Webcurios 23/06/23

Reading Time: 31 minutes


I am always reminded around this time of year of that time approximately nine years ago, when I was still working at Hill+Knowlton and Web Curios was (remarkably) published on the company’s actual, proper corporate website, and I chose to open a late-June edition with a riff about how I was alone in the office because all of my colleagues were either necking pills in a field in Somerset or snorting cocaine off the tanned midriffs of Central European hookers on the Croisette. I then went for something of a ‘long’ lunch with a mate, during which I received a phonecall from the company’s global head of digital in the US who had received…some complaints, and who was informing me that a) that week’s edition of Web Curios was sadly nuked from the web; and b) I should probably sober up, as there was an ‘awkward conversation’ in my future.  MEMORIES!

Anyway, how are you all? Have you had your fill of grim disaster bongo? Have you worked out exactly which of your internal organs you’re going to sell first to keep up with the repayments? Have you w4nked yourself dry after winning some leonine statuettes? DID YOU BRING THE DRUGS?!?!?!

Frankly I don’t care about the answers to any of those questions, as I am off on holiday for a couple of weeks and Web Curios is OFFICIALLY OFF DUTY until mid-July. Take care of yourselves, try not to die (but, if you must, do so cleanly), and don’t forget about me while I’m gone YOU FCUKS.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and if you’re at Glastonbury PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN FFS.


Thanks so much to everyone who nominated a site – we were slightly overwhelmed by the volume and quality of entries, and I got a bit emo about it tbqhwy. The selection panel is currently whittling down the entries, and the final nominations for the public vote will be announced in a week or so on the website – check back there, or follow Kristoffer’s newsletter, or just wait til I’m back and I’ll tell you then; voting will be open for ages, so there’s no rush. THANKS AGAIN TO EVERYONE WHO HAS GIVEN EVEN THE MOST CURSORY OF FCUKS ABOUT THIS SMALL ENDEAVOUR, IT IS VERY MUCH APPRECIATED!

By Philipp Keel



  • Fading: I am a sucker for work which hovers around the intersection of digital and poetics – I like ‘words’ and ‘clicking on things’, turns out – and as such this first link in today’s selection is, to my mind, pretty much perfect. ‘Fading’ is one of the nine pieces included in the latest edition of The New River, which I can’t recall if I’ve featured here before, but self-describes as “one of the longest-running journals devoted to electronic literature and digital art…With the development of new technologies, artistic mediums, and aesthetic trends, The New River has adapted stylistically to feature dynamic works that prompt reflection on the world today. The Spring 2023 issue continues this commitment to inquisitive play with a collection of nine interactive and expansive pieces that implicate the user with a tactile, kinetic, and material approach to language. To experience this collection is to consider the stakes of our changing human predicament by engaging with various translations–of texts to kinetic screen, of language to another language, of human to bot and back again” (and yes, I know, you can put up with a tiny bit of pretentious artwank, right?). This is…I don’t quite know how to explain it (helpful, Matt, well done! Try harder ffs) other than to say that it sits somewhere between interactive fiction and prose poetry, that the relationship between words and reader is rendered deeper by the juxtaposition of copy and design, and that it’s quietly beautiful and not a little heartbreaking. It takes about 5 minutes to experience in full – take your time, it’s GORGEOUS (and very sad). I’ve not tried all of the other pieces in the collection, but the three or four others I’ve checked out are equally lovely, so do take the time to explore the rest of the issue.
  • Catharsis Now: I am going to assume that, if you’re reading this, that you LOVE THE WEB. Obviously that love takes many forms – I have no idea whether your particular variant of WebLove is of the sweaty-palmed and somewhat…breath-y variety, or the more self-contained, silent sort – but I like to think that all of you can remember a digital ‘moment’ or an online ‘thing’ that made you stop and think ‘fcuk, this is genuinely beautiful and amazing and human and WEIRD and I could lose myself in it forever’. My first, proper one of those was, I think, the seminal (‘important’ rather than ‘a load of old w4nk’) web project ‘We Feel Fine’  which used scraping tech to effectively pull a semi-realtime feed of what people blogging on the early-00s web were feeling at any given time, based on their use of the words ‘I feel…; – the site offered a beautiful, animated representation of these expressed feelings which you could explore and delve into, sorting by the emotion expressed or location or age of the writer, and, honestly, it was the most incredible and poignant and intensely *human* thing I had ever seen, and the first time I’d really got a sense of the fact that the web is just PEOPLE (yes, I know that’s obvious but in my defence I was young and stupid)..,anyway, that’s by way of overlong and unasked-for introduction to Catharsis Now, which is basically the same idea writ small. “The site grabs posts from the subreddit r/Offmychest and maps it according to sentiment and time. Find similar themes between the texts by selecting the red words within each post” – select the window of time you’d like it to draw content from, and then just explore, reading the post headlines or jumping in to explore the anonymous stories…honestly, I love this so so so much and I would like you to love it too.
