Boing Boing 

Online quizzes explained

Online "character quizzes," suddenly ultra-viral thanks to adroit Facebook-centric designs at sites like Zimbio, are all the rage. Are they fueled by narcissism? No, says Devon Maloney: it's fear: "We crave the peace of mind that comes from believing the human condition is quantifiable." Which is to say, of course, our own conditions. It's the Myers-Briggs sorting hat for a new generation, telling you what you just told it.

Reddit eyes journalism

Matthew Ingram talks to Reddit GM Erik Martin about the site's plans to build out crowdsourced reporting features—and how it will guard them against misuse and chaos.

Martin admitted the moderator system is flawed in some ways, or at least could be improved — by making it easier for users to switch from one sub-Reddit to another, for example — but he also argued that the democratic (some would anarchic) approach the site takes to virtually everything has positive impacts. Someone once asked who created a specific sub-Reddit, and Martin said he had to admit “I have no idea, someone just came along and did it… the fact that it even works at all, when you think about it, is just crazy. It shouldn’t work, but it does.”

Reddit's crowdsourced reporting threads are often the best places to find real-time aggregation of breaking news. But the screw-ups can't be dismissed glibly. If Reddit took a little more responsibility for the major subreddits (the ones that it promotes to the general public as central sections of the site, such as r/news) and applied a more policy-driven approach to how they're run, it would be much easier to communicate the implicit distinctions here between moderation and anarchy (i.e., journalism and histrionics).

The second-best headline of all time

With "Obama's pot dealer beaten to death for farting in gay lover's face", I think The Daily Mail may reasonably claim to have created the second-best newspaper headline in human history.

Dr. V's suicide and journalistic ethics

Last week, Caleb Hannan wrote an article about a clever new golf club and its inventor, Dr. Essay Vanderbilt. Starting out as a profile, it briefly covers the scientific claims behind the design and Dr. V's eccentricities and pretensions. We learn, ultimately, that Dr. V defrauded investors, though none of those quoted seem terribly bothered about it. We also learn that she was a trans person. Finally, at the end, we learn she killed herself, shortly after Hannan notified her of her imminent outing in the press.

Initially achieving some praise, Hannan's story was soon criticized. Critics noticed how anxiously and quietly V's suicide was footnoted away, and how Hannan weaved discussion of her trans status into discussion of her fraudulent business activity.

Read the rest

Top blogger scammed many

Choire Sicha reports on Mediaite managing editor Jon Nicosia, who turns out to be a con artist, Zachary Hildreth, with form. The "confession". The fallout. On the internet, no-one know you're a dog. But if they never see you because of "black ops", well, you'd think some suspicion would kick in... [The Awl, Mediaite, Gawker]

What happened next will restore your faith in snark

Tom Scocca writes that ostentatious positivity, pitched as a noble response to the web's omnipresent snark, typically amounts only to the worse thing that snark itself cures: smarm.

What is smarm, exactly? Smarm is a kind of performance—an assumption of the forms of seriousness, of virtue, of constructiveness, without the substance. Smarm is concerned with appropriateness and with tone. Smarm disapproves. Smarm would rather talk about anything other than smarm. Why, smarm asks, can't everyone just be nicer?

The most significant explicator of the niceness rule—the loudest Thumper of all, the true prophetic voice of anti-negativity—is neither the cartoon rabbit nor the publicists' group nor Julavits, nor even David Denby. It is The Believer's founder and impresario, Dave Eggers.

Smarm is another word for Serious Culture—"In smarm is power"—and you know what to do with that.

The NYT on why it delayed first surveillance story

A decade ago, the New York Times prepared the first, breaking story about warrantless domestic surveillance in America. But, at the Bush administration's urging, it delayed publication until after the next election. NYT public editor Margaret Sullivan reviews the ongoing sense of betrayal felt by its readers, and how it made the newspaper an unappealing port of call for whistleblowing sources such as Edward Snowden.

Read the rest

Things not to say

Buzzfeed's Alex Naidus advises you on how to avoid the easy pitfalls of perceived arrogance, smugness and sanctimony. I'm a frequent dropper of "I read this really interesting article…", sad to say!

