Spotify, like Netflix, wants you to stream. That’s the point of a streaming service. To achieve that both platforms do two things: they make sure that the system nudges you into endless streaming (e.g. by auto-playing episodes) and they produce content which streams well.

The Baffler argues that there is now a new type of music, part of a new kind of genre (they call it streambait pop), which basically satisfies the demands of this kind of consumption and produces songs which flow, songs that work well in the background, lyrics which you can always be listening to without really noticing them.

The Spotify sound has a few different variations, but essentially it’s a formula. “It has this soft, emo-y, cutesy thing to it,” Matt says. “These days it’s often really minimal and based around just a few simple elements in verses. Often a snap in the verses. And then the choruses sometimes employ vocal samples. It’s usually kind of emo in lyrical nature.” Then there’s also a more electronic, DJ-oriented variation, which is “based around a drop . . . It’s usually a chilled-out verse with a kind of coo-y vocal. And then it builds up and there’s a drop built around a melody that’s played with a vocal sample.”

The formula wants the content to be atomic, to work well on its own. Its context is the playlist:

“It’s disposable AF. It’s too disposable. New Music Friday has seventy-plus songs every week. Who is actually supposed to hang on to any of those songs? There’s too much!” This is a symptom of the attention-driven platform economy as well: the churning stomach of the content machine constantly demands new stuff. In such an economy, music that doesn’t take off is dropped once it has outlived its usefulness—either as a brand prop or as playlist-filler.


In Bob Burrough’s words (Burrough is the author of the demo):

An environmentally-lit interface takes information from the environment around the device and uses it to render physically-accurate things on the screen. It appears as if the lights around you are shining on the things on the screen. […]

This doesn’t mean you have to hold a flashlight over your phone to read the web in bed. What it means is, designers are empowered to use the design language of the physical world to design their interfaces. Gloss, glitter, glow-in-the-dark, or any other visual quality may be used. In the case of reading a website in a darkened room, the web designer may apply elegant backlighting or glow-in-the-dark treatments to maintain legibility. This is far superior to today’s method of making your phone act like a spotlight that shines in your face.

Chinese companies are outsourcing the censorship burden to third parties. The constant reviewing and blocking of content has to be done by humans; algorithms wouldn’t be able to catch everything.

These “professional censors” — before they can start spending their days taking content down — have to be introduced to China’s forbidden history (think of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown):

Now, after training, he knows what to look for — and what to block. He spends his hours scanning online content on behalf of Chinese media companies looking for anything that will provoke the government’s wrath. He knows how to spot code words that obliquely refer to Chinese leaders and scandals, or the memes that touch on subjects the Chinese government doesn’t want people to read about.

The whole environment is quite dystopic:

The screen saver on each computer is the same: photos and names of current and past members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Communist Party’s top leadership. Workers must memorize those faces: Only government-owned websites and specially approved political blogs — a group on what’s called a whitelist — are allowed to post photos of top leaders.

Patricia Marx, The New Yorker:

The moment is equivalent, perhaps, to the juncture when fish crawled out of the sea and onto land. At the reception desk of a robot-staffed hotel in Japan, sharp-fanged, hairy-chested dinosaurs wearing bellhop hats and bow ties poise their talons at the keyboard; at a pizza restaurant in Multan, Pakistan, bosomy figures on wheels, accessorized with scarves around their necks, deliver food to your table; at a gentlemen’s club in Las Vegas, androids in garters perform pole dances.

The difficult part is not to teach humans to trust robots, but to teach them not to blindly accept them.

The truth is that what the algorithm says, we will do. Once it’s clear that something is convenient for us, we drop any initial resistance. And so software design choices end up becoming our default choices — the places that a map decides to emphasise, the suggested route, the results at the top of the search, the related items, and so on.

These suggestions might even help us — they are, often, convenient. Nonetheless, it’s important to ask why they’re there, to notice which details were tuned down or ignored to favour the default.

Fine del .it

Quindi pare che questo sia l’ultimo post per un po’ in italiano. Che non mi sembrava giusto passare dall’italiano all’inglese senza dire una parola. Si fa una prova: che lo si scrive in inglese, il blog, per un po’. È una prova. Che poi magari non mi piace, magari non funziona, e si torna indietro. Non voglio promettere nulla. Ma per il momento lo si scrive in inglese. Che alla fin fine era già per un 50% in inglese, quindi non cambia molto. Voi dovevate comunque conoscerlo l’inglese, per capirlo, questo blog. E gli altri, gli altri invece beh: gli altri ovviamente l’italiano non lo sanno. Ed è già di per sé una cosa buona che lo si scriva, in italiano o in inglese, questo blog: che è passato un anno, un anno esatto, dall’ultima volta che ci eravamo sentiti.

Poi — se non l’avete notato — c’è una nuova grafica e tutto il resto, anche.

Benedict Evans:

The change in abstraction is the point, and adding touch to Windows or Mac misses the point. It’s like putting a mouse driver on DOS. It does make DOS better, and if DOS is all you have because you misssed GUIs, then of course you should do that. But it’s not the future.

We use the word tablet to refer to two different types of devices:

  1. The Surface category of tablets. They’re fundamentally a PC with touch screen — these devices promise the same OS and same behaviour of a laptop, with a new input.
  2. The iPad category of tablets. They’ve got some of the perks of a laptop — a big screen and (if you want) a keyboard — but run on a separate OS which introduces some new ways of doing things.

I never used OpenDoc, but the idea behind it was interesting:

The core idea of OpenDoc is to create small, reusable components, responsible for a specific task, such as text editing, bitmap editing, or browsing an FTP server. OpenDoc provides a framework in which these components can run together, and a document format for storing the data created by each component. These documents can then be opened on other machines, where the OpenDoc frameworks substitute suitable components for each part, even if they are from different vendors.

Instead of recreating the same set of features within each app — forcing the user to learn different ways of doing the same thing —, the idea was to abstract the core functionality of each software to make it available across the OS.

I think iOS gets closer to that but it’s probably the internet, more than anything else, that which helped unbundling the data from the underlying software — turning the latter into a service.

I’m not a dedicated podcast follower — I listen to a few, handpicked, episodes rather than follow a specific show weekly, from start to end. Mainly — I don’t have the patience.

For those of you like me, pay a visit to The Podcast Browser: they point you at episodes worth listening to.

Robin Hanson:

First, we should seriously worry about which aspects of our modern civilization system are rotting. Human culture has lasted a million years, but many parts of our modern world are far younger. If the first easiest version of a system that we can find to do something is typically be a rotting system, and if it takes a lots more work to find a non-rotting version, should we presume that most of the new systems we have are rotting versions? Farming-era empires consistently rotted; how sure can we be that our world-wide industry-era empire isn’t similarly rotting today? We may be accumulating a technical debt that will be expensive to repay.

Nice small detail:

This emoji does not show in the title bar of Safari, presumably to prevent less-reputable sites pretending to be secure (encrypted using HTTPS) when they are not.

Zach Holman:

Years ago, I worked with a friend who had built a few scheduling calendars in a previous freelancing gig. Sometimes we’d be working on something that tangentially related to time, and as kind of a recurring in-joke he’d always tell me:

Zach, whatever you do: just don’t ever build a calendar.

Anyway, I’m Zach Holman and I’m building a calendar.