Webcurios 21/05/21

Reading Time: 36 minutes

HI EVERYONE! Slightly early this week as I have a lunch reservation to get to – yes, I know you don’t give a flying one about my movements, but I feel I ought to justify the slightly cobbled-together nature of this week’s roundup. I mean, it’s still good (a word I have taken to using as a synonym for ‘voluminous’ rather than as originally intended, but still), but just a bit…unfocused, maybe.

You will, I hope, forgive me the distraction; I am in the middle of some Minor Life Upheaval, which will cause me to take next week off due to my having to take a one-way flight to the mothercountry. The next time you get one of these it will be from ROME! It won’t make a blind bit of difference to the quality, but see if the sunshine has an appreciably positive effect on my mood and the prose style.

So, I will see you again on 4 June; you can spend the intervening two weeks gnawing on this week’s words and links and seeing whether it really is possibly to click everything without wishing to cause either me or, perhaps more usefully, humanity, untold harm.

Once again, then, it’s time to wearily staple back your eyelids in preparation for the Clockwork Orange-esque kaleidoscope of stuff on the internet which I’m preparing to fire into you – consider this horrible prose the metaphorical syringe through which the necessary VACCINE OF LINKS can be administered. Some might argue that the cure is worse than the disease and, frankly, maybe they’re right.

Still, whether you like it or not, here’s Web Curios.