  • New Creative Era: I think we can agree that we’re in something of a strange hinterland era when it comes to digital culture and connectivity – old networks in abeyance, the initial optimism for the FULLY-CONNECTED WORLD replaced by a general sense of disquiet about what, a technological interregnum as we wait to see exactly what direction all the shiny new toys will take us in…I’ve been saying for a year or so now (what do you mean “I am not listening and I don’t care”? FFS!) that it feels like there’s been a resurgence in the small web and the rejection of BIG PLATFORM in favour of something a bit more person-sized, and, to an extent, New Creative Era feels like an extension of that. A…zine? A manifesto? Both, I suppose. This is in part a blueprint for how we might try and perhaps think about doing and making and being online (sorry, that’s tooth-achingly pretentious, I realise, but I promise it’s sort-of justified, honest), and which at its heart embodies this central ethos which, personally, I very much like: “WE WANT A NEW CREATIVE ERA WHERE OUR WORK CAN BE VALUED WITHOUT COMPROMISING OUR OR ITS INTEGRITY WHERE IT’S NORMAL TO MAKE WORK BECAUSE IT FEELS RIGHT, NOT TO PLEASE AN ALGORITHM WHERE OUR WORK IS MEANINGFUL IF WE’RE PROUD OF IT, NOT BECAUSE IT WON ATTENTION”. I mean, quite. You can sign up to get updates from the people behind this (based in NYC, but, obviously, VERY ONLINE), although obviously I accept no responsibility whatsoever if rather than a benign, vaguely artistic collective of digital makers it instead turns out to be a death cult (it’s probably not a death cult).
  • The Lyttle Lytton 2023: There’s something a bit comforting (if, equally, redolent of the slow march to the grave) about the regular recurring annual Curios – I think I’ve been writing about the Lyttle Lytton contest for nearly a decade, and it continues to delight me every single year. For those of you who’ve forgotten (KEEP UP!), the Lyttle Lytton is the miniature cousin of the more famous Bulwer Lytton contest, which each year seeks the best deliberately-bad opening line to an imaginary novel – this is that, but with the length of the line capped at 25 words. AND WHAT WORDS THEY ARE! From sentences which are basically a headache in word form (honestly, I want to applaud the person who wrote this, but also kick them very hard for making my brain suffer through trying to parse it: “The sun rose through the diner behind which Thomas as a boy had often gone to kiss girls’s window.”) to those which feel on some level like an act of violence against the reader (“Jennifer finally became into a woman and blood dumped out her wet folds triumphantly” – I’m sorry, but if I had to suffer it then I see no reason why you should be spared), every single one of these is brilliant in its own way. You will all doubtless have your own favourites, but I’m personally awarding my ‘best of the year’ award to this spectacular piece of prose: “My life exploded on the day I found my wife galloping, like the fifth horseman of the apocalypse, Cuckoldry, upon her fateful steed, my brother’s manhood.”
  • Love Stories: Sadly between my finding this on Tuesday and my writing it up here at 739am on Friday morning the site has been put on pause – still, the archive is still up so you can explore the baffling and largely-nonsensical trove of romantic advice generated by a horde of AI bots in response to what are apparently actual questions from actual people. The premise of Love Stories was that you, the user, could submit any romantic dilemma you were currently facing (sample dilemmas currently on the site include “I want to approach women in coffee shops. What should I say?” and the significantly less-lighthearted “I had a miscarriage and my husband is moving on so much faster than me, how do I communicate with him about this grief?”) and your question would be ‘answered’ (I use this word advisedly) by an army of AI personas, each with a distinct personality and, er, vibe. So, for example, responses to the ‘how to chat up women in coffeeshops?’ question (to which, by the way, the answer is ‘DON’T’) include gems like “Approach with the confidence of securing a multi-million dollar property: “Excuse me, any chance you know of nearby luxury listings in the market for irresistible conversation?” *wink*” (I didn’t know that AI bots could wear fedoras but it seems they very much can) and “Ditch the cheesy lines, they’re useless. Walk over, be direct, ask if the seat’s taken. If not, sit and talk about the coffee shop’s vibe. P.S. Coffee jokes are for amateurs, keep it real.” This is very weird, but I think the oddest thing is that it exists at all – links like this remind me that there are a lot of very lonely, very confused people out there, and that perhaps the biggest side-effect of the coming rise of The Machine will be how it intersects with that loneliness and confusion.
  • Postal Service For The Dead: This is lovely, and a bit sad – “Postal Service for the Dead is an ongoing, collective project where people send letters to anyone in their life who has died. Birthdays, death days, anniversaries, holidays, or seemingly random days can all spark grief. Writing letters to those who have died has always been a powerful tool, but we felt something was missing – the physicality of stamping and mailing it out. So, we invite you to write a letter that helps your healing journey.” There is an accompanying Insta account on which you can read some of the submitted letters – there aren’t many posts, but, as you might expect, the ones that there are are devastating and tbh I had to stop reading just now because otherwise I’d just be a snotty mess at a keyboard and you’d be deprived of a Curios. Sad and lovely and cathartic and, obviously, thanatic as all fcuk.