Stalin: evil dictator, good editor

Holly Case on Joseph Stalin, editor. [via Kottke]
Stalin always seemed to have a blue pencil on hand, and many of the ways he used it stand in direct contrast to common assumptions about his person and thoughts. He edited ideology out or played it down, cut references to himself and his achievements, and even exhibited flexibility of mind, reversing some of his own prior edits.

UK papers' own regulation plan rejected

In the wake of the UK's "phone hacking" press misconduct scandal, the Leveson Report proposed statutory regulation of the media. The newspapers' own alternative, suggesting a special charter covering the press, was rejected this week, reports the BBC. But the outcome also officially reopens the debate, writes Ross Hawkins, at a time when politicians will be more willing to "stave off open warfare with the press in the run up to an election."

What your Twitter bio says about you

Teddy Wayne reports on a "postmodern art form"—the 160-character space that Twitter allow for biographies.

The standard bio is a staccato string of statuses and interests separated by commas or periods ... Beyond such clichés, the potential hazards of bios are well known to any social-media user: humble brags (“For some reason they put me in the movies”), unchecked self-promotion (“See my new movie, out this Christmas”) and the blandly literal (“I am a professional actor in a motion picture feature scheduled for wide release Dec. 25”).

After the jump, our Twitter bios for your psychoanalytical pleasure. (Whatever you do, don't follow me on twitter!)

Read the rest

NYPD officer who arrested NYT photographer indicted

Russ Buettner: "A New York City police officer who had arrested a photographer working for The New York Times has been indicted on three felony counts and five misdemeanors accusing him of fabricating the reasons for the arrest."

German newspapers go back to Google after winning right to be excluded from it

After lobbying for laws to allow them to opt out of Google's search results, German newspapers have opted right back in again. The publishers claim it's a temporary measure while they figure out how to "charge aggregators for their use of its material." Which might be a problem, because Google says it would rather just let them stay opted-out than pay to link to them. [AP]

Reporter fired after blogging about mail theft, naps and fearing the elderly

Shea Allen, an investigative reporter at an Alabama ABC affiliate, got fired after posting this little beauty:

1. I've gone bra-less during a live broadcast and no one was the wiser.
2. My best sources are the ones who secretly have a crush on me.
3. I am better live when I have no script and no idea what I'm talking about.
4. I've mastered the ability to contort my body into a position that makes me appear much skinner in front of the camera than I actually am.
5. I hate the right side of my face.
6. I'm frightened of old people and I refuse to do stories involving them or the places they reside.
7. Happy, fluffy, rainbow stories about good things make me depressed.
8. I've taken naps in the news car.
9. If you ramble and I deem you unnecessary for my story, I'll stop recording but let you think otherwise.
10. I've stolen mail and then put it back. (maybe)

Allen believes she was terminated without cause. Shea Allen investigates!

The cheats publishers use to juice their traffic tallies

$5 for 2000 Facebook shares or 500 retweets. $2 for a few thousand page views. "Money can't buy me love?" asks Wired's Mat Honan. "Nonsense"

Inside Digg's new RSS Reader

It wouldn't be a sexy subject were it not for the imminent demise of "market" leader Google Reader, but Mat Honan's article about Digg's replacement service is a must-read.
The core Digg experience is one of discovery: It constantly has to be showing you something new to work. ... This is where it gets neat: If Digg had its own news reader, it could immediately identify which stories people were actually reading—not just what they click on.

Snowden smearing begins

Gawker's Hamilton Nolan ridicules the halfwitted psychoanalysis and smearing aimed by sneering pundits at Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who revealed the agency's expansive surveillance of everyday Americans.

We are often accused of being cynics. But even we can see quite plainly that the Prism story is huge, important, and newsworthy, and that the person who made the story happen deserves credit for helping it come out. Oddly enough, the cynics on this story reside in the ultra-establishment. They are the journalists and pundits who feel compelled to demonstrate their own sophistication by dismissing these revelations as old hat (though documented proof of these programs has never been seen before). They are those who have grown so inured to the gross overreach of government power that they can no longer conceive of it as scandalous.

David Brooks' piece is particularly grotesque, and not simply because going to it means having to look at one of his weird Zoolanderesque mugshots. Check out this paragraph:

He betrayed the privacy of us all. If federal security agencies can’t do vast data sweeps, they will inevitably revert to the older, more intrusive eavesdropping methods.

Don't make me beat you, honey.