By Arja Heinonen-Riganas



  • Fly With Karol G: I don’t feel we’ve 100% nailed the digital album launch, personally. I mean, obviously there have been various experiments at various points looking at simultaneous livestreams of launch parties, and EXCLUSIVE DIGITAL CONTENT DROPS and stuff like that, but all it ever seems to amount to is more of the same sort of content that we never accessed when it was the BONUS CD-ROM CONTENT you were briefly subjected to in the 90s. Which is basically what this is – Karol G is one of those artists who I am certain is VERY FAMOUS to huge numbers of people and yet because of the fact that there is no longer any such thing as a meaningful sense of online monoculture…hang on…yep, she’s a Colombian popstar and is therefore SUPERFAMOUS, which rather explains why she’s gotten the full Spotify multimedia treatment – this is the site that accompanies her new album, which invites you to, er, get on a virtual plane made of gold and watch/listen while Karol G talks you through each of the tracks while sitting in a digitally-recreated little first class booth and it’s VERY shiny and nicely made, but I also feel slightly confused as to what the point is in creating such a shiny-but-ultimately-flat home for all of this; I mean, you could have done this as a YouTube playlist and got just as many views and not forced poor Karol G (for some reason I feel it’s important to use her full name here) to spend so much time looking slightly-uncomfortable in a CG Learjet. Still, the music is almost infernally catchy, and I have now heard of Karol G, so I suppose she still wins. WELL DONE KAROL G!
  • Sonic Blooming: Oh this is lovely! I feel slightly surprised that I’ve not come across a variation on this idea before, but I’ve had a brief root around in the archives and I couldn’t find anything (which admittedly could have more to do with the fact that I describe things in a way which can charitably be described as ‘baroque’ and that does tend to make search something of a challenging task FFS PAST MATT WHY COULD YOU NOT EMPLOY SOME SORT OF PROPER TAXONOMY), meaning this is ORIGINAL THINKING (by the artist responsible, to be clear, not me). What would roses sound, if you made music from their growth? I know, I know, ME TOO! Well, wonder no longer – Crystal Cortez is an artist and programmer (and has a fantastic name), and has worked with the International Rose Test Garden in Portland to create soundscapes based on data taken from the roses as they grow – to quote the artist, “ I have used a process called “Biodata Sonification”; attaching sensors to the plants in the garden to collect their electrical impulses. I have translated these impulses into musical pitches and sound that make up half of the composition you will hear. The other half of the composition is made up of field recordings I’ve collected in the space over time. Soundwalkers are encouraged to dive deep into these soundscapes as they explore each garden.” This is such a lovely concept; I would be fascinated to see this applied to different plant types somewhere like Kew, which I imagine would be a glorious cacophony.
  • The Virtual Factory: Part of the Manchester International Festival, The Virtual Factory launched last Summer but, well, I was Off Curios and so this is the first I’ve heard of it. The project is ‘inspired by’ a new artistic space in Manchester, called ‘The Factory’, and is hosting a series of 4 digital works over the course of the year. Currently on show is the second of four, called ‘The Neon Heiroglyph’ by Tai Shani – “Inspired by Shani’s research into ergot, a fungus that grows on grains from which LSD is derived, The Neon Hieroglyph is a dreamlike CGI journey from the cellular to the galactic, from the forests to the subterranean, from the real to the almost unimaginable” – and, honestly, I once again find big-ticket digital work commissioned by a major Arts Council-funded body significantly less-whelming than I do a significant proportion of the random webspaff I stumble across on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not bad, just that I feel in 2021 if we’re doing BIG DIGITAL ART stuff then it should feel marginally more interesting than ‘odd CG videos’ as frankly that doesn’t feel like quite enough.
  • Tru: I don’t want to discourage anyone from attempting to break the current TikTokZuckerbergian digital hegemony, but it’s hard to see how a new social network can gain traction at this point; not least because I don’t think there’s any time left for discovery or trial, what with us all now basically being content creators for the onlinevideoconsumptionindustrialcomplex full-time these days. Still, this piqued my interest slightly – Tru is A N Other ‘new social network that promises it’s going to be different, honest’, the gimmick here being the paper trail it creates for any content posted on the network using….CRYPTO! No, wait, hang on, this doesn’t quite have the standard ultragrifty feel of most crypto stuff of late (not to say that it isn’t one, to be clear, just that if it is it’s a slightly better-disguised version than normal) – see, look: “The system is not a blockchain, but can work with, or without, any blockchain.” Maybe it’s not a total con after all. Anyway, the supposed appeal of ‘Tru’ is the fact that you should in theory be able to trace the source of any information on the network, which (again in theory) is designed to allow for the creation of better, stronger, more trusted networks and information flows. This obviously won’t ever be more than a niche concern (come back and laugh in 2050 when TruNet is everything and we’re all paying for things with TruTokens), but I think the basic premise underlying it has something going for it. Oh, and seeing as we’re here, this is Something Good – ANOTHER new social network, launching later this year and mining the same ‘vaguely vaporwavey DIY post-MySpace aesthetic’ that we saw last week with mmm (and in the past literally a million times before). Part of me admires the hope here – but the fact that this one claims to have raised $3.75m suggests to me that there is TOO MUCH VC MONEY floating about.
  • Black People Made TikTok: Depending on when you read/find this this title may not make any sense – still, at the time of writing, this TikTok account owned by one Kahlil Green is posting a series of super-interesting videos in which Green breaks down how significant trends and creative tropes across the app – the sort of things which have effectively built its popularity and contributed to its increasingly central status to whatever passes for ‘mainstream culture’ in 2021 – can in almost all cases be traced back to black people. Not just choreography – expressions, memes, filters, editing styles, all sorts of things. I am not, to be clear, enough of a connoisseur of TikTok culture to be able to offer a critique of all this, butGreen’s arguments hold weight, and it’s interesting in the broader context of the broader debate around the exploitation and appropriation of content in the digital age and on this platform especially. Also, though, it makes me wonder whether future Phds analysing digital culture are just going to end up being superhyperspecific – literally, ‘The Cultural Semiotics of TikTok, May 22-6 2021’ – because trying to pick this stuff apart is, honestly, just mindflayingly tough.
  • Music Makers and Machines: In the wake of renewed interest in the history of electronica, following the recent (excellent) BBC show on Delia Derbyshire, this Google Arts project feels particularly timely; Music, Makers and Machines is a history of electronic music, with articles and videos and explainers and historical deep-dives and, basically, if you’ve ever spent significant amounts of time in a loud, thumping dark room wondering whether or not you’ve just ingested antacid or something which will make you feel like the top of your skull is attempting to crawl very slowly down the back of your neck to hide in a corner somewhere, then you should find something to love in here. So much to love – and it also includes links to a bunch of decent Google synthtoys, so you can play with a digital Moog while you reminisce about the days when it was possible to buy amphetamines and everything was better than it is now (NB Web Curios definitely does not want any readers to inform it as to where it can buy amphetamines in 2021).
  • Medieval Memes: Simple, cute and the sort of thing that makes me want to send it round all people working in museums digital with a short note that says ‘copy this’ – Medieval Memes is a small project by (I think) the Dutch National Library which takes illustrations from tomes in its collection and lets anyone who wants make memes out of them to then share. The reason this is PARTICULARLY great is a combination of the images they offer you to use – one of the early ones you scroll past is a depiction of Attis, just after he’s castrated himself after having been driven mad by the goddess Minerva, which isn’t the sort of thing you necessarily expect to be allowed to add a caption to and send speeding around the web. Even better, there’s no filter on the captions you can apply, meaning you can create some spectacularly filthy memetic creations (look, it’s a trying time and I am finding small comfort where I can).
  • River Runner: I’m sure this is just (ha! ‘just’!) making smart use of some publicly available datasets and Google Maps data, but I am slightly in awe of its cleverness. River Runner lets you click on any point on a map of the US, and then shows you what happens to a raindrop that falls there – so you get a wonderful view of the topography of the area you’ve selected, showing you the runoffs and rivers than send the droplet careening towards the sea. So, so neat; a lovely piece of coding.