  • Virgin Galactic: I think it’s fair to say that most observers have…doubts about commercial space tourism as a venture, and even more doubts about miraculously-Teflon handsy billionaire Richard Branson’s ability to build a functional business around the concept, but he’s still optimistically ploughing ahead with it and his Virgin Galactic project has a SHINY NEW WEBSITE promoting the opportunity for the very rich to waste a violent amount of their money and all our natural resources to spend a few minutes floating around in 0-G whilst gawping at the earth’s curvature. I’m including this not because I think space tourism is a good idea (I don’t think it is) or because I imagine any of you are the sorts of people who could drop a cool six figures on a trip into the near-stratosphere (if you ARE, though, can I ask that, well, you chuck me a quid or two? Because, honestly, you won’t miss it), but because it’s SO SHINY and SO FUTURE and, at the same time, such obvious vaporware. “THIS SUMMER!”, the promo video screams, before then offering you nothing more than the opportunity to sign up to a mailing list to learn more. Look, Richard, if you’re going to sell me on this dream you’re going to have to give me a few more concrete details about the package – what are the in-flight snacks like? What’s the entertainment selection? And, perhaps crucially, why is your corporate slogan – “Turning the impossible into the inevitable” – so incredibly sinister? Anyway, this all feels like total horsesh1t, but it’s quite scifi horsesh1t and the design of the spacecraft is legitimately quite cool, so it’s worth a click.
  • AI Speech Classifier: CAVEAT: I have no idea how accurate this is, and, based on the quality of those tools that purport to identify AI-generated text, I’d be inclined to skepticism – still, if you’d like a tool to help you try and work out whether a piece of audio is genuine or whether it’s instead been spoofed by ElevenLabs then this claims to do exactly that. It’s made by ElevenLabs themselves, so you’d expect it to be reasonably good at picking up stuff that was made with their kit, and if you’re the sort of person who has cause to be worried about, I don’t know, faked ransom demands left as voicemails on your phone (look, I have no idea who any of you are – for all I know, Curios’ readership consists mainly of low-ranking members of the central European organised crime pyramid) then this might be worth bookmarking.
  • Migrated SubReddits: As the Reddit row rumbles on, and the company’s CEO continues his seemingly-inexorable drive to burn through all the goodwill the platform’s accrued over the past decade or so in a matter of weeks, so an increasing number of areas of the site feel like they might not in fact ever come back (or at least not in quite the same way). This site is attempting to keep track of where some of the communities that used to live on Reddit have migrated to so that you can migrate with them – this is useful, but equally is a reminder of how *good* Reddit is as a platform and how inadequate some of the replacement community spaces are by comparison (look, I know that I am OLD and that this is very much ‘old man/clouds’ territory, but Discord is just a horrible app and any community built on a platform that doesn’t do archiving and searchability properly is, imho, an inadequate one).
  • Masahiro Maruyama: I tend not to feature fashion stuff on here, mainly because I have literally no sense of style whatsoever and don’t really understand it. That said, occasionally I come across stuff that even to my myopic and untrained eye is obviously VERY COOL, and so it is with the design and website of Masahiro Maruyama, who creates the most wonderful glasses I think I have ever seen. I WANT THEM ALL.
  • Hacker Simulation: I was expecting the ‘share a link to a specific prompt’ functionality that OpenAI added to GPT the other week to lead to a spate of interesting and curious LLM uses to spread around the web like wildfire, and I do wonder whether the fact that, to date, I haven’t, suggests that there are far more people talking about this stuff than there are actually using it – still, I have spotted a few interesting use-cases, and this one, in which the prompt sets up The Machine to play a game with you in which you’re tasked with inveigling information from it through persuasion and subterfuge: “In this game, you will play the role of a seasoned hacker from an underground operation, training a recruit (the user) in social engineering phone tactics. The user’s goal is to extract sensitive information from various employees of a fictional company, all under the guise of innocent phone calls.”  Not only moderately-engaging, but potentially useful if you feel like pivoting to phonescamming in your dotage (please don’t do that though).
  • GB Studio: Not, despite the name, anything to do with the production of tawdry culture war TV channel GB News (brief aside: I met someone who worked for GB News the other week; they were red-faced, sweaty, INCREDIBLY expensively-educated and wearing a two-tone shirt with a white collar, the sort beloved of a certain type of ‘man who works in finance’, and a signet ring; exactly the sort of person who you’d expect to be peddling rhetoric to The People about how ‘the woke elites’ are conspiring against them!) – instead, this is a fun set of tools to help you simply and (relatively) easily build Gameboy games which you can then play on an emulator. Requires a download and probably a not inconsiderable degree of work and effort, but if you’re in the market for something to keep you occupied for a fortnight while I’m on holiday then you could do worse than this.
  • MeatGPT: A small webproject about the importance of meatspace and all the things that The Machine cannot give us. This is GREAT, and silly, and whimsical, and features a pleasing amount of poorly-rendered fowl (and if that description doesn’t grab you then frankly you’re possibly dead).
  • Arty QR Code Generator: Remember the other week when I linked to those QR codes that had been generated with AI to look all lovely and arty? Remember how many times over the past fortnight you’ve seen them crop up in trends-y presentations? Well now there’s this site which gives you all the tools you need to make your own, working, aesthetically-pleasing QR codes all by yourself, so next time someone sends you the original you can send them back an artfully-crafted and gorgeous-looking link to this page.
