flash Games: Chaoyang Trap House, the occasional newsletter about Chinese culture which is the only thing I receive in my inbox which makes Curios look short by comparison – this week presented this superb deep-dive into the history of Flash Games in China, and how Flash development behind the Great Firewall was hugely significant in the development of the modern Chinese games industry and how that in turn has had a significant impact on design and graphical trends in modern gaming. If you’re of a certain age you will have fond memories of the stick figure fight animations produced by mysterious animator ‘Xiao Xiao’ – this explains the story behind the phenomenon, which imho is worth the price of admission on its own. This is VERY long, but super-interesting for those with any involvement in or curiosity about the gaming industry.
  • Investing in People: More Sam Lessin – this time he’s the subject rather than the author, though. Lessin runs a venture fund which has recently taken the unusual step of investing in an individual rather than a business – the fund has ploughed $1.7m into Marina Mogilko, “a 31-year-old YouTube personality with multiple popular channels that touch on topics like life in Silicon Valley and learning new languages.” In exchange, the VCs get a guaranteed “5 percent of her creator-related earnings for the next 30 years, plus a percentage from any IP she develops, even beyond that three-decade timeline. (As Mogilko explained it, “If I wrote a book in 2030, and it’s still selling in 100 years or whatever, they’re still getting 5 percent of that revenue.”)” This feels…complicated, doesn’t it? On the one hand, this feels like a pretty sweet deal for Mogilko – as the article sells it, if she decides to step away from the YT grind there’s no expectation that she return the invested capital. On the other, this also feels uncomfortably like ‘buying a human being’, which, well, no. Then again, this is in some way the heart of the creator economy – except your value is potential returns rather than creative output. Is this ok? It doesn’t feel ok.
  • The Haptic Future: I feel slightly-uncomfortable writing nice things about Facebo-sorry, Meta, here, but occasionally it’s important to remember that whatever we might think of Zuckerberg’s Big Blue Misery Factory it’s very much at the cutting edge of developing the technologies that are likely to (for better or, quite possibly, very much worse) define much of human experience for the next few decades. So it is with this blogpost from the company, outlining the progress of its research into the development of haptic interfaces (in this case, gloves). Look, I hate Facebo-sorry, Meta, you hate Meta, we all hate Meta – equally, though, if I ignore the people behind this, I can’t help but get small-e excited about the possibilities inherent in tech which allows us to get tactile feedback from the digital (except because it’s Facebo-sorry, Meta, there’s no discussion whatsoever of the REAL breakthrough use-case for this, which is obviously going to be interactive bongo suits).
  • Container Logistics: One of the key tenets of Web Curios is that NOTHING IS BORING (apart from Star Wars) – proof of that comes in this article about the less-than-fascinating sounding topic of container logistics, which instead turns out to be a properly-interesting look at how the messy business of ‘moving all sorts of tat around the world constantly, at scale’ practically works. Honestly, this is so interesting, not least as it forces you to think about all sorts of things you will almost-certainly never have thought of before (like ‘how glad am I that my job isn’t being in charge of getting things in and out of massive shipping containers?’).
  • FacePay in Moscow: Russians (or at least a very specific subset of Russians who either love a strongman or simply prefer not to have the secret police taking an undue interest in their affairs) may feel that cuddly’ol’Vlad gets something of a rough ride in the West – it’s pretty certain that most people not in Russia would, if asked ‘what country would you trust least to run a facial recognition system?’, probably answer ‘yep, Russia’. And yet that’s exactly what is currently being implemented in the Moscow underground network – face-scanning ticket machines, ostensibly designed to make the whole process of getting into the network marginally-faster and DEFINITELY NOT as a means of establishing a network of information about who is moving where and when and with whom, oh no siree. The technical achievement here is impressive, no doubt, but you’re a more trusting individual than I am if you read this and think ‘yeah, no danger here sonny’.
  • COBOL: One of the interesting (read: moderately-terrifying) interesting things about the past 50-odd years and our increasingly reliance on software is the nature of software itself, and the way it now tends to work – the web is basically a creaking system of patches and hacks, nothing is ever built from scratch, and we all rely on huge public databases of hacky fixes to make anything work to any acceptable degree. Which is why stuff like this is so fascinating (and potentially concerning) – whole swathes of what we consider to be infrastructural architecture are built on codebases that are old, clunky and which, as is the case with COBOL, the language that underpins much of the modern banking infrastructure used worldwide, simply noone really knows how to write anymore. This is both an investigation into how all these systems came to be, and a warning klaxon that we’re only a plane crash on the way to a convention away from there being noone left on earth who can unfcuk, say, the account reconciliation systems for 80% of global financial institutions. If there’s a lesson from this, it’s LEARN COBOL, KIDS.