  • A New Session: Thanks Former Editor Paul for sending this my way – those of you of A Certain Age will find this particularly pleasing, I think. A New Session is an art project which exists on an open source Telnet CMS, creating a digital magazine in the oldest of oldschool formats (you need to access the command prompt to get into it – and yes, I am aware that for most of us this is uncomfortably close to getting under the hood of how the devices that we depend on actually work, but it’s honestly worth playing around with, just to make you appreciate how much you really needed to want to be online back in the day because, really, they didn’t make it easy for you). A New Session is “an imagined do-over, an attempt to decenter the corporate monoliths of the modern internet in favor of something simpler, something queer, something trans, something better. From the ground up.” – it’s interesting-if-very-arty, and worth a look; to my point earlier about the MIF thing, I find this a far more interesting project, for all its lo-finess.
  • Yat: I can’t remember when I first heard about this – it was last year, in The Hiatus, and I signed up out of vague interest and now the fcukers keep emailing me and they’ve basically now bullied me into telling you too, and I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY, YAT. Yat is the latest attempt by enterprising grifters to sell you something that doesn’t actually exist – in this instance, they’re selling EMOJI STRINGS! Yes, the idea here is that they are letting anyone bid for the ‘right’ (look, it’s on the fcuking blockchain is all you need to know) to ‘own’ (yes, I know, I know) any combination of emoji they like – the grift here, of course, is that the fewer emoji in your string, the more ‘exclusive’ and therefore expensive they are. Prices are ‘on application only’, and whoever is behind this obviously has a decent rolodex as they have seemingly managed to get ACTUAL FAMOUSES on board; ?uestlove has apparently got one – Jesus, Matt, listen to yourself, why are you even dignifying this sh1t with a writeup? – so, well, if you want to spend a significant amount of cash to own the right to use, I don’t know, Rainbow-Heart-Shrimp in perpetuity then you might want to get in on the ground floor. Amazing, but not necessarily in a positive way.
  • Than Average: An interesting little social experiment, which asks you a whether you are more or less…something than average. Do you think you sleep more than average? Do you think you are happier than average? Better looking? Kinder? More confused? Tell the site, and it will tell you where your perception fits with those of the other visitors; note, of course, that it’s not telling you whether you’re more or less X than average – just how common your self-perception is. This strikes me as the sort of data you could possibly do some rather interesting things with – if nothing else, I would love a psychologist to tell me what these sorts of questions reveal about people – and there’s something perfectly-narcissistically compelling about RANKING YOURSELF, which we all know is what modern humans love to do most (thanks, the web!).
  • The Finnegan’s Wake Elucidated Treasury: Brought to my attention by a truly ASTONISHING longread which you can look forward to later on, this is an amazing website which seeks to offer some sort of…not explanation, exactly, but companion to James Joyce’s notoriously…tricky novel, a book which most people who’ve attempted it take great pains to tell you isn’t worth the hassle, which is charitably-described as ‘not an easy read’, and which, like Gravity’s Rainbow, inspires messianic devotion in those who’ve wrestled with it and…not so much ‘won’, I imagine, as ‘survived’. Anyway, this is a digital companion to the text which is dizzyingly to wander through – I haven’t (obviously) read the Wake, but even so this is a truly incredible thing to get lost in; it really does contain MULTITUDES.
  • Flame Reactor: I confess to only having a…loose understanding of what’s happening here, but it looks VERY pretty. “The Flame Reactor combines two fractal flames via a genetic algorithm and renders a parametric rotation of the child. It then prompts participants to choose a breeding partner for that child. In this way, we create a slowly-mutating lineage.” It takes 10m or so to run each cycle, but keep it open in a tab and check in every now again to experience a rather beautiful sequence of raytracey, fiery images whose development you can guide through MAKING FLAMES MATE (or, er, something like that).
  • The Mobile Phone Museum: What was your first mobile? Displaying the sort of wilful obscurantism that would catagorise and – let’s be clear, in many ways slightly fcuk up – the rest of my life, I decided to eschew the perfectly-serviceable Nokia that literally everyone else had for a Siemens thing that had no games, a tiny screen and an irritating propensity to turn itself off on a whim whilst making a very sad (and impossible to turn off) sound of what I can only describe as electronic deflation. It was, largely, awful, but I obviously have warm (inaccurate) memories of the simple times we shared, spending a good 15 minutes attempting to programme my own version of Darude’s ‘Sandstorm’ as a ringtone just because I could (although, perhaps amusingly, it turned out I really couldn’t!). Anyway, this is the online mobile phone museum – go find your first one, and then send this to any Young People you know so they can marvel at how Neanderthal we used to be.
  • Undraw: A huge, and hugely useful, repository of open source illustrations for literally everything and anything you could possibly conceive of. Honestly, this has EVERYTHING, and it’s also lightly customisable so you can colourmatch to whatever palette you’re using. Isn’t it nice that people just do this sort of stuff? I am having a rare moment of pro-web positivity here, let’s see if we can keep it going for a few more links.
  • Terms and Conditions: A little browsergame designed to make the point that dark patterns and horrible designs are EVERYWHERE and oh look there we go that’s the moment of web-positivity over, ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? Ahem. Anyway, this is a rather fun game that challenges you to get through without agreeing to any of the different T&C permissions the site is desperately trying to extract from you; it’s fun, if enervating, and is a nice piece of work by W+K that I am slightly confused as to why they didn’t sell to a client as it feels like something you might reasonably use as promo for a digital rights org or similar.
  • The Dark Patterns Tipline: Seeing as we’re doing evil bastrd webdesign, the Dark Patterns Tipline asks users to submit any examples of DARK PATTERNS (you know what these are, right? If not, you know, CLICK THE LINK AND LEARN) they come across for collation, dissection and use as lobbying material with relevant consumer organisations, etc. Aside from anything else, it contains some truly ingenious (if, er, borderline criminal) examples of the tricks used to make us give up our data and sign up to a lifetime’s worth of uncancellable hentaibongo (no, this is not an autobiographical story. No, really, it isn’t. FFS).
  • MarvelAI: It’s tough out there for the creator class – and it’s only going to get tougher, as the slow, incremental growth in the numbers of people convinced that they can make a living out of their unique and marketable set of talents (TALKING ON CAMERA!!!) continues unabated. The conten production schedule demanded by the algos is insane at the top end, and is only likely to get worse – which is why stuff like this very much feels like A Coming Thing. MarvelAI is a service which allows ‘anyone to create, manage, share, and monetize professional-quality synthetic voice, easily personalized into different genders, languages, dialects, accents, and more.’ Effectively this is a pet, digital voice-you that you can make and then send out into the wild to be used to record voice overs, scripts, etc, on your behalf. Fascinating – honestly, the implications of this stuff in terms of rights and contracts and monetisation are HUGE, setting aside questions of ‘reality’ and ‘authenticity’. If I generate an audiofile of what sounds like my voice but which is in fact entirely computer-generated by a machine based on my real voice, can I be said to ‘own’ that audiofile? Is it ‘me’? We are SO going to need new categories for this sort of digital centaur/chimera thing, aren’t we?
  • Victoria: I know I said a few weeks ago that I wasn’t going to include stuff in here just to kick it but, well, fcuk that and fcuk this. Victoria is…oh wow, “A community of creative, existential, and out-of-the-box thinkers that connect through their deepest desires and passions – art, music, culture, and powerful conversations.” Or, more accurately, some sort of digital private members club for the monied youth, based in…London, I think, but with the blankly-transatlantic vibe that kids of the very rich so often have, and, oh God, “We empower the individual, bringing dreamers, creatives, and entrepreneurs together through private experiences. By rejecting the sensible, unravelling social structures, and providing a space without limitation, people can be themselves—connecting through raw colour.” Can someone younger, richer and prettier than me get involved with this and somehow endeavour to steal ALL THE MONEY from whichever idiot is bankrolling it? Also, don’t all the sorts of people who might be interested in something like this know each other and hang out already in? WHO IS THIS FOR? WHY IS IT HERE? Oh God, I need more tea.