British invade U.S. media

At a bar in Vegas, during the sprawling PR shitfeast that is the Consumer Electronics Show, I overheard someone ask a companion, "Why do we keep hiring British drunks to run everything?" I didn't volunteer an opinion, but the Washington Post has all the answers.

NYT lawyers to indie dev: "you need to remove any reference to The New York Times from your website"

Cody Brown, developer of software that makes it easy to generate classy website news features in the style of The New York Times' "Snow Fall", made a mistake: he used photos from that legendary web layout in a youtube demo. The NYT sent a cease and desist letter, and he took it down. But then something strange happened: the NYT ordered him to remove all mention of the NYT from his own website.

The blogging family tree

"At the close of 1998, there were 23 known weblogs on the Internet. A year later there were tens of thousands. What changed?" [Mat Honan / Wired]

Publishers maximize content marketing awareness metrics at executive roundtable

"Blank smart phone isolated on white", courtesy of Shutterstock.

At Poynter, Carlie Kollath Wells reports on top newspaper publishers' ability to remain profitable thanks to paywalls--and their plans to stay that way with subscription hikes and marketing.

The Dallas Morning News in May 2009 raised prices 40 percent. “We lost about 12 percent of our subscribers,” Moroney said. But, it was a good move, he said, and the paper is in the process of raising subscription rates again. “It raised a lot of money for us and it continues to raise a lot of money for us,” Moroney said. “We’re [at] about 32-33 percent of our total revenue coming from subscribers.”

All good news, right? But there's this weird abstract quality to it all. What it is we're talking about again? Let's look again at the article...

Read the rest

"CORRERCTION" among newspaper corrections of the year

And this gem is way down the list. Poynter has quite a selection for you.

TV anchors quit on-air

Two local ABC news anchors, Cindy Michaels and Tony Consiglio, "shocked viewers and colleagues" by quitting on-air Tuesday. No reasons were given for their sudden departure beyond Consiglio saying "some recent developments have come to our attention, though, and departing together is the best alternative we can take."

Their boss, however, was less mysterious: "Sometimes people leave before they're officially told to leave."

Writer apologizes after comment backlash

Two weeks ago, Jon Fingas wrote an interesting opinion piece for Engadget about how Amazon and Google selling hardware at a loss--a classic anticompetitive strategy--reduces choice and hurts consumers. Spotless corporate idols thereby insulted, commenters were angry. So, Engadget he apologized to them.

MG Siegler:

As [he] tells it, the piece should have had more examples and “set a more neutral tone”. Um, why? To ensure that it’s yet another boring-as-fuck piece that no one would even get through let alone think about ever again? As a writer, I feel disgusted seeing such an update. As a reader, I feel even worse. It reads as if the Engadget editors think their readership to be morons who can’t think and/or reason for themselves beyond what they’re told.

Which would be a real problem, given that this situation arose because Engadget's contributor apparently believes, or is made to accept (see update below), that readers are his critical equals.

In this view, the writer sees his job as not to share insight or perform acts of journalism or entertainment, but more a kind of PR filtration duty for a specified "community". The process of turning industry news into blog posts has long worn its own quasi-formal language: engaging and sufficiently stripped of marketing to be readable--with a hint of snark to establish that all-important critical distance!--but punctilious in its servicing of reader expectations.

Update: Engadget EIC Tim Stevens writes to point out that I was wrong to attribute the apology to Engadget itself:

The editorial went up and of course riled up a heck of a sandstorm in comments and elsewhere, as many good editorials often do. The editor in question, who is relatively new to us and hasn't written such a high-profile opinion piece before, wasn't prepared for the sort of vitriol he was receiving on all fronts. Beaten down by the hate, he began to second-guess his argument and posted the update, which has caused the subsequent storm.

Now, we have a policy for updates that materially change the content of the post. (Basically, anything more than quick additional bits of info or something like "Oops, that's out of stock now.") Those updates need to go through a senior editor for approval and anything big, anything that boils down to us blowing the story, needs to go through me. That didn't happen here, as this editor wasn't aware of the process. Had that update been run by me I would have shot it down, as would have any other editor, and it would have never appeared on the site.

This is an excellent policy, and I apologize for assuming that Engadget itself was responsible for the apology--even if it was removed without much explanation.

Unfortunately, it also means that my remarks on editorial confidence would apply directly to a specific person--Fingas. And they seem rather mean-spirited in that context. When it comes to your own writing, however, the fix is easy: stop worrying about what other people think, especially vitriolic commenters.