  • Why Are GenZ Acting Like Boomers?: Or ‘what’s with all the weird chain letter and Satanic Panic-type stuff that’s all over TikTok these days?’. The piece argues that it’s simply an expression of a desire for comfort and control in an uncertain age – I would instead argue that it’s the ultimate manifestation of a generation in which Posters’ Sickness is endemic, and who would (and will) say anything for the numbers. Either/or, really.
  • The QAnon Shaman Conspiracy: On the collision of theories and conspiracies that populate the now-incarcerated QAnon Shaman guy; interesting less because of the specifics, and more because of the way this sort of conflation of sources and causes into one barely-coherent explanatory mess is pretty much the de facto lingua franca of the modern web ID (see also: true crime investigations on TikTok, the forensic analysis of mundane content (sorry) for DEEPER MEANING (cf disappointed reaction boyfriend) etc etc, and you can see its tentacles EVERYWHERE.
  • The SuperBowl of Robots: We all know that the Spot robot dog things are the creepy harbingers of a future in which humans are hunted for sport, but they are ALSO potentially really useful when it comes to search and rescue, and let’s focus on that for a moment instead of the inevitable future murderhunts. This excellent read in the Washington Post profiles the participants in the recent DARPA contest to find the best semi-autonomous robot rescue team – the machines were operating independently, not via human operation, and working as teams to solve a series of simulated challenges like a cave-in or post-factory explosion recovery mission. This was properly eye-opening to me – I have tried to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when it comes to the idea of ‘amazing robot future tech, but it’s hard not to get jazzed about the possibilities when you read about a team of 4 devices working together to free a boy trapped down a well (I am paraphrasing slightly, but you get the idea).
  • Jasper Johns: A really interesting article, examining issues of authorship and ownership and rights in art. Legendary US artist Jasper Johns recently completed a new work – which featured as a significant part of it a photorealistic reproduction of a drawing done by a young man which Johns had seen hanging in his dentist’s surgery and took a liking to. This piece asks to what extent Johns’ incorporation of this work was legitimate, the extent to which the creator of the original was entitled to compensation for its use (even as a copy), and whether Johns should have asked permission in the first place. No answers are really forthcoming, but I find stuff like this super-interesting in general. Also, this is one of the only times I have looked at a problem and thought ‘actually, there’s something to be said for the role of NFTs here’ – IS THIS A RUBICON I HAVE JUST CROSSED? I do hope not.
  • Hunter S Thomson: Thomson’s one of those writers who I feel loses their lustre the older one gets – what’s thrillingly rock’and’roll when you read it at 14 is slightly more self-indulgent claptrap when you hit your 30s (or at least that’s what I found). Regardless of your thoughts on the Dr’s writings, he’s as much famed as an icon of the counterculture as author of renown – this piece, itself a review of a biography of Thomson, presents a fairly stark assessment of his qualities as a journalist, writer and human being. Interesting throughout, whether or not you’re a Thompson fan, and another piece of evidence to add to the stacked pile which seems to point to the overriding characteristic of the 20th Century as being ‘white men being allowed to get away with stuff, over and over again’.
  • Meet Sam Asghari: Celebrity profiles tend to bore me, but I cannot recommend this one, of Mr Britney Spears, highly enough. It is possibly a bit mean, but if you take it at face value then there seems to be little danger that its subject will ever be able to tell that it’s not an entirely-positive piece of writing. Deliciously, beautifully withering throughout.
  • Divorce Does Funny Things: Not actually about divorce; instead, this is a brief piece of writing about working on the rigs. This is only a couple of thousand words, max, but it contains enough for a novel (it is in fact an extract from the author’s book, called Sea State) – superb writing, by Tabitha Lasley.
  • 6 Things To Think About When Designing Your Child: Very short piece of near-future fiction; I think I said something similar about a piece last week, but this is brilliant precisely because of the gaps it leaves in what it tells you, and how you’re forced to fill them in.
  • The World in 2031: A collection of writings, compiled by Storythings on the occasion of the project’s 10th anniversary, in which authors write with an eye on a decade hence. “We’ve commissioned eight writers from across the globe to write short fiction that explores some of these impacts – climate migration, climate change, digital identity projects, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in multiple settings from work to health to culture, and how all this affects who we are – with a view to the year 2031. The world was different 10 years ago when we launched and it will have changed again 10 years from now.” I’ve read about half of these, and on that basis can recommend the whole collection unreservedly – SO much good writing and interesting thinking here.
  • A Hunger: Finally this week, a short story exploring queerness in life and love; it seems trite to say it, but there is so much interesting work coming from queer, nonbinary, etc, authors at the moment, not least because these are voices I simply have not heard for most of my 4+ decades on this beknighted planet. This is beautifully-written by Fran Lock.

By Irana Douer