By Ashraful Arefin



  •  Satellites: Honestly, I think my favourite thing about (what I perceive to be) the current state of evolution of the web (meaningless as I am fully aware that that sentence largely is) is the fact that we’re now in a position where there is SO MUCH really excellent and interesting infrastructure out there which can be plugged together to make EXCITING THINGS. Witness this site, which pulls together a variety of different bits and pieces from Google Streetview to publicly-available satellite data to allow you to see on any given day what satellites will be travelling above your location in the night sky, where you will have to look to see them, and lets you set a reminder for later when you’ve forgotten all about it and are likely asleep on the sofa with the last bottle of red creating an ineradicable stain on the upholstery. Amazing – I will never, ever get bored of the fact that people can just make stuff like this out of stuff that already exists. The web is wonderful (this really is an emotional rollercoaster of a week) and anyone who disagrees is a joyless husk (it takes one to know one).
  • AI Memes: Memes about the world of AI. If you know anything about AI, you may find some of these amusing; if you don’t, you will look at these and the future will be even more opaque and frightening than it already is.
  • Preserving Worlds: This is wonderful; if you’re any sort of web historian (or, less pretentiously, anyone who’s spent any significant time online over the last couple of decades and has any sort of nostalgia for virtual communities of the past) then this webseries – a six-part (plus bonus content) documentary all about the history, evolution, abandonment and current status of a selection of virtual worlds; this of course includes Second Life, but also Doom, as a gameworld that meant something to people and which has a weight of identity beyond ‘just’ its status as a game. Hugely geeky, but nevertheless super-interesting and worth a look if you’re in any way interested or involved in thinking about online communities and how people relate to digital spaces.
  • Micrometeorites: A Facebook Page (Christ, it’s been YEARS; which (if you’ll allow me the digression) (and WHO CAN STOP ME???) I think says less about the fact that Facebook doesn’t contain interesting communities and more about the fact that they don’t seem to EVER break out from Facebook (more of which in the longreads below), which is sort-of architecturally-interesting to me when it comes to thinking about platform dynamics and stuff) dedicated to sharing photos of and information about micrometeorites – very small lumps of space rock which occasionally hurtle into our atmosphere and get found by enthusiasts (or, er, land in the ocean to be lost forever, or (I presume) occasionally insert themselves with hot, painful velocity into the unfortunate skulls of unsuspecting people) and which here are presented with a pleasing degree of enthusiasm. If you’re looking for a new hobby now that we’ve all agreed to never mention sourdough again, perhaps this will be up your street.
  • Poised: “Poised is an AI-powered communication coach that provides you personalized feedback and lessons by observing your online meetings.” SO MANY QUESTIONS. Who’s decided on what ‘good’ looks like here? Because if you ask me – I know, but tough – there’s a lot of subjectivity in what constitutes ‘good’ meeting practice and behaviour (I am well aware, before any past or present colleagues who happen to see this feel compelled to tell me, that none of my behaviour in meetings could ever be characterised as such; I can only apologise, and suggest that it’s hard to behave when you’re consumed with hatred and sadness at what constitutes your ‘career’), dependent on sector, role, purpose of meeting, and all sorts of massively subjective sociocultural cues that, well, I don’t think the AI is going to understand. Basically what I’m saying here is that this sounds like a fcuking terrible idea and an HR lawsuit waiting to happen somewhere down the line in 2022.
  • Rows: I don’t really understand Excel, My friend Josh has attempted to explain pivot tables to me many, many times, but I’m simply not capable. Which is by way of preamble to me admitting that I don’t really understand this but get the vague impression that if you do a lot of Excel work it might be useful. The blurb says “Say goodbye to multiple tabs! No more copy and paste!”, which at the very least seems like a future we should all be able to get behind.
  • The World’s First Apple Store In AR: This is VERY niche, and VERY Apple fanboy – I can’t vouch for the quality of the experience here, given this is seemingly iOS-only, but “On May 19, 2001, Apple opened its first two retail stores in Tysons Corner, Virginia and Glendale, California. Now you can revisit the world’s first Apple Store exactly as it appeared twenty years ago on grand opening day through an interactive augmented reality experience.” You’ll need a reasonably new model device, but then again I imagine if you’re enough of an Apple enthusiast to want to explore a CG model of, er, an old shop, then you’ve probably ponied up for whichever the latest iteration of the plastic-and-glass slate is.
  • Four King Maps: Hot on the heels of last week’s site that found What3Words locations that included profanities, someone’s built this WONDERFUL site which does the same thing as What 3 Words does, but in the UK only and with 4 words and with a vocabulary composed entirely of childish swears. Basically you can now get a sweary address for any location in the country – the nearest train station to me as I type, for example, is ‘smeghead.fuckoff.bog.masturbate’, which I think we’ll all agree is significantly better than the somewhat-genteel ‘leads.option.sling’ granted me by W3W. It’s not big or clever, but it made me laugh a lot – also, BELIEVE that I am solely going to be referring to my workplace by its sweary locator forevermore.
  • Troopl: I saw something do the rounds this week which suggested that the car sales site Cazoo – advertised relentlessly on TVoD, to the point that even I who love him immoderately am getting a little tired of Rylan, blasphemous as that may sound – has over 1000 employees and just over 2000 cars currently on its books; the point being that… this doesn’t look like a viable business model, even accounting for the inevitable shovel-loads of VC cash being injected into the business. That crossed my mind when I found Troopl – a platform that seeks to DISRUPT recruitment by making a big thing out of peer-to-peer referrals, and which is promising an eye-watering 1k Euros (or local cash equivalent) to you if you refer someone who gets a job. Which doesn’t in any way sound like something that can scale AT ALL – can someone explain to me how in the name of everliving fcuk that could ever work? Although given the fact that there are only about 6 jobs on there at present, you may not have time to explain it to me before the whole thing folds. Am I being a moron, or is this really, really dumb? I genuinely can’t tell anymore (repeat ad nauseam, ad infinitum).
  • Rotating Food: Because you might not think that you need a repository of literally hundreds of gifs of photos of food spinning in digital space, but you NEVER KNOW. Oh, and while we’re here, here’s a lovely collection of low-poly models of all sorts of things, should you be in the market to try your hand at some light gamemaking or digital diorama sculpting or whatever it is that one does with this sort of stuff.