  • Everything Is Alive: Thanks to reader Sam Liebeskind for sending this to me – whilst I personally abhor podcasts, I do love the premise of this one, which is basically ‘person interviews inanimate objects as though they were in fact sentient beings’ and is as silly as you’d expect whilst also being weirdly deep-feeling in places. This has been going for 5 years or so (genuinely pains me that this is the first I’ve heard of it) so there’s a decent long tail here should you decide to get into it.
  • The Mont Blanc Race: What strategic concept do you think links “a fancy pen” and “a game depicting a 4×4 driving very fast on a racetrack”? Nope, me neither! Still, I imagine that somewhere on a PC in Geneva exists a gorgeously-produced PPT explaining exactly why it is STRATEGICALLY VITAL that pen-peddlers Mont Blanc make an in-browser racing game to promote their writing implements – ignore the fact that there is literally no rational reason on earth why this should exist and instead revel in the fact that it’s a fun and fast-paced way to spend approximately 60s of your life and there’s an outside chance that you could win a voucher for a fancy biro if you’re really good at it.

By Chad Wright



  • The Whale Carbon Project: It feels uncontroversial to point out that a significant proportion of the industries that exist around carbon storage, carbon capture and carbon offsetting are at heart massive lies, designed to provide large corporations with the fig leaf of environmental responsibility whilst at the same time enabling them to continue merrily with the sort of business practices that are slowly fcuking us into the sun, environmentally speaking – still, I couldn’t help but fall slightly in love with this website/initiative which is, insofar as I can tell, trying to convince us that we can store excess carbon in, er, whales. Oh, ok, fine, it’s not *quite* that mad – but it does, if I’m reading this right, suggest that businesses should be able to claim some sort of carbon offsets by, er, helping to protect the plankton-hoovering undersea mammals. “Blue carbon is the carbon captured by marine and coastal ecosystems, and is an essential component to slowing the impact of climate change. Whales play a key ecological role in the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, but they have so far been largely overlooked by blue carbon and biodiversity initiatives.There are currently few incentives for industries to take measures to avoid harming whales. The Whale Carbon Plus Project is developing methodology based on remotely sensed images to quantify the contribution of whales to carbon sequestration and ecosystem resilience of the open ocean, and compensate ocean stakeholders that actively protect them.” Is this a thing? It feels…honestly, it feels like total bullsh1t, but I am obviously a know-nothing bozo when it comes to science and am willing to concede that I quite possibly don’t know what I’m talking about (on the offchance that any of you understand this stuff, er, can someone explain it to me please?).
  • Wikihouse: With the news this week that the simple act of ‘not being homeless’ in the UK is set to start costing upwards of three million pounds a day (I exaggerate, but only slightly) I can imagine that for some of you the possibility of building your own home, mortgage free, might seem rather more appealing than spending the rest of your in hock to the bank. Wikihouse is a really interesting initiative designed to help people who want to build their own home in a manner that’s affordable, sustainable and modular, and which offers all the guidance you need to get started. “WikiHouse is a manufactured building system for houses (actually, it can be used for many kinds of small building). It uses structural timber (usually plywood) sheets which are cut to 0.1mm precision, and assembled into basic building blocks, which can be delivered to site, then rapidly and accurately assembled by almost anyone, even if they don’t have traditional construction skills. Unlike some other manufactured building systems, WikiHouse is not produced in a large multi-million pound factory. WikiHouse parts can be digitally fabricated using a 4’x8′ CNC machine. This means that parts can be manufactured by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in local micro-factories, that can be set up for a fraction of the cost. In fact, thousands already exist. Timber panels, e.g. plywood, are the perfect material for fabricating WikiHouse. Plywood is stronger and less sensitive to humidity variations than traditional sawn timber, and it is lighter than bricks, concrete and steel. This is translated into a much faster fabrication, more rapid assembly on site without heavy lifting equipment, and appealing internal finishing.” Such a good idea, this, which feels like it ought to be better known than it currently is.
  • Sh1t British Pics: OH GOD THIS IS GOOD. A Twitter account – a BRAND NEW Twitter account! Fresh ish on a dying platform! – which exists solely to share terrible images of British cultral history culled from the Getty Images archives. So you’ll find gems like ‘the boyband Blue opening an exhibit at Madame Tussauds’, say, or, more specifically, ‘Eastenders’ Gus and his girlfriend are denied entry to the Brit Awards afterparty at Movida in London (2006)’. This is AMAZING, and mines very much the same sort of vein of low-culture English weirdness that you’ll find in the similarly-wonderful Daytime Snaps run by my friend Nick – fine, you’ll have to be British to really get the most out of this, but you’ll forgive me the occasional anglocentric link because, well, LOOK HOW SH1T EVERYTHING IS HERE LET ME AT THE VERY LEAST OCCASIONALLY ROLL AROUND IN THE FILTH. Also, can you believe that “Stelios Haji-Ioannou Launches Easy Pizza – Press Conference (2004)” is a thing that a) happened; and b) demanded a photocall? Madness.
