26 September 2014

Ello improvements

Chris Reimer asks:

What needs to functionally improve here at Ello to make it a player?

I reply:

  1. Long text posts should be more legible. That means can the cool monospaced font, and display shorter text line widths. So much of the visual design of this site is crisp and nice, but this one aspect is fussy, twee, and a genuine usability hurdle. Why write something here when I can have it legible on my blog?
  2. Replies to posts are confusing. How do I know when there's a reply to something I've said? Right now I've opened posts of my own and discovered to my surprise that there were comments I hadn't seen! I presume that this is a result of bugginess of the feature as designed.
  3. Threads of discussions/replies are confusing. They seem to be in reverse-chronological order. Usually. So clarify that. I suspect this is also a bug, rather than design.
  4. Some kind of solution for an equivalent to re-sharing / re-tweeting. Maybe. On the one hand, I itch to re-share cool images I see here, and to make other folks' posts here available on the feed of people who follow me. On the other hand, re-sharing encourages meme bullshit. So this is a consequential decision about what this tool is actually meant to do.
  5. Linked feeds. I'd sure like a way to have either my Tweets show up here or the ability to easily tweet the presence of Ello posts. It's probably a good idea to do one but not the other. Which to do and which not to is a strategic decision about what this thing is going to be. :^)
  6. A big one for adoption: some kind of network import. The best would be to import FB contacts. G+ or Twitter contacts would also be good.
  7. Another for adoption, particularly important now while the network is growing: suggested Friends, based on simple "three of your Friends are also Friends with this person" logic.
  8. More feed lists. The Friends/Noise list pair is, to my mind, the coolest part of Ello — of course you want a different format for your short list and your long list! -- but if your network is complex enough, you need more lists than that. (Including, if you have a few lists, an automatically managed "All".)
  9. Strong Block tools. This has been much discussed.
  10. A crystal clear plan for privacy. Now the current Everything Is Public protocol is actually not too bad: it has a huge advantage in simplicity and clarity, but it obviously radically fails a lot of people. But it is probably better to introduce a system for privacy, and less important than exactly what the privacy rules are (though I have ideas, of course) is that they are absolutely crystal f%$#ing clear. The Lesson Of Facebook is that it's bad if users are unclear about what is visible to whom. Make it impossible to get confused.
  11. Provide permalinks for comments.

25 September 2014

Tech industry technocrats

Wise words from Nathan Jurgenson about some social software entrepreneurs.

The people who have decided they should mediate our social interactions and write a political manifesto have no special expertise in the social or political.

It could be about Facebook or Twitter or any number of other people in current tech. There's more, and it's interesting, but that bit really jumped out at me.

24 September 2014

Pop songs about urban planning

Urban planning is a sufficiently dry and obscure topic that you wouldn't think that it would be the subject of pop music. But you'd be wrong.

My favorite is the Pretenders' “Back to Ohio”.

Joni Mitchell's “Big Yellow Taxi” informs us that they've paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

The Talking Heads' “(Nothing But) Flowers”, which Kevin Smith used to introduce the world of New Jersey in Clerks II.

I'm writing this because I've now encountered yet another example: Arcade Fire's “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” from their album The Suburbs. The video features some landscapes of appropriately horrifying bleakness. (And one can see the ’burbs used as a dystopian setting in Spike Jonze's 30 minute film Scenes From The Suburbs inspired by the album.)

David Rovics' song “Parking Lots And Strip Malls” is in the club.

And Planetizen, incredibly, has a list of even more examples.

Update: A friend points out that the Specials' “Ghost Town” also qualifies.

And XTC's “River of Orchids”:

And another friend points to John Mellencamp's “Pink Houses”.

Malvina Reynolds' “Little Boxes”:

20 September 2014

Epistemic closure

David Roberts at Grist points to how movement conservative attacks on “elites” are an attack on the fundamental institutions of liberal democracy.

The core idea is most clearly expressed by Rush Limbaugh:

We really live, folks, in two worlds. There are two worlds. We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that’s where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap. …

The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That’s how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

The right’s project over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society’s leading institutions. Experts are made elites; their presumption of expertise becomes self-damning. They think they’re better than you. They talk down to you. They don’t respect people like us, real Americans.

This posts' title comes from Julian Sanchez, who is worth reading on the subject of conservative truthiness.

08 September 2014

Economics of slavery

There's a canard I've seen come up disconcertingly often from a certain kind of conservative who will mount a defense of the antebellum South, claiming that American chattel slavery was not as bad as people imagine. Of course slavery is wrong, they say, but severe mistreatment of slaves was actually very rare if for no other reason than that it doesn't make sense that slaveowners would mistreat slaves who were valuable assets.

I've long been puzzled by why people seem to feel compelled to offer this unpersuasive defense of one of the least defensible practices in history. But now it has been made clear to me.

Recently The Economist magazine reviewed Edward Baptist's book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. The review contained this memorable turn of phrase:

Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.

#NotAllSlaveOwners were bad! This is ripe for the obvious reasons, and produced a well-deserved outcry.

Baptist himself responded, explaining not just what The Economist was wrong about, but making a persuasive explanation of why it is important.

Had the Economist actually engaged the book’s arguments, the reviewer would have had to confront the scary fact that the unrestrained domination of market forces can sometimes amplify existing forms of oppression into something more horrific. No wonder the Economist abandoned its long-standing intellectual commitments in favor of sloppy old paternalism on Sept. 4, because if it hadn’t, Mr./Ms. Anonymous might have had to admit that market fundamentalism doesn’t always provide the best solution for every economic or social problem.


If you're interested in the details, Billmon expands on Baptist's economic logic, Matthew Yglesias at Vox discusses how the industrial revolution depended on slavery in the South, and Baptist comments on the pervasiveness of White doubt about the horrors of slavery.

And while we are here, this is a good time to mention that emerging scholarship shows that slavery was integral to the origins of core techniques of market capitalism like accounting and management, as well as to the economic development of the free North, with discomforting echoes in contemporary economics.