  • Stacksearch: This isn’t quite the perfect iteration of this, but the service – which basically acts as ‘Google, for substack’ is a GODSEND in terms of attempting to add a half-decent discovery layer to the ever-growing substack ecosystem. If nothing else, should you be doing some influencer research-type thing it would seem silly to ignore newsletters, and this gives you a decent-ish way of finding people based around topics and themes of interest (it may surprise you to know that Web Curios has not ONCE received any sponsorship offers; this is negotiable, but only for a VERY SPECIFIC and almost certainly prohibitively-niche selection of businesses – prices on application).
  • The Magic Candle Company: I can’t quite remember how I found this, but I lost a good 30mins last Sunday to exploring this quite astonishing site. The Magic Candle Company creates scented candles that are seemingly marketing at those people who LOVE Disney, who spend money going to Disneyland, and want to spend all the time they’re not getting ever closer to The Mouse remembering the lovely smells of the The Mouse’s domain. Obviously, though, they can’t use the term ‘Disney’ anywhere onsite, so all the copy makes euphemistic references to ‘Walter’s Office’ and ‘Pirate Life’, rather than ‘Walt Disney’s Office’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. Honestly, though, the real joy comes in the scent names – you can, if you choose, buy a candle that smells of ‘Norway’ (bafflingly, this features topnotes of watermelon, perhaps the least-Scandi fruit imaginable), but also one that’s redolent of, er, ‘Terror’, or ‘Churros’ (why anyone would want their home to smell of hot, stale frying oil is beyond me, but Americans are weird and Web Curios DOES NOT JUDGE). Honestly, this made me so happy – as in fact did my later discovery of candle review community site CandleJunkies (for all your scented candle review needs!) – PURE WEB MAGIC, this stuff.
  • Waylt: Spotify to Slack! Literally a Slack plugin which lets you pipe whatever you’re listening to on Spotify into your Slack channel – which I;m sure is something that you think is a great idea, what with your perfect music taste and all that – but which, let’s be clear, none of your colleagues will thank you for AT ALL. There’s a NSFW filter to preserve the delicate lugholes of the easily offended, but I promise the real joy here comes from enacting Guantanamo levels of torture on your dear coworkers by subjecting them to a low hum of the Barney themetune for 8h a day.
  • The Fighting Game Glossary: I have never been that into fighting games, but when I did the PR for Street Fighter IV I got a brief insight into the very, very expert world of people who think in half-frame inputs and for whom terms like ‘dash-cancel-to-LB’ are testament to deep-knowledge and long-acquired expertise rather than a very real need to get out a bit more (also shout out to Leo Tan, the best client I have ever had who would literally let us do ANYTHING and didn’t care, and who I think in many ways possibly ruined me forever by briefly making my job fun). This is a very niche site which acts as a glossary of terms for fighting games, along with videoclips illustrating particular moves or techniques; I won’t lie, if you’re not into games at least a bit then you can probably skip this one, but if you’ve even a passing interest in esports or fighting games, or if you’ve ever watched that Daigo clip, then you might enjoy this.
  • Oregon Zoo: On the one hand, if you’re a social media manager at a zoo and you can’t make your content pop, you probably need to get another job; on the other, the Oregon Zoo’s TikTok account is everything you could possibly hope for and more. OTTERS!! RACCOONS! RED PANDAS! Oh me oh my, the critters!
  • Vandal: Super-useful for journalists or indeed anyone doing research, Vandal is a Chrome plugin that lets you simply and easily access Wayback Machine data on any webpage you visit – so you can just select when you want to go back to from a dropdown and BOOM! Timetravel. Obviously dependent on the Internet Archive to work, so it’s only as useful as that archive, but that’s generally perfectly helpful; there are SO many applications for this, or at least there are if you use your fcuking imaginations for once.
  • Rate My Takeaway: I don’t quite know whether this is a wonderful example of someone just doing their thing, or whether instead it’s a bit knowing and therefore somehow slightly less pure, but regardless – Rate My Takeaway is a GOLDEN YouTube channel, and gave me similar sort of happy vibe to the Pengest Munch when that first broke through (here’s hoping that guy’s still enjoying himself – he should never have taken the TV cash imho); the premise is simple, with each episode featuring the presenter (a man who looks distressingly like someone I went to school with, which makes the whole thing even more compelling) eating and reviewing some sort of genuinely horrific plate of brown protein and carbs (often with beans). Fine, it’s not totally non-knowing – this would never have taken off without the ‘Pea Wet’ thing, and the general niche internet thing of ‘Americans get freaked out by ugly English people consuming acres of deep-fried ‘meat’’ – but it doesn’t feel like it’s angling for an E4 spinoff and for that I applaud it.
  • Tweetable Charts: Make charts that show up in your tweets. Yes, fine, it’s boring, but it’s also useful and Web Curios isn’t all horror and frivolity you know.
  • Concrete Nest: A concrete poetry generator – it throws up random selections of words, and you use the interface to combine them however you desire. I adore this – there’s something about the constraint, the aesthetic and the way the form creates meaning (/pseud!) that pleased me inordinately.
  • Geometry: I’m sure that someone less geographically-inept than me wouldn’t be quite so challenged and awed by this, but, honestly, this little geometry game which challenges you to make a variety of different geometric shapes from triangles to variously-multifaceted polygons made my brain sweat in a pleasingly-uncomfortable way. Fine, if you studied maths at a level beyond ‘moron’ this may hold no fear for you, but I for one was largely banjaxed by the how the fcuk to make any of this work – that said, I very much enjoyed the process of trying and then largely failing to work it out – this is pleasingly-knotty (but, again, please don’t come at me to explain why it’s a double-figure-IQ number at best as, well, I won’t thank you for it).
  • Trash The Planet: I do love me a clicker game, as regular Curios readers will attest (and if you do too, by the way, I suggest you use Curios exciting search facility to look for ‘clicker’ to find a patrimony of the bastard things), and this is a superb example. Part simple clicker, part CORUSCATING SATIRE ON CAPITALISM, part moderately-funny raccoon-based skit, part slightly sophomoric creative writing project, this is LOTS of fun and exactly the sort of thing with which to while away the rest of the afternoon if you’ve suddenly come to the realisation that you will never, ever win that pitch on Tuesday and you may as well just put your feet up and save yourselves the trouble. This is lots of fun and I recommend it unreservedly (though, OK, fine, you may get a bit annoyed with the dialogue at the start of Act IV but persevere, it’s worth it).