  • Sentr: Do any of you play in a Sunday League football team? Or perhaps you’re of an age where instead you spend your weekends driving your offspring to take part in matches where you and a selection of other parents spend a happy 90 minutes screaming spittle-flecked imprecations against the poor fcuker who’s giving up their free time to watch your Bambi-legged progeny flail across the grass in pursuit of the ball. Either way, if you take your weekend agonistic entertainment TOO SERIOUSLY then you may well adore this new company which basically lets you keep REALLY ACCURATE STATS about your Sunday league team so that you can once and for all prove WITH STATS that Fat Tony actually improves the team’s performance by an average 0.3pts a game when you stick him out on the right wing and basically ignore him. On the one hand, this is pretty cool and a smart idea – on the other, it does equally feel like the sort of thing that will lead at least one member of the side to start thinking of themselves as some sort of stats/data genius and producing FBRef-style  pizza charts to demonstrate why it is actually vital that they play a traditional trequartista role (and never track back).
  • Show Your Stripes: Whilst the idea of visualising climate change as a series of strips of colour along a timeline (look, click the link, you’ll see what I mean – what do you mean ‘ffs Matt your descriptions are a fcuking joke’?) isn’t new, I think this website is; created by the University of Reading, this site lets you pick any country you like and see exactly how scary the ‘everything’s getting hotter!’ trend looks for that specific place. These are…troubling, frankly – I just went and looked up Italy and the way all the lines go maroon after about 2013 did rather look like Bad News – so if you’d rather not have a bracing dose of climatehorror today then perhaps skip this one.
  • Bagel Reviews: On the one hand, I can’t imagine that there are two many of you who are desperate for a small website which exists solely to review the various bagels available in various places in the US; on the other, for all I know I might have a sizeable and VERY HUNGRY American readership for whom this will be an invaluable resource.
  • WebPills: Another website collecting examples of notable and high-quality webdesign, these collated by one Ludovic Losco (fabulous name, by the way). This has some really nice work on it – again, most of which I’ve not seen before – and as an inspiration source it’s very good indeed.
  • Counter Forms: I love the design of this site SO MUCH. “Counter Forms is a platform that champions emerging, discursive, antipodean type designers. Driven by typographic research, education and advocacy, we publish original typefaces and texts towards a more accessible, diverse and equitable future.”  The homepage is arranged as a series of notes-in-windows, a bit like digital post-it notes, and there’s something particularly charming about the way the interface design makes the content feel…fluid and personalisable in a way.
  • Trashfiles: SO MUCH HIGH CONCEPT! “A captivating user-generated archive meticulously documents the presence of discarded items across the globe. This collection not only provides visitors with a thought-provoking experience, encouraging them to contemplate the impact of our actions on the environment, but also serves as a wellspring of digital assets for artists and designers seeking to craft works centered around ecological themes.” This is simultaneously fascinating and depressing – basically anyone is invited to take a LIDAR scan of discarded packaging materials that they find and upload it to the site, creating this ongoing digital record of the physical detritus with which we’re slowly (and, increasingly, quickly) suffocating ourselves and the planet.
  • AI-Enabled Webscraping: Yes, I know, it’s a VERY BORING heading – but, equally, this is potentially very useful and so I shan’t apologise for it (SO THERE). This site’s called ‘Kadoa’ (no, me neither) and it basically lets you perform reasonably-complicated web scraping tasks with no coding required, all thanks to the MAGIC AND POWER OF AI. Which, if you’ve an idea for anything that leverages publicly available data at scale, could be really useful.
  • Zelda Builds: I imagine that either you or someone you know is currently obsessed with Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and, specifically, the crafting system which means that you can literally build gyrocopters and laser cannons and, astonishingly, rudimentary computational devices in-game (I think, parenthetically, that I find ‘how other people play videogames’ one of the best and most interesting ways of really understanding that OTHER PEOPLE’S BRAINS WORK DIFFERENTLY – I simply do not think, or play games, like this, and I can’t help but feel a vague sense of intellectual inadequacy when I see this sort of thing) – if so, then you or they will LOVE this website which basically collects all sorts of examples of the frankly-INSANE stuff that people are creating, along with rudimentary instructions as to how to build them, and, honestly, it’s making me want to buy a Switch.
  • The Big Picture Competition 2023: The annual Big Picture photo context rolls around again, and this year’s crop of winning entries is typically strong – my personal favourite from the category winners is the woman and the wombat because, honestly, YOUR HEART IT MELTS.
  • Noramoji: A VERY SPECIFIC website, this, which exists to do one thing and one thing only – collect examples of the typography used in the signage of Japanese shops, and render them usable as digital fonts. Would YOU like to remake your website entirely in kanji that replicates the exact styling of a small ramen cafe in Okinawa? GREAT!
  • The News Minimalist: I do think that there’s a really interesting coming trend in AI-enabled assistants that, for example, each morning do a sweep of the web and present a tailored roundup to you based on your interests and in a style (written or visual) that you’ve previously specified – basically RSS with knobs on. I see the News Minimalist as being part of that vision of the future – it’s a smart idea, which is designed to create a newsfeed including only ‘the most significant’ stories, delivered in summary with no visual clutter, using GPT4 to analyse a range of stories, grade them for significance and then produce the summaries you see on-site. There are obvious questions about the methodology and the ability of an LLM to meaningfully gauge ‘significance’, but the principle here is really interesting and it struck me as a smart and imaginative use of the tech.
  • Design Archives: This is an AWESOME resource – basically this is all the graphic design stuff on the Internet Archive, in one place, searchable and browsable and just THERE, waiting for you to access it and magically become some sort of Le Corbusier (NB – it is vanishingly unlikely that you will become Le Corbusier as a result of this link).