2012's tech insurgents

BetaBeat lists the most interesting folks in 2012's tech scene. Here's Nitasha Tiku on Anil Dash, whose "amiable agitation" is also one of my own inspirations atop the web's sea of snark and negativity.

"His disarming combination of radical empathy and prescriptive real talk tends to humanize discussions about technology that are otherwise siloed in the startup world’s upbeat echo chamber. ... Slackstory editor Nick Douglas compared Mr. Dash (once tapped by the White House to help federal agencies innovate) to a more contemporary leader, calling him “the Obama of tech”: “Someone trustworthy with important matters, who also has good shit on his iPhone. He can banter with curmudgeons without becoming one, and he can work with snobs without becoming one.”

Game writer out of a job after libel complaint

Photo: Shutterstock

A game writer who criticized his beatmates' journalistic shortcomings no longer has his job. Rab Florence, formerly with top gaming site Eurogamer, resigned from his position at after it received "legal threats" and gutted much of his scathing article.

"I am utterly staggered by today's events," Florence wrote on Twitter. " ... Today I was effectively put out of a job by another writer."

The imbroglio, barely a day old, began with Florence's broadside aimed at a "tragic, vulgar image": journalists who accepted gifts, participated in Twitter PR campaigns, and who pose with branded junk food for marketing set-pieces.

Read the rest

Lies writers tell themselves

#2. All you need to be a writer is talent. [The Awl]

Time's twitterers of 2012

BB editors Xeni and Maggie feature on Time Magazine's 140 best twitter feeds. Adds Xeni: "they picked a tweet I wrote last night while utterly baked out of my fucking mind on medical cannabis."

Committee to propose blogger ethics guidelines

The "Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation" is to promulgate your new guidelines for blogging. David Carr in The New York Times:

“This is not an anti-aggregation group, we are pro-aggregation,” Mr. Dumenco told me. “We want some simple, common-sense rules. There should be some kind of variation of the Golden Rule here, which is that you should aggregate others as you would wish to be aggregated yourself.”

The motives are honorable, the objectives reasonable, and the timing ... timely. But no-one is going to care about these folks or whatever theses they nail to pastebin's door, except for their entertainment value. The problem isn't that we lack a necessary formal system of crediting and linking to sources. The problem is that people break and exploit social norms and standards, which can't be regulated by committees.

Computer-generated PR spam trying not to look like computer-generated PR spam

PR people sometimes say "I loved your coverage of x, perhaps you'd like to hear about y!". The idea is to ensure that I, Esteemed Journalist, know that I am worthy of personalized attention, rather than being an entry on a mailing list.

Some of them, however, are trying to have their cake and eat it, too. I've started getting emails that contain computer-generated personal touches. Computers trying to copy what humans would say to avoid looking like computers!

Here's one that just came in. He/she/it even tweeted me about an unrelated subject--a nice proofing touch--shortly before the email came in. Needless to say, the pitch is terrible. As the named sender might be a real person, I've changed the name to spare them the embarrassment.

Hello Rob,

My name is [horse_PR] and I work with BlueGlass Interactive, Inc. During SOPA, I found a particular interest in, "Infographic: Hollywood's long war on technology." This infographic did a great job at presenting SOPA, in a way that the average consumer could understand.

I noticed a good portion of your site is dedicated to Gweek and Computers. I thought you might enjoy a related infographic, "12 Cities to Find an IT Job." With product and service development growing, more IT jobs are emerging across the states. This IG reviews the top 12 cities that are currently growing and hiring in the IT realm. I believe a good portion of your readership would find this IG to be a great resource!

Do you agree?

I'd love to have you feature this on BoingBoing. I've attached the IG for your review. I look forward to receiving your feedback!

Kind Regards, [horse_PR]

BlueGlass turns out to be an infographic/SEO/marketing outfit: the business model is to make ads look like content, then pitch them to sites as free editorial. The visual complexity of infographics helps conceal or transmute advertising material, and their linkbaityness makes it easy to get them picked up and linked to. I've fallen for it, once before! In this case, the offered infographic advertised the IT recruiter that presumably paid for the service.

Given that I am making hay of BlueGlass's incompetence, I thought it only fair that I publish this infographic in full. It may be seen to the right.