By Ivana Stulic



  •  Una Vida Moderna: I confess to not being hugely aware of the influence of mid-century modernism on the architecture of both Mexico and, er, Detroit, and yet here we are.


  • Ememem: French artist Ememem has made their name by creating fill-in collages with beautiful mosaicwork, in gaps in the urban architecture in their native France and beyond; their Insta feed is rather beautiful, not least because they are REALLY GOOD at mosaic. If I were feeling really cnuty I would call this ‘Urban Kintsugi’, but I’m not so I shan’t.
  • VenerealDisneys: The name made me laugh a LOT, as did the memes – these are very good indeed, in that ‘post-post-sincerity, deep-fried irony’ way; not quite sure what the timeline is for this particular style of memetics being appropriated for brand lols is, but enjoy this while you can as it will doubtless all be corrupted for cash by Steak-Umms or some equally hyper-self-aware social media manager before the month is out.
  • Smooth My Balls: I am including this only because I don’t really understand how this works, and I would like someone to explain it to me. My friend Rina got approached by this page on Insta asking about influencer work or somesuch – HOW HAS AN INSTAGRAM PAGE DEVOTED TO SCROTAL DEPILATION PRODUCTS HAVE 470k FOLLOWERS? Obviously there’s something being sold here – is this one of those products whose links people chuck into the wake of a viral tweet in search of the sweet affiliate revenue? HOW MUCH OF A MARKET IS THERE FOR SPECIALIST SCROTAL DEPILATION? I feel so old.