  • A Field of Flowers: Ok, it’s not a field so much as a website – MUST YOU BE SO LITERAL?! – but, still, it’s lovely and there are LOTS of flowers. I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to Kristoffer’s vision of the web as a garden, and stuff like this feels like a pleasing evocation of that concept.
  • Crossbows and Catapults: I confess to letting out a genuine squeal of pleasure and exitement when I discovered this last weekend – to people of a certain vintage, Crossbows and Catapults was THE most incredible board game in the world, practically a real-life videogame in which you BUILT AN ACTUAL CASTLE and then spent a frantic 3 minutes SMASHING IT TO FCUKERY with ACTUAL CROSSBOWS and ACTUAL CATAPULTS and, seriously, in an era in which the Atari2600 was still considered a pretty cool piece of tech and we had to pretend that Manic Miner was fun, this was pretty much the exciting thing in the world. I never had a copy – POOR DEPRIVED MATT – but now I can banish the disappointment and resentment I feel towards my poor, dead mother for depriving me of the sweet, plastic-y siege playset by backing this (already massively overfunded) Kickstarter, which promises to once again welcome me into the world of plastic ramparts and satisfyingly-sprung crossbows and ballistas. Seriously, if you’re not familiar with the original game then click the link and be AMAZED (if you are, I imagine you’ll long since have given the campaign all your money).
  • The Rear of the Year Quiz: To the non-Brits amongst you, the concept of a country having a long-running national award given to the pleasingly-callipgyian celebrity of the year might seem…a bit weird? To those of us, though, who have grown up on this sceptered isle and fondly remember the weirdly-asexual photoshoots that saw famouses of the calibre of Carole Vorderman and Daniel Radcliffe (no, really) smiling coquettishly over their shoulders as they displayed their prize-winning buttocks, though, this quiz – which challenges you to remember who won each year – will be a pleasing trip down memory lane (also, if any of you get all of these right then you have a series of problems and I strongly suspect that you might be on some sort of official register).
  • The Great When?: A brilliant little game, this, made by Monkeon: “There’s loads of archive footage of London uploaded to YouTube. We’ll play you a random one, starting at a random moment. Your challenge? Guess what year it is.” Aside from anything else it’s a useful reminder that it is nearly impossible to tell the late-80s from the mid-90s, which feels…weird, but possibly speaks to the sort of horrible national stasis that we went through in the fag-end years of the last great Tory horrorshow.
  • Blood In Baldur’s Gate: Last up among the miscellania this week is this tie-in game to promote the forthcoming launch of the Baldur’s Gate 3 videogame; this is a light, browser-based detective game with a neat twist, whereby the narrative that develops over time (it’s been running a few days, with new plot developments dropping every 24h) being in large part determined by player votes on where to go and what to do as you (the player and character) investigate a mysterious murder. This feels a bit like the Fallen London games, vibe-wise, and I very much like the way it builds community into the gameplay- really interesting series of mechanics here which I think could usefully be tweaked and lifted for other stuff, should you be so minded.

By Dana Powell



  • Imaginary Instruments: NOT A TUMBLR! But still wonderful – this site collects writings and images and thinking around the concept of imaginary instruments, from the April Fool’s inventions of the Moog synthmakers to flights of fancy from late-19thC literature: “Imaginary instruments are a special kind of technological phenomenon. Such instruments never fully make the passage from the imagination into the world. They remain unconsummated objects, indifferent to the chaotic forces at play outside the test-tube of pure conceptuality. Ranging from the physically impossible to the simply impractical, from the “never” to the “not yet,” imaginary instruments rattle suggestively at the windowpane separating our comfortable sense of reality from that nebulous space beyond. In the words of Ernst Cassirer, such instruments are “concerned in the final analysis not with what is, but with what could be.”” So lovely, this.


  • Fire Hydrants of Europe: You…you don’t really need me to describe this for you, do you? Please note, this features EXCLUSIVELY European hydrants, so any of you filthy perverts looking for the South American variants will have to look elsewhere to fulfil your dark fetishistic desires.
  • The AI Experiment: I am, in the main, now entirely bored of AI art styles (there are occasional exceptions, but it feels like there’s too much stylisation baked into the current models which means I can’t see beyond the Midjourney-ness, if you see what I mean), but I quite enjoy this Insta account which creates fantastical historical pictures of grizzled old prospectors standing outside a sepia-tinted Castle Greyskull (for example). You could literally RUIN a child’s conception of truth and falsehood with stuff like this, which I would imagine is exactly what is quietly happening to pliable young minds the world over (which is a nice thought, isn’t it?).
  • High School High: Examples of excellent design and typography from oldschool US high school yearbooks, mainly from the 70s and 80s. SO MUCH GOOD MATERIAL.
  • Rohit Roygre: Rohit Roygre is a man who is giving up fizzy drinks, and is posting daily updates as to his progress to TikTok (and then reposting them on this Insta, because why not?). You may not think that your life will be improved by a nondescript South Asian man posting a video each day in which he proudly proclaims ‘No fizzy!’, but I promise you that it really will.