  • The Great Online Game: It’s one of the weird side effects of consuming the web in the way that I (and I am sure others who plough similar furrows) do that you occasionally get a sense of thinking coming together around an area or topic; so it is this week with the idea of ‘being’ online, what it’s ‘for’ and how it makes us (feel, act, be, etc). This is a good place to start us off – to be clear, I didn’t like this article, and I didn’t particularly like its message – I described it an email to someone as ‘breathlessly horrific and horrifically-breathless’, which still feels about right – but as a way of looking at and thinking of our relationship to the web and the growing tyranny of the CREATOR ECONOMY, it’s fascinating. The author basically sets out their manifesto – that being online is a game, that this game can have great benefits if you play it well and ‘win’, and even if you don’t the barriers to entry are minimal so you might as well play. Honestly, read this – it’s not long, and it’s not hard – and then come back to me and let’s talk about the pyramid scheme that increasingly seems to me is ALL of the modern web – because this very much feels like the argument of someone who’s high enough up in the pyramid that they need to convince others to keep joining to keep the grift alive. It presupposes infinite time, energy, and access, confuses ‘output’ with ‘value’, and generally scares the sh1t out of me.
  • Play To Lose: And this is basically the antonym to the last piece, in which the author considers the nature of the ‘play the game, make things from yourself and SELL SELL SELL’ online culture of the now and posits that, just maybe, this doesn’t necessarily end up ascribing the correct value to our endeavours and that, just maybe, this won’t necessarily make everything great. There’s a lot about the current discourse (sorry) around creation and value that strikes me as analogous to a lot of the conversations around sex work that I recall from ethics work many years ago – to whit, that there are certain qualities that goods or services can sometimes have, which the market is very bad for ascribing accurate value to. And, well, THIS: “The desire to win at these games requires people to put their own cash, work, and reputation on the line, as well as the planetary ecosystem as a whole. These models of “inclusion” (pitched as disruption or equal opportunity) encourage people hoping to escape an exploitative wage labor system to enter into speculative marketplaces, where the bigger players are at an overwhelming advantage. That a few individuals occasionally win motivates a far greater number to continue wagering ourselves and to succumb to self-blame for failing to make it.”
  • The Politics of Recognition in the Age of Social Media: OK, full disclosure here – this is VERY LONG, and quite…difficult. Or at least I found it so – I had to keep stopping to reread and think, which, fine, may say more about me and my ability to think properly than anything else, but equally made me think that I ought to caveat it with a warning that if you’ve not read academic literature for a bit then you might need to warm up first. That said, this is one of two pieces this week that I have come back to almost hourly since I read it – honestly, it has coloured so much of my thinking over the past few days, to the point where I’m not exaggerating when I say I can’t quite look at the world – and in particular the digital expression of it – in the same way since. Briefly, this is effectively an academic paper which explores the concepts introduced in the past two articles in greater depth, and which posits that the ‘recognition’ which we seek as individuals is fundamentally impossible to achieve through what the author terms ‘platform capitalism’. Look, here: “This is the trap that platform capitalism sets for its users: it holds out the possibility of a recognition that it will never, can never, fulfil. If, as Taylor argued, modernity’s ideal of ‘inwardly generated identity’ gave a new importance to recognition, the digital public sphere sees an ongoing exposure of the inner self in the struggle to be recognized, but never achieves its goal. Rather than recognition, the self receives mere reaction, and hopefully appreciating reputation. For many users of social media, this produces an escalating exposure of pain, injustice and misrecognition, which meet with varying forms of reaction, some supportive, others less so. Emotion, which behaviourists traditionally studied in wholly observable terms, becomes exclusively observable, a type of public performance that splits off from the part of the self which, for Honneth, needs to be recognized to be fulfilled as personhood.”
  • You Are A Network: This is also slightly-thematically-linked to the last few pieces, though I promise it’s a significantly easier read than the last one, and explores how a networked conception of the self might perhaps make more sense as a way of conceiving of both individual identities and the way in which we choose to ‘cut’ and present these identities to others, as well as the way in which we are necessarily imperfectly and impartially-understood by those around us. There’s nothing in here you likely haven’t thought of before, but the way the arguments are presented felt pleasingly cogent, not least in light of the previous few pieces.
  • Geography is the Chessboard of History: I read this and it made me slightly angry that noone had seen fit to talk to me about this sort of thing when I was a kid – this is SUCH a smart and simple exploration of how geography impacts history, and how therefore we might want to consider geographical factors when looking at the passage of time and the way civilisations and peoples have ‘performed’ relative to each other. Seriously, I am sure that smarter people than me will look at this and go ‘well, yes, obvs you fcuking MONG’ but this was slightly revelatory to me (ought I be embarrassed? I am, moderately).
  • The Queering of Everything: PE Moskowitz, a trans person themselves, writes about the slightly odd quirk of modernity where queerness is increasingly being used as a ‘thing’ to badge ideas or objects or places, and what that possibly means for the nature of the concept of ‘queer’ in and of itself. I find this stuff really interesting – I’ve been saying for a few years now that one of the (few) potentially negative side-effects of the mainstreaming of certain aspects of LGBTQx culture is the fact that, as with all mainstreaming, there’s a parallel flattening; the sort of thing you can see in the neopuritanical ‘no leather daddies at pride, won’t someone think of the children’-type chats that are now part and parcel of every annual parade in the world. I have no skin in this game, but I think it’s fascinating to read the arguments.
  • Appuccinos: So about…what, 6-7 years ago we reached the apogee of the Instagrammification of everything – or at least the instagrammification of everything in terms of aesthetics, with our Museum of Icecreams and EVERY SINGLE MUSEUM NEEDING AN INSTAWALL, and the inescapable sans-serif tyranny of EVERY DROPSHIPPED INSTABRAND EVER, and we’ll be suffering the archtectural fallout of this for a while yet. Now it’s TikTok’s turn to start warping the world around us, starting with its impact on the drinks people order at Starbucks. Video of people ordering very specific, complex drinks and then reviewing them on camera are a THING, and as with everyTHING on TikTok that THING must now be mercilessly copied by every single child in the world in an attempt to ride the sweet, sweet FYP-coattails of every viral thing ever. This is interesting – mainly, to my mind, because of the nature of the interaction – performance breeds action breeds business response is, to my mind, a new-ish way of thinking about these dynamics. I do think there’s quite a lot to say here about the intersection between Starbucks’ identity as a brand (the very acme of white teen blandness) and TikTok’s cultural flattening along similar ethnoaesthetic lines, but the author seems less interested. Hey ho.
  • Discord Wants To Do Music: I’ve tried – God knows I’ve tried – but I really can’t get on with Discord – it’s just TOO BUSY ffs, although I concede that I probably stopped really enjoying new social platforms about a decade ago and am basically condemned to silently thinking ‘but I prefer Twitter’ to everything new that comes out til I die. Still, I am in a minority as Discord is flying at the moment – this is a piece about how it hopes to embed itself as the de-facto community platform for music artists, through which they can manage and monetise their fanbase and which will I think spread as a thing across ‘creators’ of all stripes. Parasocial relationships ftw, eh?
  • Shein: A decent profile of the online retailer whose name has been everywhere in the past week or so, seemingly due to every single strategy-adjacent person in the world deciding they need to write an explainer about it. This is a decent one – look, if you don’t do ecommerce or retail stuff for a living then you can probably skip this, though the insight into the degree of automation the company uses to do product inventory and production did make me wonder whether there was some sort of low-level trolling you could do here. Given they base ordering and production of new products on a variety of realtime consumer behaviour signals, couldn’t an unscrupulous competitor bruteforce that with an army of people feverishly clicking and searching to convince Shein that, I don’t know, there was a hitherto-unimagined spike in demand for onyx ampallangs, leaving the company with several tonnes worth of unsellable penile jewellery? COULDN’T THEY? Probably not tbh – I imagine they guard against this sort of thing – but the idea pleases me.
  • The Secret Language of Families: This piece might as well be subtitled ‘The ‘Insight’ You Are Going To See In An Irritating Number Of Pitches In The Next Month If You Have Anything To Do With Family Products’ – seriously, if you work for OXO or something this is basically ready-made for you.
  • Tech Vs Journalism: This is a bit ‘inside baseball’, fine, and if you’re not someone who’s either interested or professionally involved in modern tech and the reporting thereof you might find it a touch self-indulgent. That said, given the fact that the a handful of companies on the West Coast of the US continue to exert a disproportionate amount of power and influence over our lives – and want to continue to do so, to a greater degree – any story that looks at how they are written about, and how they respond to scrutiny, could be argued to be worth a look. The not-hugely-surprising synopsis here is that it turns out the tech companies preferred it when the journalists covering them paid as little attention to the potential negative externalities of their products as they did during the ideation phase (zing! TAKE THAT, SILICON VALLE….oh) – the slightly-distressing bit is quite how quickly the people who once saw themselves as fearless disruptors have come to resemble the ivory towered gatekeepers they once railed against. Something something pigs men look the same something something something.
  • The Memex Method: Cory Doctorow and I have very little in common, but when I read this wonderful blogpost I felt a small, hubristic moment of kinship – HUG ME CORY! HOLD ME CLOSE! This is Doctorow’s lovely, to me heartwarming, essay on why he blogs, and on the peculiar feeling when you attain actual, verifiable cyborg status whereby you can actually feel the limits of your own physical memory and know when they stop and the augmented memory of your outsourced, transcribed mind starts. Every single word of this articulates perfectly what I feel about Web Curios, and is the perfect reminder to me why, despite the similarity in outlook, Doctorow is a celebrated author and thinker, and I am webmong who writes in his pants for an audiences of literally tens. Honestly. I don’t think I have ever felt so ‘seen’ by a piece of writing.
  • On Handbags: A review by Susannah Clapp of the V&A handbags exhibition – I have very little personal interest in handbags, but, honestly, I adored this piece – there’s something about the use of language throughout that really struck me, and it gives the impression that Clapp really enjoyed writing it. An absolute pleasure to read.
  • The Filing Cabinet: This is perhaps the perfect Boring lecture in essay form, and I would love to attend an hour-long talk by its author on this very subject. A review by Sam di Bella of a history of the filing cabinet, this is – I promise you – the most fascinating essay on the least-promising subject you can imagine. Touching on theory of information, social history, gender politics, advertising, product design and modern employment practice, this is such a beautiful piece of writing, which you will realise at the end has a) taught you loads of interesting stuff; and b) made you genuinely eager to go out and read a whole book about filing cabinets. The ur-example of ‘anything can be interesting if you look at it from the right angle for long enough’.
  • Sinead O’Connor: When Sinead O’Connor got mainstream famous, I was 10 – meaning I didn’t really know about, or follow, her subsequent spectacular fall from public grace in the wake of the pope-baiting SNL experience. This interview is heartbreaking in many respects – you sort of wonder about all the gaps, basically – but also wonderfully affirming, and makes you (or at least made me) feel significantly happier about O’Connor and her career trajectory than I probably did beforehand. The Prince stuff has gotten all the pull-quote attention, but this is far more interesting when you center the interviewee rather than the more famous man she namechecks.
  • The World’s Greatest Soccer Team: This week I saw a trailer for a remake of ‘The Wonder Years’ doing the rounds – I’ve studiously avoided any commentary around it because, well, I don’t want to be made miserable – and this piece made me think of it, and related issues around remakes and recontextualisations. This piece is a lovely bit of reminiscence by Carey Baraka about their memories of Supa Strikas, an African reinterpretation of Roy of the Rovers which was syndicated across the continent, recasting Roy Race and the rest of the Melchester Rovers lads as a pan-African superteam. It’s lovely in part because of the affection Baraka obviously still feels for the comic; in part because of the fact that it’s just so incredibly cool that this existed, and that they did regional variations to reflect local dialects and names, etc, to ensure that the comic felt special whether you were Ghanaian or Cameroonian; and in part because it’s a neat, nice ‘fcuk off’ to every miserable git who complains about remakes of stuff they liked with people who look different from them. There’s something incredibly cool, to my mind, about taking something beloved and tweaking it to make it lovable by a wider, more diverse audience, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise, basically.
  • Superhistory, Not Superintelligence: The second ‘oh my god this is so clever’ piece of the week, this is, honestly, so smart and so mind-frottingly interesting that I had to keep stopping as I was reading it because I could literally feel my brain fizzing slightly (do you ever get that? Like a proper sense of kinetic…almost itchiness when you’re thinking quite hard but it feels really good? Anyone?). Venkatesh Rao writes so engagingly and so interestingly about stuff that is, objectively, a bit chewy, conceptually-speaking, that he’s always a pleasure to read. This article describes his thinking around a potential recontextualisation of our understanding of AI and what it can do for us, suggesting that what we perhaps ought to consider is that AI is not about intelligence as we understand it but rather is more usefully thought of in terms of its ability to allow for more time to think – that AI is building on thousands of years of thinking, as we are ourselves, and that its ability to reason with itself is better understood perhaps as temporal compression than ‘intelligence’ per se. Look, I am obviously butchering Rao’s arguments here horrifically – I can only stress that this is very, very good, and you will enjoy reading it I promise.
  • On Finishing Finnegan’s Wake: Honestly, even if you, like me, have never really gotten on with Joyce, I cannot stress enough what a beautiful piece of writing this is – Gabrielle Carey James writes in the Sydney Review of Books on her reading group finally finishing Finnegan’s Wake after the not-inconsiderable period of 17 years, her reflections on the book’s ‘meaning’ and some of the (honestly mind-blowing) coincidences and conspiracies that surround it. Achieved the impossible and made me almost want to pick up a copy – seriously, this is a wonderful read.
  • Dagobert The Duck Tales Bandit: Many years ago when working in games, I used to harass the author of this piece, Jeff Maysh, to review my code for Loaded. I am pleased that at least one of us has managed to better themselves – Maysh is now a proper, world-renowned feature writer who’s sold at least two stories to Hollywood (he’s also had several pieces of writing featured in Curios, but i get the impression he’s less proud of that), and this, his latest for the New Yorker, is a typically cracking yarn about a blackmailer called Dagobert who terrorised German police in the late-80s and early-90s. Literally EVERTYHING about this is perfect – the tone, the pacing, some of the deadpan reportage – and this is obviously going to be a film at some point. If you enjoy this, by the way, can I make a STRONG RECOMMENDATION that you pick up a copy of The Ballad of the Whisky Robber, a book which I have recommended before but which I promise you will bring you untold joy.
  • Wisconsin Sex Party: Finally this week, an account of going to a sex party in Wisconsin which will confirm everything you have ever thought about the suburban dungeons’n’swinging set, and, if you’re anything like me, make you quite glad that you tend not to get invited to orgies. I laughed and winced a lot here – this is a very good piece of deadpan writing indeed, and is by way of apology for all the slightly thinky stuff elsewhere in this week’s longreads. Enjoy!

By Katherine Lams