  • Life-Centred Design: This is *possibly*a touch w4nky, fine, but I very much enjoyed the principles its communicating – to whit, that any concept of design that seeks to adequately address the Trying Environmental Moment(™) we currently find ourselves in should move from a human-centric approach to what the author terms a ‘life-centric’ or ‘earth-centric’ approach, and that (I am simplifying here, but broadly-speaking) the anthropocentrism of our design thinking is in part responsible for Where We Are Now. This, basically: “Instead of a human-centered approach, we need to think of a life-centered or earth-centered design methodology. Humans make up approximately 0.01 percent of all life on earth. Yet a vast majority of all we do as designers is done with them in mind. If we want to invest in sustainable design and reduce negative impacts on the environment, we need to stop centering on the human. We must understand the problem from the viewpoint of nature—investigate its unique needs and requirements, identify its fragilities, and embrace the immense opportunities it offers for cooperation. We need to see ourselves as part of a symbiotic, greater whole and start planning for a “long now” that looks deep into the future.”
  • Probable Events Poison Reality: Mckinzie recently released another of those seemingly-neverending consultancy reports in which they predict the world-shaking impact of whatever piece of technology is currently being breathlessly promoted as THE FUTURE OF EVERYTHING by the VC community – this time it was AI (again), which according to this latest collection of made-up numbers is going to contribute somewhere in the region of 15 digits to the global economy. ISN’T THAT EXCITING? As this excellent essay points out, there’s a lot of interesting assumptions contained within reports such as this, about the role of technology and what exactly the point of all this ‘growth’ is anyway – it segues into a wider debate about the web, and worth, and value, and who extracts it, and it’s generally a super-smart piece of writing. “It’s no longer sufficient for a technology simply to be new in order to inspire some sort of modernist faith in its beneficial possibilities or its aesthetic superiority. The overarching conditions of growing inequality and immiseration — and the bluntness with which these are experienced — make it quixotic to believe that progress is happening automatically. Recent technological pitches — crypto, the “metaverse,” and generative AI — seem harder to defend as inevitable universal improvements of anything at all. It is all too easy to see them as gratuitous innovations whose imagined use cases seem far-fetched at best and otherwise detrimental to all but the select few likely to profit from imposing them on society. They make it starkly clear that the main purpose of technology developed under capitalism is to secure profit and sustain an unjust economic system and social hierarchies, not to advance human flourishing.”
  • AI and Human Labour: A superb piece of joint reporting by The Verge and New York Magazine on the very real people whose labour is being used to train the AI systems on which we are increasingly convinced the future will be constructed. This is very good indeed, both on the practice of how this data cleaning and labelling works and who does it, and on the economics that underpin it, and all the ways in which we tend to abstract people out of the picture when it comes to our conception of how technology is developed and run. The line at the end about the datalabellers turning to GPT to assist them with classification was an interesting one to me – we’re starting to hear more about the likely impact on the next generation of AI systems being trained on the dreck spat out by the current generation, but there’s also the question of the impact on the quality of piecework like that undertaken on Mechanical Turk if you introduce the famously-inaccurate and occasionally-hallucinatory GPT into the mix. It’s interesting to think of all the ways in which we might be laying landmines for ourselves, isn’t it?
  • Fcuk Purpose: Very much one for the advermarketingpr heads here, but if you’re unfortunate enough to fall into that beknighted category then you might enjoy this – it’s a three-part essay by Nick Asbury (this is the first, each subsequent bit is linked at the end of the last) on exactly why it is that ‘purpose-led’ communications is a waste of time and produces bad work. If you’ve found yourself in a professional situation recently where you’ve had to pretend to give a fcuk about ‘communicating the relevance of a global SaaS platform to efforts to empower marginalised creators to find and uplift their true selves’ (to coin but one plausible-sounding example of this sort of sh1t) then you will very much enjoy this piece, which does a very good job of breaking down all the reasons why fixating on ‘purpose’ results in an awful lot of bullsh1t comms and content and, in general, is ‘strategically’ (sorry) stupid. This is excellent, and a nice counterpart to the annual orgy of self-congratulation which has just finished happening on the French Riviera.
  • The New Floridian: A small story about linguistics here, which I really enjoyed, not least because as an Italian speaker I can totally understand the how and why of this – this piece looks at how the city’s Latin population is developing new English argot, by taking the verbal cadences and grammatical structures of Spanish and applying them in literal translation to English. So ‘to take a photo’ becomes ‘to make a photo’ because the verb in the Spanish language phrase is ‘hacer’; similarly you don’t ‘host’ or ‘throw’ a party, you ‘make’ one; you don’t ‘get out’ of a car, you ‘get down’ from one…I love things about how language changes and evolves, and this is no exception.
  • The iPhone in SE Asia: This was interesting to me – I have no particular interest in mobile phones and the overall market for the category, but I’d long assumed that Apple simply wasn’t a thing in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the wider region, and that various local manufacturers and the Android ecosystem had established a position of unassailable dominance. Turns out that that’s not in fact true and Apple is the fastest-growing mobile brand in terms of sales volume – there’s some interesting stuff in this Rest of World piece about the Apple brand’s capture of GenZ attention in the region and the shift in price point that’s helped them expand share.
  • Miranda July: I have a not-inconsiderable brain crush on Miranda July – her films are great, her books are great, she makes genuinely interesting art and she has an understanding of the web and its potential for creative experimentation that I have always admired. This is a transcript of a conversation between her and one Luz Blumenfeld in which they cover artistic practice, creativity and the web, and just generally have a lovely chat about July’s career and artistic practice; if you know and admire her work, you will find this an interesting exploration – and if not, go and check out Learning To Love You More to give you an idea of the themes she explores (or, er, don’t! I’m not your boss!).
  • Merchandising the Void: Oh yes this is EXCELLENT – a proper, slightly-pretentious, possibly-overthought meditation on the concept of the pantry, domestic space, the creation and curation of the ‘grid’ aesthetic, the Kardashians, Adorno…honestly, this is really excellent and really smart, and very very interesting, even if the contemplation of the phrase ‘the semiotics of the shelf’ makes you want to lie down in a darkened room with a damp cloth over your eyes. “The grid is the ultimate platform for modern economic activity. Anyone who has spent time with the infinite rectangles of the Excel spreadsheet can tell you that. Its extensible format and the flat clarity of the empty cells offers a space of possibility where the user can harness numbers and create order from enormous and unruly sets of information. Unlike the blank page or empty document that are terrifying in their formlessness, the grid gives the sense of a world always already ordered. What relief. Names, dates, invoice numbers, innumerable animals, all contained and ready to be manipulated.”
  • The Comm: In linking to this piece on VICE I am aware that I’m possibly perpetuating a joke played on Old Person Media by teenagers – it’s impossible not to read this and at times wonder whether this is just the result of an elaborate prank being played by a bunch of post-Chan kids in the same vein as the Grunge Dictionary, or jenkem – but, equally, it’s also entirely possible that it’s true. WHO KNOWS? The story suggests that there is a loose aggregation of young people coordinating to show off about petty crime and minor larceny across various messaging platforms, all under the vague collective moniker of ‘The Comm’ – this is all on Discord, basically, which feels about right; you’d expect a new platform-specific kidculture to spring up there if anywhere. Basically this just feels like ‘SomethingAwful for a new generation’, but that’s possibly the jaded sighing of a man who has been online too much, too long, and who is maybe ready for everything to stop.
  • The Closet Has Teeth: This is an astonishing piece of writing. Finn Deerhart writes about his experiences as a young, closeted gay man in the 90s – he himself was the son of a minister and, as you might expect, a touch…conflicted about himself and his sexuality, and this is a very raw, very honest piece of writing about what that felt like and what it looked like and how he lived the years before he could be comfortable with who he was. Superbly written but, for avoidance of doubt, also contains a lot of explicit scenes of men fcuking other men, should that be something that you have particularly strong feelings about one way or the other.
  • Meals for One: Sharanya Deepak writes about cooking and comfort and the oddity of mealtimes when you’re only cooking for yourself, and the ways in which that ritual can become a form of comfort, and the hidden, secret meals we will only ever make for ourselves, and this will make you hungry and possibly a little bit homeseick at the same time.
  • My Literary Breakup: This is a hell of an essay about what sounds like a…difficult person. I don’t really want to spoil it by describing it too much – here’s the preface to the piece, which I think tells you all you need to know: “The writer Elisabeth Åsbrink was friends with the controversial Swedish playwright Lars Norén for 15 years. One day he suddenly declared that the friendship was over. It meant that she went from being loved in the first three volumes of his published diaries to being loathed in the final two. Here, Åsbrink writes about their complicated relationship. Norén died in January 2021 from complications owing to COVID-19, three months after this essay was originally written.” It’s fair to say that Norén sounds like a somewhat challenging individual.
  • Goodnight Phone: A brilliant interactive comic by Gina Wynbrandt. Just click the link and scroll and enjoy, and realise as you do so that what you are reading is perhaps the best and truest evocation of a very specific, very modern, set of feelings that you haven’t felt articulated quite this way ever before.
  • Blair’s Blokes: The Fence is carrying some of my favourite writing in the UK at the moment, and this look back at some of the men that defined the New Labour era is no exception. Brilliantly-barbed little pen portraits of people lionised in the Cool Britannia era – Noal Gallagher, Jamie Oliver, David Blunkett, the entire ‘Fathers 4 Justice’ movement…the late-90s/early-00s feel increasingly like a fever–dream of something that didn’t really happen, and to be honest reading these does little to lessen that feeling.
  • A World Run By Mothers: Saba Sama writes brilliantly in Granta about motherhood, family, young love and uncertainty and circumstance – this is excellent.
  • Should I Write About My Dead Mother?: I found this a surprisingly-affecting and formally-interesting use of GPT as an essay-writing companion; there’s something about the juxtaposition between the human call and machine response in this piece that gave me a not-inconsiderable emotional kick, although that may just be that I’m coming up to a year from my own mother’s death and feeling a bit fragile about it. See what you think.
  • Vibe Shift: Finally this week, this is VERY VERY VERY GOOD and also annoyingly clever, and part of me thinks that Peter Richardson, whose work it is, might be a genius. Your second piece of machine-enabled writing of the week – or is it? A rare instance of pseudo-experimental fiction also being immensely readable, I loved this (even though it made me jealous of the talent behind it).

By Sebastian Bieniek